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Sun Dec 30, 2018, 12:59 PM

Cerium Requirements to Split One Billion Tons of Carbon Dioxide, the Nuclear v Solar Thermal cases.

Last edited Sun Dec 30, 2018, 03:48 PM - Edit history (1)

The paper I will discuss in this post is this one: Solar thermochemical splitting of CO2 into separate streams of CO and O2 with high selectivity, stability, conversion, and efficiency (Daniel Marxer , Philipp Furler , Michael Takacs and Aldo Steinfeld, Energy Environ. Sci., 2017, 10, 1142-1149)

The paper appears to be open sourced, and if you're interested you can read it yourself in entirety, but I'll post a picture of the "solar reactor" from the paper anyway:

Here's the caption:

Fig. 1 (a) Schematic of the solar reactor configuration for splitting CO2 into separate streams of CO2 and O2via a 2-step thermochemical redox cycle. It comprises a windowed cavity-receiver containing a reticulated porous ceramic (RPC) foam-type structure made of ceria directly exposed to high-flux solar irradiation. The redox cycle is carried out under a combined temperature/pressure-swing operational mode. Red arrow: endothermic reduction generating O2, eqn (2), is performed at high temperatures (Treduction = 1450–1500 °C) and vacuum pressures (ptotal = 10–1000 mbar) using concentrated solar energy (Psolar = 2.4–4.1 kW). Blue arrow: exothermic oxidation with CO2 generating CO, eqn (3), is performed at lower temperatures (Toxidation = 700–1000 °C) and ambient pressure (ptotal = 1 bar) without input of solar energy (Psolar = 0). Inset: Infiltrated ceria RPC with dual-scale porosities in the mm and μm ranges. (b) Photographs of the solar reactor, showing the front face of the solar reactor with the windowed aperture and its interior containing the octagonal RPC structure lined with alumina thermal insulation.

The device built and shown in the picture has operated on a lab scale, albeit, as we'll see below, not as a solar device.

In 2017, according to the 2018 Edition of the World Energy Outlook, released a few weeks back, carbon dioxide emissions amounted to 32.1 billion tons.

Most laboratory scale devices in the field of energy (and many other fields as well) never reach industrial scale, although many people in the general non-technical population reading about them show breathless enthusiasm for them, as if they represented a "problem solved" reality.

They do not.

The problem of climate change has not been solved, and what we are doing about climate change is, essentially, nothing at all.

Nevertheless, this is an interesting device, and as a thought experiment, I decided to do a quick "back of the envelope" calculation about how much cerium would be required to split one billion tons of carbon dioxide, only a fraction of what we apparently dumped in a single year, but nevertheless what would be a significant fraction (around 3%) of this dangerous fossil fuel waste that is literally killing the planet.

Although - probably for funding reasons - this device is purportedly described as "solar," it is actually agnostic for the source of primary energy. It would operate using electricity (which is the source utilized in the paper's description of the experimental operation), dangerous fossil fuels (although this might amount to a material perpetual motion machine), or nuclear energy.

In my calculations, I compared the nuclear and solar cases, because they're illustrative, and nominally carbon free, if one ignores the fact that the world’s largest solar thermal plant – there are actually very, very, very few of them as of 2018 - spends a significant portion of its operating time as a very, very, very expensive and unreliable gas plant.

Here, from the paper, are the chemical reactions by which this device splits carbon dioxide:

Reduction at T (reduction) and pO2 (ptotal r 1 bar)
ΔH = 475 kJ per 1/2 mole of O2

Oxidation at T (oxidation) and pCO2 (ptotal = 1 bar)
ΔH = 192 kJ per mole of CO2

...and the net reaction for which cerium oxides are catalysts:

ΔH = 283 kJ per mole CO2

The first reaction takes place - T (reduction) - at 1400 C roughly.

The second reaction - the oxidation of the catalyst (and the reduction of carbon dioxide) - takes place between 700 C and 1000 C.

Thus alternate heating and cooling cycles are required.

Let’s compare the sources of primary energy, here solar thermal and nuclear:

The world’s largest solar thermal plant is the plant at Ivanpah in California. I have no idea about the maximum operating temperature of the economic and environmental disaster at Ivanpah. I try not to think too much about quixotic adventures that might have been avoided on inspection which waste enormous resources for no real use. In any case, since the plant operates for part of the time as a gas plant, an effort to split its carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide and oxygen is perpetual motion territory.

To give a feel for the plant, with the understanding of the source, I will rely, for convenience, on data from the Wikipedia page for the Ivanpah "Solar" thermal plant. (Anyone with a better reference is heartily invited to produce it.) The plant officially came on line in 2014, but the numbers I will utilize here will all refer to the years of full operation listed in the tables at the bottom, specifically 2015, 2016, and 2017.

Because waiting for the sun to heat its boilers would lead to degraded performance, each morning the boilers are brought up to temperature by burning dangerous natural gas before the sun can take over. The dangerous natural gas waste, chiefly carbon dioxide, is, as is the case nearly everywhere else, dumped into humanity's favorite waste dump, the planetary atmosphere. Between In the period from January 2015 to December 2017, the amount of carbon dioxide dumped by the plant was 199,236 tons. Overall, dangerous natural gas accounts for 3.96 petajoules of energy. The delivered energy over three years (as electricity) was 15.7 petajoules of energy. Thus 25.2% of the energy delivered was in the form of dangerous natural gas.

The $2.2 billion dollar plant, which occupies 4000 acres, is rated at 392 MW of power, scaled back from the original 440 MW planned because people wanted to pretend to give a rat's ass about the habitat of the desert tortoise.

The actual average continuous power of the plant, for the three full years of operation can be calculated from the total energy, divided by the operating time in seconds. It is 94.86 MW. Thus the capacity utilization of the plant is 24.20%.

The boiler temperatures (as opposed to a putative maximum operational temperature) of the plant are reportedly, according to a White Paper published by its design firm, Bright Source Energy in 2014 (before the plant's actual operational record was available) are 550C. This is considerably lower than the temperature at which cerium (IV) oxide is reduced to cerium (III) oxide releasing oxygen in the process, again, 1400C. It is sufficiently high enough however to denature the keratin in bird wings (160C) according to a wonderful detailed analysis in a 2017 NREL study of birds burned up in flight - colloquially referred to by the dubiously amusing term "streamers" because of the trails of smoke they leave when they fall smoldering or in flames. According to a news item at "E&E News", "only" a bit over 6,100 birds caught fire in flight in the second year of operation.

Recently a few people out of the Argonne National Laboratory extrapolated the death toll of birds using data from operations of solar thermal plants: A preliminary assessment of avian mortality at utility-scale solar energy facilities in the United States. Their estimation was that in Southern California between 16,200 and 59,400 birds are killed each year by solar thermal energy production.

Don't worry. Be happy. It's not like desert habitat is "useful" for anything except to make "green" energy.

And the Argonne scientists make that point, "Don't worry be happy." They point to a reference showing that buildings kill hundreds of millions of birds in the United States each year, which I take to mean that if we replaced all of our buildings with solar thermal plants, we could save the lives of birds. I don’t know what the effect of tents on birds would be however. Then they go on to cite Benjamin Sovacool’s paper on the impact of dangerous fossil fuel plants and nuclear plants on birds.

I have a passing familiarity, by the way, with Benjamin Sovacool’s, um, “work,” for which, to be straight up, I regard with absolute contempt on both technical and moral/ethical grounds. To my way of thinking, he is one of the horseshitters of the apocalypse, along with Mark Z. Jacobsen, of Stanford University and Ed Lyman of the Union of Concerned “Scientists,” the apocalypse in question being climate change, ongoing disaster which no amount of work and effort and engineering can prevent, since it has already destroyed irreplaceable things, and the only question remaining being how much more and how fast it will destroy many, many, many more irreplaceable things.

Sovacool, who has a Ph.D. in something called “Science Policy” to complement his Master’s degrees one of which is also in “Science Policy,” the other in “Rhetoric,” which in turn complement his double major Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and um, something called “Communication Studies,” seems to get cited a fair number of times with this dubious calculation of the bird impact of nuclear plants, and dangerous fossil fuel plants although there is no evidence whatsoever that he is an expert in ornithology, or for that matter, engineering (including but not limited to nuclear engineering), epidemiology or atmospheric science.

For the record, in my long career, I’ve probably interacted with at least ten thousand holders Ph.D’s. In a typical day, I might have a conversation with ten holders of this degree. Like most human beings, they’re a mixed bag: Some are absolutely brilliant, unbelievably impressive, but there is definitely a subset of Ph.D’s who have critical thinking skills equally as poor and even as worse as those demonstrated by Sovacool, and Sovacool represents a pretty low bar. Most recently he seems to be working in that so called “renewable energy” nirvana, Denmark, which is also an offshore oil and gas drilling hellhole.

The three horseshitters of the apocalypse love to carry on endlessly about how “dangerous” nuclear power is, and run around making statements about how wonderful so called “renewable energy” is in comparison, and how so called “renewable energy” should replace the world’s nuclear plants. I’ve been painfully familiar with aspects of their horseshit for about ten years. As I frequently point out, the current death toll for air pollution is about 7 million deaths per year, so that in the last ten years, the death toll for human beings from air pollution has been greater than the loss of life in World War II.

So we might ask ourselves if the advocacy of the horseshitters of the apocalypse - that we put all our hopes in so called "renewable energy" - is dangerous, given that half a century of their horseshit and similar horseshit has not even come close to slowing the rise in the use of dangerous fossil fuels: 2017 set a record for the amount of carbon dioxide dumped into the air, and the growth in the use of dangerous fossil fuels in that single year increased 489% faster than solar & wind combined, by 5.89 exajoules for the former as opposed to 1.21 exajoules for the latter. (See WEO reference below.)

It is very, very, very, very clear with even a shred of critical thinking, which escapes the horseshitters of the apocalypse entirely, that so called "renewable energy" is extremely dangerous, not because of its environmental effects - although these are certainly worthy of consideration - but because it has not worked, and is not working and (I contend) will not work to stop the extremely destructive and deadly use of dangerous fossil fuels. And because it is not working and has not worked, despite the "investment" of trillions of dollars, it is allowing a death toll greater than all deaths in World War II to occur every decade.

Now let's consider the nuclear case in this discussion of thermal splitting carbon dioxide:

I will state quite plainly that the number of commercial nuclear reactors that have operated at temperatures sufficient to drive the first reaction, the oxygen generating reaction, at 1400C, is zero.

All of the high temperature reactors nuclear built over the last 60 years have been gas cooled reactors. The highest temperatures ever recorded in a commercial gas cooled nuclear reactor were recorded at the AVR, which was not strictly a commercial reactor but doubled as research “pebble bed” reactor, a prototypical test reactor - albeit connected to the grid. It operated in Germany, a country now subsumed with anti-nuclear ignorance, at a research center at Jülich from 1967 to 1988. Its highest recorded temperature of the helium gas utilized to cool it was 950C.

The UHTREX reactor, experimental helium cooled reactor which operated at Los Alamos from 1959 to 1971 operated at temperatures approximating this requirement. It had an outlet temperature of 1300 C, close to the reported temperature utilized in the device described in the paper. The reactor was designed to release fission products directly to the coolant stream. (Ultimately it was decided that this wasn’t a good idea although I am very much convinced that the opposite case is true, particularly in light of advances in materials science, although in my own vision, fission products are not released into a coolant, but function, at least in some possible iterative thought experiments, as the coolant themselves.)

Commercial gas cooled reactors have been most successful in the United Kingdom; the first commercial reactor in the world fit into this class; the Magnox Calder Hall reactor that operated from 1956 up to 2003. This had carbon dioxide as a working fluid, and similar reactors still operate in Britain, the AGCR, or “Advanced Gas Cooled Reactors.” In the United States, two examples of commercial gas cooled reactors have operated to my knowledge, the Fort St. Vrain reactor in Colorado and the Peach Bottom 1 reactor in Pennsylvania, the latter being considered a test reactor rather than a purely commercial reactor. Both reactors were helium cooled, but had short operational life times, from 1966 to 1974 for Peach Bottom 1, and from 1979 to 1989 for Ft. St. Vrain. These operational lifetimes were even shorter than the unacceptably short life mean life times of Danish wind turbines (on the order on average of 17 years), and thus these two represented economic failures.

Fort St. Vrain’s turbines were converted to run on dangerous natural gas, the waste of which is dumped directly into the atmosphere, with nobody actually caring a millionth as much as many Americans care about the outcome of the next Superbowl.

In history, the Supebowl will not matter at all; the carbon dioxide will, more than anyone can even imagine, and hundreds of thousands of scientists are imagining the consequences. There are a subset of people – exceptionally ignorant people in my view – who are doing a kind of victory dance because nuclear plants are closing at a rate faster than they are being built. They are such poor thinkers, are so myopic, that they claim that nuclear plants are “not economic.” In their stupid and ill-informed imagination they believe that nuclear plants are being replaced by “cheap renewable energy.” These are the same sort of people who did a victory dance when the Fort Saint Vrain nuclear plant was converted to a gas plant. Let’s be clear on something, OK, the Ivanpah plant was as much an economic failure as a solar facility as was Fort St. Vrain as a nuclear plant, one difference between the two plants is that Ivanpah has always depended on dangerous natural gas to operate, and that it never met its design capacity for operation. So called “renewable energy” has very little to do with the closure of nuclear plants, since so called “renewable energy” is an expensive and trivial form of energy. The growth in the use of coal in the 21st century, easily outstrips, by a factor of six, the entire output of the wind, solar, tidal and geothermal industry, this after more than half a century of cheering for them. What is causing nuclear plants to shut is increases in the use of dangerous fossil fuels, in particular the use of dangerous natural gas.

Of course, it would be perhaps "unfair" to represent the failure of the Ivanpah plant as representative of what could be the case for imaginary future solar thermal plants any more than it would be fair to represent Ft. St. Vrain's reactor as representative of the nuclear case. Nevertheless, one should remark that when it operated as a nuclear plant, Ft. St. Vrain did not represent the investment of 4000 acres of pristine habitat to produce a trivial amount of industrial energy - requiring an input of dangerous natural gas - to effectively operate as a less than 100 MW power plant. Four thousand acres is nearly 16.2 square kilometers.

World energy demand as of 2017 was 584.98 exajoules:

2018 Edition of the World Energy Outlook Table 1.1 Page 38 (I have converted MTOE in the original table to the SI unit exajoules in this text.)

World energy demand grew in 2017 by 8.88 exajoules. The fastest growing source of new energy on this planet was not so called “renewable energy.”. What the IEA still calls “other renewable energy,” solar, wind, with a little geothermal and tidal thrown in grew in 2017 by 1.21 exajoules. (The IEA excludes the only two significant forms of so called “renewable energy,” hydroelectricity and biomass from this category; they grew by respectively 0.13 exajoules and 1.30 exajoules.) These figures compare to the growth in the energy produced by burning dangerous fossil fuel natural gas, which grew by 4.19 exajoules in 2017, followed by the growth in the energy produced by burning dangerous fossil fuel petroleum, which grew by 1.97 exajoules in 2017. Dangerous natural gas, followed by petroleum, not so called “renewable” energy, despite what you may hear or may be telling yourself, was the fastest growing source of energy on the planet. Combined with the insignificant decline in the use of the dangerous fossil fuel coal (-0.21 exajoules), dangerous fossil fuels combined produced 5.95 of the 8.88 exajoules by which world energy demand increased in 2017, or in the “percent talk” used by partisans of the absurd notion that so called “renewable energy” will save us, dangerous fossil fuels accounted for 66.98% of the growth in energy in 2017.

The lie that natural gas is “cheap” is wholly a function of ignoring its external costs, the flow back water bleeding out of the permanently destroyed bedrock subject to “hydraulic fracturing” – “fracking” – the chemicals and toxic and radioactive materials that water contains, the largely ignored gas explosions around the world, all of these baleful things nonetheless being dwarfed by climate change to which dangerous natural gas is a party to be sure, all costs that will not be paid by the assholes who claim that natural gas is “cheap” but by all human beings, and all living things that live after us.

Ivanpah provides fifteen millionths of the world energy supply. Ignoring all the horseshit about energy storage - the second law of thermodynamics requires that the storage of energy wastes energy - to make the thus far useless and ineffective so called "renewable energy" industry able to provide continuous rather than sporadic energy, this means that to produce the world energy supply with "Ivanpahs" would require 105,000,000 square kilometers. These square kilometers would need to be in the equivalent of US Southwestern deserts with respect to their total irradiance, a function largely of cloud cover, i.e. the weather. In addition note that these plants would be even more useless in any place where the ground is covered for a significant amount of time with snow, not that the continued existence of snow is likely given the complete technical inadequacy in addressing climate change by which humanity imagines – when it doesn’t ignore – the problem. The paper cited above, A preliminary assessment of avian mortality at utility-scale solar energy facilities in the United States, contains a map of the United States showing the irradiance of areas of the United States. The Ivanpah plant is located in one of the regions, showing kwh/m^2/day, of greater than or equal to 7.6. Of course the efficiency of the transformation is represented by the experimental results for the performance of the plant.

Nearly the entire State of Arizona is in the same category of irradiance as observed at Ivanpah, which is located at near the Southern most Nevada border in California. The State of Arizona is about 295,000 square kilometers total, or roughly 1/3 the size of the area needed to produce 105,000,000 square kilometers of Ivanpahs, again ignoring the huge thermodynamic penalty of energy storage, not to mention energy transport.

If, with the knee jerk pablum involving sticking your fingers in your ears about how great so called "renewable energy" is, and thus your response is "It's only desert" all I can say, as an environmentalist, is, excuse my language, "Fuck you!"

A proposal to cover three Arizonas – and this applies to the planet as whole, not just the United States - with mirrors subject to blasting by sand and requiring water to wash them periodically is not environmentalism. It's foolishness, at best, rank stupidity at worst, to put even a shred of faith in this nonsensical unworkable approach.

According to the World Energy Outlook, in 2017 alone, the increase in the amount of the dangerous fossil fuel waste carbon dioxide was half a billion tons, or half the amount of carbon dioxide I propose to split in my thought experiment suggested at the outset of this post. It’s a thought experiment because with the exception of the experimental UHTREX nuclear reactor mentioned above, neither a solar thermal nor a nuclear plant has been built that has demonstrated sustained temperatures of around 1400C.

Indeed in the paper cited with at the outset, which claims to be a paper about using “solar thermal energy” the primary energy source used in the demonstration is not solar energy at all. It’s xenon arcs, presumably powered by reliable electricity which the authors claim “simulates” solar thermal energy, should it ever actually be practically available.

To wit, from the experimental part of their paper:

Experimentation was performed at the High Flux Solar Simulator of ETH Zurich. An array of seven Xe-arcs, close-coupled to truncated ellipsoidal reflectors, provided an external source of intense thermal radiation, mostly in the visible and infrared spectra, which closely approximated the heat transfer characteristics of highly concentrating solar systems such as towers and dishes. The radiative flux distribution at the aperture plane was measured using a calibrated CCD camera (BASLER, A 1021) focused on a refrigerated Al2O3 plasma-coated Lambertian (diffusely reflecting) target. The total solar radiative power input Psolar was calculated by flux integration and verified by water calorimetry. Temperatures were measured using type-B thermocouples. Gas flow rates were regulated using electronic mass flow controllers (Bronkhorst F-201 C). The cavity pressure was monitored using a capacitance diaphragm vacuum gauge (THERMOVAC TTR 101). A dry vacuum pump (Adixen ACP 15) was attached to the outlet port of the solar reactor via two parallel electro-pneumatic (Pfeiffer AVC 025 PA) and variable-cross-section magnet (SMC PVQ 33-6G-40-01F) valves for soft evacuation during the reduction step, which were bypassed via a magnet valve (SMC VX214FGAXB) during the oxidation step. Product gas composition was analyzed downstream by gas chromatography (Varian 490), supplemented by an electrochemical sensor for O2 (Siemens Ultramat 23) and IR detectors for CO and CO2 (Siemens Ultramat 23). Uncertainty in the gas compositions and flow rates was estimated by propagating measurement accuracies using the manufacturer’s specifications.

The bold is mine. Note that much of the other equipment by which the system operated is electrically operated or controlled as well. Some of the equipment is for experimental determinations, for example the gas chromatograph, but other pieces such as valve controllers, temperature monitors and vacuum pumps (or, alternatively, compressors), would be required during any putative commercial operation of this device.

Irrespective of the authors’ reliance on a “solar simulator” using xenon arcs, they claim that the technology for concentrating what they call “DNI” for “Direct Normal solar Irradiation” to what they then call “3000 suns” already exists. Then, without much consideration of the surface area required to convert DNI to “3000 suns,” on a scale to represent a significant portion of the 584.98 exajoules humanity was consuming as of 2017 – half a century into all the worldwide wild cheering for solar energy even as dangerous fossil fuel use continues to rise rapidly, despite solar “investments” – they offer us an equation for the “ideal” maximal thermal efficiency of a solar thermal system, including both a Steffan-Boltzman term and a Carnot term:

From my perspective this equation, while claiming to address the efficiency of “solar to fuel” seems not to account for the chemical thermodynamics, although perhaps they consider it “included” as they offer us the enthalpy term (but not the entropy term or ΔG, the Gibbs Free Energy) for the overall reaction of splitting carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide and oxygen, 234 kJ/mol, and refer also to the operating temperature at which the reaction theoretically takes place, 1773K (1500 C). Using this equation and plugging in some values they calculate that the “ideal” (maximal) efficiency of the solar to fuel conversion is 63%. This said, the thermodynamics of gas phase reactions in real life is very much dependent on conditions other than temperature, notably pressure and flow, but OK, I can live with this statement.

Now after all this rambling and commentary we are free to compare the cerium requirements to split one billion tons of carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide and oxygen. Let’s first consider the stoichiometric case wherein the reaction goes 100% to completion, something that will not happen for reasons I’ll discuss below, that is the case where all of the Ce2O3 is oxidized to CeO2 while reducing carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide, and all of the CeO2 so obtained is reduced back to Ce2O3 by quantitatively releasing oxygen under thermal conditions.

Exactly one billion tons of carbon dioxide represents 2.272 X 10^13 moles of carbon dioxide. Although the stoichiometry of this reaction is 1:1 for the reduction of carbon dioxide were it not cyclic would require the same number of moles of Ce2O3, which is 81.408% cerium by weight, the reaction is cyclic, and thus the amount of cerium required is wholly a function of the number of cycles that can be carried out in a year. Thus the pertinent point is the capacity utilization of either solar thermal or nuclear plants. In so doing it is important to point out that, the experimental results from the paper notwithstanding, that in making this calculation as a thought experiment since neither nuclear plants nor solar thermal plants carrying out chemical reactions (other than to the extent that they combust dangerous natural gas) exist.

Above I stated that the capacity utilization of the Ivanpah plant was 24.20% and thus it might be reasonable to assume that a putative solar plant for conducting chemical reactions – in this case splitting carbon dioxide – might be available for 24 hours * .2420 = 5.81 hours a day. However the Ivanpah plant has burned 3,754,206 MMBTU of dangerous natural gas from 2015 to 2017. Seen purely in terms of heat content, this dangerous natural gas accounted for 3.96 petajoules of energy, while the plant produced 2,494,644 MWh of electrical energy which translates to 8.981 petajoules of electricity. Thus one could argue that 44.1% of the energy came from burning dangerous natural gas and indiscriminately dumping the dangerous fossil fuel waste carbon dioxide directly into the atmosphere. However, it might be possible to construct a solar thermal plant that stores some of its heat energy (with the caveat that storing energy wastes energy). For the sake of this thought experiment, I’m going to compromise and assume that the plant provides sufficient heat to split carbon dioxide for four hours a day, avoiding the necessity of imagining a carbon perpetual motion machine in which the carbon dioxide from natural gas is collected and split and hydrogenated for use the next day to heat the device.

The authors of the paper claim that each reaction in the two reactions through which the cycle is realized for splitting carbon dioxide last for 15 minutes meaning that the reaction total is 30 minutes. If my estimate of the capacity factor of the solar thermal powered reactor is justified – and I believe it is – this means that it is possible to complete 8 cycles a day, or 2,922 cycles per year, assuming everything works properly and there are no protracted shutdowns. Under these conditions the requirement for cerium, in the stoichiometric case, where all of the cerium oxides are available to react with carbon dioxide and/or release oxygen, the requirement for cerium which can be calculated using high school level chemistry, is 2,552,419 tons of Ce2O3 which represents 2,179,170 tons of pure cerium metal. Their graphics showing the course of the reaction suggests that the cycle time was slightly longer but let’s go with 30 minutes in this thought experiment:

The caption:
Fig. 2 CO2-splitting redox cycles carried out under a combined temperature/pressure-swing operational mode. Nominal solar reactor temperature, total pressure, and specific O2 and CO evolution rates during two representative CO2-splitting redox cycles carried out at ptotal = 10 mbar and Ar = 0.625 L min^(−1) (solid lines) or ptotal = 1000 mbar and Ar = 7 L min^(−1) (dashed lines) applied during the reduction step. Experimental conditions during reduction: Psolar = 3.5 kW, Treduction = 1500 °C. Experimental conditions during oxidation: Psolar = 0 kW, Toxidation,start = 1000 °C, Toxidation,end = 600 °C, CO2 = 7 min^(−1) at ptotal = 1 bar.


The caption:
Fig. 3 Strategy for controlling the CO2-to-CO conversion. (a) Nominal solar reactor temperature, total pressure, specific O2 and CO evolution rates, CO concentration (solid lines) and the corresponding thermodynamic limit (dashed lines) during three CO2 splitting cycles with varying Toxidation,start. (b) Cumulative CO2-to-CO molar conversion and specific CO yield vs. reactor temperature for the three cycles of (a). Experimental conditions during reduction: Psolar = 3.5 kW, Treduction = 1450 °C, [V with combining dot above]Ar = 0.625 L min^(−1), and ptotal = 10 mbar. Experimental conditions during oxidation: Psolar = 0 kW, [V with combining dot above]CO2 = 3 L min^(−1), ptotal = 1 bar, and Toxidation,start = 1000, 800, and 700 °C.

Now let’s look at the cerium requirements associated with using nuclear energy as the primary source of energy to split carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbon monoxide.

The ignorant people who made a habit of attacking nuclear energy back in the 1970’s and early 1980’s – I was among them – stated that among their many specious objections was the objections that nuclear energy was unreliable, that the systems were so complex that they could never be operated continuously. (The very same people, at least the large subset of them who never bothered to learn how to think – how laughable is this? – never bothered to make the same criticism for their magical views of solar energy, even though solar energy has the lowest capacity utilization of any system for generating electricity.) However these were ignorant people, not engineers who design machines for reliable operation many complex systems, for example, a Boeing 787 aircraft, or for that matter, an electrical grid. Once the bugs were worked out, as represented by devices like the Fort St. Vrain reactor, for the period beginning at the start of the 1990’s through the present day, nuclear reactors have a demonstrated record of being the devices with the highest capacity utilization of any power generating system, higher than coal, higher than gas, higher than petroleum, higher than hydroelectricity, higher than wind and incredibly higher than solar. Reactors routinely run at slightly more than 100% capacity utilization for periods of over a year. Most are shut down only for relatively brief periods of refueling or for routine maintenance.

A new class of nuclear reactors has been developed, or is under development, that are designed to never require refueling, to simply run until they are decommissioned, that is to run for a period of decades continuously with rare or no shutdowns. These types of reactors are known as “breed and burn” reactors. They are started using a small amount of fissionable material, as a practical matter either U-235 or plutonium with pretty much any isotopic vector, that is any distribution of isotopes. (One might also consider U-233, for this purpose although it’s not currently readily available in significant quantities and personally for a number of reasons, I regard plutonium as a superior fuel.) These reactors can run on U-238 as their fuel, so called “depleted uranium,” or even better (since it will generate significant neptunium) the uranium that makes up the bulk of used nuclear fuel. The supplies of depleted uranium already mined and isolated is sufficient to fuel all of humanity’s energy needs for centuries. An example of a “breed and burn” reactor is the Terrapower reactor, funded by Bill Gates: Terrpower Energy Systems and Terrapower Physics. There are several other companies involved in this type of "breed and burn" technology besides Terrapower.

Since "breed and burn" reactors cannot be thermal reactors they have no inherent temperature restrictions, the only limit being the subject of the coolant and the materials science associated with containing the coolant and operating at high temperatures.

Regrettably in my view, most of the world’s fast reactors that have been built thus far rely on sodium coolants, which I regard as a bad habit among nuclear designers. Since this is a thought experiment, let me describe the type of reactor I would like to see built, or at least one permutation of such a reactor that I would design for a cerium based carbon dioxide splitting system. All of the current reactor designs that fill into my imagination (or to denigrate my thinking a bit, fantasies) in recent years utilize liquid plutonium metal as a fuel, since old literature dating from the 1960’s describing the operation of the LAMPRE (Los Alamos Molten Plutonium Reactor Experiment) suggests that molten plutonium has the highest breeding ratio known, in the range of 1.5-1.6. I certainly believe that with modern advances in materials science – many with which I am familiar – this type of reactor can be designed to operate in a “breed and burn” setting. My preferred coolant for this case is liquid strontium metal, since the boiling point, 1377C, of strontium metal is conveniently near the temperature required for the generation of oxygen from CeO2 and can be raised simply by the application of modest pressures. (Other remarkable properties of strontium is that liquid strontium is immiscible with liquid plutonium, and that it is readily available, famously, as a fission product having a low neutron capture cross section. It is also straight forward to remove bulk quantities from water.)


The fact is that there is direct industrial experience with running nuclear reactors at 100% capacity utilization, with the only shut downs being for the purpose of refueling. Therefore since there is a clear path forward to eliminating the need for refueling over the lifetime of a reactor, it is reasonable to suggest the a cerium based carbon dioxide splitting device can also run around the clock, 365.24 days a year for many years. Under these conditions it is possible to have 48 cycles per day, or 17,532 cycles per year. In the stoichiometric case the amount of Ce2O3 required to split 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year is 425,403 metric tons, of which 363,195 tons represents cerium metal.

Thus the difference between the stoichiometric solar thermal case and the stoichiometric nuclear case is that the nuclear case requires 1/6 the amount of cerium when compared to the solar thermal case. Thus as in the material case, the mass efficiency, as well as in the land use case, nuclear is vastly superior to solar thermal energy in this case.

The quantities of cerium required described immediately above, the stoichiometric case, for splitting one billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, using this process, just 3% of what we currently dump each year, represents more than 100% of the current annual production of cerium. A recent Russian Report, Certain Tendencies in the Rare-Earth-Element World Market and Prospects of Russia (Gasanov et al Russian Journal of Non-Ferrous Metals, 2018, Vol. 59, No. 5, pp. 502–511) reports that the recorded world production for Lanthanides (aka "Rare Earth Elements" ) as oxides was on the order 130,000 metric tons, with 30 - 40 tons of additional wildcat illegal mining in China possibly adding to the supply. This report adds that the consumption of these ores is rapidly rising, and may be well above 200,000 metric tons per year by the middle of the next decade. The rising demand for these elements is heavily involved for the quixotic and rapidly failing quest for so called "renewable energy," particularly wind energy, because of the importance of neodymium for making magnets, and (to a lesser extent) dysprosium. Lanthanum is widely used in batteries for some types of cars having electric drives, particularly hybrid cars.

Cerium is widely used as a catalyst for the oxidation of soot and related substances such as biochar from the destructive distillation of biomass - which might be an important path to removing the dangerous fossil fuel waste carbon dioxide from the air should someone ever get serious about that - and the gasification of biological and dangerous fossil fuel asphaltenes and other tars. Another related use is in self-cleaning ovens. The uses described offer a consoling fact about the carbon dioxide splitting technology, since very often catalysts working on carbon monoxide are poisoned by carbon deposits on their surfaces – surfaces being the business end of catalysts as I’ll discuss below – via a common reaction known as the Boudouard reaction, which is the disproportionation of carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide and elemental carbon, graphite. The Boudouard reaction is an important reaction for many purposes, including the potential to strip carbon dioxide from the air, but in catalytic situations its problematic. However since cerium dioxide gasifies carbon back into carbon oxides this is not likely to be a problem in this case.

In former times these ores were mined for their thorium content. Although thorium is not strictly a lanthanide, it is found with them in many lanthanide ores; its chief uses were as a nuclear fuel - a potential replacement for uranium for these purposes since terrestrial thorium is more common than terrestrial uranium - to make mantles for gas lamps, and to make refractory ceramic crucibles for high temperature applications such as molten metal processing. The tailings from these historic mine operations may contain significant lanthanides. Today, the situation has reversed, thorium, a mildly radioactive element and potentially a valuable nuclear fuel is dumped and the lanthanides are kept.

Besides thorium, there are 14 lanthanides as well as the valuable element yttrium - which is not formally a lanthanide but has nearly identical chemistry to most of them - in common lanthanide ores, which fall generally into three minerals, monazite, bastnaesite, and xenotime. The concentration of the various elements in these ores varies considerably from mineral to mineral and site to site. Bastnaesite and Monazite can contain between 40-50% cerium, with lanthanum constituting another 20-30% and neodymium perhaps 15% to 20%. (cf Volker Zepf, Rare Earth Elements, A New Approach to the Nexus of Supply, Demand and Use, Springer, 2013, Table 2.3 page 23.) Xenotine is mined for the "heavy" lanthanides, notably dysprosium, which appear in trace amounts in most bastnaesite and monazite ores, as well as yttrium, which dominates this mineral.

If we generously take 50% as the amount of cerium in produced ores – probably not justified but let’s be optimistic, at least as optimistic (but frankly we are totally out of our minds on this score) as when we bet the planetary atmosphere on so called “renewable energy” – then the annual production of cerium oxide is on the order of 65,000 to 80,000 tons. This is less than 1/6 of the requirement in the stoichiometric nuclear case calculated above, 1/40th the amount required for the solar thermal case, again, for just one billion tons of carbon dioxide, 3% of what we actually dump each year.

Cerium is a fission product, so in the nuclear case a certain amount of it is available from the reprocessing of used nuclear fuels. Happily too, at least if the fuel is reprocessed quickly, said cerium is radioactive, owing to the presence, along with stable Ce-140 and Ce-142, of the wonderful Ce-144 isotope, which has a 284 day half-life and decays via Pr-144 to Nd-144. Nd-144 is also slightly radioactive, but is present in all neodymium ores and in fact, in all neodymium containing magnets, including those in our useless wind turbines, owing to its extremely long half-life, 2.29 quadrillion years, vastly longer than the age of the Earth. The radioactivity, and the resulting heat generated means that this radioactive form might be very useful for isolated uses, particularly the case where the cerium is utilized to gasify asphaltenes and tars from the destructive distillation of biomass, particularly since radiation breaks chemical bonds. But the fact is that the very high energy to mass ratio that makes nuclear energy environmentally superior to all other forms of energy also means that there will never be very much of this material available, certainly not an appreciable scale compared to the putative demand for carbon dioxide splitting.

However the real situation – not that reality is particularly popular when we discuss climate change – is actually far worse than I’ve described above, since in all of the above I’ve been utilizing the stoichiometric case. In the device pictured at the outset of this post, the actual yield is not stoichiometric.

From the paper:

Fig. 2 shows the nominal solar reactor temperature, the total pressure, and the specific O2 and CO evolution rates measured during two representative CO2-splitting redox cycles carried out under the combined temperature/pressure-swing mode. For comparison, both runs were performed under the same experimental conditions, except that either vacuum pressure (ptotal = 10 mbar with [V with combining dot above]Ar = 0.625 L min^(−1); solid lines) or ambient pressure (ptotal = 1000 mbar with [V with combining dot above]Ar = 7 L min^(−1); dashed lines) was applied during the reduction step. Consistent with Le Chatelier's principle, lowering ptotal by two orders of magnitude doubled the specific O2 evolution during reduction to 0.024 mol O2 per mol ceria (total 5.34 L, calculated by integration of the measured O2 evolution rate) at a peak rate of 0.4 mL min^(−1) gCeO2−1. Accordingly, the specific CO yield was twice that of O2 and attained a peak rate of 1.2 mLmin^(−1) gCeO2−1.

Thus the molar ratio for the conversion of CO2 to CO and O2 is decidedly not stoichiometric, 1:1 with respect to Ce2O3, for CO and 1:0.5 with respect to CeO2 for oxygen. In the latter case it is 1:0.024 and for the former 1:0.048.


This lab scale and thus hardly optimized result raises the cerium requirements by a huge amount. It means that for the nuclear case, the requirement for exactly one billion tons of carbon dioxide to be split would be 7,566,562 metric tons of cerium (as the metal) and that for the solar thermal case, it would be 45,399,372 metric tons also as the metal.

Despite all of the rhetoric about so called "renewable energy" being "green," the isolation of the lanthanides is a dirty business; I've discussed this elsewhere in this space: Some life cycle graphics on so called "rare earth elements," i.e. the lanthanides and Yet another paper on the external cost of neodymium iron boride magnets. Even if it could be done, any attempt to scale production of cerium to these levels would represent an environmental catastrophe to be sure, since the current demand for lanthanides for so called "renewable energy" and other purposes is, at best, environmentally dubious. Under these conditions, the whole idea of cerium based carbon dioxide splitting is absurd.

It is possible though, that significant improvements can be made. (It is also true that many other carbon dioxide splitting technologies are known; my favorite is actually a zinc based approach involving gaseous zinc, which involves higher temperatures, at least in the case where my private catalytic thought experiments on reducing these temperatures not prove absurd.)

As noted above, heterogeneous catalysis is a surface phenomenon, and the rise of nanotechnology offers some hope of improving these yields if not to the stoichiometric case then much, much closer to it, by simply, albeit technologically challenging, being sure that all of the cerium is on the surface. One avenue that strikes me, perhaps naively, is utilizing a new class of materials known as “polymer derived ceramics,” or PDC’s, a topic of which I became aware owing to my son’s summer job with researchers working in this area. I’m not as familiar with the structural nature of cerium oxides as I am with the structure of plutonium oxides, but as cerium is often used as a surrogate for plutonium in laboratories, I note that one allotrope of PuO2 – which is highly insoluble – is a plutonium/oxygen polymer. Perhaps something similar can be developed for cerium oxides, I don’t know. To the extent that cerium, polymeric or otherwise, can be coated onto a support, only a few molecules deep, the yields can be improved. But however much they are improved, this particular technology will at best offer a minor, not a major, approach to addressing climate change, should we ever get serious about climate change, which we aren’t and probably won’t be, on the right because of denial, and on the left for focusing on technologies that haven’t worked and aren’t working and won’t work.

Let me make one final point, which was mentioned obliquely in the full paper. This device is an energy storage device. Above I wrote that energy storage wastes energy, which is generally true with one important caveat. If the energy stored is obtained from energy that would otherwise be waste itself, typically heat, then the stored energy is recovered, not wasted.

This system operates at very high temperatures, higher than the boiling point of metallic strontium for example. As it happens metallic working fluids have been historically evaluated as working fluids, chiefly the alkali metals potassium, rubidium and even cesium, the latter for a once slightly fashionable technology to investigate known as thermionic generators. (Most of what we know about the compatibility of materials with gaseous metals dates from this time.) There is no particular reason that this heat cannot be recovered, and thus store otherwise lost energy through high efficiency. Above I noted that early nuclear reactors operated on a Brayton cycle with carbon dioxide gas as a working fluid. Depending on the structural integrity of a cerium based catalyst operating at high temperatures – something not mentioned in this paper – in particular its integrity with respect to pressure gradients, there is no particular reason that the catalyst could also not double as a heating element, the cooling being generated by the expansion of supercritical (pressurized) carbon dioxide in a Brayton generator, with the reduction taking place as a side product of turning a turbine. To a first and widely taught approximation, the pressure of gases is independent of the nature of the gas, as described in the famous “ideal” gas law: PV = nRT. More elaborate refinements aside, Peng Robinson, Soave-Redlich-Kwong, etc, etc, etc… it doesn’t matter if the working fluid is pure carbon dioxide or a mixture of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. Moreover a hot Brayton gas can be utilized to boil other working fluids, most typically water, but others are possible. This is an industrially utilized process for combined cycle plants that are used in the dangerous fossil fuel industry, making dangerous natural gas more efficiently used, and thus inspiring – the Jevon Paradox applies – the rapid growth in this very dangerous technology.

The authors of the paper claim great credit for pointing out that their work has demonstrated a high purity (83%) carbon monoxide. They claim this as an advantage since the separation of the gases for use as synthesis gas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, that theoretically at least can replace all the major products now obtained from the dangerous fossil fuel petroleum, as well as all major products obtained from the dangerous fossil fuel natural gas. In making the claim, the authors represent that carbon dioxide separations are industrially difficult, but the technology is well known on an industrial scale. Even Exxon, a company for a long time worked to fund the murder of all future generations via climate change denial, has done considerable research into carbon dioxide separations. This is because mined quantities of dangerous natural gas often contain significant amounts of carbon dioxide which needs to be removed before the dangerous natural gas can be burned and its waste dumped without restriction in our favorite waste dump, the planetary atmosphere on which all living things depend, so Exxon knows very well how to separate carbon dioxide from gas streams. Thus there is no particular reason that the gas needs to be extremely pure; the entire process might well be more efficient if it isn’t. (Nobel Laureate George Olah showed that the synthesis of the world’s best chemical fuel, dimethyl ether, actually requires catalytic amounts of carbon dioxide in the mixture, in order to synthesize this fuel directly (without a methanol intermediate) from synthesis gas.

By the way, it is worth noting that if one has carbon monoxide, one has access to hydrogen – if and only if – one also has access to water, a case that is problematic in deserts where monstrosities like Ivanpah are located. Almost all of the world’s industrial hydrogen, approximately 99% of it, is obtained in this way from the famous and industrialized “water gas reaction:”

H2O + CO <-> H2 + CO2.

While this reaction is not accessible at Ivanpah or similar places, for instance if we intend to cover three Arizona equivalents with this useless and unsustainable junk, it is very much accessible for nuclear plants located on shore lines. (Please don’t hand me any bullshit about Fukushima here; focus on Fukushima is garbage thinking, selective attention that is incredibly toxic.) Very high temperatures make supercritical water accessible, and salts are insoluble in supercritical water as opposed to liquid water, meaning that this is a potential technology for desalination, which from my perspective, given our failure to address climate change, may prove necessary. Seawater also contains concentrated carbon dioxide when compared to the atmosphere, and considerable amounts of biomass – especially when highly polluted as is the case with the Mississippi River Delta owing to eutrophication, the explosion of biomass. All of these represent potentially efficient opportunities for the capture of carbon dioxide from the air, a question that the authors of this paper completely gloss over, “whence the carbon dioxide for the reaction to take place?”

The carbon dioxide in our atmosphere represents dumped entropy - some of the efficiency of the use of dangerous fossil fuels is connected with the dilution of carbon from ordered to disordered states. The reversal of those centuries of dumped entropy represent another huge burden we’ve placed on future generations as we’ve been too lazy to think, to self-absorbed with our consumerist nightmares and horseshit about Tesla cars and the like, to care. The reversal of this accumulated entropy will require additional energy – vast amounts of it – and no, solar thermal plants won’t cut it.

This I realize is a long post, and probably almost no one will read it, but if nothing else, it clarified my thinking on the subject, as well as taught me things, in writing it, and thus was a useful enterprise for my week off for the holidays.

I trust your holidays have been thus far as happy and as rewarding and joyful as mine have been. I wish you a happy, safe, and productive New Year.

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Reply Cerium Requirements to Split One Billion Tons of Carbon Dioxide, the Nuclear v Solar Thermal cases. (Original post)
NNadir Dec 30 OP
defacto7 Dec 30 #1
defacto7 Dec 31 #2
NNadir Jan 1 #3
defacto7 Jan 4 #4
NNadir Jan 6 #5

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Mon Dec 31, 2018, 07:40 AM

2. Fascinating II

The detail in your entries always fascinates me. It's not just the mass of information but the layers of depth that most don't dig into, and in that depth lie answers that make the difference between what's real and what's popular. It's almost like there's a layer of propaganda that meets the needs of the semi-intelligent progressive layered just above the life and death reality of science like a wall people fear to pass. Half-baked information looks good, feels good, it meets the needs of the hopeful and the pocketbooks of the entrepreneur but what lies below is the realm of those who want to really know what is ahead of us and how to proceed (a purposeful split infinitive).

I was hiking yesterday in Arches National Park in a section called The Fiary Furnace. It's a labyrinth of geological fins of colosal purportions, quite dangerous and has a most delicate ecology. There are very limited markers and getting lost is almost part of the adventure. There is a limit to the number allowed in and it requires a permit and a lecture by a park ranger to enter. While hiking, I met a man who looked like me, about my age, but who was probably my exact opposite. I noticed he had no permit. He was lost fumbling through the maze and complaining that there were no directions. I told him how to follow certain markers that would lead him out and to be careful of the delicate growth. He sneered and said he wasn't going out and that no one "can tell him what to walk on" and he went the wrong way. I didn't get to tell him that if he steps on the black-crusted cryptobiotic soil going in that direction he could slip and fall down cliffs in several places. Sigh...

Sorry for getting philosophical and a bit off topic, but I just wonder sometimes how a person of experience and intellect like yourself views hope. You know of science what I can only trust. I would like to hear how you see the path we're on as a species. Some of us look for the way out of a dilemma while some are stubbornly stupid. I hope I'm the former.


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Response to defacto7 (Reply #2)

Tue Jan 1, 2019, 09:34 AM

3. Well, I think we're all a bit like that guy in the fiery furnace...

...an interesting name for a place in the current context. We're stumbling blindly in ignorance and arrogance into situations we are barely capable of understanding.

We've all on some level, particularly in this country, bought into that libertarian bull about how every individual can do whatever the hell he or she wants, the rest of humanity be damned, and somehow ignore that basic biological fact that we are, by our very nature, social animals. Human beings didn't come to dominate the biosphere and in possession of the ability to destroy it as a result of the "freedom of the individual." This interesting but dangerous biological outcome rather came about because of large collective colonies of human beings working toward common goals, whether it was the Great Wall of China, Neil Armstrong's trip to the moon, or Genghis Khan's conquest of most of Asia and parts of Europe. This childish Ayn Rand worshipping bull is highly toxic. As I always say, and as my son finally agreed last evening over a glass of champagne, if you still take Ayn Rand seriously and your acne has gone away, there's something drastically wrong with you. (He told me, "Dad, my acne's cured..." even if he never actually had acne.)

Individuals - and this is the great danger to the survival of our species - however can be extremely ignorant and yet influential, and to the extent that ignorant people help drive the choice of goals a society chooses can have horrible consequences, this has been true for tyrants like Joseph Stalin as well as for muddle headed "public intellectuals" like, for example, Amory Lovins.

When I was a kid, I used to think that everyone who could discuss things about which I knew nothing were correct about the things in question, since they were aware of them, and I wasn't.

Of course, since I knew very little on my own, and was fairly intellectually lazy, I never actually knew if the people whose opinions I absorbed as if they were my own were actually qualified to form the opinions they did.

Take for example, one of my personal bete noires, the bombastic barely literate fool Amory Lovins. When I was a kid, he was given the MacArthur Fellowship the so called "genius award." He's appeared on television, given lecture tours, given lectures at universities, etc, etc, etc...

It was easy to pretend to be educated by simply adopting his opinions and claim that they were identical to mine.

Consider this piece of drivel that this ass wrote in 1980:

Nuclear Power and Nuclear Bombs

It opens with this nonsensical, ignorant, garbage statement:

The nuclear proliferation problem, as posed, is insoluble. All policies to control proliferation have assumed that that the worldwide spread of nuclear power is essential to reduce dependence on oil, economically desirable, and inevitable..." blah, blah, blah.

The rest of this drivel goes on to announce that nuclear power is dying (in 1980) and that the world will "inevitably" move to so called renewable energy and conservation, the world being in Lovins decidedly racist myopia is white middle class Americans like him, Americans with their heads up their asses.

The problem with that is that Amory Lovins is a moron, and nothing like the "scientist" he bills himself as being. He's as much a "scientist" as a shaman with a bag full of coca leaves is a medical doctor.

Nevertheless, if you read this text, the way it is written, it can sound authoritative, as if Amory Lovins actually knew something about nuclear anti-proliferation policy. He doesn't. Nor did he even have the slightest idea of what the goal of the nuclear industry was in 1980, which was not to displace oil but rather to displace coal. (The first commercial nuclear power plant in the Western World, the Calder Hall reactor, was financed as a threat to British Coal miners and their habit of striking and shutting British industry down.) This tiresome fool, Lovins, who ultimately made tons of money "consulting" for oil sands and other petroleum companies - as his biography openly states, from 2011-2018, he served on the National Petroleum Council, possibly joining his fellow shitheads, some of whom were from say, Exxon, for drinks at evening hotel bars during meetings, has almost certainly never opened a serious paper on the properties of nuclear fuels or nuclear engineering in his pathetic and highly immoral life.

When I was a kid, most people worried about nuclear war worried about the destruction of the United States. It is worth noting that since 1980, roughly 250 million people have died from air pollution, and in 1980, 250 million was roughly the population of the United States. Nor did the nuclear power industry die; it grew by more than "1000 percent" - to use the twisted rhetoric of the apologists for the failed "renewable energy will save us" - after 1980, to around 28 exajoules per year (where it is stuck), making it more significant than wind, solar, geothermal and tidal power combined by a factor of almost three.

One of the signature practices of dumb anti-nukes like Lovins is to cite themselves or to cite one another. (Lovins first major publication, the one that won him the "genius" award, Energy Strategy, the Road Not Taken is almost completely devoid of references and consists entirely of innuendo and specious pronouncements that he presents as if they were oracular. Lovins clearly is not widely read, or if he reads at all, is incompetent to understand the text.) If you read Lovins text on nuclear bombs you rapidly realize that many of his citations are citations of himself.

If you have a stronger stomach than I do, and don't use the "ignore" button here as freely as I do, you will find that the anti-nuke morons who write here often cite other equally uneducated anti-nukes reproducing their "authoritative" sounding but completely illiterate specious rhetoric. (We used to have an idiot here whose entire contribution here was largely cut and paste bull from anti-nuke websites.)

As for nuclear weapons, the administrative driver of the construction of the US nuclear industry was, unlike the college dropout Lovins is, a scientist who had actively worked for nuclear anti-proliferation and who given his enormous prestige as a Nobel Prize winning scientist, utilized said prestige to serve as the head US diplomat to negotiate the successful 1963 atmospheric nuclear weapons test ban treaty, Glenn Seaborg.

At the risk of citing myself - although I provide external references therein - I have pointed out that nuclear war has always been possible and always will be possible (since uranium exists) - but the key to eliminating nuclear weapons is only possible via the increased and highly developed use of nuclear power: On Plutonium, Nuclear War, and Nuclear Peace

The point of all this is that, rather like the fool you met wandering in Arches Park, it is easy to get lost, particularly if one is intellectually lazy and inappropriately self satisfied and self assured. Amory Lovins is hardly the only badly uneducated "public moron" to develop influence. A lazy person - and I know this from personal experience - might read drivel like that from Lovins and consider that he or she "knows" all that he or she "needs to know." Hell, I probably read Lovins stupid 1980 "Nuclear bombs" paper and took it seriously. I also once had pimples and read Ayn Rand and even took that drivel seriously for a short term, but my pimples cleared up.

That's wrong.

When Chernobyl blew up, I honestly believed that hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people would die, because "I knew all I needed to know" about nuclear power. (Although I was a trained chemist, I had never taken a course in nuclear chemistry, never mind courses in nuclear engineering, advanced particle physics. What I knew of nuclear reactions might have been a chapter or two in a undergraduate college physics course, read it and regurgitate it stuff.) Out of curiosity coupled with general concern for the potential victims, I pulled my copy of the Handbook of Chemistry and Physics off the shelf and began to look into the properties of the radioactive materials being discussed on the news. I noticed a little parameter known as the "neutron capture cross section," and having no idea what it was, went to a library to learn more about it.

It took maybe a month or two of reading on these topics expanding on the issue of "neutron capture cross sections" to discover that I clearly knew more about nuclear energy than Amory Lovins ever knew or ever will know.

In this process, I learned that my intellectual laziness was wrong, and decided it was unacceptable, particularly if I wanted to become a moral person, which I clearly wasn't. (I had just married the woman of my dreams, and I knew I had a long way to go to be worthy of her; and I knew to be worthy of her, I'd have to develop a strong sense of ethics.)

After that realization, I made it a rule to confront every subject about which I felt I needed to know but about which I knew nothing. This involved reading on subjects I never even thought about, embracing every new idea and every new concept I could find, wrestling with them, being thrown by them, getting up, dusting myself off and try again to think about them, try out ideas around them, reading, reading and then reading, struggling against the hard things, often failing to really understand stuff, but not giving up. I've had a lot of nonsensical ideas, and rejected ideas that I thought were nonsensical only to look at them again and find some value.

My current rule is to spend between five to ten hours a week in academic libraries, some of which is dedicated in certain programmed rituals of reading - specific journals for instance - and some of which is just random wandering through topics that carry me along and finally have developed some confidence in my own worth.

As for hope...

I wouldn't write what I write here if I had no hope.

I define hope is the belief that what seems improbable is still possible, and that everything that is was once improbable. (This is a basic fact of statistical mechanics which translates, at least metaphorically, into the larger world.)

My effort at hope is to display what it already known and what is possible and not widely understood, and further to think critically about the implications and practical aspects of this knowledge. It's fine to look at a paper about the use of cerium to split carbon dioxide into oxygen and the fuel precursor carbon monoxide, and very easy to get excited about it. It is a different matter to consider what it might look like on scale.

This is the problem, scale.

I personally believe that the solutions to the world's environmental problems and, along with them, many social problems, are already known, that they exist. This does not imply they are easy things to execute, only that they exist, nor does it imply that these solutions will be applied, again, only that they exist and are known, at least by specialists.

I believe it's improbable that they will be embraced without even more destruction than what we are observing as an on going affair right now. Many social and political things that are going on mystify me, for instance the world wide rise of fascism, which I can best attribute to the fact that the people who last had the direct knowledge of what fascism does, those who lived through the 1930's and 1940's are all dead or dying.

These social and political things are certainly very much involved in the failure to embrace the technology of survival. But perhaps things will get bad enough that the right things will be done and some of what's been lost can be restored, because the essence of experiment is to find the thing that is understood to work, as opposed to wallowing in comfortable but unworkable fantasies.

I have a good feel for what will work and clear knowledge of what has not worked, is not working and won't work. I don't see the political will on either the right or the left, or for that matter, seriously, in the "middle," to do the things that will work; I'm a dissident, an unknown dissident, to steal John McLaughlin's phrase. In my lifetime though, and elsewhere in history, I've dissidents who have been vindicated; I have faith that if I have had a single original idea and I die with it, someone else will discover it, if it has value. I'm not especially smart.

I'm reading some musing about the life of the 13th century Mathematician "Fibonacci" who apparently wasn't actually named "Fibonacci" and who didn't actually discover the famous "Fibonacci sequence" but nonetheless changed the world by bringing arithmetic to barbarian Europe. He was forgotten as a man, but his ideas survived, because his ideas worked, they made commerce possible. And now, more than half a millennium after he died, they're looking him up.

The young people I meet through my sons often inspire me. They may face a world with problems of unimaginable disastrous import, something on the scale of the the plague in medieval Europe and Western Asia, or something on the scale (or worse) of the Second World War. I feel for them and the awful (soon to be historical) responsibility of my generation for doing this to them, creating this mess through sheer indifference, weighs heavily on me. But it is their turn to face the world, and hopefully change it for the better, if need be, from ashes.

In many ways, my sons are far more talented, far brighter, far more educated than I was when I was their age. They know how to think, and how to think critically and most importantly how to learn. They criticize and correct my ideas when I am wrong, and they teach me. They will shortly be ready to do their share.

It is people like them, the young and the well prepared, who will make the possible but improbable into the explored, perhaps the realized, the developed and the operative. They, and the millions of people like them around the world have the intellectual and ethical, as well as informational, tools to do great good in the face of great assaults and violence against decency. They have, for example, Malala, who got shot in the face and as a result had the chance and opportunity to save the world, a chance and opportunity which she took, becoming far stronger than the people who shot her.

They are what I call "hope."

Thanks for asking. Have a happy New Year.

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Response to NNadir (Reply #3)

Fri Jan 4, 2019, 04:43 PM

4. Thank you for the thought provoking reply.

I don't know that I personally deserve such an all encompassing effort but I'm honored to have been offered a window into your processes and philosophy. I cannot find anything to disagree with in your reply, not that I'm looking for something mind you, I just think we are pretty much on the same board. It's encouraging to know I'm not the only incurable autodidact out there who has empathy for the earth and raised lip toward the stupid that emanates from society.

On the subject of Randianism, hell I'm not going there. Every time that subject comes up I want to gag myself with a spoon. On a lighter note but with similar disdain I hold the dangerous ideas of.. prepare yourself... Mr. Rogers for injecting narcissism into the minds of generations of preschool children with the trope "You are special" and "There is no other child in the world just like you" bullshit. We are not special, perfect individuals whose every act is sacrosanct, infallable and that must not be criticized. That is contrary to a successful natural world and evolution itself. It doesn't surprise me that so many children from the 80's and 90's have grown into adulthood expecting to be at the top of every field by osmosis and become frustrated and disillusioned at society and politics when they are not. They seem destined to seek a perfect mystical being and system to fill that hole in their perfection, and therewith "subdue the earth and every creature" to fill the bottomless majesterial pocket... the underling be damned. I digress.

I don't want to blame Mr. Rogers as a singular evil that caused a rash of narcissism in those generations but that idea was rampant in psychology starting in the 70's. I see a clash between necessary and successful "collective colonies of human beings working toward common goals" and the ridiculous and dangerous expectation that every child will become a king or a queen. BTW, there has never been a TV or cable in my home and my children have never had the misfortune of plopping before such gods of disgust after coming home from school... they are brilliant, ethical and empathetic.

On mistakes of my youth - that line reaches right to the present. My views are always ready to evolve; I've made too many mistakes and held too many misconceptions to think otherwise. With one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel my journey is still fresh. You, for one, helped me fix a major deficiency in my knowledge of nucear energy and the backward thinking of "renewables" as they exist in the present technology. I too was an anti-nuke know-nothing not too long ago. I read some of your material, had a cow... or several.. studied up on your "incredulous accusations" and -ping- the light went on with the exclamation, "oh my god he's right". Now, I don't have the same mind you do, I'm an artist, musician type with a propensity toward the aural and visual, so I can only go so far into the physics at this point, but we all at some point have to trust those with verifiable knowledge. That's not a blind faith, mind you, it's trust and trust can change as the data changes where faith dismisses data. So I keep digging and at 62 I've dug a pretty deep hole so far. But you know, I think I'm still getting somewhere.

Hope - Ah, there's the rub. I tend to be pessimistic by matter of personal experience, my limited study of human nature plus the general times we live in with all the baggage it contains. But I think you are right, that hope is the "belief that what seems improbable is still possible" and I know that "everything that is was once improbable". Our children, your's and mine are what give me a vision of the possibilities beyond the probabilities. We're not going to experience their future so why should we predict it. All we can do is keep fighting against the prevailing stupid and keep pointing to the landmarks that can lead us out of that firey furnace.

All the best to you this new year.


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Response to defacto7 (Reply #4)

Sun Jan 6, 2019, 08:17 AM

5. Anyone who is in his or her sixties and has the intellectual and moral strength...

Last edited Sun Jan 6, 2019, 12:18 PM - Edit history (1)

...to change his or her mind on a subject so fraught with mysticism as energy is in our culture is a very worthy person, particularly if one is not a scientist.

I changed my mind more than thirty years ago, because the events at Chernobyl answered with finality - by an unfortunate and tragic experiment - what the worst case would be, and the worst case was nothing like what I had allowed myself to be trained to believe. To my mind, this demanded rethinking. The best case for dangerous fossil fuels is indescribably worse than the worst case for nuclear power. Hell, nuclear power isn't even as dangerous as the invention of the automobile was.

This said, my mind was far more flexible when I was younger, although it must be said that may have been a function of not knowing very much.

For the record, my oldest son is an artist, and also recently - somewhat to my surprise, - developing a strong interest in becoming a scientific autodidact and doing quite well at it. I'm rather impressed, in awe actually, at how hard artists work, as artists, with or without scientific knowledge, and how deep they go, and what they must know and feel to succeed. I am very proud of the fact that his recent work involves evocation of the dire state of our environment. I'm biased of course, but it strikes me as an important approach to seeing what's actually happening.

I've always loved art, but never understood exactly except in an abstract way how much effort and struggle went into it.

Your evocation of the guy in the Fiery Furnace struck me as a wonderful metaphor when I read it, worthy of someone with a well developed artistic sense.

Thanks again.

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