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NNadir

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Must have been a hell of a place in the 1940's, that Cambridge...

Dirac, Hoyle, Lennard-Jones, Wittgenstein...

Cambridge in 1947 had greatly changed since 1943. The university was crowded with students in their late twenties who had spent many years away at the war. In addition, the lectures were given by the younger generation who had also been away on research projects. There was a general air of excitement as these people turned their attention to new scientific challenges. I remained as a mathematics student but spent the academic year 1947-8 taking courses in as many branches of theoretical science as I could manage. These included quantum mechanics (taught in part by Dirac), fluid dynamics, cosmology and statistical mechanics. Most of the class opted for research in fundamental areas of physics such as quantum electrodynamics which was an active field at the time. I felt that challenging the likes of Einstein and Dirac was overambitious and decided to seek a less crowded (and possibly easier) branch of science. I developed an interest in the theory of liquids, particularly as the statistical mechanics of this phase had received relatively little attention, compared with solids and gases. I approached Fred Hoyle, who was giving the statistical mechanics lectures (following the death of R.H. Fowler). However, his current interests were in the fields of astrophysics and cosmology, which I found rather remote from everyday experience. I next approached Sir John Lennard-Jones (LJ), who had published important papers on a theory of liquids in 1937. He held the chair of theoretical chemistry at Cambridge and was lecturing on molecular orbital theory at the time. When I approached him, he told me that his interests were currently in electronic structure but he would very possibly return to liquid theory at some time. On this basis, we agreed that I would become a research student with him for the following year. Thus, after the examinations in June 1948, I began my career in theoretical chemistry at the beginning of July. I had almost no chemical background, having last taken a chemistry course at BGS at the age of fifteen. Other important events took place in my life at this time. In late 1947, I was attempting to learn to play the piano and rented an instrument for the attic in which I lived in the most remote part of Trinity College. The neighbouring room was occupied by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who had retired to live in primitive and undisturbed conditions in the same attic area. There is some evidence that my musical efforts distracted him so much that he left Cambridge shortly thereafter. In the following year, I sought out a professional teacher. The young lady I contacted, Joy Bowers, subsequently became my wife. We were married in Great St. Mary's Church, Cambridge in 1952, after a long courtship. Like many other Laureates, I have benefit immeasurably from the love and support of my wife and children. Life with a scientist who is often changing jobs and is frequently away at meetings and on lecture tours is not easy. Without a secure home base, I could not have made much progress. The next ten years (1948-1958) were spent in Cambridge. I was a research student until 1951, then a research fellow at Trinity College and finally a lecturer on the Mathematics Faculty from 1954 to 1958. Cambridge was an extraordinarily active place during that decade. I was a close observer of the remarkable developments in molecular biology, leading up to the double helix papers of Watson and Crick. At the same time, the X-ray group of Perutz and Kendrew (introduced to the Cavendish Laboratory by Lawrence Bragg) were achieving the first definitive structures of proteins. Elsewhere, Hoyle, Bondi and Gold were arguing their case for a cosmology of continuous creation, ultimately disproved but vigorously presented. Looking through the list of earlier Nobel laureates, I note a large number with whom I became acquainted and with whom I interacted during those years as they passed through Cambridge.


From the Nobel Lecture of John Pople

The demise of the ICE is another one of those popular beliefs that is not connected with reality.

I certainly don't want to place myself in the position of endorsing the car CULTure.

This said, certain kinds of self propelled vehicles would be required in a civilized world as opposed to the one in which we live.

Examples would be tractors, delivery trucks (where trains are not available), emergency vehicles etc...

As it happens, electric vehicles are often less clean than are gasoline ICE vehicles. I often point to this paper that shows that air pollution mortality in higher in China for electric cars (but not electric scooters) than air pollution mortality from gasoline powered cars:

Electric Vehicles in China: Emissions and Health Impacts (Cherry et al, Environ. Sci. Technol., 2012, 46 (4), pp 2018–2024).

I discussed this paper at length elsewhere: China Already Has 100 Million Electric Vehicles

The fantasy behind electric cars is that electricity is inherently clean and this is not remotely true. Almost all of the electricity on this planet is generated from dangerous fossil fuels and the fraction of world energy so produced is increasing, not decreasing. Given the number of energy transitions involved in making an electric car run, along with the 2nd law of thermodynamics, an electric car under many circumstances wastes energy and thus is very capable of being worse than a gasoline car.

To the extent we need self-propelled vehicles, I think the paper by the late Nobel Laureate George Olah is the best description of the path to reducing the unacceptably high external costs of the car CULTure, not that the car CULTure as structured now can ever be sustainable.

The highly cited paper is here: Anthropogenic Chemical Carbon Cycle for a Sustainable Future (George A. Olah*, G. K. Surya Prakash, and Alain Goeppert, J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2011, 133 (33), pp 12881–12898)

Of the two fluid fuels Olah proposes, methanol and DME, DME is superior by far, as it is non-toxic and has a very short atmospheric half life, about 5 days.

DME used in a diesel engine, appropriately modified to account for lubricity and DME compatible seals and injectors would be far cleaner than any electric car ever could be.

DME is also a replacement for any type of device running on natural gas, on LPG, and possibly on spark engines. It also is an excellent refrigerant, heat storage medium (as a supercritical fluid) and a very useful chemical solvent that is easy to remove simply by pressure release. It is easy to remove from water and, again, has very low toxicity.

It can be made directly or indirectly (from methanol), depending on the nature of the catalyst by direct hydrogenation of carbon dioxide.

Hydrogen, which is useless as consumer fuel but very valuable as a captive intermediate can either be made by thermochemical water splitting or thermochemical carbon dioxide splitting cycles, the latter because of the water gas shift reaction. Many of these are known. My personal favorite is a variant of the ZnO cycle, the variant producing at one step, an equimolar mixture of carbon dioxide and oxygen which would be very convenient for closed combustion (smoke stack free) of waste materials and biomass, thus affording concentrated carbon monoxide as a useful intermediate for fixing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to make things like polymers and carbon fiber type materials.

These thermochemical cycles, although often proposed for useless and unworkable solar thermal schemes are easily adaptable to nuclear reactors, which is why whenever I dream of nuclear reactors, I am thinking of ones that operate at much higher temperatures than those currently in use, in some cases, "pre-melted" reactors.

These very high temperature reactors would have very high thermodynamic efficiency and would in fact produce electricity as a side product and not as the primary end product.

Thanks for asking. Have a nice evening.

Brief Comments on the Moltex Reactor Concept and Nuclear Creativity...

Light water nuclear reactors and, albeit not on the same scale, heavy water reactors, have been spectacularly successful devices that have saved, according to Pushker Karecha and Jim Hansen's calculations - which I cite often - close to two million lives that otherwise would have been lost to air pollution.

Prevented Mortality and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Historical and Projected Nuclear Power (Pushker A. Kharecha* and James E. Hansen Environ. Sci. Technol., 2013, 47 (9), pp 4889–4895)

None of this is meant to imply that nuclear technology is risk free; clearly it isn't. However, nuclear technology need not be risk free to be vastly superior to all other forms of energy, all of which, in terms of risk, when compared to nuclear energy have vastly - and I do mean vastly - greater risks than nuclear energy, despite the extremely ignorant selective attention paid by the awful and mindless anti-nuke mentality that goes around killing human beings continuously and entirely unnecessarily by the use - and regrettably publicly accepted - of incredibly poor logic.

Of course, these reactors, light and heavy water reactors, might have saved more lives were it not for the fear and ignorance of anti-nukes, a group of people for whom I openly hold in intellectual and moral contempt.

The huge success of light and heavy water reactors in saving human lives notwithstanding, these reactor types represent only a tiny subset of possible nuclear reactors. Early in what Alvin Weinberg - once the head of the Oak Ridge Laboratory - described as the "first nuclear era," a number of other types of reactors, generally as prototypes, were built and operated with varying degrees of success. Some very interesting and potentially superior forms of nuclear reactors (to the spectacularly successful light and heavy water versions) were built and operated on a pilot scale.

Weinberg, pictured below with John F. Kennedy and Al Gore's father (then US senator Al Gore Sr.) in the control room of an Oak Ridge Reactor wrote a book with the title evoked above, The First Nuclear Era, Life and Times of a Nuclear Fixer



A few other reactor types have also been commercialized, for example, the British commercialized two novel reactor types, Magnox reactors, and AGCR, the Advanced Gas Cooled Reactor. (An American Gas Cooled Reactor which used helium rather than the carbon dioxide coolant in the AGCR was an economic failure.)

The first Magnox reactor, Calder Hall I, was commissioned in 1956 - making it the western world's first commercial nuclear reactor - and operated until 2003. Although they were developed using 1950's technology, they were rather successful devices. Calder Hall I shut after 47 years, the record for this primitive technology, and 18 of the 26 examples of this type of reactor operated for 40 years or more before being decommissioned, the last one, Wyfa 12 being shut down in 2012 after 41 years of operation.


In the last decade or so, many people have been focused on the LTMSR, Liquid Thorium Molten Salt Reactor, based on an experiment supervised by Alan Weinberg, the MSRE, which involved a solution phase reactor consisting of a molten salt, a eutectic mixture of lithium fluoride and beryllium fluoride - a mixture called "FLIBE" - in which thorium tetrafluoride and uranium tetrafluoride are dissolved. The uranium in this case is a synthetic isotope, U-233 formed from the capture of a neutron in thorium followed by two beta decays. (The very first commercial nuclear reactor operated in the United States, the Shippingport reactor, ran for one fuel cycle on thorium/U-233 fuel.) U-233 (unlike U-235) is, under the thermal neutron spectra resulting from interaction of fast neutrons with moderating lithium and beryllium, a breeder fuel, and therefore can be used to accumulate fissionable fuel.

For a while I was personally intrigued by this idea, and dreamed up several modifications, some of which other people had also thought of before I did, and a few that might have been purely original.

Ultimately though, I changed my mind about this reactor, sometimes advertised as "off the shelf," mostly because I cannot endorse a reactor utilizing beryllium, which is an extremely toxic element, and which, although in its natural form is monoisotopic beryllium-9, can absorb a neutron to make the long lived radioisotope beryllium-10. (Also one isotope of lithium, Li-6, generates tritium in a neutron flux. This would be fine in a world in which fusion reactors were a reality, but might otherwise prove problematic, even though the decay product of tritium (half life 12.23 years) is the valuable and rare helium-3 isotope.

To avoid tritium accumulation, it might prove necessary to separate out lithium-6, an expensive process, although one with considerable industrial experience owing to the use of lithium-6 in the manufacture of thermonuclear ("hydrogen" ) bombs.

Other people have noted some of the problems with the lithium/beryllium reactors and have come up with some inventive ways of avoiding its problems.

I was recently directed in this space to another modification of this type of reactor, which apparently is designed to avoid some of the problems with FLIBE reactors, the "MOLTEX" reactor.

The post directing me there, in response to my comments about my favorite reactor type du jour, the LAMPRE is here:

MOLTEX

My LAMPRE comment, to which the above was a response is here: My hope is that in a future time, this plutonium will have real value. Bomb cores based...

The MOLTEX company website is here: Moltex Energy

I've spent some time going through the MOLTEX concept. (The document is rather long, well written, well thought out and nicely illustrated.) From my perspective, it's not the type of reactor I would find to be ideal for various reasons I have no time to discuss, but what is beautiful, absolutely beautiful, is the return of nuclear creativity that was described in Alvin Weinberg's wonderful book about the early days of nuclear creativity.

The MOLTEX, is not a breeder, by the way, and from my perspective, I am mostly interested in breeder reactors, since I have convinced myself that depleted uranium and thorium waste from the lanthanide mines used to build stuff like wind turbines and electric cars, can eliminate all energy mining for several generations, if not forever.

Unfortunately most breeder reactors built on this planet have been problematic, although a few have had decent, if not great, performance. Creativity has been lacking in these kinds of reactors, since for reasons that escape me, they have all relied on liquid sodium coolants for the most part.

I'm rather fond of liquid metals, in particular liquid plutonium and liquid plutonium alloys of various types, but liquid sodium is not my cup of tea and I think we need to think anew about liquid metal coolants.

The kind of reactors I dream up all operate at extremely high temperatures, because high temperatures imply high efficiency, and the opportunity to generate electricity as a side product while using nuclear heat for carbon dioxide and/or water splitting as a means of reversing climate change, a very, very, very challenging engineering problem that is just on the edge of "remotely possible."

As for the Moltex, it is nice, very nice, to see the re-emergence of interest in nuclear creativity. If you are interested in nuclear technology, enjoy.





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.



2017: Number of US Nuclear Plants that Produced More Energy than All the Wind Turbines In Denmark.

In recent posts, I've been going through the comprehensive database of wind turbines in Denmark.

"Master Data Register of Wind Turbines".

The version I am using is the one that was available early this month, when I wrote this post:

Average Lifetime of Danish Wind Turbines, as of February 2018.

Denmark has constructed 9,452 wind turbines. Of these, 3232 have been decommissioned, but as I pointed out in another post, Total Energy Production, Capacity Utilization of Danish Wind Turbines Over 30 Years Old, there are a number of commissioned turbines that have not produced electricity in years.

The "Master Register" reports the energy output, year by year, (in units of kWh) of every turbine in Denmark, along with it's "peak power" in kWp. Often when telling bald faced lies about how so called "renewable energy" is "growing fast" people misrepresent these "peak power" numbers as if they were equivalent of plants that operated at 100% capacity utilization. This is nonsense, and is grotesquely dishonest, given that the planetary atmosphere is being destroyed at a record pace because people both on the far right ("Climate change isn't real" ) and the delusional ("100% renewables by 'such and such a year'" ) anti-nuke left just can't stop lying to themselves and to everyone else they meet.

(I am unusual as I am on the pronuke left; there are a few of us around the world, generally those of us who have taken the time to open lots and lots and lots and lots of science books and scientific papers.)

According to the Danish "Master Register" in the year 2017, all the wind turbines in Denmark, combined, produced 0.05283 exajoules of energy. World Energy Consumption, as of 2016 was 576 exajoules. In terms of average continuous power, this it equivalent of a power facility with 1674.2 MW name plate capacity operating at 100% capacity utilization, which is, in fact something that nuclear plants, and only nuclear plants have a demonstrated record of doing.

The United States Energy Information Agency keeps a database of all its nuclear reactors. In a period of about 25 years from 1960-1985, the United States built 111 nuclear reactors, this while producing some of the cheapest electricity on the planet. Of these, several didn't operate or operated only for a short time before being shut, usually by appeals to fear and ignorance by people who don't care who they kill because they can't or won't think.

The database is here: U.S. Nuclear Generation and Generating Capacity The (provisional) data for 2017, which I will use here, may be obtained by clicking on 2017p in the column on the right side.

All 94 operating nuclear reactors are listed there, along with their monthly and the sum total for 2017.

People will be killed because some of these reactors, perfectly good reactors, will be shut by appeals to fear and ignorance. This will happen right here in New Jersey. People will die here because the Oyster Creek reactor, which is the oldest reactor in the United States, for which ground was broken in 1965, when Lyndon Johnson was President, and came on line in 1969, the first year of Richard Nixon's presidency, will be shut in October of this year, even though it has a license for another 10 years.

A gas line has been approved by the Trump administration that will go right through my neighborhood. The irony here is that some of the very same assholes who agitated for shutting Oyster Creek, and thus killing people, are the very same people who whined endlessly about the gas line, which I also oppose. Of course, worse than what I'll go through because of that gas line, is what the people in Pennsylvania will experience, because that flowback water will be killing people for many, many, many generations, long after the gas has run out, been burned, with the waste being dumped into the planetary atmosphere.

Similarly stupid people have advocated for shutting the Diablo Canyon reactor in California, a reactor that has consistently and is consistently producing more electricity than all the wind turbines in California.

These people don't care who they kill with their ignorance.

Lest anyone think I'm casting stones here, let me state that one of the nuclear plants that never really operated is the Shoreham nuclear reactor on Long Island where I grew up. Let me state, that I was once just as stupid at the anti-nukes one can hear here, and I was very much a participant and cheerleader for the spreading of the fear and ignorance that prevented the Shoreham plant from saving human lives, lives that were in fact lost because a fair share of the electricity generated on Long Island is generated by "renewable" garbage incineration. And yes, they call that "renewable" on Long Island, trash incinerators.

I'm fine with that, by the way. As far as I'm concerned, all this so called "renewable energy" is very much involved with trash, including the huge quantities of carbon dioxide released to make steel for wind turbines, electricity for aluminum for wind turbines, and of course, huge amounts of concrete, this for stuff that becomes landfill in less than 3 decades.

Later on - beginning with the time that the Chernobyl reactor blew up and the disaster I'd been lulled into believing would happen didn't happen, and the disaster that was happening and is still happening, the deaths of roughly 70 million people every decade from air pollution wasn't important - I opened science books and papers, what would have been literally tens of tons of paper, were it not for the fact that the thumb drive was invented. Unlike some of the fools I see around here, I at least am not a dogmatic asshole who cannot change his mind.

The so called "renewable energy" experiment did not work; it is not working; it will not work. To the extent it exists, it exists only as a shiny marketing bauble on the rapidly expanding dangerous fossil fuel industry, by far the fastest growing energy industry on the planet, one quite literally choking us to death.

Now about the title here:

Of the 94 reactors in the United States, the majority of them are on sites where more than one reactor operates. There are 33 sites with two or three reactors, three with three reactors.

Every single one of them produces in either two buildings or in three buildings, more electricity that the Danes can produce with their 6,220 operating wind turbines and, of course, the 3,232 that have been "decommissioned."

In the "percent talk" that "renewables will save us" type so love, 34.2% of Danish wind turbines have been decommissioned, and others have clearly failed but have not been formally decommissioned.

By contrast, 15.3% of US nuclear reactors have been decommissioned.

The total name plate capacity of all the commissioned wind turbines in Denmark is 4,872 MW. This means that the capacity utilization of all the wind turbines in Denmark is 34.4%. No nuclear reactor in the United States had such a poor reliability. The lowest capacity factor in the US nuclear fleet was at the at Watts Bar 2 reactor, which did not operate from April to August of 2017, probably for refueling and maintenance, I'd guess (but don't know). It's capacity utilization was 50.2% Four other reactors had capacity utilization of less than 70%. Eighty reactors had capacity utilization of 90% or greater. Overall the capacity utilization of US nuclear reactors was 92.2%

One of the 111 nuclear reactors built in the United States was destroyed by an operational failure, the Three Mile Island reactor that all of our really, really, really, really dumb anti-nukes love to prattle on about when they're not prattling on about Fukushima or Chernobyl. This prattling, I'd guess, would be in lieu of giving a shit about the 19,000 people who died today from air pollution.

Several reactors - as mentioned previously - were never finished because of public agitation, costs inflated to address trivial concerns that were publicly represented as "dangerous," or because of extremely high nuclear standards, nuclear standards being standards that no other form of energy can meet in terms of low external costs - external costs being those costs paid by human, animal and plant flesh and destruction to what's level of the biosphere/atmosphere/hydrosphere.

Other reactors where shut because stupid and ignorant people don't know how to shut their mouths. A recent such crime was the shutting of the Vermont Yankee plant, which kept Vermont as the only state in the Union that did not depend of electricity generated by dangerous fossil fuels, a state of affairs that is no longer true. (They are driving massive trucks over pristine mountain tops there to install those awful wind turbines, but that's another matter.)



Justin Lindholm, Rutland County member of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board who works for Vermonters for a Clean Environment, points to a spot where he used to see moose before Green Mountain Power built the controversial wind project on the Lowell Mountains ridgeline. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger


Lowell Mountains wind project: The great divider

The really, really, really, really, really, really stupid anti-nukes are the ones who carry on that nuclear energy is "not competitive." This is because, and only because, all other forms of energy are allowed to dump their external costs without charge on humanity and on the environment.

It's easy for the gas/wind/solar industry to bury its external costs, since nobody gives a shit if the rice crops in China are contaminated with unsafe levels of cadmium, or if indium workers get lung cancer - which I call "green lung disease" - or if the water supply in Pennsylvania is loaded for generations with heavy metals (some of which are ironically radioactive) and surfactants and God knows what else.

An example of an industry that was once allowed to do what the "competitive" gas industry does, but went out of business when it was forced to pay its external costs, is the asbestos industry. You know what? In the 1950's wood shingles were not "competitive" with asbestos shingles. All those TV "mesothelioma" lawyer ads are ads directed at the people who did pay - most with their lives - to assure that 1950's asbestos shingles were wonderfully competitive.

And this my friends, is the issue with natural gas. It's only "competitive" because the people who sell it, and the people who use it are not paying for the external costs.

Lives were saved by the Oyster Creek nuclear plant. It's an old plant, and in many ways a primitive plant; I can personally think of hundreds of superior designs to it; and in fact, I'd love it if someone could get their hands on and utilize the acquired used nuclear fuel there, if nothing else - and there's much more - the plutonium there. And it's all there, waiting for a better time inhabited by wiser and less criminal people than those living now. But that plant was a gift from my father's generation to mine, and what my generation will leave for my son's generation is nothing more than waste and broken dreams that should have died years ago.

Let me know when the assholes fronting for the gas industry - and this of course includes the solar and wind industry - are able to contain all of their discharges on site as the Oyster Creek reactor has done for almost half a century, without a single loss of life.

Have a great weekend.





My hope is that in a future time, this plutonium will have real value. Bomb cores based...

...on weapons grade plutonium have problematic stability, because while they have very low levels of Pu-240 compared to reactor grade plutonium, they do have some of this isotope, and it both releases neutrons through a high spontaneous fission rate and a higher alpha rate. Although Pu-239 has a long half-life, it also exhibits alpha decay.

Neutrons released can cause small (subcritical) fission events as well.

I've seen TEMs of old plutonium, and they exhibit pitting both from radiation damage and inclusions of helium and a few fission products.

This was a rationale for continued nuclear weapons testing at the Nevada test site, where weapons were tested underground. The weapons scientists were interested in stability of cores that had been stored for a long time. Happily, such testing finally stopped, way too late, but it stopped, although it's possible the orange clown or someone equally as criminal and venal and foolish could always restart it, much as Trump's pal Kim Jung-Un has tested them.

In nuclear weapons, plutonium is always present in the form of a gallium alloy designed to stabilize the delta phase, a phase covering a relatively small region of the phase diagram.



The alpha, beta, gamma and epsilon phases of plutonium are not suitable for the very precise compression (by shock wave) required to detonate a nuclear explosion.

In order to achieve nuclear disarmament, we must degrade the plutonium in these weapons in order to render it into a form that will generate too much heat to be utilized in weapons, what I call the "Kessler solution." (Kessler et al. Nuclear Engineering and Design 238 (2008) 3429–3444).

In more than 30 years of study of environmental issues, I have convinced myself that the only form of environmentally sustainable source of energy for humanity is the uranium/plutonium cycle. I know of course, that this is not immediately popular, but we live in exceedingly stupid times where fear and ignorance are celebrated rather than suppressed.)

Bomb cores are metallic.

All of my reactor thinking in the last 5 years or so has involved reviving the LAMPRE concept in light of huge advances in materials science in the last 50 years since the LAMPRE was foolishly de-funded and forgotten. Although this reactor, which operated about two years with a very small core (see below) that produced about 1 MW of power relied on an iron/plutonium eutectic and a ternary cobalt cerium plutonium eutectic was investigated but never brought to criticality, I am intrigued by the neptunium plutonium eutectic shown in the phase diagram above. Bomb grade plutonium liquefied via its eutectic with neptunium would be rapidly rendered permanently unusable for weapons via the formation of 238Pu which result in the generation of too much heat (and radiation) to allow for the assembly of weapons.

My guess is that a complication for this approach might be the gallium in the cores, although I have been unable to locate a published ternary gallium neptunium plutonium phase diagram as yet.

Just this week though, going through some actinide phase diagrams as I sometimes do when I have time, I finally came upon a fine idea of extracting gallium from bomb cores without oxidizing them to an inorganic compound, that is removing the gallium (which is a critical metal in any case with lots of non-nuclear applications) directly in the liquid phase. This would involve metallic extractions in the liquid phase with a fission product that would be readily available in a more sensible world than the one in which we actually live, one in which the inexhaustible supply of uranium placed into the plutonium cycle were providing almost all of our energy.

Tip of the hat to my friend Mark at Atomic Skies, a nuclear historian, from whose site, linked above, comes this picture of the LAMPRE core:

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-8p_bURtFHwE/UUiLDUnhs_I/AAAAAAAAAKI/uzsWeKeYbps/s400/LAMPRE+Reactor+Vessel.png

(You need to click on the link to see it.)

Have a nice weekend.






A day in the life.

Total Energy Production, Capacity Utilization of Danish Wind Turbines Over 30 Years Old.

Recently in this space, by reference to the Master Register of Danish Wind Turbines and appeal to the 3,232 of them that had been decommissioned, I reported that the average life time of Danish Wind Turbines was 17 years and 240 days, a figure that has risen from 16 years and 310 I reported elsewhere by appeal to an earlier version of the same Register accessed back in mid July of 2015.

Average Lifetime of Danish Wind Turbines, as of February 2018.

Because the wind industry is inexplicably popular - inexplicably because after having more than a trillion dollars expended on it in the last decade alone it has done nothing to arrest climate change or even to slow the increases in the use of dangerous fossil fuels - I was met with the usual rhetoric showing that denial is not just a river in Egypt, and that's only the posts I could read.

(Some I couldn't actually read because of my increasingly active use of the "ignore" function here for the most appalling defenders of the so called "renewable energy" faith, faith because it emphasizes soothsaying over observation: The wind industry is mature, as mature as any industry involving trillion dollar sums, and its performance can be measured. Dogmatic ignorance renders me purely apoplectic for no good reason; I have too little time left on this once beautiful planet to focus on the ignorance that has destroyed it and is still destroying whatever is left. The "Ignore" function is a beautiful thing.)

GLOBAL TRENDS IN RENEWABLE ENERGY INVESTMENT 2017

To be fair however, I realized that there was a flaw in my argument inasmuch as I focused on the 3,232 wind turbines in Denmark that failed, and said nothing about the 6220 that still operate, all the operating wind turbines producing about as much electricity as two nuclear reactors produce in two comparatively small buildings in Virginia.

Well, perhaps the words "still operate" are too generous.

There are 96 commissioned wind turbines that are more than 30 years old, and combined with the 16 decommissioned wind turbines this means that 110 wind turbines out of the 9452 turbines (or, since renewable enthusiasts like "percent talk so much, 1.16%) lasted on the "commissioned" list for more than 30 years. It wouldn't however, be fair to state that being on the commissioned list is quite the same as being functional.

For example, the commissioned 18.5 kW wind turbine at Faxe, still on the commissioned list, suffered a rapid fall of in production in the year 2000, produced zero electricity in 2006, was briefly restored to produce roughly 40% it of its previous output, broke down again, and has not produced any electricity since 2009. A 22 kW unit at Bard hasn't produced electricity since 2002, but is still "commissioned." There are other examples of the same thing, including turbines that were out of service for years and then were finally repaired to service again. For example the 22 kW wind turbine at Bornholm produced no electricity between from 2004 to 2008, was repaired and produced electricity - albeit at nowhere near its capacity its earlier years of operation - until 2016, which was the last year it produced power.

One of the big lies told by the so called "renewable energy" industry to misrepresent its failure is to announce their facilities in terms of peak Watts, a "Watt" being a unit of power, not energy. If someone announces that the world has installed 4 "Gigawatts" of solar power, this is not equivalent to four 1000 MW nuclear plants, since the nuclear plants typically run at 90-100% of capacity utilization whereas the 4 GW of solar operate at 10%-20% of capacity utilization. Thus the "4 Gigawatts" of solar is, at best, the equivalent of a single small nuclear plant.

So if one wants to be honest about energy, a statement about peak power must include the percentage of time that the power was actually available.

One can easily calculate what the capacity utilization of the 94 commissioned turbines that have lasted for more than 30 years is, by multiplying the time it operated (in seconds) times the peak power to get the 100% capacity utilization figure in an energy unit (I use Joules in my calculations), and use it to divide the actual energy produced.

It turns out that the total capacity utilization of the Danish wind turbines that have operated for more than 30 years is 14.22%. Combined, these turbines have produced 0.7 petajoules over their >30 year lifetime combined, or about 1.3 one millionths of the energy production of the entire planet (576 exajoules as of 2016) in a single year. The rated (peak) power of these 96 turbines combined is 4782 kW or 4.782 MW meaning, that in view of their actual capacity utilization they are the equivalent 683 kw diesel powerplant.

To give a sense of scale the subject always missing in the grandiose discussions of so called "renewable energy," here is a photograph of a 600 kW natural gas generator on the bed of a truck:



I hope you have a pleasant Friday.

Yet another paper on the external cost of neodymium iron boride magnets.

I recently posted in this space some graphics on the process of isolating neodymium from lanthanide ores (aka "rare earth ores" or REO)


Some life cycle graphics on so called "rare earth elements," i.e. the lanthanides.

The paper I cited was this one: Behind the Scenes of Clean Energy: The Environmental Footprint of Rare Earth Products (Zhao et alACS Sustainable Chem. Eng., 2018, 6 (3), pp 3311–3320)

The word "clean" in this paper's title, given what it discusses, strikes me as a kind of joke, but no matter.

Let's be clear on something, OK? The conversion of mechanical energy to electricity and back again depends on the existence of permanent magnets. This is true for relatively dirty forms of energy, battery driven motors, wind turbines, gas turbines, coal turbines, diesel powered turbines as well as relatively or comparitively clean devices such as nuclear power plants and the slightly less clean hydroelectric plants.

There seems to be good prospects for highly efficient devices to directly convert heat into electricity (as opposed to inefficient devices like those that powered the Voyager, New Horizons, Pioneer, Cassini...etc...space crafts as well some historical cardiac pace makers and similar devices. (There's some exciting stuff going on in thermoelectric materials, I should find time to write about it some day.)

But right now, more than 95% - probably more like 98% - of the electricity generated on the face of this planet is produced by the use of permanent magnetism.

Historically - and I'm sure in many older power plants - many of these magnets were or are "Alnico" or "AlNiCo" magnets, but political instability in the Congo region where cobalt is mined under horrific labor conditions - sometimes actual child slavery - produced a worldwide shortage of cobalt which motivated a search for new materials, and the new material discovered was the "NIB" or neodymium iron boride magnet, which not only replaced AlNiCo but proved to be superior to AlNiCo.

Actually the neodymium iron boride magnet contains a few other elements, often, like neodymium, lanthanides, especially dysprosium and praseodymium.

Europium is used in many phosphors, including energy saving fluorescent bulbs, although these may be replaced ultimately be even more efficient lighting in the form of LED's, which contain not only europium, but also the remarkable and difficult compound gallium nitride, the synthesis of which actually resulted in a Nobel Prize.

Now another paper has come along evaluating the external costs of lanthanides, which goes under the general rubric of "clean" energy although in my opinion it is neither clean, nor sustainable nor actually "renewable." The paper was just published in a journal article that came out this morning: Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of NdFeB Permanent Magnet Production from Different Rare Earth Deposits (Schreiber et al ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng., 2018, 6 (5), pp 5858–5867)

The authors come from Germany, a country with a big demand for lanthanides which is also the country with the second highest cost of electricity in Europe, after Denmark.

European Electricity Prices

We don't need no stinking data!

From the introduction to the paper which is all about "decarbonized" electricity, in spite of the fact that electricity is less decarbonized than it's been at any time in human history; the fraction relying on carbon is rising, not falling.

(If that bothers you, I suggest you call Kelly Conway to have her explain "alternate facts" to you.)

The opening paragraph speaks of this illusive "decarbonized" electricity, to wit:

In 2016, world rare earth mine production was 126 000 t of rare earth oxide (REO) equivalents predominately in China (105 000 t).1 Several rare earth elements (REEs) are used for the transformation of the fossil era into a decarbonized energy sector. REEs are essential for wind and solar energy, electric and hybrid vehicles, and low-energy lighting. Approximately 20% of the REEs are used for magnets in motors and generators.2 Rare earth iron boron magnets (NdFeB) are among the strongest permanent magnets. The basis for the technical properties of magnets is the use of the specific REEs neodymium (Nd), praseodymium (Pr), and dysprosium (Dy). A typical NdFeB magnet used in wind turbines consists of approximately 65% iron, 32% RE metals, 2% cobalt, and 1% boron.


Then the paper gets serious. Looking at the graphics from the earlier post I had on this subject, I kind of felt that as dire as they were, they pulled some punches. This is less true in the second paper cited herein because the process details and the chemistry involved is a little more graphically detailed.

It compares the external costs associated with the processing of ores from three different sources, China (Baotou) which is the world's largest producer of lanthanides, Australia, and the US Mountain Pass facility in California.

First the overview from this paper, which is similar to the earlier paper/post:



The caption:
Figure 1. Production sites of the three supply chains.




Figure 2. Exemplary process chain of the three supply chains for the production of Nd.


Now this is straight up. Flotation - the Mountain Pass and Baotou mines (and probably the Australian) mine are all in water stressed locations, leaching with dilute hydrochloric acid, "sulfiding" which is reacting sulfur to form metal sulfides, "roasting" which is heating the sulfides to give off sulfur dioxide and sulfur trioxide, digesting the resulting oxide in sulfuric acid, reprecipitating with ammonium carbonate (made from natural gas), redissolving in hydrochloric acid and four steps in solvent extraction using chelating agents manufactured from dangerous petroleum in a dangerous petroleum solvent (kerosene or similar), this to separate the 16 different elements, (including scandium and yttrium) or 17 if you count the radioactive thorium always found in lanthanide ores. Finally the extraction solutions are treated with toxic oxalic acid to precipitate the oxalates, and roasted again, to give oxides again which are then electrolytically reduced to the individual elements.

Delicious.

I cannot write a comment here, without hearing some rote and most often extremely silly objection that goes "...but nuclear..."

This sounds exactly to me like "...but her emails..." and represents a Trumpian distortion similar to "but her emails..."

But since I'm going to hear this kind of delusional bullshit, including remarks about how "dangerous" used nuclear fuel is even though in half a century of storing it, this while burning gas and coal based electricity to whine about it on line, used nuclear fuel hasn't actually killed anyone in this country, this while the de facto "acceptable" dangerous fossil fuel waste (aka air pollution) and dangerous renewable biomass waste (aka air pollution) kills 19,000 people a day, every day.

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 is true that the Purex process for the separation of nuclear materials from used nuclear fuels - the Purex process being the only commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing process ever employed - is a solvent extraction process, and is similar in many ways to solvent extraction to separate lanthanide. If I were building a modern nuclear fuel reprocessing plant it's not the process I would choose, but historically everyone has chosen Purex, and rather than talk about what could be, let's talk about what is:

It is also true that several of the elements in used nuclear fuels are lanthanides, mostly from lanthanum through europium, and including significant amounts of neodymium. However the difference between nuclear neodymium and mined neodymium is one of scale. To power a single human being operating at 5000 watts of average continuous power, about twice the world wide per capita power demand (but half the American power demand) about 1 gram of plutonium would need to be fissioned per year. Isotopes decaying to neodymium in the fast fission of plutonium (which is what would be the best case) are rather pronounced since the natural element has 5 stable and 2 quasi stable - isotopes that are slightly radioactive but have enormously long half lives and so have survived mostly intact since the formation of the earth - isotopes. None of the other radioactive isotopes besides these two naturally occurring isotopes 144 and 148 have half lives longer than a few days, and thus neodymium removed from nuclear fuel, is essentially the radiologic equivalent of natural neodymium, ready for use without any radiation "problem." Because it has so many stable or quasi stable isotopes neodymium is a prominent fission product. In fast fission of plutonium about 13% result in an isotope that will decay to stable or quasi stable neodymium.

However, the energy to mass density of nuclear fuel is so high - which is the reason for its environmental superiority to all other options - that even if all the energy on the planet generated by humanity were provided by fast nuclear fission of plutonium, the neodymium produced each year would only represent only a tiny fraction of current demand, about 550 tons per year.

Let's return to the paper though:

This figure gives the "equivalents" (note the differing units) of the impact of producing 1 kg of neodymium:



The caption:
Figure 5. Environmental impacts of 1 kg of Nd obtained from Bayan Obo, Mountain Pass, and Mount Weld.


You may wonder about the (small) risk of ionizing radiation that appears in this graphic. This is because all of the lanthanide ores contain (besides the naturally occurring radioisotopes of the lanthanides themselves, including but not limited to neodymium, thorium.

Thorium is an excellent fuel for nuclear reactors, not quite as good as uranium since uranium is significantly soluble in seawater and thorium is not, and therefore uranium is sustainable forever, and thorium only for a few thousand years.

I assure you if these ores were being mined for their thorium content to make nuclear fuels, we'd have shits for brains people carrying endlessly about the "danger" of thorium mining, but since the very same mining is for so called "renewable energy" and not nuclear energy, people couldn't care less. The thorium is just dumped. Since all future generations will need to poke through our waste heaps to live, the thorium left from our quite literally quixotic adventure in wind mill tilting, the REO tailings, will represent one of the best tools left for them, not that we give a shit about them.

But...but...but...but...nuclear...

A generator in a nuclear plant will require neodymium just as a wind turbine will, this is true. However the external cost for the same amount of mass used in a wind turbine has a higher external cost than that in a nuclear power plant.

How so?

The reason is that a wind turbine might, in a very windy area, have a capacity utilization of 30%-40%, less in other areas. Anyone who has had the misfortune of seeing them blight the sky on a pristine mountain range will notice that some of the time they are still, not moving. Thus a wind turbine is 1/2 of a system that requires 2 units to do what one unit can do, and thus requires twice as much neodymium as a nuclear plant requires, since nuclear plants in this country have the highest capacity utilization (approximately 90% overall) of any form of mechanical to electrical energy conversion devices, including coal, gas, oil, hydroelectricity and (worst among them all) wind power.

A breakdown of the share of each type of environmental impact per process element:



The caption:

Figure 6. Share of single processes on total impacts of 1 kg Nd production.




The caption:
Figure 7. Share of process chain parts on total impacts of 1 kg Nd production.


An excerpt of the concluding remarks:

Eight out of 12 impact categories are dominated by chemical production for all deposits. This particularly applies to roasting, leaching, and solvent extraction, in which the chemicals are added stoichiometrically. Although flotation is the most important process for the production of REO (Figure S7 and S8) due to the large flow of ore, it is not relevant when looking at the overall results. The reason for that is the very low chemical/ore ratio (<1%). The case of Mountain Pass shows the effectiveness of measures such as avoiding chemicals by recycling saline wastewater, cleaner energy production by a natural gas fired combined heat and power plant, or the lack of a roasting process with corresponding emissions. All the same, those measures do not show impact on all environmental effects. For example, the impact category particulate matters formation is clearly controlled by the deposit and cannot be reduced substantially by additional measures such as sprinkling facilities. Also, changes in processing procedures are very unlikely, as they are determined by the mineral type. However, improvement in process efficiencies will have an impact here. Even changes with small specific impacts, such as off-gas treatment of electrolyzers or modern concepts for sludge treatment at all production sites, can add up to a recognizable total improvement…

...…In the end, it has to be kept in mind that data quality in general, but especially for China, is very poor. However, differences between the pathways lay beyond deviations assumed. With all environmental measures and legal restrictions, Mountain Pass provides Nd and Pr with the best environmental performance. Whether announcements of the Chinese government to improve environmental performances have turned into action yet is not known to us. However,It still helps to show benchmarks of technical improvements, though.


The remark after the last ellipsis says something by the way, which is relevant to many other consumer items other than so called "renewable energy," but will suffice to be attached here to so called "renewable energy."

Somebody pays for "cheap" so called "renewable energy." Maybe it's not the consumer, or even the producer of the the so called "renewable energy."

Remember:

...the shutdown of Mountain Pass shows that environmental superiority is not enough to promote RE production outside of China...


Environmental superiority is not enough.

Who pays? The people living in the Baotou region now and every generation that will live thereafter.

So much for "cheap."

Have a nice day tomorrow. I hope you're enjoying your work week as much as I'm enjoying mine.






Looking for advice. Anyone ever traveled to study overseas on an NSF grant?

My kid has been invited to do undergraduate research in France; for which the NSF Grant gives $9000 for everything, flight and food. The University to which he'll be traveling will give him free rooming.

Apparently he has to find his own flight, and if I have this right, he needs to go on a US owned airline (which is more expensive than others.)

I've asked him to check with the staff at his own University about this, but he asked me to help him find a flight.

Anyone here ever done this?

I've always traveled on business to Europe but never on a grant.

Any advice would be appreciated.

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