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Toward a sustainable materials system

I've been thinking all week about CO2 capture from air as a route for future generations to address our failure to do anything significant about the climate beyond praising even more consumer junk, like electric cars and solar cells.

I've been going over the aging, but still interesting - if controversial - PNAS House paper, Economic and energetic analysis of capturing CO2 from ambient air, (PNAS, 108, 51 20428–20433, 2011) poking around references and citations and I came across this short, non-technical and thoughtful commentary in a recent issue of Science; it's open sourced:

Global annual resource use reached nearly 90 billion metric tons in 2017 and may more than double by 2050. This growth is coupled with a shift of materials extraction from Europe and North America to Asia. In 2017, 60% of all materials were extracted in Asia, and extraction is expected to rise substantially in Africa over the next decade. Local extraction and processing helps to improve standards of living in the developing world, but also leads to important environmental concerns. Globally, materials production and consumption is coming up against environmental constraints in almost every domain, including species biodiversity, land-use change, climate impacts, and biogeochemical flows. Mitigating the impact of materials use is urgent and complex, necessitates proactive assessment of unintended consequences, and requires multidisciplinary systems approaches.

Materials consumption trends provide context to inform strategies for impact mitigation. Beginning in the mid-1950s, there has been a shift from biomass or renewable materials to nonrenewable substances, such as metals, fossil fuels, and minerals. Effective strategies for mitigating their impacts are different for high-volume materials with structural applications than for specialty materials with functional uses...

Toward a sustainable materials system Elsa A. Olivetti, Jonathan M. Cullen (Science 29 Jun 2018: Vol. 360, Issue 6396, pp. 1396-1398)

Well worth a read...

Interrogating the Development of Ant Castes with Interfering RNA.

The paper in the primary scientific literature I'll discuss in this post is this one: Social regulation of a rudimentary organ generates complex worker-caste systems in ants (Ehab Abouheif et al Nature Volume 562, pages 574–577 (2018))

I have a decent understanding of the molecular biology of proteins, including the remarkable nuclear proteins that choreograph the behavior the behavior of DNA, the highly conserved - because they're optimized across species - four histones of chromatin. Lipid chemistry is highly complex and important, but it's fairly easy to wrap one's head around it without too much effort; I've had to think about lipids a lot in my life time and seldom feel intimidated when I have to do so. Sugars, because of their complex stereochemistry and their large arrays of functional groups are often beyond me, but to the extent I have been involved with them, it's all been pretty much about N,O glycosylation of proteins, which sometimes plays a huge role in proteomics, but, well, I can generally get by by looking at the pictures and the schematics. I actually don't know too many experts in sugar chemistry because there aren't all that many synthetic sugar drugs, although there are indeed sugar based drugs on the market: In fact, one of the oldest drugs commercialized, digoxin, is technically a glycolipid. The absence of sugar drugs is probably a function of the difficulty of sugar chemistry. I'm always amused by this excerpt from a wonderful text on sugar chemistry, especially the lines I have bolded here: The Sugar Code that reads:

Teaching the biochemistry of carbohydrates is not simply an exercise in terminology. It has much more to offer than commonly touched upon in basic courses, if we deliberately pay attention to the far-reaching potential of sugars beyond energy metabolism and cell wall stability. In fact, then there is no reason why complex carbohydrates should shy at competition with nucleic acids and proteins for the top spot in high-density biocoding. On the contrary, sugars have ideal properties for this purpose, as will be concluded at the end of this chapter. In this sense, an obvious explanation why research in glycosciences (structural and functional glycomics and lectinomics) has lagged behind the fields of genomics and proteomics, also in the public eye, is 'that glycoconjugates are much more complex, variegated, and diffiailt to study than proteins and nucleic acids' [1]. What is a boon for decorating cell surfaces with a maximum number of molecular messages at the same time has been and still is a demanding challenge for analytical and synthetic chemistry

In other words, people shy away from sugar chemistry because sugar chemistry is hard.

This text also suggests that the biochemistry of the nucleic acids is better understood because it's easier.

Well perhaps...

There are, now, a few drugs on the market that are in effect nucleic acids or modified nucleic acids, in particular anti-sense compounds. Also a major gene insertion product has been approved, Luxturna which cures a certain type of blindness with a single dose. By the way drugs which cure diseases have more economic difficulty than maintenance drugs like blood pressure pills and statins which only address symptoms or prevent - so long as they are continually used - disease. Luxturna represents an interesting ethical case, because I believe that a single dose - the only dose ever needed - to the eye costs close to a million dollars.

Anyone who has worked in a lab in a research capacity knows about the long path of training and education, long hours, disappointment after the acquisition of expensive and rare materials, the danger, the cost. I can only imagine the work that went into making Luxturna into a marketed product - the cost - the fear that the product would fail, the terror at looking at results and traveling to regulatory meetings. If one knows this, one finds that scientists deserve to be paid, but on the other hand, if someone is blind and can be cured of blindness, one also feels that it should be done for free.

(I don't have an answer for this conundrum, but I do know that tax breaks for shitheads like the orange President and his family at the expense of the rest of the world's population is criminal.)


On a superficial level, there is a beautiful simplicity to nucleic acids, with only five core building blocks in contrast to the 20 core building blocks of proteins (if one ignores post-translational modifications like the arginine -> ornithine or citrulline, etc, etc and bacterial codons for things like selenomethionine, phosphorylation, etc, etc and the aforementioned glycosylations.)

However, this superficial understanding conveys very little of the complexity of nucleic acid biochemistry; one of the great discoveries of recent times and applicable to the nature/nuture issue (or perhaps the "exposiome" ) is the marvelous complexity revealed in epigenetics.

This said, I have a very superficial working knowledge of these compounds and some of the experimental notes in the paper cited at the outset on ants inspires me to learn more - since there are parts of the nuts and bolts that I'll excerpt here that are clearly beyond me.

I don't know about you, but I find social insects, as problematic as some species are - yellow jackets and carpenter ants come to mind - fascinating. Before I knew any science whatsoever beyond the very primitive concepts discussed in elementary school in my time, I recall spending hours upon hours just watching sugar ants; sometimes feeding them just to watch them work.

The abstract of the nature paper refers to this wonder:

The origin of complex worker-caste systems in ants perplexed Darwin1 and has remained an enduring problem for evolutionary and developmental biology2,3,4,5,6. Ants originated approximately 150 million years ago, and produce colonies with winged queen and male castes as well as a wingless worker caste7. In the hyperdiverse genus Pheidole, the wingless worker caste has evolved into two morphologically distinct subcastes—small-headed minor workers and large-headed soldiers8. The wings of queens and males develop from populations of cells in larvae that are called wing imaginal discs7. Although minor workers and soldiers are wingless, vestiges or rudiments of wing imaginal discs appear transiently during soldier development7,9,10,11. Such rudimentary traits are phylogenetically widespread and are primarily used as evidence of common descent, yet their functional importance remains equivocal1,12,13,14. Here we show that the growth of rudimentary wing discs is necessary for regulating allometry—disproportionate scaling—between head and body size to generate large-headed soldiers in the genus Pheidole...

The authors explore the developmental molecular biology of the development of soldier ants pretty much from the very same genome of minor worker ants and for that matter, winged ants, queens and drones.

Soldier ants have big heads - and even if General Bonespurs in the White House is a long standing coward with an absurdly big head and thus is no soldier - in soldier ants big heads and powerful jaws are important in defending the colony from attack. The authors note that the soldier ants also have vestigial wings that minor worker ants lack and they explore the origins of this anatomical feature and its relation to big heads.

They do this by shutting off the expression of some genes by using interfering RNA on the messenger RNA produced by the DNA of the organism at different developmental phases. Interfering RNA is RNA that is complementary to expressed RNA and thus can interact with it forming double stranded (ds) RNA - as opposed to the functional single stranded RNA - thus blocking its ability to direct protein synthesis and ultimately function.

...We tested this possibility in Pheidole hyatti by targeting vestigial (vg), which in Drosophila is a selector gene that coordinates growth and patterning of wing imaginal discs and is necessary and sufficient for wing development18,19,20. Spatial expression of vg is similar in P. hyatti and Drosophila—in embryos vg is expressed in wing primordia and the ventral nerve cord, but in larvae vg expression could be detected only in the wing discs of winged castes and in the rudimentary forewing discs of soldiers (Fig. 2b–d and Extended Data Fig. 3a–o). We therefore used RNA-mediated interference (RNAi) to knockdown vg expression in soldier-destined larvae (Fig. 2a, red arrowhead)...

Some pictures from the text:

The caption:

a, Caste determination in Pheidole at three developmental switch points produces: winged males, winged queens, wingless minor workers and wingless soldiers. Points of experimental manipulation are indicated by coloured arrowheads: red, soldier-destined larvae; orange, bipotential larvae; green, male-destined larvae. JH, juvenile hormone. b–d, vg expression (purple) in larval wing discs of males or queens (b), minor workers (c) and soldiers (d). Black asterisk, absence of rudimentary wing disc. Scale bars, relative scale. e–f, Rudimentary forewing discs after yfp RNAi (control RNAi) (e) or vg RNAi (f). Rudimentary wing disc presence (white arrowheads) or absence (white asterisks). g, Comparing ratio of log(rudimentary forewing disc area (μm2)) to log(leg disc area (μm2)) (log(WD (μm2))/log(LD (μm2))) between control RNAi (n = 13) and vg RNAi (n = 16). The box plot shows mean (+), interquartile range (bars) and minimum to maximum values (whiskers); all points represent individual ants. Two-tailed Mann–Whitney U-test, U = 24, ***P = 0.0002. h, Wild-type minor worker and representative individuals treated with control RNAi or vg RNAi. i, Comparing slopes of control RNAi (n = 23) and vg RNAi (n = 35); analysis of covariance (ANCOVA), F = 38.1, degrees of freedom (d.f.) = 54, P < 0.0001. Experiments were repeated at least three times. j, Wild-type minor worker and treated individuals with either rudimentary forewing disc or leg disc ablated. Red asterisk, ablated leg. k, Comparing slopes of leg disc (n = 16) and rudimentary forewing disc ablations (n = 16); ANCOVA, F = 8.74, d.f. = 28, P = 0.0063. Image comparisons are to scale. Experiments were repeated at least twice. All regressions are x axis (log(body length (μm)) versus y axis (log(head width (μm)).

The caption:

Manipulations are on soldier-destined larvae. Rudimentary wing disc presence (arrowheads) or absence (asterisks). a, b, Comparing rudimentary wing disc size after no inhibition (100% minor workers) (a) and high inhibition (100% soldiers) (b). c, Comparing ratios of log(rudimentary forewing disc area (μm2)) to log(leg disc area (μm2)) between 100% minor workers (n = 18) and 100% soldiers (n = 23). The box plot shows mean (+), interquartile range (bars) and minimum to maximum values (whiskers); all points represent individual ants. Two-tailed unequal variance t-test, t = 5.77, d.f. = 36.13, ****P < 0.0001. d, Wild-type minor worker and representative individuals raised by 100% minor workers or 100% soldiers. e, Comparing slopes of 100% minor workers (n = 24) and 100% soldiers (n = 35); ANCOVA, F = 36.55, d.f. = 55, P < 0.0001; x axis (log(body length (μm)) versus y axis (log(head width (μm)). Image comparisons are to scale. Experiments were repeated at least three times.

A nice cartoon:

The caption:

a, Interactions (arrows and lines) may be direct or indirect. Green arrows, activation; dashed green arrows, potential pathways to disproportionate scaling; red arrows and lines, inhibition; grey arrows, social interactions; grey circle, rudimentary forewing discs; grey boxes, wing gene network. b, Experimental manipulations (red) and controls (black) in P. hyatti. c, Wild-type C. floridanus workers29 (n = 179). d, Wild-type S. geminata workers30 (n = 239). Plots in b–d show log(body length (μm)) or log(scape length (μm)) on the x axis, versus log(head width (μm)) on the y axis. f, Comparison, to scale, of wild-type minor worker, large minor worker anomaly (XMW), wild-type soldier and supersoldier-like anomaly (XSD).

And now some experimental text that is frankly over my head, but inspires me to learn more - I've ordered several texts from various libraries:

Isolation of vestigial homologues

Forward: 5′-TATCCTTACCTKTAYCARACCC-3′ and reverse: 5′-GCTGACTATTCCAAAAGGARGG-3′ degenerate primers were designed based on a vestigial sequence alignment of Tribolium castaneum (XM_008201106), Apis mellifera (XM_001122002.4) and several ant species obtained from the Ant Genome Portal database (http://hymenopteragenome.org/ant_genomes/). P. hyatti RNA was isolated using TRIzol (Invitrogen) from a pool of embryos and larvae of different developmental stages. RNA was then reverse-transcribed to synthesize a cDNA library. PCR amplicons were ligated into the pGEM-T easy vector (Promega) and subsequently sequenced (MH683613) using Sanger sequencing at the Genome Quebec Innovation Centre at McGill University. To determine whether these vestigial sequences—including the TONDU/vestigial domain—are conserved, amino acid alignment was performed using Geneious Alignment on Geneious (R8), followed by manual alignment (Supplementary Fig. 2)...

...emi-quantitative reverse-transcription PCR of vestigial transcripts in P. hyatti
vestigial expression in wild-type terminal P. hyatti larvae was determined through the detection of vestigial transcripts using semi-quantitative PCR with reverse transcription (Extended Data Fig. 3 and Supplementary Fig. 1). The housekeeping gene Elongation factor 1 alpha (EF1a) was used as our reference gene because it has previously been validated as a reference gene for quantitative PCR with reverse transcription in social insects45. Therefore, EF1a was first cloned and sequenced (MH683615) from a P. hyatti cDNA library using the following degenerate primers: forward 5′-GATTCYGGCAAGTCGACCA-3′ and reverse 5′-GGAACTCTTGGAAAGCCTCAAC-3′. The PCR product was sequenced using Sanger sequencing at the Genome Quebec Innovation Centre at McGill University. To extract RNA, three minor worker larvae and three soldier larvae at the terminal stage were collected from a laboratory colony and total RNA was extracted from minor workers and soldiers separately. The tissue was disrupted using a TissueLyser (Qiagen) bead mill and RNA was extracted using the TRIzol (Invitrogen) RNA extraction protocol46, and then purified using the RNeasy Plus Kit (Qiagen). Minor worker and soldier RNA was treated with DNase I (Invitrogen) to remove genomic DNA before being reverse transcribed into cDNA using the Superscript III First-Strand Synthesis System (Invitrogen). The concentrations of total RNA and total cDNA were normalized between minor workers and soldiers before cDNA synthesis and PCR, respectively. The two cDNA libraries were used as PCR templates for the semi-quantitative PCR with reverse transcription of vestigial and EF1a. The P. hyatti vestigial PCR primers used were: forward 5′-TCCTTACCTGTATCAGACCCATC-3′ and reverse 5′-TGTCGATCTGTCGTCGTCCAA-3′, and the P. hyatti EF1a PCR primers used were: forward 5′-TCAGGACGTGTACAAGATC-3′ and reverse 5′-CAATGACCTGTGCAGTAAAG-3′. The PCR was performed using an annealing temperature of 56 °C with 31 thermocycles and four serial dilutions of the two cDNA libraries.

I'm an old man, but being old, and recognizing that there isn't much time left, I feel more and more urgency about finding things out.

Youth - and certainly my youth - as they say in a wonderful platitude that became a platitude by being true, is wasted on the young.

If nothing else, I've tried to impress that on my sons, and happily they both seem to get it, more or less.

A beautiful thing on a rainy Saturday.

Have a nice weekend.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs! Migrants building 2.6bn British Pound windfarm paid fraction of minimum wage.

The wind industry is soaking up vast resources for essentially - at least if the goal is address climate change - zero result.

According to the most recent report from the UNEP/Frankfurt School, the industry soaked up 1.031 trillion dollars between 2007 and 2017.

Frankfurt School/UNEP Global Renewable Energy Investment, 2018, Figure 3, page 14

In the period between 2007 and 2017 the average rate of annual carbon dioxide increases was 2.25 ppm/year as measured at the Mauna Loa carbon dioxide observatory..

In the period between 1997 and 2007 - which included the El Nino year 1998 during which much of SE Asia's rain forest burned (2.93 ppm that year) the average rate of annual carbon dioxide increases was 1.987 ppm/year measured in the same laboratory.

In the period between 1987-1997 the measured rate of increase averaged 1.53 ppm/year.

Don't worry, be happy. We're doing great.

Twenty to thirty years from now, all of this "investment" will be landfill that people who are babies today will have to clean up.

But again, don't worry, be happy, because...because...because...well...um...that's their problem, not ours.

It's all about jobs! jobs! jobs! One of the great bits of propaganda about so called "renewable energy" is that it's all about jobs.

And right now there's a great £2.6 windfarm under construction off the coast of Scotland, a wonder of concrete, steel, aluminum, and a whole host of rarer metals you don't have to worry about because you're "green."


One may argue that unproductive jobs destroy the future - and the trillion dollar investment in wind, only exceeded by the equally useless investment in solar (1.291 trillion dollars between 2007-2017), has proved useless in addressing climate change - but, we'll that's OK if it's, um, "green." No?

Well, um, um, um...

Migrants building £2.6bn windfarm paid fraction of minimum wage

Workers hired to build the flagship £2.6bn Beatrice offshore windfarm in Scotland have included migrants without proper immigration documents paid a fraction of the UK minimum wage, the Guardian can reveal.

Offshore windfarming is one of the UK’s biggest growth industries, hailed by both the Conservatives and Labour as a priority for investment that will create thousands of jobs while also producing clean energy.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers’ union (RMT) have said, however, that the use of cheap foreign labour instead of local workers is a growing problem in the sector’s subcontracting chains. They have accused the government of failing to protect workers.

A group of Russian workers recruited as relief crew on the giant crane ship contracted to carry out the initial construction on the Beatrice windfarm were detained by immigration officials at Aberdeen airport in April 2017.

They were being brought in to the country on seafarer identity documents, intended for foreign crew leaving UK waters immediately, instead of the official permits required of people from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) entering the UK to work...

...An ITF inspection on board the crane ship in the Moray Firth the following month found more than 140 migrant workers, the majority from Russia and some from Indonesia.

Contracts for some of them, seen by the Guardian, set rates of pay that were a fraction of the UK minimum wage...

Oh well, don't worry, be happy.

Hopefully they can find poor people to work at less than the minimum wage to haul all this crap away in 25 years, assuming that there are the resources for anyone to do anything in 25 years, when carbon dioxide concentrations will be more than 50 ppm higher than they are now.

I predict these turbines will just rot at sea when they fail. They'll be nothing left with which to clean them up.

Have a wonderful day tomorrow.

A time when plutonium was utilized to model the lanthanides instead of the other way around.

In recent years I've been thinking about liquid plutonium metal quite a bit, as I reconsider the wonderful LAMPRE nuclear reactor that operated in the early 1960's at Los Alamos. I consider that this type of reactor, which was not pursued further back then, not only for funding and political reasons, but probably in consideration of materials science concerns, actually has many wonderful features that should be reevaluated given advances in Materials Science over the last half a century.

Of course, not much has been written on the subject of liquid plutonium in recent years, as the world has become enamored of dangerous natural gas, the external costs of which will be dumped, with contempt for every human being who lives after us, on all future generations.

If one is interested in learning about the properties of liquid plutonium and its eutectic alloys, generally one needs to refer to older literature, sometimes very old literature, to learn things about its properties.

The lipstick on the dangerous natural gas pig is so called "renewable energy" which is not really "renewable" owing to its dependence of somewhat exotic materials or toxic materials with high environmental impact. In particular, the popular forms, solar and wind, were they not still trivial forms of energy, which they are, would now be recognized as obviously unsustainable.

This is why I personally regard nuclear energy and only nuclear energy to be the last best hope for addressing climate change, not that anyone on this planet is willing to be inconvenienced by climate change unless their vacation beach house is destroyed.

One of the most prominent classes of materials utilized in the so called "renewable energy" industry - as well as the related and equally as useless electric car industry - are the lanthanides.

Today, access to plutonium is somewhat limited, and some scientists writing about it do experiments in which they choose a lanthanide to model the behavior of plutonium, usually cerium, since it exhibits two of plutonium's oxidation states, +3, +4, (but not +5, +6 and the suspected but unproved +7 and +8 states) and because it is trivial to order cerium compounds from a catalog, and not trivial to order plutonium.

The separation of the 14 lanthanides from one another remains until this day challenging, because most, with the exception of cerium, europium, which has a well defined +2 state, and a few others in non-aqueous systems, all exhibit only the +3 oxidation state under normal circumstances. This difficulty, although now addressed widely on an industrial scale, is responsible for the high external cost of the purified lanthanides, most of the external costs being borne by relatively poor people in China, which is the world's main source of lanthanides.

Lanthanide chemistry was pretty much a curiosity in the mid-20th century, and much of the progress made in it was an outgrowth of work performed beginning with the Manhattan Project, which was a nuclear project. The prominent presence of lanthanides in used nuclear fuel also drove interest in these elements. When I was a kid, and took high school chemistry, the only mention of them I recall is, "they're there, at the bottom of the periodic table, just above the actinides." I don't believe anything was said about their chemistry.

Today lanthanide chemistry is well understood, and anyone who wants to learn about it and has access to the scientific literature can easily find out lots and lots of stuff about it, should one be interested. (I am.)

But in 1963...

I've been thinking about the behavior of gases in liquid plutonium this week and an issue with this behavior in a fluid dynamics sense is the viscosity of liquid plutonium, which is higher than most liquid metals. Digging through my files I came across this old paper:

The viscosity of liquid plutonium, predicted from a general relationship between the activation energy and melting points of metals, and the experimental data (Grosse, J. Inorg. Nucl. Chem. 25, 1, 1963, 137–138)

Cool text from it:

Recently, the viscosity of liquid plutonium in the range of 648-950C has been measured at the Mound Laboratory. Since plutonium is the first actinide element for which experimental data are available (no data are available even for the lanthanides!) it is of interest to compare empirically predicted values with the experimental data... The agreement is quite satisfactory and leads one to expect satisfactory results with the lanthanide metals.

A cool, if obscure, point from the history of science.

I personally need a friendly approach to solving stochastic differential equations with singular...


Who doesn't?

And if you do, here is the book for you:

Friendly approach for solving stochastic equations with singular data

This has to be the best book ad I've seen all week.

Well, I would certainly disagree with your contention in this post.

This one, specifically:

Not quite "antinukes" and not at all "very stupid people".

Nothing in your argument in this space in any way dissuades me from this deeply held opinion to the contrary. I have yet to meet an anti-nuke who I would regard as being anything other than stupid.

Now, of course, if one were to look through my journal on this site, one might find support for a claim that somewhere, roughly, between 50 and 75% of what I write refers to the primary scientific literature.

If one were to read through my writings, one might see that I often admire what's written, but also that there are many instances where I have disagreements with the contents of a paper, and often make comments along these lines. Sometimes I don't comment in writing, but nonetheless, even if admire the general content of a paper, I emphatically disagree with the putative rationale for which the paper is written.

Over the years, if not here, than certainly elsewhere, I've commented on PNAS papers, although frankly PNAS is somewhat lower on my reading list than other journals that better reflect my general interests.

For instance, today in "prestigious" journal Nature, to which I am a subscriber, I came across this paper, which on one level I admire: Ceramic–metal composites for heat exchangers in concentrated solar power plants (Sandhage et al Nature Volume 562, pages 406–409 (2018))

The paper, is an excellent Materials Science paper, and features this very impressive graphic:

The caption:

The power density is computed for a 17.5-MW-thermal (MWth) heat exchanger with 95% effectiveness for heat transfer to sCO2 at 873–1,073 K. As the maximum allowable stress of the material increases, thinner plates may be used, which decreases the required solid volume and increases the power density. Dashed regions correspond to the range of maximum allowed stresses for selected metal alloys8 (the stainless steels 304 SS and 316 SS and the nickel-based alloys Inconel 617 and 740H) and upper and lower values of failure strengths of ZrC/W-based composites divided by an FOS of 2 or 3.

Excellent. I love papers like this about refractory high temperature heat transfer materials. In a world inhabited by and run by intelligent people, this basic materials science would have outstanding applications in the nuclear industry.

Of course, this does not imply that I think that the title of this wonderful paper makes any sense at all, although I would have no doubt that a dumb ass anti-nuke who can't read very well might misread this paper as a statement that solar concentrators will work and are a done deal.

By contrast, someone who thinks critically might note that there are literally thousands of papers over the decades - I'm sure I've personally seen upwards of a thousand myself - on solar thermal refractories, but nonetheless, the solar thermal industry as a whole has been as useless - maybe even more useless, more destructive, and more wasteful than the rest of the solar industry on which we bet the planetary atmosphere, with future generations forced to pay the debt for the fact, that the bet has been lost.

I don't expect anyone with the mentality of an anti-nuke to get this, but the average data for the week ending April 22, 2018 showed a concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hit 411.68.

This is after the world spent 2.2 trillion dollars in the period between 2007 and 2017 on solar and wind alone:

Frankfurt School/UNEP Global Renewable Energy Investment, 2018, Figure 3, page 14

I hold anti-nukes and their weak minds responsible for this outcome. Now, it would be unsurprising to find an anti-nuke to disagree with this. Of course, these are people who had a outrageous knee jerk reaction to Fukushima - ignoring that most people killed in the event were killed by seawater and comparatively few were actually killed by radiation - and burned gas to carry on about the reactors.

(How many people died from radiation again?)

Thus I feel absolutely free to state that even if the basic science in the paper I just cited above is excellent, the title is nonsense. Of course, it is not necessarily the case that the authors are all that attached to the title. It's quite possible that the title reflects nothing more than a requirement attached to it by the people providing the grant, which was, as it happens, the DOE Office of Renewable Energy and Efficiency.

There's only one minor problem with the political existence of this office: So called "renewable energy" hasn't worked; it isn't working; and it won't work. And while they do fund good papers like this one on mixed zirconium/tunsten carbide materials, the requirement that the title include an obvious nonsense statement does no good for humanity or the planet.

The world is dying, and solar thermal plants will do nothing to stop it.

Now the fact that there is a DOE Office of Renewable Energy reflects a political fact (just, as I will argue below) as the open sourced PNAS paper linked in the OP doesn't reflect a technical argument about nuclear power, but reflects a sociopolitical statement which arguably the authors find regrettable when they write, referring to the now discredited (by events) Pacala and Socolow paper from 2004 in the prestigious journal Science:

Given the myriad technical, economic, and political constraints that challenge the deployment of all energy infrastructure, relying on a large number of different technologies and strategies, executed in parallel, would reduce overall costs and risks (6, 7), with each one of these contributing a “wedge” to the overall mitigation effort (8). Indeed, most models of decarbonization incorporate a large suite of technologies and assume that they are deployable when the political will to mitigate emissions emerges.

Nuclear power is one of those technologies.
For several years, we have been evaluating the potential role that new nuclear power technologies might play in this decarbonization by conducting a variety of studies that investigate the technical, economic, and political challenges that face it, both in the United States and around the world. We have concluded that, barring some dramatic policy changes, it is most unlikely that nuclear power will be able to contribute to decarbonization in the United States, much less provide a new carbon-free wedge on the critical time scale of the next several decades. With the exception of a few other nations, including China, the same may also be true across the rest of the world.

The discredited (by events, we hit more than 411 ppm this year, 14 years after the paper was written) Socolow and Pacala paper is reference 8. The bold is mine.

Policy changes...

Political challenges...

Again, the United States built more than 100 reactors 30 or 40 years ago using technology from the 1950's. I note that anti-nukes are notorious for changing the subject when asked, point blank, to address this point, and start whining, for instance, about the prestige of journals or some such equally absurd thing.

In saying this, I'm not knocking PNAS, or the authors published in PNAS, although I will point shortly to an author published in PNAS - an anti-nuke - who I decidedly view as an idiot.

Of course, since I have no respect at all for the intellectual integrity - or for that matter the ethical integrity - of anti-nukes, I'm unsurprised that they can't read any better than they can think. Good thinking is often attached to good reading skills, but anti-nukes neither read, think or speak well. They just repeat cant, slogans and scare stories that do not focus at all on what is really scary, that being climate change.

Now, let's turn to the claim that I have dissed the authors of this particular PNAS paper because I don't find their argument compelling or wise.

Publications in peer reviewed journals are not true or false because of the prestige of the journal. Here for instance is the retraction page for Nature:

Nature: Retractions

Here is the retraction page for PNAS:

Retractions, PNAS

In pointing to these retractions - at the risk of hearing a distorted reading of the point by a dumb anti-nuke - I am not stating that the PNAS paper referenced in the OP should be subject to such a retraction. Many of the statements in it are true.

They state the following:

For three decades, roughly 20% of US electric power generation has come from large light water nuclear reactors (LWRs) (9) that were developed at the beginning of the atomic age. Because of low natural gas costs, these facilities are no longer the cash cows they were only a decade ago. Moreover, an increase in the penetration of renewable energy sources has turned nuclear reactors into mid-merit generators. Combined, these two phenomena have made operating smaller, older reactors cost-prohibitive. As a result, the United States is in the midst of a series of shutdowns of LWRs that will take ∼10 GWe of reliable, low-carbon capacity offline (10⇓–12)

The bolded statement is true, but a better paper would ask why gas prices are low; and note that one factor allowing for these putative "low costs" is that the owners of gas plants are absolutely free, without charge, and with due contempt for all future generations, allowed to indiscriminately dump all of their waste directly into the planetary atmosphere, where it migrates to the ocean and other bodies of water acidifying them.

If the gas industry were required to meet the requirements artificially set for the nuclear industry - that it prove that no one ever at any time be injured at all by any of its operations lest jerk-off knee jerk anti-nuke assholes get themselves into full twittery on the internet - it would collapse in a New York minute, and along with it the so called "renewable energy" industry that serves as the gas industry's marketing tool.

If the natural gas industry needed to pay, as I noted in the text generating this benighted comment to which I now respond, a carbon tax commensurate with the damage it causes in climate change related effects, it would collapse in a New York minute.

I note people get blown up all the time by gas explosions and still anti-nukes burn electricity generated by burning natural gas to publish their bullshit about Fukushima and Chernobyl, this on a planet, as I often point out, where 70 million people, more or less, have died in the last ten years, from air pollution.

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

(An updated version of this study has been published, but I haven't read it in its entirely yet. It suggests, however, that air pollution deaths are climbing outdoors and climbing over all, although indoor air pollution deaths have decrease slightly owing to improved home ventilation and improved stoves for impoverished people.)

In short, the reason that gas prices are low is because every damn living thing on the planet is required, without consent, to bear the external cost.

This paper makes a statement this is apparently true - the internal cost of gas is (temporarily) low - but ignores the fact that gas is actually extremely expensive because of its external costs.

It is, by comparison, not true that the external costs of nuclear power even remotely approximate the external costs of natural gas. There are thousands of papers showing as much.

So, to approach the conclusion, if one claims that something is true because it is published in a prestigious (or any peer reviewed) journal, one is merely showing a very, very, very, very, very weak understanding of science, something I note about every pixilated and confused anti-nuke whose drivel I find myself hearing.

This is why many very good journals feature sections wherein a scientist may comment on the quality or connection to the truth of a paper published after peer review in that journal.

For example, here is the Nobel Laureate Burton Richter commenting on a paper written by the anti-nuke Stanford Professor Mark Z. Jacobson, who I regard, at the risk of being sued apparently, as a complete fool.

Jacobson wrote this paper claiming, among other things, that the reactor at Diablo Canyon represented a real threat to be another Fukushima:Worldwide health effects of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident

Richter responded, as noted by other highly intelligent people, that even in light of Fukushima, nuclear power in Japan saved lives. He also noted a fact which knee jerk anti-nukes couldn't care less about, that most people died from seawater, not that anti-nukes give a rat's ass about climate change.

Opinion on “Worldwide health effects of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident” by J. E. Ten Hoeve and M. Z. Jacobson, Energy Environ. Sci., 2012, 5, DOI: 10.1039/c2ee22019a

What struck me first on reading the Ten Hoeve–Jacobson (T–J) paper was how small the consequences of the radiation release from the Fukushima reactor accident are projected to be compared to the devastation wrought by the giant earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, 2011. The quake and tsunami left 20 000 people dead, over a million buildings damaged and a huge number of homeless. This paper concludes that there will eventually be a 15-130-1100 fatalities (130 is the mean value and the other numbers are upper and lower bounds) from the radiation released from reactor failures in what is regarded as the second worst nuclear accident in the history of nuclear power. It made me wonder what the consequences might have been had Japan never used any nuclear power. My rough analysis finds that health effects, including mortality, would have been much worse with fossil fuel used to generate the same amount of electricity as was nuclear generated.

The mild remonstrance from a Nobel Laureate didn't stop Jacobson of course from prattling on with delusional rhetoric however. He went on to publish this in, um, PNAS:

Low-cost solution to the grid reliability problem with 100% penetration of intermittent wind, water, and solar for all purposes

I've been hearing this 100% renewable crap my whole damned life, and publication of nonsense like this in PNAS in no way changes what I observe and which is widely reported: Solar and wind combined, after half a century of mindless cheering, didn't produce 10 of the 576 exajoules of energy humanity was consuming as of 2016.

Other scientists apparently felt similarly, and published in PNAS the following paper, questioning his analysis:

Evaluation of a proposal for reliable low-cost grid power with 100% wind, water, and solar.

There's something like 20 authors listed, some from Jacobson's own institution.

They wrote, correctly in my view, although I quibble with many of their comments:

In our view, to show that a proposed energy system is technically and economically feasible, a study must, at a minimum, show, through transparent inputs, outputs, analysis, and validated modeling (13), that the required technologies have been commercially proven at scale at a cost comparable with alternatives; that the technologies can, at scale, provide adequate and reliable energy; that the deployment rate required of such technologies and their associated infrastructure is plausible and commensurate with other historical examples in the energy sector; and that the deployment and operation of the technologies do not violate environmental regulations. We show that refs. 11 and 12 do not meet these criteria and, accordingly, do not show the technical, practical, or economic feasibility of a 100% wind, solar, and hydroelectric energy vision. As we detail below and in SI Appendix, ref. 11 contains modeling errors; incorrect, implausible, and/or inadequately supported assumptions; and the application of methods inappropriate to the task. In short, the analysis performed in ref. 11 does not support the claim that such a system would perform at reasonable cost and provide reliable power

Jacobson, showing his deep respect for science, rather than respond in a journal, filed a $10,000,000 lawsuit against PNAS and the authors of the paper: Jacobson v. National Academy of Sciences

He later dropped his suit, bitching and moaning all the way: A Stanford professor drops his ridiculous defamation lawsuit against his scientific critics

Of course, the whole affair is entirely consistent with my view of anti-nukes in general. I regard them as very poor thinkers, with dangerous obsessions and poor quality arguments that focus on minutiae at the expense of the grand reality, which is that climate change is real, that it matters, and that reality matters.

Oh, and I would make a note of something that troubles me in this age of Trumpism. It does seem to me that a lot of people are latching on to the word "fake" used by the Idiot in Chief.

I note that in mimicking this small minded and rather dangerous man, they are ignoring that he uses the word whenever he is about to tell a lie or to grotesquely misrepresent a fact.

It is entirely unsurprising to see that many of the people who adopt this absurd usage are definitely and clearly in his intellectual league.

Have a wonderful day tomorrow.

We seem to have hit the carbon dioxide minimum for 2018 at Mauna Loa.

Atmospheric concentrations of CO2, as many people know, follows a sinusoidal curve where the ordinate axis may be crudely approximated as a monotonically increasing straight line rotated from the zero axis:

The slope of this rotating axis line - using weekly data going back to the first week of October, 2000 is 2.16 ppm/year.

The slope of the rotated axis line since NOAA began publishing weekly data in 1975, from the second week of October 1975 (the data is missing for the first week of that year) to October of 2000 was 1.53 ppm/year.

The slope of the rotated axis line since the first week October of 2008 to now is 2.23.

In other words the "straight line" is bent; things are getting worse, not better.

The change for this year - a mild carbon year since it's post-El Nino year - from last year's minimum is 2.20. The minimum this year seems to have occurred in the week ending September 30, 2018. We were at 405.5 ppm. No one now living will ever see a measurement below again in their lifetime again.

We're doing great!!!!:

"Percent solar," "percent, wind," "Tesla electric car!" "100% renewable by 2050 or 2060 or 2070 or 2100 or whatever," and so on...

Al Gore spoke of the frog in a pot being heated to boiling having a very different reaction than a frog being into a pot that is already boiling..

We've been in this pot for many, many, many decades, and are accepting the heat at great risk to the future.

And I'm sorry, but "Percent solar," "percent, wind," "Tesla electric car!" "100% renewable by 2050 or 2060 or 2070 or 2100"...blah...blah...blah...

...hasn't worked, isn't working, and most importantly won't work.

The first step will be to stop lying to ourselves.

Have a wonderful Sunday evening.

You're probably referring to the Chernow book. There are several other major biographies that...

...have reassessed Grant's Presidency.

Most of them don't go as far as I do, since I regard him as the second most important and second greatest President of the 19th century.

I personally believe that if Lincoln had not been assassinated, the common assessment of him as the greatest President of the United States ever would not be nearly as consistent as it is.

Lincoln would have had to address the same issues that Grant did, a bitter and fragile peace, and actually until he was killed, he did not actually have the same contemporary prestige that Grant had. Grant was a sphinx; Lincoln wasn't, at least to their contemporaries.

In saying this, I am not maligning Lincoln; I actually believe that he deserves the common ranking as #1, but I insist that Grant - who saw himself as working to fulfill Lincoln's legacy and died in view of Lincoln's portrait - is nearly an equivalent.

The "intermediate" ranking to which Grant has now risen in historian polls still disgusts me. No one appreciates the magnitude of the task, just as few people appreciate the magnitude of his Overland military campaign, which finalized a horrid war.

Grant was simply the reification of what made America a great nation, and in the late 1870's - after his Presidency - everyone on the planet pretty much knew it, as is evidenced by the World Tour he took.

OK. Everyone should do what they can; clearly you are; but I hope...

...you will understand my frustration at weak efforts in a clearly rising disaster of global proportions.

I do come across as hostile, I'm sure, but frankly, it's just generalized anger because of what I have come to know, and I hope you will understand that it's because of what I've come to understand, and not directed at you personally.

Clearly you care..

If you focus your attention on weak means of addressing this crisis, you are still doing far more than most Americans, especially in the age of Trumpism, and for this you clearly deserve some admiration and respect.

It's not as if I have a realistic approach, in the political or sociological sense, to solving this problem. I'm like a man with small cell lung cancer who's reading about treatments that might be available some day even though he has been declared terminal.

I will confess that 30 years ago, when I first started seriously thinking about issues in the environment by delving into the primary scientific literature, I went through a phase where I actually believed that the world would be wonderful if everyone had an electric car and a solar cell system on their roofs.

Been there. Done that.

It's clear that depending on how one searches the literature, one can still find evidence to believe this, although frankly, the case is less and less defensible.

I recall George H.W. Bush announcing that the "American lifestyle is not negotiable," as if one could negotiate with the atmosphere.

We can't.

(Despite attempts to rehabilitate them, the Bushes are really awful people, considerably worse than even the awful Kennedys)

We're really at a "finger in the dike" moment at, say, the Banqiao dam disaster, which killed according to most sources around 170,000 people, although there are a number of estimates that are considerably higher. (The true death toll will never be known.)


I had a vague feeling that I'd recently come across a "well to wheel" paper, and as kind of a peace offering for my angry tone, here it is:

Current and Future United States Light-Duty Vehicle Pathways: Cradle-to-Grave Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Economic Assessment (Elgowainy et al Environ. Sci. Technol., 2018, 52 (4), pp 2392–2399.)

I opened the PDF in my files, and looked at it, and it has all this wonderful stuff about if we lived in the solar nirvana and had electric cars, our GHG would be such and such...etc...etc...etc.

(I've been hearing this stuff for so long and with such deepening frustration at how delusional it is, that for me it's pure "Waiting for Godot," but no matter...)

I'm not going to have time today to really go deeply into this paper, open the HTML in a library, put up all the high resolution graphics, and superficially discuss the text as I do here from time to time on other topics. (My sons have both come home from college this weekend and we need to do some business and logistic things. There is a prosaic life beyond these vast issues, "deck chairs on the Titanic" as they sometimes say...)

Maybe I will someday have time. Watch this space if interested in what I have to say on this topic, or feel free to ignore it.

But here is the low resolution graphic that pretty much describes what the thinking of the NREL and other National Lab type people think about the non-negotiable American lifestyle and transport vehicles:

With a quick glance, one can see that if electric cars have some Greenhouse Gas advantages over gasoline based ICEV cars, there are clearly a large number of them, depending on the source of electricity, that are very much in the same range as gasoline cars.

To me this suggests that the enthusiasm for the electric car enterprise as "doing something" - the wild enthusiasm for and worship of that awful fool Elon Musk and his stupid car for billionaires and millionaires - is nearly the equivalent of doing nothing at all.

(Note that the graphic above only refers to vehicles that contain some electrical components, and not to the average gasoline type car that still characterizes the "non-negotiable" American lifestyle, the exception being the ethanol cars for which Jimmy Carter had so much enthusiasm almost half a century ago, this at the ultimate cost of the destruction of large tracts of the Mississippi Delta ecosystem.)

Thanks for your comments. I actually appreciate them.

Another "By such and such a year" statement, this time from the EU ministers.

European Ministers called for a 35% reduction in automotive carbon dioxide emissions, which drew immediate criticism from German car makers who say it can't be done, jobs, jobs, jobs, and so on...

Auto makers criticize 35% decrease in automotive CO2 emissions "by 2030" target.

It's impossible they say.

I don't know why they even bother complaining. Of course it won't happen. None of these "by such and such" statements are worth the carbon dioxide generated to broadcast them.

Despite the widely applauded and delusional celebration of the "rise of solar and wind energy," the world has now hit an annual average increase of 2.2 ppm per year.

The only thing that will happen "by 2030," is that CO2 emissions, even if they don't rise to 2.5 ppm (or more) per year, will exceed this years peak value, approximately 411 ppm, by reaching figures of roughly 438 ppm, if not more.

There will be more weather disasters, of course, and perhaps some outbreaks of crop failures and famine.

But the conversation will still be about jobs, oh, and how great solar and wind will be some day.

The only thing truly "renewable" is empty promises.

Germany will have no more nuclear power, of course, because they are going to be "green" despite people protesting the cutting down their forests to be "renewable." There will be no young (or even) old trained nuclear engineers in Germany, no nuclear infrastructure, and, um, no trees, no red kites, no bats.

You know, Fukushima!

Bleak, but true.

I wish you a pleasant Friday, and a wonderful nirvana life "by 2030."

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