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Member since: 2002
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Wow. I didn't even know that hydroelectric plants could explode, killing people.

In an article about the explosion of an Indian coal plant boiler, killing 45 people and severely burning more, I clicked on an article referring to another explosion, this one at a hydroelectric plant, which killed 75 people.


Investigating the Sayano-Shushenskaya Hydro Power Plant Disaster

The destruction of the turbines and auxiliary equipment at Russia’s Sayano-Shushenskaya Hydro Power Plant in August 2009 claimed the lives of 75 workers and wrecked an indispensable source of electricity that will take years to fully restore. The disaster, as this report explains, was predictable and preventable.

It was early Monday morning August 17, 2009, at the Sayano-Shushenskaya Hydro Power Plant (SSH), which is located on the Yenisei River, near Sayanogorsk in the Republic of Khakassia, in the southern region of the Russian Federation. By 8:00 a.m., technicians were operating multiple hydroelectric turbines at the plant, including Unit 2, and plant maintenance work on other equipment was continuing. Other members of the plant staff were arriving or having a final cup of coffee with colleagues before beginning the new work week. Overall, the plant was performing reasonably well in spite of the many nagging maintenance problems. In fact, just over a month earlier (July 2), RusHydro Public Corp. (RusHydro), the owner and operator of SSH, announced that the plant had set an all-time 24-hour electricity production record. Thirteen minutes later the plant lay in rubble and 75 workers had lost their lives...

Almost all of the estimated more than 200,000 deaths associated with hydroelectric dams in the last 50 years have involved collapse of the dams, and not explosions of the turbines. This type of accident is new to me, and I do try to keep my eye on such things.

Apparently the explosion resulted from cycling the turbines up and down repeatedly to meet demand/supply fluctuations. (I know this is an engineering problem in all turbine systems, including gas turbines, but it's OK if we cycle gas turbines up and down as the wind blows and then doesn't because we've convinced ourselves that wind power is "green." It isn't, but that's what we tell ourselves.)

Human Error Led to 45 Deaths in Indian Coal Plant Explosion.

An internal report from NTPC said an “error in judgment” by plant operators led to an explosion at India’s Feroze Gandhi Unchahar Thermal Power Station last year that resulted in the deaths of 45 workers.

Reuters news service on July 23 said it had reviewed a summary of the report on the accident that occurred November 1, 2017. It said three department heads at the 1,550-MW coal-fired plant decided not to shut down a 500-MW boiler at the plant to clear ash that had built up in the unit. The buildup caused the unit to over-pressurize, which caused an explosion that released hot gas, killing several workers instantly. Others died in the days after the accident, which left survivors with severe burns...

The explosion was captured on a terrifying cell phone video which can be seen at the link.

Report: Human Error to Blame in Fatal India Plant Accident

A nice video for first responders on how to dismantle a Tesla solar roof with a chainsaw & pick axe.


Of course, I'm quite sure it's a little more challenging when the solar roof is experiencing extreme temperatures as in a firenado.

I'd rather not think about what volatilizes in these cases, but maybe I just know too much chemistry.

Watch a Tesla Solar Roof being dismantled in first responder training video

Brave men and women, fire fighters, brave and essential men and women.

High Summer Temperatures Send CAISO and ERCOT Scrambling to Maintain Grid Reliability

California and Texas—two regions where summer reliability concerns were forecast earlier this year—are suffering extreme temperatures and are scrambling to relieve stress on the grid.

The California Independent System Operator (CAISO)—the grid operator that serves about 80% of California—on July 24 and 25 issued statewide Flex Alerts, calling for voluntary electricity conservation during peak afternoon and evening hours.

The Flex Alerts stem from high temperatures across the western U.S., reduced electricity imports, tight natural gas supplies in the Southern California area, and a high wildfire risk. “Consumers can help avoid power interruptions by turning off all unnecessary lights, using major appliances before 5 p.m. and after 9 p.m., and setting air conditioners to 78 degrees or higher,” the grid operator urged. “The ISO has called on all available resources to serve demand, however, conservation is needed to reduce the risk of further emergency measures, including rotating power outages.”

At the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the entity that manages the flow of power for 90% of Texas’s electric load, a new record for all-time system-wide peak demand was set during two hours in the afternoon on July 19. The demand record topped out at 73,259 MW. It was the first time peak demand exceeded 73,000 MW in the region, ERCOT noted...

...Concerns are rooted in sizable retirements of baseload generation, especially in ERCOT. ERCOT retired 4.5 GW of coal capacity in January and February 2018 alone. In late 2017, it also retired 806 MW of gas-fired capacity and suffered a delay in construction of new resources totaling about 2.1 GW.

CAISO, meanwhile, warned in its 2018 Summer Loads and Resources Assessment that it could experience tighter supply conditions if high-load and below-average hydroelectricity production conditions occur. For now, CAISO is banking on demand response and consumer conservation to alleviate possible tight supply conditions...

High Summer Temperatures Send CAISO and ERCOT Scrambling

People should sleep at night in their swell Tesla cars with the air conditioner turned on, I guess.

Batteries, that's the answer. Don't worry, be happy. Up in Aliso Viejo, Calif. eVolta has announced plans to built a 75MW/350MWh energy storage plant.

It's surprising that the hours during which demand is highest is between 5 pm and 9 pm in ERCOT, I guess all that "green" solar energy isn't available then but that 75MW should help in California's case..

And of course, California and Texas are the states with the largest installed wind capacity in the nation, and I can't, therefore, understand why under these nirvana conditions they're still talking so much about gas.

Well, I understand, but few people believe me.

It also seems that "green" hydroelectricity is a problem in California right now, not comparable to the larger problem of climate change driven fires, but again don't worry, be happy.

We'll all go "green" someday.

Death Toll Likely to Rise After Dam Collapse.

I hadn't heard this news item, but of course, one wouldn't, since hydroelectricity is "green."

So, I've heard.

It's too bad there was nothing radioactive there. We'd all hear about endlessly in that case...sort of like we heard of the greatest human tragedy of all time, the collapse of a tunnel at the Hanford Nuclear Weapons plant.

More than two dozen people have died in southeastern Laos after part of a newly built hydroelectric dam broke on July 23, flooding nearby villages. Government officials on July 25 said it had confirmed 26 deaths, with fears the death toll will rise with more than 130 people officially listed as missing and heavy rain continuing in the region.

Officials said more than 3,000 people lost their homes due to flooding after the dam broke on Monday. Social media posts showed people sitting on rooftops, with numerous boat rescues ongoing, and the heavy rain is hindering rescue efforts. The intergovernmental Mekong River Commission said rainstorms have caused water levels in the river to rise by as much as 15 feet in the past week.

The hydropower project is one of dozens under construction in Laos, many backed by Chinese companies, as the country seeks to provide more access to electricity for its population, a common thread in Southeast Asia. Khammany Inthirath, Laos’ minister of Energy and Mines, in a July 4 meeting told government officials about 92% of the country’s population has access to electricity, with a goal to reach 95% of Laotian households by 2020. The country also wants to increase its power exports to neighboring countries, including Thailand.

The failed dam is part of the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy hydroelectric project. The dam failed Monday evening during heavy rains, sending more than 170 billion cubic feet of water downstream. The project is being developed by two South Korean companies—Korea Western Power and SK Engineering & Construction (SK E&C).

Korea Western Power in a statement said one of five auxiliary earth-fill dams at the project was visibly weakened on July 20. SK E&C in a statement said the top of the dam collapsed July 22 despite efforts by workers to control the damage during heavy rain.

Water began flowing rapidly out of the reservoir on July 23. SK E&C said seven nearby villages were quickly flooded. The company said it was assisting evacuation and rescue efforts.

Thongloun Sisoulith, the country’s prime minister, at a July 25 news conference said some residents had been rescued from trees and confirmed several villages and farmland had been flooded. Bounhom Phommasane, governor of the district of Sanamxay, told The Vientiane Times newspaper, “A second step for us will be to recover and identify the deceased, but for now, we hurry to find those who are still alive in the area...”

Death Toll Likely to Rise

It doesn't compare, of course, to the collapse of the Banqio dam in China in 1976, about which we couldn't care less and which seems to have killed hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed millions of homes, but nonetheless, it's real.

Best wishes to Xemasab. Haven't seen her here in sometime, but she's in Redding CA.

We hope she's OK.

Thank you for your civil and kind suggestion about an approach to, um, "getting my point across."

Of course, as you might imagine, it's hardly the first time I've heard a similar suggestion about how I might better persuade people to hold a certain viewpoint.

It's quite possible that I've heard hundreds of similar suggestions over the years.

I would crudely estimate that about 80% of similar suggestions come from anti-nukes, many of whom like to engage in the pretense that they have open minds.

I can actually date the year in which I changed my mind about nuclear energy becoming a pronuke person, after having spent many years previous being a dumb ass anti-nuke. It was 1986, when I began to look into the situation at Chernobyl. Having been a dumb ass poorly educated anti-nuke myself - although I trained as a chemist, none of the institutions I attended offered a single course in nuclear chemistry (few institutions do) - I needed to educate myself about nuclear chemistry, nuclear engineering, and general nuclear science, mostly at the level of neutronics.

The reason I changed my mind is because I had been trained by dumb ass anti-nuke rhetoric, which I accepted uncritically as a participant in the vast anti-nuke circle of grotesque ignorance, to believe that Chernobyl would kill hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of people.

Now this idea may not be popular among anti-nukes, since no amount of information can make them change their minds, but over the years I've come to believe that experiment trumps theory. (Under current conditions the language needs another word for "trumps," but I'm stuck with it here.) The results of the unintentional "experiment" at Chernobyl are in. It killed people, to be sure, and it was a very bad event, not just because of the physical damage it undeniably caused, but especially because it gave extremely ignorant people a talking point to do great damage to humanity.

Anti-nukism kills people, because nuclear energy overall saves lives, on balance.


Now a word about the much recently discussed - in a completely absurd fashion - topic of "civility."

Kelly Ann Conway is an extremely ignorant person who clearly lacks in intelligence, education, and a fragment of human decency. She who has devoted her life to doing great damage to humanity by producing propaganda for the most clearly evil person ever to live in the White House, a corrupt, venal, thug who compromises the stated (if hardly lived) principles of even his supporters, never mind Americans as a whole. Every word that comes out of her mouth is raw sewage. I would be very surprised to learn that even 10% of the members here would be inclined to treat Kelly Ann Conway, or any in the set of her peers with a shred of civility. I am most definitely in the estimated 90% who thinks she is beneath contempt and does not deserve an iota of respect.

Now. I've been an advocate for nuclear energy for over 30 years. You say that you are not a nuclear expert but support nuclear energy. That's fine with me.

I will state that I am a nuclear expert, because I've made it my habit to dig deeper and deeper into the details of the topic at the highest publicly available level, the level of the primary scientific literature. I have traveled deep into the bowels of academic libraries to locate copies of papers published in obscure journals in the 1950's - there are research librarians who have come to know me personally, at least by face. I can also intelligently discuss recent nuclear publications: Just this morning (for an obscure example) I was reading (in connection with Fukushima) a paper on the effect of chloride ions on the oxygen potential related to the chromium component of zircaloy-4 in the cladding in used nuclear fuel in the presence of highly oxidizing hydroxyradicals.

As it happens, at the risk of encouraging the flights of innuendo and idiocy of the ignorant anti-nuke community, the cladding in used nuclear fuel does corrode faster than used nuclear fuel in water with controlled chemistry, and thus the cladding in the pools at Fukushima, where the pools were temporarily cooled with seawater, had accelerated corrosion. The question is not whether or not this is a good thing or not; clearly it isn't. The questions are "does it matter?" and "Is it significant?"

Suppose a used nuclear fuel cladding is breached. Would this mean that all of the radionuclides would instantaneously find its way into baby food and concentrate there? How many people would be injured or killed if the fuel was breached? As many as will die in the next two hours and every period of two hours thereafter from air pollution?

The tacit assumption in these representations is that a single radioactive atom is somehow worse than a ton of mercury routinely released by coal plants, never mind 31 billion tons of carbon dioxide every damned year.

Now I referred to a particular instance - without naming the person - of an anti-nuke asshole in the OP here. The selection of this particular asshole is somewhat generic. Just as we generalize at DU about Trump supporters, after 30 years of often direct experience with these intellectual and moral human disaster zones, I generalize about anti-nukes. To my mind the individual variances among them are without interest. What is of interest is that they are working to cause great harm, much as Kelly Ann Conway is working to cause great harm.

Instead of referring to the asshole who carried on about the Hanford tunnel, I could have chosen to refer to another such asshole, for example the asshole who used to write here who believed that having temporary access to a tritium based RIA kit put him on a level to judge the life's work of Glenn Seaborg, or the asshole who loved to report about how much money was being spent on so called "renewable energy" because it was so popular, or any of a vast array of similar anti-nukes who embrace equally specious rhetoric.

Now here is one of the many lists of logical fallacies available by simple googling on the internet: 15 logical fallacies

I am personally known for engaging in the use of the ad hominem fallacy, especially before I came to my senses, and realized that some people are so stupid that there is no value in engaging directly with them on any level, and began using the wonderful "ignore" key here. I do use logical fallacies from time to time, because most often, I am addressing people who utilize all or most of them unashamedly. I don't believe in unilateral disarmament; I think it would be an ethical mistake to be civil to Kelly Ann Conway, or Donald Trump or a generic anti-nuke. So, I'm completely comfortable to using the term "asshole" to describe anti-nukes in the generic general sense.

The overwhelming majority of the posts I write here are either in this forum, or in the science forum, and of those, the overwhelming majority of these refer to papers in the primary scientific literature that I excerpt and include some editorial derision directed at the anti-nuke community of idiots. Now, in my case, these idiots have proved to be useful idiots for me, because, as a political liberal, I used to embrace the idea that so called "renewable energy" is a good and viable thing. This is not even remotely true, as it turns out, but I rather blindly accepted that it was true until I began to look into some of the claims made by people who were not interested in replacing dangerous fossil fuels with so called "renewable energy" but rather with replacing what proves to be the only available sustainable form of energy there is, nuclear energy.

I recently heard a dumb guy, the head of the Sierra Club in New Jersey, make the Trumpian scale lie - this at was advertised as the "New Jersey March for Science" which proved to be, much to my chagrin, the "New Jersey March for Renewable Energy." The lie, addressed to a person who noted the toxicology associated with the failed and unacceptably expensive solar industry, was the claim that "solar cells are becoming less toxic."

Now the most efficient lab scale solar cells, with thermodynamic efficiencies greater than 20%, are perovskite solar cells. The perovskites most often discussed are based on lead iodide, lead being the neurotoxic element that has been widely distributed by the coal, automotive (historically), and plumbing industry. This has lead to disasters like, but hardly limited to, the Flint, Michigan crisis. Now before us is a proposal to distribute lead solar cells for "distributed energy" with as little consideration as went into the distribution of lead for the distributed energy device known as the authomobile.

Now let us consider the specific asshole to whom I referred in the OP, although I certainly had a huge array of other equally generic assholes to whom I could have referred instead of this particular asshole:

I wrote a commentary on a proposal to recycle lead perovskite solar cells even before the disaster of making and selling them actually takes place. This a fantasy designed to put lipstick on an unacceptable pig: Recycling low energy to mass density materials that are widely distributed further degrades their already unacceptably low energy return.

Most of my highly technical posts in this space sink like rocks; which is perfectly fine with me. If some is amused by one or if someone actually profits by reading one, that's great, but my purpose in writing them is to force me to think about a subject I find interesting or useful either for rhetorical or practical reasons.

The post in question did just that, sank like a rock, only to reappear a few weeks later. Was the post that brought it back up a post about recycling lead perovskites or a comment on the (dirty) process by which the recycling was described? Did it relate to the sustainability of solar cells?

No. It was a comment about the collapse of a tunnel at the Hanford nuclear weapons plant...

Now. Here is how I described myself 11 years ago on another political website:

Here is the problem with my tone: I am extremely arrogant, extremely conceited, dismissive, insulting, fierce and rude. Other than those small drawbacks, I think I'm a nice guy. I have, I think, a number of strengths, but modesty and grace aren't necessarily among them, even though by any independent standard, I'm no great shakes...

(I wrote this about myself as part of a blogsphere apology, an apology I now regard as a mistake. The Nuclear Shill Apologizes.

Now suppose I point out that Donald Trump is "extremely arrogant, extremely conceited, dismissive, insulting, fierce and rude." Would this prove that I am not "extremely arrogant, extremely conceited, dismissive, insulting, fierce and rude." Of course not. The fact that Donald Trump is "extremely arrogant, extremely conceited, dismissive, insulting, fierce and rude," has no bearing whatsoever on whether I am also "extremely arrogant, extremely conceited, dismissive, insulting, fierce and rude."

Arguments of this type touch upon the Tu Quoque fallacy which is very popular among the right wing assholes in the Republican party, including the awful orange excuse for a "President."

Among the logical fallacies in raising a point about a Hanford tunnel collapse in a post about recycling lead laced solar cells are the red herring fallacy, the Hasty Generalization Fallacy (a claim that a particular instance of a problem with a radioactive site implies all nuclear operations are problematic), faulty comparison...etc...etc...etc.

Now as it happens, I did interact briefly with the dullard in question only to end up violating the rule here against ad hominem attacks. In addition, the person here was so stupid that I found my blood pressure rising.

To what end?

The asshole pretended to be open minded - a Trumpian scale misrepresentation - and "not really opposed to nuclear energy" but experience teaches that this sort of generic person is just full of shit. I neither knew or cared about this person before hand, but apparently he or she was familiar with me, familiar enough to stew for a few weeks over a post that pointed to a real problem with the expensive, toxic and useless solar industry to raise a point about problems with a nuclear issue, albeit one that had nothing to do with nuclear power (or recycling elements from toxic solar cells) but actually related to nuclear weapons, the latter, by the way, being a class of objects I generally oppose.

Now we could argue that fertilizer is dangerous because of the fertilizer terrorist Timothy McVeigh who blew up the Oklahoma City federal building using ammonium nitrate fertilizer along with dangerous diesel fuel.

An argument that fertilizer is a bad thing - and there are many environmental problems with fertilizer that have nothing to do with terrorism - might have, were it to succeed, an effect upon the survival of billions of people who need to eat using foods grown with the use of fertilizer.

Thus, like nuclear energy, the use of fertilizer needs risk/benefit analysis, balance.

But let's turn finally to the basic assumption that you make in arguing that I should be polite, which is that my tone is ineffective at changing people's minds. The assumption is that this is my goal, to make people change their minds. Often closed minded anti-nukes try to claim that they would in fact be more reasonable if I weren't rude and obnoxious, which is also bullshit, since no reasonable argument politely stated would have any effect on them whatsoever.

If I scream at someone on a roadway in the path of a speeding truck, "Hey! Get out of the road asshole!" it would not serve their interests nor the interests of the truck driver if they respond, "Ask me nicely and I'll consider it."

Anti-nuke ignorance kills people. There's nothing nice to say about that.

The fact is that I neither believe that these people can change their minds, nor am I attempting to change their minds.

I'm an old man. I'm seeing and deeply regretting what my awful generation is leaving behind. My goal in writing here, beyond clarifying things in my own mind is to express anger.

I stated it elsewhere thusly:

Thanks for your friendly suggestion, but...
...let me explain why I write the diaries the way I do.

The process by which I write my science diaries here begins with a scan of the usual journals that I read - although I do mix it up here and there and try to include some journals that I usually don't usually read - until I find some paper relevant to the on going catastrophe that I think I might be able to use to construct a poll here.

The polls are the thing itself.

Generally this list might involve 20 or 30 papers.

I narrow the list by deciding which paper involves a subject that I would like to know more about - since I always learn something when I write the diaries.

Writing this one while collecting the references from the original paper, for instance, I learned that the death toll from the 2003 European heat wave is estimated to be 70,000 people.

I didn't know that until two days ago.

When I was a younger man, I used to be very serious about writing, and engaged in lots of rewrites. Although there are exceptions in my diaries here, what I try to do is here now (partially because of time constraints) free write: Blurt out what comes into my mind as the diary evolves.

I think this shows up in the sometimes confusing rambling that my diaries sometimes involve.

I cannot read the things I read - for instance about the 70,000 deaths - without being simultaneously angry and filled with a sense of the absurd, and usually by the end, the anger just pours out.

The writer Kurt Vonnegut once wrote that he never felt as if he had absolute control over the lives of the characters in his novel: He compared himself to a puppeteer: A peppeteer (sic) with elastic strings.

So it is with my diaries.

I don't generally have time to fix them, which is why they sometimes appear with grammatic errors and mispellings. I might go back and change something a year or so later, but that's long after they've gone down the memory hole.

And, the truth is, really I don't want them to be nice.

You read scientific papers, and you recognize that they are often about real tragedy, real human tragedy, and the authors are trapped in this polite and gracious writing style.

The last excerpt from the Nature Climate Change paper above is about as strongly emotional as one sees, but look, they can't say, scream "WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH THESE INSIPID JOURNALISTS!?!" can they?

The editors wouldn't allow it.

We're supposed to be "polite."

Well there are no editors here. This place has its flaws and its frustrations, but it has no editors.

I have to think that there are a lot of scientists who want to do more than be politefeel it some of them: Jim Hansen for instance in "Storms of my Grandchildren.

I mean, 70,000 people dead from heat and we are all about the "radioactive" tuna fish?

I'm not writing here to save myself or to make myself seem neat, or professional or kind. I'm none of those things.

I'm just screaming.

I'm screaming in hopes of letting someone in the next generations know - should any of them ever read any of this - that someone cared about what we were doing to them, someone tried to stop it, that some of us weren't seeking to live in some kind of sybaritic narcotic haze where we didn't have to know anything and just did what we damn well pleased to do in the moment.

But that hope too - that someone will notice what I say and what I tried to do - is like the hope that humanity would have addressed climate change before it was too late, is nothing.

(Hence the Shakespear paraphrase above: "He should have died hereafter..." )

This is a backwater website; and I'm a minor writer on it; nothing that I say is likely to accomplish anything or even survive long; but if, by some accident, something of my work is noticed and survives, I want it to seem that I least I tried to do something.

I appreciate your kind words, and kind suggestion but these diaries have been this way a long time and I'm afraid I don't really control them as much as they control me.


Comment in "Is It Just the Weather?"

By the way, I was banned from that website for crudely telling the truth.

Here's the comment that got me banned:

Did anyone die from radiation at Fukuishima, anything like the 37 dead yesterday from the oil train crash? The 167 who died at the Piper Alpha explosion? Anything like the 200,000+ who died from the great Banqioa renewable energy dam collapse?

The great climate scientist Jim Hansen has published in the primary scientific literature a paper with something called scientific references, data that shows that nuclear energy 1.8 million lives. (Environ. Sci. Technol., 2013, 47 (9), pp 4889–4895) Hansen shows that were it not for fear and ignorance, nuclear energy might save 10 million lives more, with just a minor tech.

It follows that anti-nukes are not merely enemies of the people, they are murderers, pure and simple, murderers whose weapons are fear and ignorance.

Have a nice of evening.

Now "Kos" worked to elect Barack Obama, something I very much agreed was a good thing, and Barack Obama chose Nobel Laureate Stephen Chu to be his first Secretary of Energy, who then worked to restart the building of nuclear power plants in the United States, an effort thwarted by the lie that natural gas energy is cheap, which it isn't if one includes - as is not practiced - external costs.

But Kos's energy views are ignorant, as are the views of his equally energy ignorant journalist Tim Lange. They are efforts to kill people by opposing clean energy and allowing dirty energy not only to persist but expand. My statement above is true, and since Kos owns his website, he is perfectly free to ban me, which he did.

That power however does not make him any less asinine however; and one good thing - working to elect Obama - does not imply that the bad thing he's done, the evil thing - opposing nuclear energy - is either admirable or morally or intellectually acceptable. Both activities stand or fall on their own merits independent of one another.

People have written me to suggest I should apologize to Kos. For what? Telling the truth? This is an ass who once had his front page writers falling all over themselves to praise the "science of Jim Hansen" until Jim Hansen said something that they didn't like.

How does this make them different from Jim Inhofe or Mitch McConnell, the claim that science is valid if and only if it jibes with their political rhetoric?

Actually both sides are expressing contempt for science and scientists in order to aggrandize what is, in fact, awful political rhetoric.

No, I am not going to "be nice." Thanks for the suggestion, but there's nothing worthwhile in it. The planetary atmosphere is collapsing and there is nothing at all that I can do about it other than to scream into the void.

Thanks, again, for your suggestion. Enjoy the rest of the weekend.

I've just been outsourced as a father.

My son just came back to the US from a research project in France and went to a scientific meeting in the American Midwest with the professor under whom he worked over there.

At the conference he went to lunch with that professor and his undergraduate adviser at his university here.

He informed me that over lunch the two professors planned his entire scientific career. They discussed that he needs to take all kinds of undergraduate courses before he can graduate, so they kind of have him locked up for the next three years, where, among other things, he can be assigned to write all their papers for them.

Hey! Planning his scientific career was my job!

Over the speaker phone when I was informed about this information both my sons informed me that I've been outsourced as a father for less than satisfactory performance.


Good for him. They'll do a better job than I would.

A Sophisticated Examination of the Electrochemical Reduction of Carbon Dioxide to Give C2 Compounds.

The paper from the primary scientific literature that I'll discuss in this post was written by scientists in Singapore in colaboration with scientists at UC Berkeley and Yale University. It's this paper: Investigating the Role of Copper Oxide in Electrochemical CO2 Reduction in Real Time (Venkatasan, et al, ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, 2018, 10 (10), pp 8574–8584)

It's a very nice paper but before going into it let me say this:

The generation of electricity wastes primary energy and how much energy is wasted depends highly on how it is generated and how it used. The generation of electricity even using clean primary energy - and there is one and only one truly clean form of primary energy, nuclear energy - is a wasteful process. The thermodynamic efficiency of the most common types of nuclear reactors on the planet, light water thermal reactors, is typically on the order of 33% meaning that 67% of the energy is lost. One can certainly conceive of cases where this efficiency might be raised, but it is impossible by the laws of physics to make electricity without losing energy. Further, depending on how the electricity is used, the thermodynamic efficiency can be reduced even further; quite possibly the most wasteful way to use electricity is to charge a battery. Charging a battery with a grotesquely inefficient solar cells - all commercial solar cells have grotesquely low thermal efficiency, although by increasing their toxicity beyond the unacceptable toxicity they already exhibit, it seems to theoretically possible to improve their efficiency to a larger fraction of Carnot (nuclear, coal, petroleum, and non-combined cycle gas plants) efficiency, to as much as roughly 25%.

This said, there are a number of extremely important commodities which are produced using electricity. The most familiar of these commodities is aluminum, which consumes about 3% of the world's electricity in the Hall process. The production of steel requires reduction by coal, and if we were actually serious about phasing out coal - something we're not even remotely serious about doing - to the extent that nuclear electricity was available could reduce the carbon impact of metals by substituting (where possible) aluminum for steel applications, something which has been widely practiced increasingly since the discovery of the Hall process. Another commodity that might replace steel is titanium, which is actually stronger, lighter and has a higher melting point than steel. I used to remark that if the World Trade Center had a titanium frame rather than a steel frame, it might have well survived the September 11, 2001 attacks, attacks which ultimately led, via misplace priorities, to the death of hundreds of thousands Iraqis.

An electrochemical process for the reduction of titanium ore - TiO2, either rutile or anatase - has been developed, and it is known at the FFC_Cambridge_process, which is now undergoing commercialization. One can hope that it will prove as successful as the Hall process proved for aluminum, the metallic form of which was extremely expensive before that process was discovered. (The FFC Cambridge process is not limited to titanium reduction by the way; it is suitable for other metals as well.)

The thermodynamic inefficiency of electricity generation aside, one can make commodities on a large scale.

One commodity which shows up a lot in the literature as potentially sourced by electricity is liquid carbon based fuels and carbon based synthetic precursors, via the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide, carbon dioxide being the dangerous fossil fuel waste that is destroying the planet at an ever increasing rate while we all wait, lemming like, for the Godotian grand renewable energy nirvana that never comes.

The synthesis of carbon based fuels from electricity is the topic of the fine paper cited at the outset.

Of course, if the electricity for doing this comes from the combustion of dangerous fossil fuels, which it increasingly does, the attempt to make liquid carbon based fuels from carbon dioxide is nothing more than a Rube Goldbergian perpetual motion machine.

Perpetual motion machines, um, don't work.

However, it has become clear to me in recent years that it is possible to improve the efficiency of nuclear powered devices greatly, one avenue being raising the temperature to a higher level than is found in the currently available light (and for that matter heavy) water reactors. It even seems possible - although more remotely so - to eliminate mechanical intermediates (which waste primary energy) specifically turbines and generators to make solid state and still efficient thermal generation devices. I may discuss in this space in the future recent advances in thermoelectric materials, many of which involve nanostructured materials that are still not commercially available but may be so at some future date. (My son's undergraduate research in Europe this summer suggests several possibilities along these lines that I hope to discuss with him when he comes home in two weeks.)

Thus it is not useless to discuss the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide, particularly in situations where continuously generated electricity is not in immediate demand.

Now from the paper's introduction:

Conversion of carbon dioxide (CO2), an important greenhouse gas, into energy-rich chemicals is a viable approach to reducing the global carbon footprint.1 Electrochemical CO2 conversion (CO2R) using renewable electricity is envisaged as a promising technology to achieve this end.2−7 Among the many catalysts studied for CO2R, copper is unique because it is the only metal that reduces CO2 to significant amounts of C2 and higher-order hydrocarbons and alcohols.8,9 Nanostructuring copper into cubes and needles can enhance the selectivity toward C−C coupled products.10−13 Alternatively, copper oxides can be employed as precursors for making high-surface-area structures. 14−22 When operated under CO2R conditions (typically −0.8 to −1.1 V vs RHE), the oxides would be reduced to metallic copper (Cu0) in accordance with the Pourbaix diagram, producing nanostructured Cu.23 In the literature, the improved performance of such oxide-derived copper nanostructures toward C2 products has been attributed to a number of factors: (1) a higher local pH at the catalyst surface, favoring the pH independent C−C coupling pathway over the formation of methane,13 (2) a higher density of grain boundaries and defect sites, optimizing the binding energy of reaction intermediates such as CO,14,20 and (3) the presence of oxides and subsurface oxygen alongside the metal, which provides Cu sites with multiple valences to increase catalytic activity.18,19,24

With due respect to the authors, and they certainly deserve respect as they are very fine scientists, their de rigueur remark about so called "renewable energy" - undoubtedly it's grant bait - is meaningless. So called "renewable energy" has not worked; it is not working and it will not work, but it is possible if not widely practiced (enough) to make clean electricity without appeal to wasteful systems with low energy/mass ratios.

The paper is about the known electrochemical catalyst for this reaction, primarily the reduction of carbon dioxide to give the versatile compound ethylene, is nothing more than the common metal copper. (Silver and gold - nanogold - can also catalyze similar reactions, as can several other metals, primarily nickel the platinum group metals (rhodium, ruthenium, palladium, platinum, iridium and osmium). The authors are examining the mechanism of the reaction, i.e. what changes copper goes through before returning to its initial state.

The authors briefly review some scientific history of the investigation of this system:

Studies on copper oxide as a CO2R electrocatalyst showed transient changes in the product distribution attributed to the temporary presence of surface oxide species.21,22 Recently, Li et al. found that thermally oxidized copper showed stable and improved product generation to CO and HCOOH at a lower overpotential compared to that for polycrystalline copper; however, this performance was not attributed to the oxide itself.15 This is reasonable given the Pourbaix diagram for Cu23 and was confirmed in their ex situ X-ray diffraction (XRD) study. Kas et al.17 investigated electrodeposited Cu2O of different orientation and thickness and found that the selectivity depended on the initial oxide thickness and not on the orientation of the starting copper oxide. By performing cyclic voltammetry and employing online electrochemical mass spectrometry, they concluded that CO2R starts only after Cu2O is reduced into Cu. However, this study did not employ an in situ characterization of the catalyst surface. Using in situ Raman spectroscopy, Ren et al. found that in aqueous, CO2- saturated 0.1 M KHCO3 the surface of a Cu2O film reduces within a few minutes to Cu0 at negative potentials.14 Interestingly, in this same study, it was found that when all signals belonging to copper oxide had disappeared, adsorbed CO, the pertinent reaction intermediate in CO2R, is detected. All of these studies suggest that surface Cu0 and not copper oxide is the active catalyst species.

They then discuss the analytical tools available to investigate further:

Herein, we combine Raman spectroscopy with selected-ion flow tube mass spectrometry (SIFT-MS)27−29 to study in real time both the surface and the products generated during electrochemical CO2R. Density functional theory (DFT) calculations were employed to model the system and could rationalize the results very successfully.

SIFT-MS can detect and quantify gaseous products such as methane, ethane, and ethylene as well as higher-order hydrocarbons, like propene, in a time scale of 0.1−10 s (depending on the number of masses scanned). This enables the capture of reaction dynamics. In this way, it overcomes the classic problem faced in much of the literature where the gaseous products of CO2R are analyzed by gas chromatography (GC) with analysis times in the range of minutes. In addition, liquid products, typically detected by high-pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC) or nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR), are only measured once at the end of an experiment by sampling aliquots of the electrolyte.9,20,25,26,30 SIFT-MS allows the simultaneous detection of liquid products with finite vapor pressure (this aspect of the technique will be presented in another paper). SIFT-MS is able to provide this real-time analysis of complex multicomponent mixtures because of its use of gentle chemical ionization reactions. These reactions, such as proton addition, avoid the fragmentation of molecules typical of electron ionization mass spectrometry (MS), which results in an extremely low limit of detection of the parent ion.26 SIFT-MS has been well reviewed in the literature, and we point the reader to these works27−29 for a deeper understanding of the advantages of this technique...

I get marketing blurbs about SIFT-MS several times a week at my job. Some day I'll have to read one before deleting it.

Here, three different forms of Cu2O were synthesized by electrochemical and thermal methods,14,15,31 yielding oxidederived catalysts of different surface structures and different CO2R activities. These catalysts were subsequently evaluated in real time, using an electrochemical cell previously detailed,32 to determine the onset of CO2R after switching on a constant cathodic current. By combining DFT study and in situ Raman spectroscopy with real-time product detection, we show that Cu2O reduction (Cu2OR) typically occurs before CO2R begins because Cu2OR is energetically more favorable.

DFT is "Density Functional Theory" - a widely used computational technique based on the Nobel Prize generating Kohn Sham equations, Kohn being a grown up Jewish boy who narrowly escaped Nazi Germany on the famous Kinder Transport in the late 30's, one of many of the small group of such children who escaped and survived - albeit without their murdered families - and who grew up to display an enormous intellectual impact on humanity in the sciences and the arts.

Children matter.

Anyway...some cute pictures from the paper:

This is a picture of the three types of catalysts.

The caption describing of what the pictures are:

Figure 1. SEM images (scale 1 μm) of as-prepared copper oxides before CO2R: (a) nanoneedles (NNs), (b) nanocrystals (NCs), and (c) nanoparticles (NPs) and after CO2R: (d) nanoneedles (NNs), (e) nanocrystals (NCs), and (f) nanoparticles (NPs)

By X-ray diffraction, one can learn something about the molecular structure of these catalysts:

The caption:

Figure 2. XRD patterns of copper oxide before (black) and after CO2R (red): (a) NNs, (c) NCs, and (e) NPs showing peaks corresponding to Cu2O (black) and underlying Cu substrate (red). Raman spectra of copper oxide before (black) and after CO2R (red): (b) NNs, (d) NCs, and (f) NPs showing peaks corresponding to Cu2O (109, 152, 415, 645), CuO (303, 634), and Cu(OH)2 (490).

Following the reaction products:

The caption:

Figure 3. (a) Comparison of GC (points) and SIFT-MS (lines) data from Cu NNs operated at −10 mA/cm2 in 0.1 M KHCO3. (b) Semi-log plot of SIFT data for methane (C1), ethylene (C2), and propene (C3).

A comment: Polyethylene and polypropylene, for which ethylene and propene are precursors, are increasingly understood to be environmentally hazardous material, and pollution by them, notably in the oceans is a serious matter. This said, to the extent they might be made from carbon dioxide, they represent economically (if questionably environmental) viable means of carbon sequestration. This is a little different that the vast scale carbon dioxide dumps that people often evoke without any practical effect or realistic practice. Garbage in general is a huge problem and it does not actually seem thermodynamically viable to separate these materials into directly recyclable materials, although some success in this area has been realized, hardly at a sustainable level, but at some level.

An alternative to direct recycling is whole mass recycling under which garbage is reformed using steam at high temperatures. In this case almost all of the carbon in a garbage can, including plastic waste, can be converted into carbon dioxide and hydrogen, or carbon monoxide and hydrogen, said mixtures being known as syn gas, from which pretty much every commercially known carbon commodity can be made.

More pictures:

The caption:

Figure 4. CP (top) and SIFT-MS (bottom) data of Cu2O (a, d) NNs driven at −10 mA/cm2, (b, e) NCs driven at −17 mA/cm2, and (c, f) NPs driven at −15 mA/cm2, all in 0.1 M KHCO3 electrolyte saturated with 1 atm CO2. The SIFT-MS data is corrected for its intrinsic response time (see SI-II, Figure S3).

At low current densities, the product is syn gas:

The caption:

Figure 5. Evolution of CO and H2 at low current density: (a) NC chronopotentiometry, (b) NN chronopotentiometry, (c) NC GC data, and (d) NN GC application of current; GC data show only negligible amount of data evolution of CO and H2 during the first 10−20 min when Cu2OR prevails in the 0.1 M KHCO3 electrolyte saturated with 1 atm CO2.

Some structural and energy level diagrams used in the DFT calculations:

The caption:

Figure 6. DFT-optimized geometries and relative free energies of intermediates of HER (red dash line), CO2R (black dash line), and Cu2OR (green dash line) on Cu (111), Cu2O (111), and Cu2O (200) relative to CO2, H2, and bare surfaces. (a) DFT-optimized surfaces of Cu(111), Cu2O(111), and Cu2O (200) and CO absorption geometries at the fcc site of Cu (111), Cu atop site of Cu2O (111), and bridge site of Cu2O (200). Calculated binding free energies of intermediates on (b) Cu(111), (c) Cu2O(111), and (d) Cu2O(200) surfaces [in eV].

Some concluding remarks from the paper:

In summary, by operando SIFT-MS, computational modeling, and Raman spectroscopy, we show that in three oxide-derived Cu electrocatalysts, with differing surface morphologies and crystal orientations, surface copper oxide reduces prior to CO2R into gaseous products. Even though Cu2O (200) seems to be a possible catalyst for CO2R based on our DFT modeling, CO2R products are not formed as long as Cu2O is present at the surface because Cu2OR is kinetically and energetically more favorable than CO2R. Although we cannot exclude a small percentage of residual oxygen (as has been claimed by Favaro et al.24), it is unlikely that it will be present in the form of Cu2O. Looking forward, the exceptional performance of SIFT-MS for real-time electrochemical CO2R can offer new applications in time-resolved monitoring of reaction intermediates.

A cool paper I think. This type of process I would imagine to be of limited utility, given that thermochemical production of syn gas is probably, even under ideal highly efficient conditions for electrical generation, thermodynamically (and thus environmentally) more favorable. But it's a nice thing to do with systems that continuously generate electricity even in the absence of demand. In particular, nuclear systems operate best when they are operated at high capacity utilization (which in modern times they almost always are).

I wish you a happy and productive Friday.

First ACPR-1000 Nuclear Unit Begins Commercial Operation in China

China’s first reactor adopting its domestically developed evolutionary third-generation ACPR-1000 design has wrapped up trial operation and begun commercial operation.

CGN Power, a subsidiary of China General Nuclear Power Corp., announced that the 1000-MW Unit 5 of the Yangjiang Nuclear Power Plant in Guangdong province completed a 168-hour period of trial operation on July 12. Construction of the unit began in September 2013, and it was connected to the grid on May 23, 2018.

The ACPR-1000 design is based on China’s CPR-1000 technology, which is in turn a “significantly upgraded version” of the 900-MW French M310 three-loop technology imported for the Daya Bay nuclear power plant in the 1980s—one of China’s first nuclear plants built on the mainland, according to the World Nuclear Association. Today, mainland China has more than 40 nuclear power reactors in operation, and about 20 under construction. The technologies stem from China’s drive to domestically fabricate and supply nuclear fuel assemblies and plant equipment.

But compared to the CPR-1000, for which Framatome, a company majority owned by the French government, retains intellectual property, the ACPR-1000 has full Chinese intellectual property rights. The three-loop ACPR-1000 reactor design with double containment and a core-catcher was intended to be demonstrated at Fangchenggang 3 and 4, which began construction at the end of 2014. At Yangjiang, where Units 1 and 2 feature a CPR-1000 design, and Units 3 and 4 use CPR-1000+ technology, Units 5 and 6 evolved to be ACPR-1000s, CGN said. Yangjiang Unit 5, specifically, “achieved technical improvements on 31 items based on previous reactor designs, and meets up-to-date technical safety standards,” the company noted.

Unit 6 is expected to be operational in 2019. ACPR-1000s are also under construction at Hongyanhe Units 5 and 6, and Tianwan Units 5 and 6, all of which are scheduled to come online between 2019 and 2021.

First ACPR-1000 Nuclear Reactor Begins Commercial Operation.

The reactor, built in less than 5 years, will provide, in a single building, more than half the energy produced by more than 6,000 Danish wind turbines built and still operating over the last 40 years of wild cheering and more than 3000 of which have been decommissioned.

The six Chinese reactors to come on line before or during 2021 will produce more energy in six buildings than the entire State of California produces in all of its ballyhooed solar cells - many of which involved mining toxic metals in China - and all of its wind turbines combined.

California Energy Commission: Electrical Generation Statistics

In 2017, all of the wind turbines, and all of the solar energy units in California, including the disastrous Ivanpah solar thermal/natural gas plant, produced 37,190 GWh of electricity combined, or 12.7% of the States electricity. This means by pure subtraction, that 87.3% of California's electricity was not produced by wind and solar energy, this after half a century of cheering for both.

The amount of energy that solar and wind combined produced in the entire State of California is 0.173 exajoules on a planet which consumes (as of 2016) 576 exajoules of energy.

In 2017, after the El Nino rains, California produced 43,333 GWh of electricity from hydroelectricity, with the obviously long overlooked cost of the complete and total destruction of the Colorado Delta ecosystem. This was 14.8% of California's electricity. This contrasts with the drought year of 2015, when all of the hydroelectric plants produced 13,393 GWh of electricity or 4% of it's electricity generation in that year.

Don't look for 2018 to be too pretty.

Still, in California, it remains popular to make energy production dependent on the weather, weather destabilization by climate change be damned.

Shades of the 18th century!

Apparently China doesn't plan to depend on the weather.

When the 20 reactors under construction are completed, bringing the total to 60 nuclear reactors completed, China will displace France as the world's second largest producer of nuclear energy. As the United States shuts its historically built nuclear plants and begins dumping gas waste directly into the planetary atmosphere, and flow back water into its rivers and land, China will be the world's largest producer of nuclear energy.

This, by the way, is a good idea. Dangerous fossil fuel waste kills more than 1 million Chinese per year, not that anyone gives a crap about how many people die from dumped dangerous fossil fuel waste.

The Chinese nuclear power program, to all appearances, is dynamic, and from what I see of the research efforts there, innovative.

Say what you will about China - a lot of what happens there is no prettier than running out of water in Lake Mead - they don't hate engineering and science there.

One often hears that building nuclear power plants "takes too long" even though the United States historically built more than 110 reactors in about 25 years in the third quarter of the 20th century, many of which still operate, still producing more energy than all the wind and solar facilities in the entire country. Most of the engineers who built these nuclear power plants are either dead or retired.

Nuclear power plants though, are often reported to "take too long to build."

Not in China. Not in China. In China, "nuclear takes too long" is a Trumpian scale lie, as it was, by the way, in the period between 1960 and 1980 in the United States. Of course, today, in similar Trumpian scale distortions, people confidently assert that what has already happened is impossible.

We may add to this complaint about "taking too long" the complaint that "nuclear is not competitive" made by the kind of asshole who thinks, say, for instance, that the collapse of a tunnel at the Hanford Nuclear Weapons plant was a world class disaster while climate change, um, isn't. This kind of asshole can't figure out that if it takes two systems to do what one system can do alone, the cost of both needs to be included in the overall cost. This kind of asshole is also the kind of asshole who pays no attention whatsoever to external costs, the costs of the destruction of human flesh, animal flesh, the environment at large, and all future generations of human beings.

Apparently, in China, nuclear is cost competitive, probably since nuclear energy saves lives that would otherwise be lost to "traditional" air pollution, and "modern" air pollution, climate change.

Have a nice evening and a wonderful day tomorrow.

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