By on October 18, 2016

Ethanol Plant In South Dakota.

Arthur C. Clarke is perhaps best-known as the fellow who wrote “2001: A Space Odyssey”, but he is notorious among science-and-engineering types for having once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” This statement is, of course, entirely relative. The vast majority of human beings in this or any other era can be easily confused by everything from a torque wrench to the weight difference between a pound of bricks and a pound of feathers.

The news that came out of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory last week, however, is going to blur the science/magic boundary for most of us. A group of scientists there discovered a way to turn water that has been saturated with CO2 into ethanol using nano-spike catalysts. At room temperature. It’s (not quite) as simple as this: You apply a lot of electricity to the water in the presence of this material, and it turns into ethanol.

This is going to cause a lot of problems.

We can start with all the usual caveats: this is a laboratory process, on a very small scale, and so on. I’m not a scientist — at least not that kind of scientist — so I can’t say how high the barriers are to doing this process on a large scale. Let’s say for the moment that the barriers are not insurmountable. If that’s the case, I can tell you what this means for the future.

Carbon dioxide naturally dissolves in water. That’s one of the problems facing the Earth as a whole; as the level of CO2 in the air increases, the oceans absorb some of it, become more acidic, and turn into jellyfish-infested hellholes where neither fish nor whale can survive. It’s no great trick to come up with a lot of water that has been saturated with CO2. The cost of turning sea water into fresh water is somewhere in the range of four dollars per 1,000 gallons; this isn’t cost-effective for things like irrigation but it’s very reasonable when you consider that the value of ethanol on the open market is perhaps two hundred times that amount.

It’s also no great trick to come up with a lot of electricity. China is going nuclear; the United States could do the same. Or we could just put up a lot of windmills; the intermittent and fussy nature of wind-generated power doesn’t suit the needs of municipal grids very well but it would be just the thing for an industrial process that could be easily adjusted to suit the amount of electricity available at any given time.

The materials needed for the catalytic reaction are also relatively easy to get: carbon particles and copper. There’s no reasonable resource constraint here. It’s very easy to imagine a production facility somewhere on the Atlantic coast that takes in seawater, removes the salt, blows enough air through it to reach CO2 saturation, then uses the energy from a nuclear reaction nearby to produce ethanol in vast quantities. The resulting fuel is effectively carbon-neutral; it removes as much CO2 from the environment as it puts back in when it’s burned.

The nice people at Oak Ridge envision this process as an efficient way to level out the ebb-and-fall differences between electricity production and consumption, but since this is (at least nominally) an automotive-centric website, you can guess where I’m going to take the conversation. This promises to remove the CO2/global-warming stigma from automobiles and to secure the future of the internal combustion engine in private hands against a well-funded and immensely powerful global cabal that has bleated loudly for the end of the automobile as we know it. But there are more than just tree-huggin’ reasons why a national fleet of ethanol-powered cars would be vastly preferable to battery-powered future for private transportation.

To begin with, ethanol is a more efficient means of transporting energy than any commercially viable battery to date. You need a thousand pounds’ worth of batteries to do what a tank full of ethanol can do; that’s why a Tesla Roadster weighs more than the Lotus Elise on which it was based. We also have a national infrastructure in place for the transport and storage of liquid energy. That infrastructure would require upgrades to handle an ethanol future, but it’s a much more reasonable thing to contemplate than any of the Better-Place-style battery-swap infrastructure ideas.

An ethanol future would also enable us to avoid the environmental catastrophe that would attend any major-scale production of automotive batteries. We’d also avoid the nightmare of used-battery disposal on a 20-million-vehicle-per-year basis. This doesn’t mean that we will be able to keep the cars we have now, but what would you rather have in your driveway: an ethanol-powered car that makes absurd amounts of power thanks to low-cost, environmentally friendly high-octane fuel, or a battery-powered vehicle that can “brick” at any time and which will steadily degrade in power capacity every day you own it, the way your iPhone does?

So there you have it: the sufficiently advanced technology that will magically save the internal-combustion automobile. But will it be that simple? It will not have escaped the attention of the intelligent TTAC reader that “global warming” has been used on a continual and relentless basis as a stick with which to beat the middle class into “lower-consumption” habits. In fact, if you look at the methods proposed for “fixing” global warming, you might be forgiven for thinking that it isn’t really much of a crisis at all. Keep in mind that this process for getting CO2 out of the air and back into fuel was discovered almost by accident. If we really thought that CO2-related warming was the demon that was going to end life on this planet as we knew it, wouldn’t we be working on things like radiating excess heat into space or putting a shade over the sun? Or maybe we’d be doing things like making coal plants illegal on a global basis. Instead, we’ve been “fighting” global warming by cutting engine sizes in company cars and asking people to turn the light off when they leave the room.

You will excuse me, therefore, if I suspect that even a completely carbon-neutral method for fueling automobiles won’t remove the objections that our Gulfstream-riding elite uber-class has to the private automobile. We’ll just be told that there is another problem which still justifies all of the regular people exchanging their Challengers for bus passes or autonomous-vehicle ride credits. Much like the moronic, indefensible “Vision Zero” plan in New York that will simply move the pedestrian-fatality target down until it cannot be met by any method other than the abolition of private transport, the “global warming” shtick primarily serves as a lever to reduce middle-class consumption down to a point where our overlords are comfortable with it.

I want to believe that the ethanol process will work and that it will allow my son, and his son, to know the joy of a proper automobile or motorcycle. But in the end, the only proper thing to do with ethanol might be to fill a bottle with it, stuff a rag in that bottle, light it, and chuck it in the direction of your nearest American oligarch. It’s possible that we will find a better solution to the increasing class divide in this country and elsewhere — but that would demand more than a belief in magic. It would require faith in fantasy.

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90 Comments on “No Fixed Abode: Whatcha Gonna Do When They Come For CO2?...”


  • avatar
    RS

    Interesting concept. I’d like to see a follow up if they ever make a plant that produces it in volume.

    Meanwhile, we are having a record corn crop…

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    I propose waterboarding deniers of climate change with the October-November (and Dog forbid, December?) output of our dehumidifiers. Effin’ abomination around here to run them past September.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      Anthropogenic climate change may be real, but the modern western car has fuck all to do with it. Everything from pavement to cows to Nigerian registered freighters burning asphalt for fuel are the culprits, assuming the enormous lie is only a big one.

  • avatar
    bullnuke

    I’d love to see the energy balance on this one. Ethanol from corn (I say this as I see the annual ethanol harvest out my front window) has a pretty sketchy energy balance.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      The problem with the ethanol energy balance is that it requires petroleum-based Haber-Bosch fertilization.

      We aren’t short of energy as a society. We are short of energy in certain forms. Petroleum is nominally one of them.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      It’s renewable, which is more than can be said for petroleum.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        People like to say this, but there are more known oil reserves today than at any moment in history.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Until there is real evidence Ghawar is good for another fifty years, I wouldn’t rest on my laurels.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            The sooner Ghawar is gone, the sooner the US will have an incentive to fully exploit its known reserves. Incidentally, the recoverable reserves of Ghawar have gone up over time, suggesting that oil supply isn’t fixed over decades. Ghawar produces 5 million barrels a day. Mexico just found deposits in the gulf that are predicted to produce 15 million barrels a day. With better management of our own federally held lands, we would never need to have an energy discussion in our lifetimes.

        • 0 avatar
          Drzhivago138

          I never said there weren’t. But they’re not renewable on a human timescale, are they?

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            That’s your belief. There’s more oil now in mature wells than was estimated to be there. Are we bad at measuring oil in the ground, or are there natural processes that continue to produce oil? Why wouldn’t there be?

          • 0 avatar
            Drzhivago138

            Way to dodge the question. Discovering new caches of a resource is not the same thing as that resource being classified as renewable. Oil is produced through natural processes that, given enough time, can replenish what’s there, but not on a human timescale. It’s not a belief, it’s a scientific fact. A simple Google search confirms this.

            I’m not saying that we’ll ever completely run out of oil or other fossil fuels; that’s silly. I’m saying that biofuels are classified as renewable and fossil fuels are classified as nonrenewables. I believed this statement to be so basic that no one would feel it necessary to argue; clearly, I was wrong.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            While the overall process takes ages, how do we know how fast petroleum is reaching a useful stage? There’s always fauna dying in the ocean. There’s always intense pressure at the bottom of the sea. There’s always intense heat moving around via magma. Perhaps there’s always plenty of petroleum reaching maturity no matter how long it takes to go from brine shrimp to Shell station.

            Here’s a nice website to illustrate why I look down upon people who still fall for the chicken littles of misanthropy:
            http://www.petroleum.co.uk/formation
            “As we can see, the formation of naturally occurring rawpetroleum takes millions of years, certainly far longer than can be deemed renewable, yet mankind has managed to almost complete deplete the world supply in little more than a century.”

            Climate change believers never let reality stand in their way.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            There are two theories of oil i.e. biotic and abiotic.

            There is some evidence of abiotic oil but the vast majority of experts believe that it a theory not worth following.

            “http://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/41684/abiotic-oil-vs-the-traditional-theory-of-oil-deposit-formation”

          • 0 avatar
            Drzhivago138

            I’m not sure what you’re trying to argue here, Todd.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            I’m arguing that the duration of the process resulting in useful petroleum isn’t important if there is oil reaching maturity faster than we’re consuming it. It takes 8 years to make a bottle of bourbon I consume in a week. It doesn’t mean I’ll ever run out of bourbon.

          • 0 avatar
            Drzhivago138

            Correct, but that analogy falls apart when you realize that unlike bourbon, we currently have no control over how much or how quickly new oil can be produced.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Why do we need control over how fast oil is being produced? We’re utterly dependent on how much energy the sun releases. Do we have any control over that? The fact is we’ve never made a dent in total available oil. Surely, if you apply yourself, you can think about a real concern to focus your energy on instead of the abundant supply of oil.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            “oil reaching maturity”

            Look, Dad! I’m getting more viscous every day!

        • 0 avatar
          kvndoom

          There were more known oil reserves in 1776 than at any moment in history.

          There were more known oil reserves in 1812 than at any moment in history.

          The fact that we are better at finding and estimating reserves doesn’t mean that oil is replenishing faster than it is consumed. The two aren’t even remotely related.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            What about the wells that have more oil than we thought they did and the wells that were capped when they dried up only to replenish in decades?

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            “oil is replenishing faster than it is consumed”

            Ewww… you make it sound like a teenager’s skin.

          • 0 avatar
            kvndoom

            “What about the wells that have more oil than we thought they did”

            Improved measuring and estimating methods?

            “and the wells that were capped when they dried up only to replenish in decades?”

            Seepage from nearby areas?

            I hope you’re not from the “more magically gets put in the ground” camp like a couple former coworkers of mine. Oooh boy.

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle

            Todd,

            I see where you are confused.

            Known reserves are actually “known recoverable reserves,” but almost everybody skips the word “recoverable” (because it goes without saying).

            Technology improves over time, which means that oil that wasn’t economically recoverable in the past can become recoverable.

            That oil hasn’t magically appeared. It was there all along. Geologists knew all about it.

            If it helps, think of the “low hanging fruit” metaphor. Some fruit is easy to pick, you barely need to raise your arm. Once you run out of that, you need to develop “stepladder” technology to get to the fruit that is farther away. Later you will need to make taller ladders. The fruit in the top branches was always there, it was just out of reach.

            Makes sense now?

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            The peak oil people should be the ones claiming magic oil. Otherwise they’re liars, idiots and charlatans. Did they have no use for geologists’ reports and knowledge that necessity is the mother of invention? Of course known reserves become recoverable reserves. That’s what smart and ethical people with an interest in energy apply themselves to figuring out.

            heavy handle,

            I’m fully cognizant of how innovation and recoverable oil go hand in hand. At the same time, using a variety of explanations to rationalize excluding the possibility that earth processes are still producing oil is disingenuous. Depleted wells that replenished didn’t receive their oil from other deposits known to geologists. Those known deposits would have had wells of their own.

            For some reason you and kvndoom are making opposite arguments against mine without having any problem with each other. That’s what it looks like when ideology has killed intellectual curiosity. You say geologists have known all about all the oil all along. kvndoom says geologists are getting better at estimating oil. One of you may be right, but your argument isn’t with each other because you are believers of the same dogma.

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle

            Todd,

            I did not make any comments at all about knvdoom’s contributions. Not sure where you saw this, but it isn’t there.

            All I told you is stuff that is commonly known, or at least should be. Maybe I am overestimating common knowledge, one of my Dad’s friends was an Amoco geologist, I learned this stuff during my impressionable teenage years. Still, none of it is very complex (in my opinion).

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            “I did not make any comments at all about knvdoom’s contributions. Not sure where you saw this, but it isn’t there.”

            That was my point. I’m not sure how much plainer I could have made it. You didn’t respond to his assertions which were directly in conflict with yours because both of you were only concerned with arguing against my fundamental belief that worrying about the oil supply is for engineers and hand puppets. You’re both blind to anything but your belief that oil poses a threat to…stability? Control? It’s got to be something.

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle

            Todd,

            You are making a lot of assumptions, with the results anybody would expect.

            Thing is, you are taking a theory that hasn’t been proven or dis-proven, and a phenomenon that is well known and understood (that some oil fields can be exploited further with changes in technology), and mixing them up completely. That’s the semantic equivalent of my four-year-old niece assuming that Taylor Swift and Santa Claus must hang, because they are both famous.

            I don’t care to discuss your political assumptions, other than to say that they are equally simple-minded.

  • avatar
    RobertRyan

    Not the only ones,Audi has come up with a similar process
    http://reneweconomy.com.au/2015/blue-crude-audi-pilot-produces-diesel-fuel-from-co2-and-water-66638

  • avatar
    John

    Seawater > freshwater > freshwater saturated with C02 > ethanol, all driven by electricity. Since all industrial processes are not 100% efficient, energy will be lost at each of the four steps. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to go seawater > hydrogen, driven by electricity?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Sure, but what’s the energy expenditure involved in creating a nationwide hydrogen infrastructure? How about transport?

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      ethanol is a lot easier to store and transport than H2. It’s harder than petroleum due to its hygroscopic (water absorbing) properties, but hydrogen is just a son of a b.

    • 0 avatar
      Jagboi

      Creating hydrogen by electrolysis is energy negative, it requires a lot of energy to break the bonds of water.

      The other problem with hydrogen is storage; since it’s the smallest molecule, it sees steel as window screen and goes right through. H2 is very difficult to store and transport for any length of time or distance. That’s part of the reason that most fuel cell applications generate H2 on site by steam reforming natural gas to catalytically crack it into into H2 and CO. Depending upon the type of fuel cell, the CO can either be a fuel or a poison. If it’s a poison, it has to be stripped out and discarded, effectively throwing away half the fuel before you even use it.

      • 0 avatar
        yamahog

        Every process is energy negative. But if you’ve found evidence to the contrary, let me know and we’ll work something out.

        • 0 avatar
          Jagboi

          “Every process is energy negative”

          Not from a chemistry point of view. The reaction of hydrogen and water, i.e. burning it, releases energy as heat and the reaction is self sustaining. If we consider our system as just the O2 and H2, energy is released to form water + heat.

          To do the reverse, create H2 and O2 from water requires and external input of energy in the form of electricity, and if that source of electricity energy is removed, the reaction stops. Thus, it’s an energy negative reaction.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      The problem with hydrogen is that it’s a very low density gas at normal ambient temperature and pressure. It requires heavy high pressure tanks to compress useful quantities of hydrogen into a small enough volume to fit into available space in a car. Hydrogen is also exceptionally flammable even in very rich fuel/air mixtures up to 75% hydrogen.

      Ethanol can be converted directly into electricity by fuel cells.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct-ethanol_fuel_cell
      It’s relatively safe to handle. If you spill it, water quickly dilutes it to a nonflammable mixture. Humans have thousands of years worth of experience to prove that ethanol is relatively non-toxic. You don’t need a hazmat suit to clean up spilled vodka.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        EXCEPT AT MY HOUSE YO

      • 0 avatar
        RobertRyan

        @George B
        That is why au like the Audi process of turning CO2 into Crude Oli, rather than a dangerous gas
        “A synthetic diesel pilot plant owned by Audi has produced its first batch of fuel made from water, carbon dioxide and green power, the German carmaker said.

        Audi – which has been pursuing carbon-neutral fuels since 2009 – announced the breakthrough on its website last week, just four months after the Dresden research facility was commissioned, having been developed by local company Sunfire.

        The German government-backed technology operates according to the power‑to‑liquid principle (see chart below) using water and CO2. The carbon is currently supplied by a biogas facility, although some is being extracted from the ambient air via direct air capturing, a technology of Audi’s Zurich‑based partner Climeworks.”

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    “It’s possible that we will find a better solution to the increasing class divide in this country and elsewhere — but that would demand more than a belief in magic.”

    I would say it does not require a belief in magic buy a belief that our fellow man will wake up from their mass media fueled zombie state and realistically look at the problems facing us.

    Unfortunately we tend to think as a herd/hive and will follow what ever charismatic leader who claims they know the way to the promised land.

    Well………on second thought……….. believing in magic and Santa and the Easter bunny is probably more rational than believing in one’s fellow man.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Someone should really write a book on this persistent, pervasive conspiracy theory, which is an article of faith on the right, that elites are out to control the common man. No, they really aren’t, and if you look into the evidence for the conspiracy theory, you’ll find there is none. They’re after one thing and one thing only: to take more of the money. That’s why even Trump, while talking a big game on immigration, has the same old policy of reducing taxes on the rich. That was the one thing he absolutely had to do to get some level of peace and acquiescence from the GOP establishment.

    Pressure against private automobiles from big-city residents comes about not from some desire for control but because of the harms that cars create in urban environments. (Most of which, with the notable exception of ped/bike fatalities, robot cars wouldn’t change.) They radically increase housing and office space costs (parking is super expensive where land is super expensive), make for unfriendly and forbidding urban environments, create noise and pollution when packed into traffic jams, and kill a considerable number of people. No elite conspiracy is needed to see why people don’t like those things.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      “Someone should really write a book on this persistent, pervasive conspiracy theory, which is an article of faith on the right, that elites are out to control the common man.”

      It’s an article of faith on the left as well, you know. They made a whole book about it. It was called Dad’s Capital or something like that. So I guess they did write a book. And that Piketty fellow wrote a book about it as well.

      Money and control are isomorphic above a certain level, you know that.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        But that control isn’t used to decide what you or I can do with our lives. It’s used to steal the money. That was Piketty’s entire point.

        • 0 avatar
          Jack Baruth

          Piketty’s entire point was that there is no distinction between stealing the money and controlling the world.

          Otherwise, who would give a shit about how much paper specie gets thrown around between the Davoisie?

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            OK, I guess I need to be a bit more precise. Their goal is to ensure that they get the most desirable real estate, experience total freedom from ever thinking about any material concern, and retain the top social position. Some but not all of them also want the gaudiest possible net worth number. That requires keeping all the money. It doesn’t require deciding whether you drive a Prius or a bitchin’ Camaro, or whether you choose to live in the city or the suburbs.

          • 0 avatar
            Jack Baruth

            I know that your job exposes you to a considerable number of high-net-worth people.

            How much time do they spend bitching about the impact of other people on their lives, and how much effort do they put into being insulated from contact with the hoi polloi? You think Zuck has a Berlin Wall around his house because he isn’t worried about the impact and existence of others? Every truly wealthy person I know regards the middle classes as a direct affront. They clog the airports and the roads and the restaurants.

            Human beings operate on a relative scale. The reason people found a Duesenberg satisfying wasn’t because it could do 80mph. It was because poor people were limited to 25mph or less.

          • 0 avatar
            brenschluss

            In any very densely populated area, all members of all social classes will regard the existence of others as an affront. Rich people can take up just as much space and make just as much noise as anyone else.

            The only difference in this case between Mark Zuckerberg and someone in a studio apartment is that Zuck could afford to build his wall to keep out the poor people, while the poor people can only wish for a wall to keep out the absolutely desperate, and settle for window bars instead.

            If the claim is just that the wealthy can afford to indulge their distaste for others, fine, but the urge to get away from crowds while staying as close as possible to a vibrant area isn’t a switch that gets popped as soon as you make a million. People just don’t like being around each other.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            “Every truly wealthy person I know regards the middle classes as a direct affront.”

            No worries, progress has almost eliminated these folks completely.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            “People just don’t like being around each other.”

            That’s a quintessentially Western mindset and is at complete odds with the Confucian ideal of being on top of and very much present in the social heap.

            One must have relatives, minions and a multitude of general underlings constantly nearby to reflect your tremendous Face.

            Of course, Confucian societies tend to be more draconian and sly about enforcing social order and physical safety for those on top.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            “If the claim is just that the wealthy can afford to indulge their distaste for others, fine, but the urge to get away from crowds while staying as close as possible to a vibrant area isn’t a switch that gets popped as soon as you make a million. People just don’t like being around each other.”

            the Detroit area is a prime example. I’m not that old but I’m starting to reminisce about “I remember when this was all farmland” and such. Back when I was in high school, the northern Detroit suburbs were basically fully developed up to about Mt. Clemens, Clinton Twp., Sterling Heights, and Troy. Go more than a mile or two further and it was a house/building or two here and there, surrounded by open land and woods. But, as the black middle class started to slowly grow, development has sprawled further and further where roads that I remember being dirt are now major thoroughfares. All because people who want to get further and further away from Detroit because it’s an affront that black people might want to live in a nice neighborhood.

            then of course these people who live way out in Romeo or Shelby Twp. constantly complain about how bad the traffic is on their commute to/from work, completely oblivious to the fact that they’re the cause of it.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            The rich wall themselves off more due to the fear of the wretched masses storming the Bastille and taking that wealth.
            We are still cavemen trapped by primitive survival mechanisms. We form our own clans based on our own interpretation of our survival needs.

            The 0.1% clump together and hire the 1% to keep the remaining 90% at bay. The 0.1% hire their own guns for “just in case” and to keep the bottom desperate 9% at bay and the occasional member of the 90%.
            The rest of us in the middle class tend to do the same thing. Same goes for that low socioeconomic end.

            It isn’t much more than a bunch of upright monkeys seeking a survival advantage over others.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            “How much time do they spend bitching about the impact of other people on their lives, and how much effort do they put into being insulated from contact with the hoi polloi?”

            Varies widely. You’ve talked plenty about city mice and country mice. They have different goals. Country-mouse rich people retire to gated estates where they never have to see anyone. City-mouse rich people — who are much more common than you’re assuming, making up (for instance) something like a third of the ~70,000 residents of the core of downtown Seattle — tend to be out and about among people just like everyone else. In my practice I work a lot more with the city-mouse type.

            But what they do want, more than isolation from others, is the feeling of superiority to others. That’s what the 25th-floor, whole-floor penthouse condos, the $50k/year private schools, and the Range Rover Autobiographies are about. What I’m saying is that Rich City Mouse could care less whether you take the bus, bike, drive a Prius or drive a Mustang as long as you’re not driving an Autobiography.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            How much effort do the Al Gores, John Kerrys and Leonardo DiCaprios of the world put into flying around in jets to tell the middle class to abandon personal transportation and air conditioning? One myopic’s conspiracy theory is a smart man’s direct observation.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            “One myopic’s conspiracy theory is a smart man’s direct observation.”

            Replace the word “smart” with ideologue and/or paranoid or even better “paranoid ideologue” and your sentence makes sense.

            Myopic is by definition shortsighted, therefore a smart man won’t rely on that observation… unless you are looking at something up close and personal like the distal end of the alimentary canal.

            Another point:
            Scientifically, when one directly observes human behavior, that act of observation changes the behavior.

          • 0 avatar
            Drzhivago138

            https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/strawman

            When has Al Gore “[told] the middle class to abandon personal transportation and air conditioning”?

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          But the purpose of stealing the money, is to use it to influence what others do.

          “You can’t swim here, cause I bought the beach.” Or, with a bit of PC obfuscation, “you can’t swim here, because I already owned a beach house, hence lobbied to turn the beach you wanted to use into a wildlife refuge.”

          Or, in the final instance: “You can’t swim here, because I lobbied to have your guns taken away, and then for someone else with guns to come shoot you if you try…”

          And on and on and on….

          Thankfully, all roads lead to Mogadishu. And good drivers are capable of driving faster than incompetent ones…

    • 0 avatar
      LaughingBasho

      See, “The Paranoid Style in American Polotics, historian Richard Hofstader, 1964.

      http://harpers.org/archive/1964/11/the-paranoid-style-in-american-politics/

      More than 50 years ago, but he nails it!

  • avatar
    sirwired

    “The cost of turning sea water into fresh water is somewhere in the range of four dollars per 1,000 gallons; this isn’t cost-effective for things like irrigation but it’s very reasonable when you consider that the value of ethanol on the open market is perhaps two hundred times that amount.”

    I think when they talk about the efficiency of the process, they are referring to how much CO2 gets converted into Ethanol, not how much water gets converted into Ethanol. (That’s not to say that any “leftover” water cannot be recovered and re-used, or that water isn’t required as an input, just that the cost of water has little to do with the cost-efficiency of the process.)

    Also, you cannot saturate water with CO2 by blowing atmosphere through it; water at approx. room temperature can hold about 1500ppm of CO2. The atmosphere is only about 400ppm.

    I’m not saying that this process is useless, just that the energy requirements involved are not going to be a trivial matter. Not to mention the capital requirements of building these plants to make any significant difference to planetary CO2 levels.

    The IEEE did a simple paper a few years back called “A Cubic Mile of Oil”. In it, they detailed all the different energy projects required to provide the same energy as the world’s petroleum industry. Simply put, it requires a truly ridiculous amount of capacity to do this. If you want to also eliminate Coal, things become even crazier. (Getting rid of oil plus coal would require, for instance, ~64,000 wind turbines every year for fifty years OR about eight dams, EACH the size of China’s Three Gorges Dam OR about 100 Nuke Plants.)

    That’s a lotta carbon. And a lotta energy.

    Maybe this would make more sense if we had a magical fusion process that could produce essentially unlimited, essentially free, energy, but we don’t. Even renewable energy has significant costs today.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Just flicked through a summary of that — thank you for the suggestion.

      The idea of 2,600 nuclear power plans doesn’t seem utterly impossible, honestly.

      I suppose fusion is the next best hope.

      • 0 avatar
        sirwired

        Yeah, from where I sit, hoping we can figure out cost-effective Fusion is humanity’s last, best, hope.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        we can’t even get one modern nuclear plant built, and let NIMBYs influence policy as though we’d still be building the same 1960s-era reactors which we’re limping along with.

        • 0 avatar
          FormerFF

          Look at the Plant Vogtle expansion, three years late and a billion dollars over budget.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Spent fuel reprocessing.

          “It is also worth mentioning the distinct situation of the United States of America (USA). After having developed the closed fuel cycle in the early days of nuclear power developments, the USA switched to a once-through cycle in 1978 mainly because of proliferation concerns.

          Early in 2006, a major political transition occurred with the launching of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) initiative. This proposed return to the closed fuel cycle was
          decided both for domestic reasons (especially regarding the optimization of the capacity of the geological repository for ultimate waste) and for the implementation of a multinational
          approach to the fuel cycle in a context of a worldwide renaissance (and prospects for a sustainable development) of nuclear power and minimization of proliferation risk. Current
          capacities of spent fuel reprocessing status of reprocessing facilities and reprocessed fuel data are given in ANNEX I (Tables I-1, I-2 and I-3). ”

          http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/te_1587_web.pdf

        • 0 avatar
          MBella

          I find it ironic that these groups actually make sure we use the old out of date plants, instead of replacing them with more efficient and safer modern ones.

      • 0 avatar

        The polywell fusion reactor looks like it’s worth some investment.

  • avatar
    PandaBear

    Wonderful technology for space station and Antarctica.

    On the rest of the earth, we can probably do better if we find a way to store those electricity (dam storage, chemical process), natural gas (CNG or LNG long haul vehicle rather than fertilizer into corn ethanol), ethanol (chemical process raw material, drinking it, etc), or even R&D money (sodium battery instead of lithium battery, more efficient, globally connected ultra high voltage grid across the entire globe from China, India to US, for example).

  • avatar
    olddavid

    I’m ok with the Molotov reduction method. Where should we start?

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    I’m still thinking that some sort of algae derived biofuel would be more practical. You have extra electricity, use it to charge a battery for local driving. I have to think that it will be vastly more efficient than making ethanol out of water, electricity, and carbon dioxide.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    But in the end, the only proper thing to do with ethanol might be to fill a bottle with it, stuff a rag in that bottle, light it, and chuck it in the direction of your nearest American oligarch.

    Hmmmmmm and what would be the approximate weight of a bottle heavy enough to go through the glass facade of buildings that narcissists hang their gold lettered names on?

  • avatar
    yamahog

    There’s an ambivalence between ethanol and gasoline. Either is fine, but mixing the two is unfortunate. And we have a lot of existing know-how and infrastructure for gasoline and I’d prefer to keep using that.

    Additionally, we can make gasoline from algae and that’s a carbon neutral process.

    Ideally, we’d just get more choice of infrastructure and work it out. I’d like to burn gasoline until ultra-capacitors live up to their name.

  • avatar
    bikegoesbaa

    I don’t care much about Global Warming either way, but if that’s what gets humanity away from our current asinine and short-term focused “dig it up and set it on fire” approach to fueling a civilization then so much the better.

  • avatar
    ant

    A windmill is used to process grain. A Wind Turbine is used to make electricity.

    The rest of the global warming stuff written here just seems out of focus from where I sit.

    I do agree that personal cars that run on batteries isn’t the way forward for humanity, for the reasons stated here.

  • avatar
    319583076

    I think a fundamental failure of modern democracy, or more generally, representative government, is that voting citizens and candidates alike express their opinions and shape policy regarding technical processes and concepts that they do not fundamentally understand.

    All of the discussion about energy balances and trade-offs is qualitative, but rational decisions are better founded on quantitative arguments. Of course, in this case, you’d need some background in differential equations and thermodynamics to make or understand such arguments and how many participants have either, let alone both?

    How many participants are even interested in such things? How many of us will encourage our children to pursue these topics? Will the future’s wealthy overlords fear legions of sports fans or legions of numerate citizens? What are your plans this weekend?

  • avatar
    tonycd

    “It will not have escaped the attention of the intelligent TTAC reader that ‘global warming’ has been used on a continual and relentless basis as a stick with which to beat the middle class into ‘lower-consumption’ habits. In fact, if you look at the methods proposed for ‘fixing’ global warming, you might be forgiven for thinking that it isn’t really much of a crisis at all.”

    This is frankly embarrassing. I can’t believe I’m seeing someone of your evident smarts suggesting that our political system’s fatal inaction toward global warming is somehow proof that it isn’t a real crisis. There’s been none of the shortage of remedial ideas you suggest. There’s just been a barrier thrown up against their implementation by a gilded class of people who don’t care what comes next after they’ve enjoyed their own lifetime of money, power and privilege at the expense of our eventual mass extinction. (Yes, I’m going there. And I’m not even “intelligent” enough to be embarrassed about it.)

    Jack, like me, you have a son. We must do better by them than this. Or am I missing some sort of elaborate sarcasm?

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      As long as the ‘lower-consumption’ habits we are beaten into include faster cars that use less fuel, houses that cost less to heat/cool, bigger fridges that use less power, airplanes that are more fuel efficient (and therefore cheaper travel), and every similar development that we’ve seen since 1973, then Jack’s argument doesn’t hold water.

      The very foundation of that tired spiel is inaccurate. We do not lose freedom by using more efficient machines and processes. Our enjoyment of life is not based on how much fuel we use. Fuel use is just an implementation detail. To put it in automotive terms, my Dad, at my age, drove a car that did 0-60 in 12 seconds or more and got maybe 15 MPG on a good day. My similar-sized car accelerates twice as fast on half the fuel, and it will most likely sail past 100,000 miles with barely a problem. My home energy use is way lower, and I can fly anywhere in the world for much less money than he could at the time.

      I really don’t miss CFC aerosol sprays and acid rain either, even if they are tools that “the man” uses to dominate me (or whatever the end-game is in this particular narrative).

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        the thing is, I don’t believe that climate change denial comes (mostly) from a real deep-seated belief that things are changing. I think for many people it comes from a deep-seated fear that someone’s going to come along and force them to change their ways.

        “Ain’t nobody gonna tell me what to do” is a common mindset.

        • 0 avatar
          DirtRoads

          I can’t get an accurate weather prediction for this weekend; what makes me think the same scientific group can predict the next 50 years or more? I’ll go to the Farmer’s Almanac if I want something accurate.

          And before someone spouts off about geological proof in layers of rock and sediment, tell me how many of those were caused by man? Mother Nature has been around a lot longer than these politi-scientists, and she has no bias. Not even pro- or anti-human.

          It’s another form of political control over the masses. George Orwell was brilliant.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            And, of course, some of it is just bald-faced ignorance like DirtRoads here, who don’t understand the distinction between long-term worldwide trends and tomorrow’s weather forecast in his city.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            It’s equally hilarious that these clowns haven’t figured out that George Orwell was a socialist.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      Incremental efficiency improvements are happening naturally. But to really make an impact on our global CO2 output, the developed world needs to cut its energy consumption to a small fraction of what it is and live very basic lives.

      If it really mattered, why is nobody proposing that? I’ve never seen anybody do anything but pay lip service to the concept. Even the people I hear claim that they care about climate change are still buying new vehicles, flying away on vacations, and renovating their houses. If they really thought it mattered, wouldn’t their conscience demand that they cease all unnecessary expenditures; especially those huge, obvious ones?

      If you’re living on more than about $10k a year, then it’s hard for me to believe you care. You’re getting far too much pleasure out of your disproportionately large share of the world’s energy and resource supply.

  • avatar
    zamoti

    My presumption is that in the future, we won’t buy cars regardless of what fuel they might be using. Cars will be like horses, toys of the rich to be used for “sporting” events. Joe Sweatsock will pay a 3rd party mobility service that establishes contracts with Ford, GM, etc. to provide you with a pay-as-you-go service to have the use of one of their classes of package much like a current cable plan or mobile phone plan from two years ago. Get the gold package and you have 500 free miles per quarter! Most people will take the bottom tiers of economy-grade cars, save even more when you cloudcrowd/upsource (ie, share) your mobility plan with others. You get to have a bus-like experience or can select to travel by yourself for a small additional fee. The cars will be autonomous, shared, but not owned by individuals. They will be owned by the mobility provider who will service and maintain their fleet, you just pay the monthly bill for usage. Schedule your rides so that a car shows up in your driveway when you want to go to work, another is waiting for your pickup. For those who insist upon owning a private car, there will be an extreme premium to pay for the privilege. The wealthy, of course, will be fine with this. To ensure that people don’t drive their late parents non-autonomous Miata, there will be additional restrictions placed upon the type of car, it’s ability to drive itself and where it can go during certain hours (and of course an additional required insurance policy).
    Oh what a joy the future will bring us!

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      And yet, you didn’t see equestrians complaining in the 1920s and 30s like many automotive enthusiasts do now.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        That’s just because there was no internet back then and people had to worry about polio or getting maimed by their textile machine or fighting the Kaiser.

        And even still you can find plenty of hand-wringing in newspapers of that era about automobiles (although mostly before the 20s).

      • 0 avatar
        Kenmore

        “you didn’t see equestrians complaining in the 1920s and 30s”

        Oh, hell, I did. Snooty bastards just wouldn’t shut up about it, even after Black Friday when they should’ve had other concerns to occupy them, ya think?

  • avatar
    Peter Voyd

    “The resulting fuel is effectively carbon-neutral; it removes as much CO2 from the environment as it puts back in when it’s burned.”

    This would only be the case if the energy needed for the process was carbon-neutral.

  • avatar
    tnk479

    Solar and wind can displace a percentage of NG/Coal but at great cost:

    http://seekingalpha.com/article/4012797-pv-solar-increasing-everybodys-electricity-costs

    Bjorne Lomborg and the Copenhagen Censuses Center have calculated the biggest problems and what investments would have the most substantial paybacks.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uU-LTKOJY9M

    Spending trillions on solar and wind doesn’t seem to be the best investment for human happiness, peace, and prosperity.

  • avatar
    mcs

    It’s rumored that the next Leaf might offer an ethanol SOFC as a range extender for the next Leaf. They actually demonstrated SOFC vehicles in Brazil during the Olympics, so there might be some truth to the rumor.

    http://nissannews.com/en-US/nissan/usa/channels/us-united-states-nissan/releases/nissan-unveils-world-s-first-solid-oxide-fuel-cell-vehicle

  • avatar
    210delray

    Having read the article but not all of the comments, I wonder if Jack really believes in the left-wing conspiracy to take away our cars or just does it to pull one over on us (and gets lots of clicks in the process).

    This meme reminds me of the popular song from 50 years ago that was banned on the radio not too long after it started climbing the charts (lyrics slightly altered):

    They’re coming to take our cars away,

    They’re coming to take our cars away,

    Ha, ha, ho, ho, hee, hee,

    To the funny farm,

    With trees and flowers and chirping birds

    And men in their little white hats

    (sirens wailing in the distance)…

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