February 21, 2006
President Bush Promotes Acceleration Of Energy Tech Development
US President George W. Bush recently spoke at a Johnson Controls battery technology development facility in Milwaukee Wisconsin and Bush is showing signs of taking seriously his stated support for accelerating the development of new energy technologies across a wide range of technologies (which is not to say I agree with him on all points).
Secondly, government can help. Government provides about a third of the dollars for research and development. Two-thirds come from the private sector, one-third comes from the government. And so I propose to double the federal commitment to the most critical basic research programs in the physical sciences over the next decade.
He is starting to put some money where his mouth is.
Now, I laid out what's called an Advanced Energy Initiative. And a cornerstone of the initiative is a 22 percent increase in funding for clean energy research at the Department of Energy. And it's got two major goals, or two objectives. First, to transform the way we power our cars and trucks. And, secondly, to transform the way we power our homes and offices.
We can't move much of the car market to hybrids until battery costs fall and battery storage capacities rise. But big improvements in building energy efficiencies are achievable using already existing technologies. I think improvements in building efficiency are easier to achieve than improvements in vehicle efficiency because people resist riding in smaller cars and with less powerful engines. So we need new tech to improve vehicle efficiency. But better building insulation does not clash as much with lifestyle desires. Though some people want lots of windows and that does reduce the level of insulation in buildings there's a lot of room for building efficiency improvements.
So let me talk to you about the first one. Our nation is on the threshold of some new energy technologies that I think will startle the American people. It's not going to startle you here at Johnson Controls because you know what I'm talking about. (Laughter.) You take it for granted. But the American people will be amazed at how far our technology has advanced in order to meet an important goal, which is to reduce our imports from the Middle East by 75 percent by 2025, and eventually getting rid of our dependence totally.
The first objective is to change the way we power our cars and trucks. Today's cars and trucks are fueled almost exclusively by gasoline and diesel fuel, which, of course, comes from oil. To transform the way we power the vehicles, we have got to diversify away from oil. I just gave you a reason from a national security perspective, as well as economic security perspective why reliance upon oil is not good for the United States.
And so here are three ways that we can do that, change our reliance from oil. First, invest in new kinds of vehicles that require much less gasoline. It's a practical thing to do. Secondly, find new fuels that will replace gasoline and, therefore, dependence on oil. And, finally, develop new ways to run a car without gasoline at all.
The most promising ways to reduce gasoline consumption quickly is through hybrid vehicles. Hybrid vehicles have both a gasoline-powered engine and an electric battery based on technologies that were developed by the Department of Energy. In other words, this technology came to be because the federal government made a research commitment. That's why I think it's double -- important to double research as we go down the next decade. The gasoline engine charges the battery, which helps drive the vehicle. And the twin sources of power allow hybrid cars and trucks to travel about twice as far on a gallon of fuel as gasoline-only vehicles. That is a good start when something that can go twice as far on a gallon of gasoline than the conventional vehicle can.
Bush is getting over the original obsession of his Administration on hydrogen and seems to be realizing that development of better batteries is a highly desirable and achievable goal. Well, better that political leaders learn late than never.
Bush even seems to be aware that switch grass would be better than corn as a biomass source of energy. We need better technology for converting the cellulose in the switch grass into more usable sugars. But that's a solvable problem.
Now, we're on the edge of advancing additional ethanol production. New technology is going to make it possible to produce ethanol from wood chips and stalks and switch grass, and other natural materials. Researchers at the Energy Department tell me we're five or six years away from breakthroughs in being able to produce fuels from those waste products. In other words, we're beginning to -- we're coming up with a way to make something out of nothing. And this is important because it's -- economics are such that it's important to have your ethanol-producing factories or plants close to where the product is grown.
That's why E85 has spread throughout the Midwest, that's where you're growing the corn. Pretty soon, you know, if you're able to grow switch grass and convert that into ethanol, then you're going to have availability for ethanol in other parts of the country.
E85 from corn ethanol is spreading because politicians subsidize it. Corn ethanol is not going to solve our transportation energy problem. Corn would be better used for heating. But corn doesn't scale. It requires too much land in order to make a serious dent in energy needs.
This is a long speech on energy and I'm skipping over his coal and nuclear comments. In a nutshell, he's for development of cleaner ways to burn coal. But he's not forcing coal burners to rapidly clean up their acts since that'd cost real money. He's also for a resumption of nuclear power plant construction in a big way.
He is for solar.
Another electricity source with enormous potential is solar power. Today Americans use small amounts of solar power, mainly to heat water or to power small consumer products like outdoor lights. After spending some time with you all here, I'm going over to Michigan to go to a company that manufactures thin film, photovoltaic cells. That's kind of a fancy word for cells that can generate electricity directly from sunlight.
The technology -- solar technology has the potential to change the way we live and work, if you really think about it. For example, roof makers will one day be able to create a solar roof that protects you from the elements and, at the same time, powers your house. And that's what these folks are working on.
The vision is this: that you will have -- that the technology will become so efficient that you'll become a little power generator in your home, and that if you don't use the energy you generate, you'll be able to feed it back into the electricity grid. The whole purpose of spending money on solar power -- and we intend to spend $150 million next year in funding for both government and private research -- is to bring to market as quickly as possible this important and impressive technology. It's really going to help change the way we live, we think, and we want solar power to become competitive by 2015.
The $150 million per year for solar is chump change. Some estimates place the wasteful corn ethanol subsidy at $3 billion per year. 20 years from now I bet we will be getting 10 or 20 or more times the power from photovoltaics than from corn ethanol.
He's also for wind. Go read the full speech if you are interested.
Update: I do not think Bush's recent speeches on energy are a huge step forward. A huge step forward would put a couple billion dollars a year into solar research, a couple billion into batteries, maybe a billion into accelerating pebble bed nuclear reactors or other advanced reactor concepts, and still other initiatives. These initiatives should be on a scale similar to the corn ethanol boondoggle but in productive directions rather than aimed at satisfying farmers and Archer Daniels Midland.
A good step forward for federal energy policy would include an initiative to make all new and existing federal government buildings extremely well insulated and energy efficient. This is called "leading by example". Bush could also call on local governments to raise standards for insulation on building code. Also, federal education funding could be diverted toward insulating schools and for installation of passive solar water and space heating systems. The money spent that way would cut fuel bills and make more local money available for education.
Still, I think it very helpful for Bush to state that elimination of US energy imports from the Middle East is a desirable goal and that energy is a national security issue. Yet here's the bottom line: Bush's actual policies on energy fall far short of his rhetoric on energy. The US government could very productively spend several billions a year more on a large range of energy research initiatives. The federal government could also lead by example and implement a lot of conservation measures for buildings and its vehicle fleet using existing technology.
It costs the Saudis $5 to extract a barrel of oil and they sell it for $60. That leaves them lots of margin to undercut any new American technology. Solar panels economic when oil is at that level would not be after the Saudis dropped their price.
It would give them a lot of room, if there were even the remote chance they could boost their production enough to lower the price a lot. Which seems to not be the case. The price of oil is stuck at the cost of production of the *last* well needed to fill demand, not the *first*.
Frankly, it strikes me as awfully late in the game for Bush to get religion on energy independence, and it looks like he's going into it on a very half-hearted basis. We don't need money from the federal government, we need regulatory and tort reform, so that you can do some things we already know how to do, without getting your ass sued off, or being shut down by some bureaucrat changing the rules you're operating under 23 times before your project is built.
I think this is mostly talk because he knows that his abysmally low approval ratings (coming in to the 2006 congressional elections) have a lot to do with the price at the pump. So he wants to be seens as "doing something". Meanwhile, back at the budget appropriations:
"The president was referring to an embarrassing sidelight of his State of the Union address on Jan. 31, when he called for new research into alternative energy to help wean the nation from its century-old oil habit. But the next day the laboratory announced that a $28 million budget cut was forcing it to lay off researchers in ethanol and wind technology, two of the areas that Mr. Bush cited in his address as full of promise.
This past weekend, with Mr. Bush's visit to the laboratory looming, the Energy Department announced that it had transferred $5 million back into the laboratory's budget and that the 32 employees would be reinstated."
The above excerpt from a newspaper article highlights how his actual budget is cutting funding for research, except when it embarrases him and "oops, better hire those guys back before I give a speech there!" occurs.
Meanwhile, NREL is still facing a $23 million shortfall. But at least it got some of it's researchers back because it would have embarrased Bush.
I fear this president is too tied to the oil company industry in which he spent so many years to be serious about alternative energy. We're not going to see him signing legislation to use cogeneration and building codes to save Americans significant amounts of energy, and I doubt he's going to bring back the initative for a new generation of vehicles, or whatever it was called (ask Engineer-Poet, he knows) to make Detroit finally push out 60 to 80 mgp sedans.
It does sound a little more hopeful than "drill in ANWAR, it will solve all our needs!" though.
PNGV, Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles.
It's mostly lip service. The overall DOE budget is flat - increases in some areas are financed with cuts elsewhere: solar is increasing while other things, like research on improving the efficiency and fish-friendliness of hydropower, are being greatly cut.
On the other hand, it greatly helps the education of the public, and provides cover and support for businesses and local governments that want to improve things.
It represents a certain amount of progress.
"It costs the Saudis $5 to extract a barrel of oil and they sell it for $60. That leaves them lots of margin to undercut any new American technology. Solar panels economic when oil is at that level would not be after the Saudis dropped their price."
The Saudis cannot undercut the price of oil past a certain level. Their(Saudi arabia and other OPEC nations) spending patterns and increasing population/s demand that the oil price be high in order for those societies to continue relying on it. It's very funny that a low oil price would actually hurt the producers and thus it would be in their best inerests to ensure that prices remain high either by encouraging increase in demand or by curbs on supply. The paradox is that high prices of any commodity actually encourage innovation and introduction of substitutes. What OPEC has done for ages is ensure that prices are low enough to discourage this. Around $ 35/barrel alternatives like Fischer Tropsch synthesis start to make economic sense. The price of crude is hovering around $ 60 and lookas as if it's going to be there for some time.
The last report of Jimy Carter's Council on Environmental Quality in 1980 called for 20% of our energy budget from renewables by 2000. Reagan's people came in and tried to stop the release of that document. Clinton started a public-private consortium to develop more efficient, mostly hybrid cars and trucks. It was a boondoggle but, from what I've heard, made some progess. Dubya came into office and dissolved that initiative to replace it with another public/private boondoggle that ignored near-term progress to concentrate on hydrogen vehicles 20 years in the future.
Dubya ain't gonna do squat except muckle-mouth around the issue, getting ready to forget it as soon as he can. It will always be jam yesterday and jam tomorrow but never jam today with this woefully inadequate man.
If you really want to do something practical, write an email to Oprah to support a program that will give each schoolchild in the USA a compact fluorescent lightbulb to replace one incandescent bulb. That will result in energy savings of immediate and lasting value, much more immediate and lasting than anything that Dubya even contemplates.
George, that "boondoggle" was the PNGV.
Chrysler had the ESX-3 up to 72 MPG, GM had the ParadiGM and Ford had something too. All of these vehicles could have been in production today at a premium of perhap $3000 over current models. They would have been ready-made for conversion to GO-HEV.
The oil interests who own the Republicans killed all that.
We do not need to produce alternative energy at a price below the Saudi production cost in order to have huge impact. If solar panels could deliver energy at a price equivalent to, say, $20 per barrel oil then the Saudis would lose two thirds of their current revenues.
Also, if solar lowered the price of oil that far it would be because some energy users shifted from oil to solar. Therefore less total oil would be sold. Cheap solar would both lower prices and lower volume produced. This would improve air quality, lower trade deficits, and raise living standards as people and businesses could spend less of their incomes on energy.
I agree Bush's initiative falls short of what a really serious attempt to obsolesce oil would look like. As I said in my post, $150 million for solar really is chump change. The United States currently uses over 20 million barrels of oil per day which costs over a billion dollars a day. The US spends $3.9 billion a month on the Iraq war. The US economy is over $12 trillion dollars per year.
Still, his rhetoric on energy has shifted in a better direction. Now's the time to state loudly what real policies would look like that lived up to the rhetoric.
Randall: I endorse your points about solar. As solar prices fall it automatically makes oil less desirable so the oil prices should come down. Whether they do, or would, is up to those shadowy 'oil guys' who some believe control it all.
Lately I have been arguing (elsewhere) about what the current price of ethanol tells us much about scaling it to multi-billion gallons quantities. That led me to wonder how South Africa is doing with synthetic oil from coal. I know they keep expanding it but that is partially a political position. And what did we learn from Carter's Synfuel program before it was killed by Reagan. Anyone have some insights about them.
engineer-poet: if they truly did have those vehicles, why did they not launch them at the european market? EU politicians generate at least as much clean energy rhetoric as US politicians of various stripes, and the result seems to be about the same: i.e. zero.
You have emphasized the Pebble Bed Reactor, but please read this web site on this subject:
Although the Pebble Bed reactor is very safe and cheap to build and maintain, the
amount of nuclear waste that is generated, has 10 times more volume than the ligh water reactors.
Additionally, the uranium-fuel efficiency is low. It is true that currently the cost of uranium is
only a small fraction of the cost of operating a nuclear power plant, but if we build hundreds of
reactors in the world (thousands are needed), there will be a shortage of uranium, not to mention
impossible amounts of radioactive waste that won't fit even in the Yucca Mountain at this rate.
We need more modern reactors that would burn all the long term waste as fuel, such as the
Integral Fast Reactor, which is also a lot more fuel efficient since it uses even the non-fissionable
uranium to breed fuel.
But overall, it seems that the government is intentionally favoring the oil industry to delay any
development in energy outside petroleum... If only we had more Lithium batteries at slightly lower cost,
we could survive with pure electric cars, as long as we have a few hundred more cleaner
coal fired electric plants and
a hundred more reactors...
"what did we learn from Carter's Synfuel program before it was killed by Reagan?"
It's more a question of what the Saudi's learned from it. They learned that there was a disruptive alternative to oil that was economic at $40/barrel, and that they better keep oil prices below that in order to prevent synfuel gaining economies of scale that would reduce it's breakeven point even lower. Since then they've kept oil prices below $40 very carefully, until they lost control of oil prices very recently.
Of course, the Saudi's lost control of oil prices in the 80's, as new production and conservation increased the margin of supply over demand beyond their margin of swing production. That reduced prices well below the breakeven point for synfuel (even lower than the Saudi's wanted), and it lost out (and gained an undeserved reputation as a boondoggle).
US peak oil around 1970 reduced the world supply margin to a point that they had some power over prices, and they got overconfident in the 70's. The 80's taught them humility. Now, of course, they've lost control over pricing, and even if they get it back they're pretty addicted to the higher revenues. Now they're just hoping to hang on as long as possible before alternatives do them in. At that point I suspect the royal families will just pack up their billions and move to Europe, leaving their populations to poverty.
One sharp critic of PNGV was Victor Wouk, who was the inventor of the hybrid vehicle. IIRC, he thought waiting around for Detroit to develop high-tech hypercars was a waste, as hybrids could save just about as much energy and do it more quickly and cheaply. He wrote an article for The Sciences on the topic, and I think it's out there on the web somewhere.
The United Auto Workers produced a policy paper shortly after WWII that called for the auto companies to build energy-efficient vehicles. The auto companies ignored them. The boondoggle aspect of the PNGV program is in the fact that billions of taxpayer $$$ went into a program that the auto comapnies should have been doing on their own and, as far as I can see, little or nothing has come out of it and into the marketplace.
This reminds me of the "Golden Carrot" program DOE ran. They spent lots and lots of money to get refrigerator manufacturers to build energy-efficient refrigerators. The winning entry was produced, only in a large-size model and only for a few years. Again, as far as I can see, little or nothing of that program has lasted in the marketplace.
I'd like to believe that such public/private partnerships could show some real progress but experience has shown me that it just ain't so. Maybe I'm cynical but every time I hear about such programs I get a funny feeling that somebody's hand is gonna be in the cookie jar and my pockets are going to be empty. Incidentally, I tend to have the same feeling about such things as the Help America Vote Act - that the expressed purpose is exactly opposite to what the hidden agenda actually is.
I feel sorry for all the people who, with good intentions and noble hearts, worked on these projects, expecting that things would change.
All I can say is that it is heartening that the folks here are clearly not taken in by Bush's new-found environmentalism. Bush, surely following Rove's careful instruction, is taking the positions that the polls say he must take if the Repulicans are to have a chance in hell of maintaining their majorities in both houses. After five years of being Big Energy's lapdog, the Bush administration thinks that a year-long PR push will turn them into green crusaders in the eyes of a gullible public. After all, they were sucked in with the anti-gay marriage crusade that dissolved into thin air right after the election. But at least this transparent hypocrisy will tend to allow the crazed right-winger apologists for Bush’s extreme policies to understand that concern for the environment and energy security is not a pinko plot to destroy our economy and way of life. It is the will of the American people.
What should be happening wont happen.
First, prohibit all new utility electric power production from coal. Phase out existing plants within fifteen years.
Drive incentives in molten salt reactor commercialization for new baseload power.
Drive incentives for fischer-tropsh coal liquefaction and shale oil; Coal derived diesel and gasoline fuel becomes comparatively inexpensive in this regime.
Open up the rest of the US for oil development, coastal florida and ANWR.
Lighten restrictions on refinery construction so we can handle all the heavy crude that we're going to have to deal with now that we've drank all the sweet light.
All these proposals have enemies on the left and right, from the big coal lobby to the anti-nuclear lobby, to those who dont want to open up new oil development.
So we'll muddle around in half-hearted policies that dont really work as well.
"We need more modern reactors that would burn all the long term waste as fuel, such as the
Integral Fast Reactor, which is also a lot more fuel efficient since it uses even the non-fissionable
uranium to breed fuel."
Everywhere I go people who advocate new reactors advocate either pebble bed reactors or integral fast reactors. Pebble beds are cheap, but produce more waste, IFR's are more expensive than our current reactors and are FAST reactors, meaning that you have very low delayed neutron component, high reactivity swings, and positive void coefficients in large reactors; Sure EBR-II supposedly had a negative void worth, but that was only due to the very small core, and any production design has the same problem of positive void coefficients, criticality excursions before you can scram the reactor, sodium fires from the leaks, etcetera.
IFR is a testbed for molten salt electrorefining and metallic fuels. One of these things is good, and it aint the metallic fuels.
The molten salt reactor was developed and tested for years in the MSBR program at oak ridge, with thermodynamic efficiencies of 44% in the 1970's design, 48%+ with modern power cycles. The processing is done online, and all the fission products are removed from the salt through helium sparging, and there is no fuel fabrication so you save on that as well. Since all the fission products are removed, the actinides are incinerated in the reactor and no excess fissile inventory is required to overcome sterile neutron poisons.
And you never have to turn it off. The refueling is done online; The neutron spectrum is in the thermal to epithermal region, with a high delayed neutron component. Since you have a high delayed neutron component and very little excess reactivity, the reactor is very very stable and easy to control unlike fast reactor regimes or even many thermal reactors. The core cant melt down since its allready molten, and as it heats up the fuel expands reducing neutron density. If it gets too hot (which you have to force by deliberately adding excess expensive fuel to the core) it melts a freeze plug and drains into critically safe dump tanks and gets pumped back in after the engineers finds out who decided to over fuel the reactor.
You use 1/100th the fuel, the wastes are only fission products, and you can run it using thorium fuel breeding cycles, and you can burn spent light water reactor fuel in it. Now you can use the IFR pyroprocessing and electrorefining on the salt online or offline for protactinium partitioning for better Th232->U233 breeding, so the IFR project wasn’t a total waste, but there is no future in sodium cooled fast reactors except for making weapons grade plutonium really really fast.
But everyone seems to have heard about IFR or PBMR because popular science magazines for some reason pumped these guys, but everyone should please please check out molten salt reactors:
Economic analysis of molten salt reactors indicate that they would even be cheaper than coal or light water reactors as well. There is no fuel fabrication, 1/100th waste handling/disposal issues, no refueling downtime, higher thermodynamic efficiency.
I dont think that they'll be built anytime soon, but not because of technical difficulties; We could build a full scale prototype today and proceed with full production of thousands in a decade, but because the energy industry is very very conservative with capital intensive investments. Innovation is frowned on, even if its decades old innovation.
I appologies for the verbose post, but this is one of the most underappreciated reactors I've seen, and certainly the best solution for nuclear base load power.
Administrative note: I deleted a post that was in all caps. I hate all caps. I delete all posts that are in all caps.
Dezakin, Invisible Scientist,
Maybe PBMR is not the way to go on nuclear. I'm willing to be sold on another approach for improving nuclear power.
I know Invisible is a proponent of breeders. I like the idea of a reactor design that produces less waste and uses very little uranium. Well, isn't there a breeder approach different than the Berkeley reactor design (which got cancelled just before it was about to achieve a major milestone) that has been less investigated but which shows more promise?
Do either of you know much about the design an Italian physics Nobel laureate (Carlo Rubbia? I forget) is promoting involving generating neutrons to shoot at thorium? The Italian government is funding the development of a test reactor and supposedly the Indians are interested because they have large thorium deposits.
I think the European auto market is a great barometer of what the US car market would be like if gasoline cost $5 a gallon. I do not see radically different technologies over there. They use smaller engines and smaller cars. They use more diesel too.
PBMR is fine, better than coal for sure. Possibly better than LWR, but not nearly as nice as a molten salt system.
I'm familiar with Rubbia's energy amplifier systems and his Pb-Bi cooled fast reactors, but there is no way they will ever take off as a commercial energy source simply because its totally uneconomic. You build a particle accelerator to try to spallate neutrons off of a target. I think Rubbia's machines are interesting, but interesting the way Rube Goldberg's little comics are; Interesting but useless.
The Indians really should be pursuing molten salt reactors because they are ideal (in fact designed for) thorium fuel cycles. Really molten salt reactors are the answer to just about every problem in the nuclear industry... even cost.
The ones that come after molten salts though are just cranking up the temperature, Gen V reactors or something: fissioning plasma core reactors. Molten salts are mature enough to field today, but fissioning plasma core reactors require research in materials science, MHD generation techniques, high temperature chemistry. But fissioning plasma core reactors can reach carnot efficiencies of 70%+ using an MHD direct conversion top end with brayton in the middle and kalina cycles on the bottom. You do online fuel processing like in a molten salt reactor of course, but these reactors are a good 40 years away.
I suspect that all of the research in fusion will pay off but not for fusion; Rather its likely to pay off for confinement techniques in fissioning plasmas instead. Funny twist to things if you like it.
Thanks for your detailed input about the molten salt reactors! When I used the term Integral Fast Reactor, the molten core reactors were what I had in mind. The important thing is the capability to burn all the long term nuclear waste so that the fuel efficiency is boosted 100 times, since less than 1 % of the mined uranium is the fissile U235, because otherwise we will run out of Uranium like oil. And with this fuel breeding process which can also use some other lower grade fuels like Thorium, the world can rely on nuclear energy for the long run. Additionally, without this new system, the nuclear waste disposal will be impossible if hundreds of more reactors are built, since the long term waste would accumulate all over the world. It is very important to emphasize that the low level waste that the IFR type reactors generate, has a half-life about 300 years...
Since the MIT people who were responsible for the Pebble Bed Reactor have a lot of clout, and since this is an easy reactor to build and maintain, it got some popularity, but this type of reactor is an absolute disaster in terms of nuclear waste, and also for the coming shortage of uranium in the world if we do not use the more efficient system that needs only 1 % of the uranium.
But in any case, the oil industry is determined to keep us addicted to fossile fuels. All the ethanol subsidies, hydrogen fuel cells, etc, are simple gimmicks to please the oil industry by diverting attention (and funds) from real things...
Unless we start a Bronx Project for energy and batteries, ultimately we are going into WW III.
I'm so glad to see people standing up and calling the diversions and delaying tactics by their true names.
Daran: I don't know enough about European regulations to be sure, but I'll bet that the ready availability of high-mileage diesels there made hybrids unattractive, while California emissions standards were ideally suited. You can buy a 70-MPG Lupo TDI in Europe, but nobody tries selling those things here even if they don't have hybrids to sell.
Yes, I'm familiar with the criticisms of using a particle accelerator with thorium. But I have a faded memory of reading about a different way to generate neutrons to drive a thorium reactor aside from building a particle acclerator next to it. Again, the memory is faded and I can't remember what the other way is supposed to be. Ring any bells?
From your link to an April 2002 report about molten salt reactor costs:
The cost of electricity is estimated for a molten salt reactor based on evaluations at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and compared to the ORNL pressurized water reactor and coal plant estimates of the same pre-1980 vintage plants. The results were 3.8, 4.1, and 4.2 ˘/kWh for the molten salt reactor, pressurized water reactor, and coal. Surprisingly, such cost estimates have never before been published for the molten salt reactor.
Well, now you have my attention! I like low costs.
I see what you say about using 1/100th the fuel and you think it is better on wastes. But how much of a volume reduction would there be on wastes compared to LWR?
Do you really think the molten salt reactors could be commercialized fairly rapidly?
Given that they'd have lower fuel costs and lower waste costs what do you think is the main obstacle holding them back? I see new LWR sites getting planned in several countries. Why no molten salt? Is there more fear of it for accidents? Or just regulatory reluctance to consider a big departure from LWR? Or something else?
The federal government already has building efficiency policies in place. The Office of the Federal Environmental Executive is in charge of sustainability and efficiency in federal buildings. According to a recent summit of 17 federal agencies hosted by OFEE, the agencies stated sustainability goals, one of which is to cut energy costs by 30% vs. ASHRAE standard 90.1-2004 and to provide measurement and verification. The standard includes requirements for insulation, glazing, lighting and HVAC equipment and is itself considered a standard of efficiency. This goal would apply to the 17 agencies' 500,000 buildings. Additionally, it was reported that six agencies met their FY 2005 goal of 30% energy reduction. Several agencies, including GSA, Bureau of Indian Affairs and NASA, require their new buildings to be LEED Silver, which as a minimum, are required to be designed to ASHRAE 90. DoD is now requiring 25% of its energy to be from renewable sources by 2025. Several people there promoted the ideas of commissioning and performance contracting as ways to further their energy goals. Unfortunately, the Dept of Education was not on the list, and definitely should be, as you've stated in the post.
The end goal of building efficiency is a net zero energy building, which would consume as much or less energy than it produces annually. ASHRAE, in cooperation with US Green Building Council and DoE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, is developing techniques to achieve common and affordable net zero-energy construction by 2008.
Once these become commonplace, and less electricity is used, plug-in electric vehicles would be more desirable, and research into improved car batteries would become invaluable.
The federal effort for building efficiency is there and growing; it's just not very well known. You're right though: Bush should be pushing this harder and advertising existing efforts. I think, however, that he's still stuck on "conservation is a virtue," not a viable policy. Getting this message out would be a valuable step in promoting efficiency around the country. If I were in charge (heehee), I would be funding net zero energy buildings heavily and would be pushing them hard onto the building industry and the general public at conferences, in newsletters, on websites, on TV, and through any other method that presented itself. Legislating building codes without support of an educated building industry would only result in an empty shell of a national building energy code.
I guess my final statement would be that I agree that Bush's energy policies leave alot to be desired.
It is not so much the total volume of the waste, but the type of waste that matters. In the case of those reactors such as the molten core reactors that burn the long term elements as fuel, the only type of nuclear waste, is the so-called "low-level" waste which would have a half-life about 300 years. In this case, even if the volume of the waste is large, because the waste would gradually diminish in its toxicity, it becomes easy to store it. Additionally, from the compact nature of the molten salt reactors, and the fact that they have fuel-cycles that are probably more than 50 years,
it seems that the total volume of waste should not be high.
The Pebble Bed Reactor's waste, contains a lot of long term waste, and so the fact that this Pebble Bed reactor also generates 10 times the volume of the light water reactors, becomes an issue.
I was reading about the 70-MPG Lupo TDI, which is a Volkswagen Turbo Diesel car selling for about 11,000 British Pounds,
which is approximately $17,500. This car looks great compared to the hybrids, but since VolksWagen is not owned by the oil companies, what is it that preventing VolksWagen to bring this car to the US? There might be another reason why they are not bringing it to the US, maybe they feel that there is no money to be made from it if the car is not powerful and big for the Americans?
Do you really think the molten salt reactors could be commercialized fairly rapidly?
Given that they'd have lower fuel costs and lower waste costs what do you think is the main obstacle holding them back? I see new LWR sites getting planned in several countries. Why no molten salt? Is there more fear of it for accidents? Or just regulatory reluctance to consider a big departure from LWR? Or something else?
To answer your question about how long such things take, it all depends on how much money the Government pours into a Bronx project. Otherwise it would take at least 15 or 20 years to commercialize the molten salt reactors. This is not just a reactor, but a reactor that contains an electro-chemistry laboratory that will separate various kinds kinds of byproducts and recirculate them in some processed form while the mixture is flowing. For instance the Manhattan Project was quick, because it was intended to be quick and dirty, with minimal importance given to long term cleannes, etc. The only goal was to get the concentrated uranium from a certain physical process, and independently the plutonium from a reactor, regardless of how clean or efficient it was going to be. The keyword is "commercialization", the difference is enormous, and hence we need to spend a concentrated $$50 billion per year on this, and then the reactor would become commercialized in 5 years...
There are small & efficient diesel cars in Europe. But in the Netherlands road taxes are much higher for diesel cars (although the government is increasing tax benefits for fuel efficient cars). And obviously people prefer larger, safer cars. Gas taxes and VAT already make up more than half the price of gas.
Consumers want the biggest cars they can afford, industry is happy to sell those cars. That is not a conspiracy, that is capitalism in action. The government bureaucracy cares mostly about revenue, while politicians care only about fuel efficiency when it is near the top of the list of voter issues. The continued resistance of many greens vs nuclear power shows that they are more interested in their Utopian ideals than finding real-world solutions.
I wonder whether it would be feasible to build nuclear power plants in Mexico to export energy to California?
Mr. Parker: "A huge step forward would put a couple billion dollars a year into solar research, a couple billion into batteries, maybe a billion into accelerating pebble bed nuclear reactors or other advanced reactor concepts, and still other initiatives." Agree. Add wind to your list.
Noticed this elsewhere:
“Professor Alberts says the thin film technology he and his team developed can generate up to 150 watts of electrical power at a cost below R10 per watt peak. He adds that it has demonstrated not only high efficiency, but also long-term performance stability. “The pilot plant demonstrated that these thin film solar modules could be produced by highly scalable and proven industrial technologies such as physical vapour phase deposition and diffusion processes.” Commercial-scale thin film modules are being produced with output powers between 10 and 40W in direct sunlight.
Quoted costs of R10/Wp look highly favourable against the cost of “traditional” electricity. And better still against the R35 per watt production cost of conventional modules. The import price locally of a silicon-based 50W solar panel is about R2000 (R40/Wp).” http://cooltech.iafrica.com/features/508857.htm
Oh and Bush, alias Captain of the Titanic, has gone back to bed.
"I see what you say about using 1/100th the fuel and you think it is better on wastes. But how much of a volume reduction would there be on wastes compared to LWR?"
Hmm... Not entirely sure, because a significant fraction of those wastes are volitiles Xe and Kr, so under what pressure? Given that there is 100% burnup, the only wastes are fission products themselves. Of course, since only the fission products are removed, one might imagine that you can chemically seperate the stable platinum metal isotopes and sell them on the spot market, seperate the Sr90 and Cs137 and put them into some decay box that drives a 5MW turbine while you slowly collect the stable zirconium and barium that results.
I'd only be able to guess, but probably 1/50th or so, with much of it sellable to industry. All kinds of applications arise when you get only fission products out.
"Do you really think the molten salt reactors could be commercialized fairly rapidly?"
Well, there aren't that many technical obsticles. I don't think they will be commercialized because uranium is dirt cheap, light water reactors are good enough, and spent fuel waste management is really more a political problem than an economic one; And the energy industry tends to punish people that try new things by putting them out of business because it was allways more profitable to bribe some tin pot dictator to let you pump oil out of his third world hellhole than to invest in a new technology.
Maybe I'm being cynical, but you can profitably turn coal into gasoline and diesel fuel at 30 dollars per barrel and oil is trading at twice that with no chance of coming down, but no one is building coal liquefaction synthetic fuel plants except for token state mandated strategic positioning in China.
Molten salt reactors can certainly be commercialized more rapidly than any other breeder, converter, or waste incinerator however. Doesn't mean that it will happen, with inertia of money and ego in the industry and academia.
"Given that they'd have lower fuel costs and lower waste costs what do you think is the main obstacle holding them back?I see new LWR sites getting planned in several countries. Why no molten salt? Is there more fear of it for accidents? Or just regulatory reluctance to consider a big departure from LWR? Or something else?"
Its not for fear of accidents, thats for sure. Molten salt reactors are just about the safest reactor you could build with large delayed neutron fractions, very low reactivity flux, low fissile inventory, totally negative void coefficient (the coolant is the fuel), extremely negative temperature coefficient. Meltdown is impossible and if the salt really does get too hot, which you have to intentionally force by dumping in lots of excess fissile material, a freeze plug at the bottom melts and the salt drains into critically safe dump tanks until the engineers figure out who to fire and turn the reactor back on.
The only type of accident it can have is a leak, and then its still benign because all the fuel and fission fragments stay in the salt and it freezes into a vitrified substance that the techs can shovel back into the reactor.
The big thing is we've got 50 years of experience running light water reactors. Why more people arent familiar with molten salts I dont know, but they are relatively unknown. I didnt know about them five years ago when I started looking into different reactor designs, and was sold on the IFR for reasons of doing waste disposal.
But one thing is for certain: The first commercial MSR will be expensive. There will be cost overruns, unexpected difficulties, a few accidents, some bad press. No one wants to be first with that I guess, even though the next reactors will be cheaper, a pilot plant is still a multi-billion doller investment.
Invisible Scientist, I thought the Cold War (and all the attendanet proxy wars in "Third World countries") was WWIII, globalization was WWIV, and, as GWOT edges into the Oil Wars, we are now sliding into WWV. Maybe you got to run a little faster if you want to catch up.
Dezakin - "I appologies for the verbose post, but this is one of the most underappreciated reactors I've seen, and certainly the best solution for nuclear base load power."
Good information on the molten salt reactor. The question we should be asking is what type of nuclear reactors to build. My personal opinion is that nuclear can be done on the free market much more so then coal or something like hydro because the environmental impact is so low.
The only question is if the reactor design is safe against a meltdown, and imo all new reactor designs are. The market can figure out how to balance different reactors with different fuel burn rates, upfront capital, materials etc...
Daran - "I wonder whether it would be feasible to build nuclear power plants in Mexico to export energy to California?"
I've thought of that as well, but my feeling is suprisingly Mexico is more bureaucratic then America on big projects. However nanotech could make lines lose much less power per kilometer travelled. So power may be able to be exported much easier through national boundaries, especially in Europe. I imagine France will build many more plants eventually and sell power to other Europeans like Germany and England. Who can't build power plants of any type in their own nations.
I also believe that we are already consuming electricity produced in places like China with less environmental restrictions. When Europe loses a steel mill for example, that moves to China, then Europe imports that steel... They also are importing the energy that went into turning the raw earth into useful steel.
if his discovery really costs about 1 euro per watt.
Some things to be careful of: is that the cost of the cells? modules? And what of balance of system costs, like mounting hardware for the modules, installation, and the power conditioning system? That last item alone can be around the cost he's talking about.
And remember that getting PV to replace oil requires much more than PV cells that are merely competitive with existing source of electricity. After all, if the electricity is the same cost as what's available now, why hasn't oil been replaced already?
but no one is building coal liquefaction synthetic fuel plants except for token state mandated strategic positioning in China.
There's one going ahead in Pennsylvania, at Gilberton. One might classify it as token state mandated, though. Still, it's strange, since that plant is described as breaking even when diesel fuel is at $1/gallon.
I suspect what all this is indicating is the expectation that oil prices will decline soon, due to lower demand. US gasoline stocks are the highest they've been in seven years, and I understand the refining margin in the US has recently been negative -- the oil costing more than what they could sell the products for. If the economy tanks (and an inverted rate curve indicates a serious risk of recession) then demand could drop significantly.
MSRs: the most serious problem I see with these is that the entire primary loop becomes contaminated. A conventional reactor keeps almost all the fission products in the fuel elements in normal operation, so just activation products are important for the coolant (and that can be kept low by excluding things like cobalt from the reactor materials.) Contamination means the reactor will be more expensive to maintain. Maybe advances in robotics will make this easier to deal with in the future.
Absent much better battery technology solar that is as cheap as existing electricity initially will not replace oil and it would only partially replace natural gas for peak electric power generation.
But the Johnson Controls company where Bush made his speech is working on a lithium battery design that may displace NiMH for hybrid vehicles. At that point more people will use pluggable hybrids since the range will become much greater than is the case for the small number who convert their Priuses to pluggable for a very limited range now. Use of pluggables will only begin to cut into the demand for oil. But as batteries get better the fraction of travel propelled by oil will decline.
Solar that could cut into current electric power generation would reduce the amount of coal used. Currently half of US electricity comes from coal. I'd like to see coal phased out by a combination of nuclear for base load and a mix of solar, wind, and natural gas for peak load. That mix plus pure battery cars could eliminate most uses of both coal and oil.
What holds back coal gasification and liquification is fear that oil and natural gas prices will drop. The country's only currently operating major coal gasification plant in Beulah ND went bankrupt in the mid 1980s shortly after openining:
The Great Plains Synfuels Plant is located approximately 7.5 miles northwest of the city of Beulah, North Dakota. The facility lies within the Knife River drainage basin in the Missouri Plateau section of the Great Plains Region. The facility is constructed on approximately 535 acres of land.
In the 1970's, a consortium of energy companies obtained additional federally guaranteed loans to finance the construction of the Great Plains Synfuels Plant. Operations began in 1984. The consortium abandon the plant in 1985, and DOE assumed ownership in 1986. In 1988, DOE sold the plant to Dakota Gasification Company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Basin Electric Power Cooperative.
The facility is co-located with the Antelope Valley Station, a coal-fired steam electric generating plant also owned and operated by Basin Electric Power Cooperative and the Freedom Mine, operated by Coteau Properties, a subsidiary of North American Coal Corporation.
Operations at the facility produce a synthetic natural gas from lignite coal. The coal gasification process involves the breaking down of the molecular structure of coal to produce carbon monoxide and hydrogen, that are in turn combined to produce methane.
I have read that plant is now profitable. But it is not clear to me what their production costs are. The price of natural gas has fallen from a peak of over $15 per million BTU to about $7 per million BTU. How far below that price are their costs?
They make other products with the plant that might be more profitable.
In addition to natural gas, the Great Plains Synfuels Plant produces numerous products from the coal gasification process that have added great diversity to the plants's output. These products include ammonium sulfate and anhydrous ammonia which are fertilizers that supply valuable nitrogen and sulfur nutrients for agricultural crops. Other products include phenol for the production of resins in the plywood industry, cresylic acid for the chemical industry, liquid nitrogen for refrigeration and oil field services, methanol for solvents, naphtha for gasoline blend stocks, and krypton and xenon gases for the nation's lighting industry.
From this article it looks like the Beulah ND coal gasification gas plant is profitable at a natural gas price below $4 per million BTU. But they got the plant out of bankruptcy and presumably paid only some small fraction of its original capital cost.
But the Johnson Controls company where Bush made his speech is working on a lithium battery design that may displace NiMH for hybrid vehicles.
That's nice. It has nothing much to do with solar power. The success or failure of plug-in hybrids is independent of whether cheaper PV cells are developed, since ample electricity (including greenhouse-friendly) is available in any case from other sources. Indeed, plug-ins will likely be charged more at night. They'd work better with baseload plants like nuclear, since they could be charged during evening off-peak times.
Australia could export their solar energy in the form of hydrogen. The world needs a clean safe fuel. Nuclear has too many problems for global security.
Interesting set of discussions. It warms my heart to see a thread where the question is not whether or not to use heavy metal fuels, but how to use the most effectively. Integral Fast Reactor, Molten Salt, pebble bed, light water, heavy water, are all better than most of the current electrical power sources. I say to the advocates, pull out your wallets, help ensure that the playing field is as level as possible, and get to work.
Anyone who knows me will realize that I have a personal favorite and interest in gas cooled pebble bed reactors as the heat sources for direct cycle gas turbine power plants. Lots of reasons that have as much to do with the "balance of plant" as they do with the reactor, but all of the chosen parts work well as a system. Focusing on the just the reactor solves only part of the problem.
When it comes to corn - I think it is best used as human fuel. I cannot believe that we Americans are so well fed and so ignorant of the needs of the rest of the world that we willingly pay subsidies to companies to take food, process it heavily and burn it in automobiles that get worse gas mileage on the mixture of petrol and alcohol than they did before.
When it comes to solar power - it does not really matter how cheap the collectors are. The sun disappears every night, it is often shaded by clouds, it produces less energy in the winter (could that possibly be the cause of winter?) and it spreads its energy over a large quantity of area. If I somehow managed to collect all of the solar energy that hits my home every day, it would still only provide me with a fraction of the energy I need to live in the style that I live today.
Wind is the source of energy for a terrific hobby - racing or cruising on sailboats. It lost in its last commercial marketplace more than 100 years ago despite extremely refined designs against primitive coal fired steam plants. Heavily subsidized or mandated windmills do not really count.
Nuclear power is clean enough to run inside a sealed submarine and safe enough to power a ship full of young American sailors.
This concept puts the fear of poverty into the hearts of a lot of other energy producers. Beware the FUD and realize that there is an incredible amount of money at stake in all energy choices.
Editor, Atomic Insights
President, Adams Atomic Engines, Inc.
"the most serious problem I see with these is that the entire primary loop becomes contaminated. A conventional reactor keeps almost all the fission products in the fuel elements in normal operation, so just activation products are important for the coolant (and that can be kept low by excluding things like cobalt from the reactor materials.) Contamination means the reactor will be more expensive to maintain."
This is partly offset with MSRs being lower maintenance by design. Theres no refueling downtime. I'm not sure how serious the maintenance of a hot loop actually is, but I suspect that its quite manageable, certainly offset by no need for refueling and much smaller waste management issues. Another related issue that needs to be considered is the neutron radiation in the loop from the delayed neutrons that are significant in thermal reactors, but I dont think that this is a real process killer either.
In theory if the cost of photovoltaics falls by more than an order of magnitude then the cost of electricity at noon should be cheaper than the cost at night. At that point solar electric would be cheaper than nuclear or coal. In that case given cheap enough batteries it would become cheaper to charge up cars during the day than to do so at night.
The main advantage to night time car battery charging would become convenience. Cars sitting in workplace parking lots can't get recharged by the photovoltaic panels sitting on the roof at home. Well, convenience is important. So some cars would get recharged by nuclear power plants. But other cars would get recharged on the weekend. Or some people would have extra home batteries to recharge during the day to use to charge car batteries after they get home at night.
The best place to charge car batteries will depend on the costs of batteries, the capacity of batteries, and the cost photovoltaic panels as well as the lifestyle of each person. For example, I go through periods of life where I work from home and am home all day. I'd want to recharge with home solar panels.
BTW, on his own blog Rod Adams has written a post about whether pebble bed reactors really produce more radioactive waste and he also discusses advantages of gas cooled pebble bed reactors. Check it and check out the comments section on that post.
I think we need big research and development efforts on multiple kinds of reactor designs aimed at replacing the light water reactors. The goal of those efforts should be to come up with commercially viable reactor designs that improve the energy to uranium ratio and also that greatly reduce the amount of waste produced.
re: Randall and Paul.
If we were just starting I think the best use of solar electric could be distributed. But since the power grid exists I sense that large installations maintained by power companies will prove better. Then it won't matter where you charge up your electric or hybrid* - supermarket parking lot, home, or work. We should avoid, for now, fixed battery banks** for storing the solar electricity. Peak loads are in the summer afternoons when the sun shines. So strive first to save fossil fuel then.
Power companies can generate solar on the cheapest land in a given area and in desert almost no one wants. The alternative, millions of variable size solar installations (mostly in cities) doesn't look sensible to me, yet that is what will be needed if solar electric is regarded as a distributed energy supply.
*Of course a lot of point-of-charge wiring will be needed but who does that better than the experienced power companies and constuction companies.
**Batteries or capacitors or something else will eventually become affordable for banking solar electricity overnight. Today, I regard them as a distraction; they increase capital costs, greatly increase maintenance, and confuse the issues.
Randall: you missed the main point I was making about hybrids. Lack of electricity is not what is keeping plug-in hybrids from succeeding. Electricity is already cheap enough to displace gasoline, if the batteries were up to it. Cheap PV does nothing to address the actual roadblock.
What cheaper batteries would do is smooth the difference in value of peak vs. off-peak electricity. This would tend to help baseload supplies, like nuclear, and hurt peak-following supplies, like solar.
Certainly battery costs and ratio of energy stored to weight are holding back hybrids. No question.
Also, right now nuclear is much cheaper than solar.
But suppose solar falls to 1 cent per kwh. Suppose batteries become so cheap that the cost of transporting 1 kwh from day time to night time was also 1 cent per kwh. At that point the 1 cent for generation plus 1 cent to store it for night use would be cheaper than generating nuclear power at night.
Now, I have no idea of when, if ever, solar plus storage will become cheaper for night time power than nuclear. But cheap solar plus cheap storage might eventually compete with nuclear for providing baseline power.
I'm all for accelerating photovoltaics, batteries, and nuclear so that we'd have the possibility of all of them becoming much cheaper. I want 1 cent per kwh electric power. Then we could even use it for heating.
Cheap PV does increase the total amount of electricity avaliable in some regions however: Where theres plentiful installed hydropower with resevoir capacity. You can use the dam for peak load. The problem with wind and solar is of course they aren't dispatchable, which is why natural gas peakers will remain popular for a number of years.
"Anyone who knows me will realize that I have a personal favorite and interest in gas cooled pebble bed reactors as the heat sources for direct cycle gas turbine power plants. Lots of reasons that have as much to do with the "balance of plant" as they do with the reactor, but all of the chosen parts work well as a system. Focusing on the just the reactor solves only part of the problem."
Sure; Pebble bed reactors are a relatively mature low capital solution while molten salt reactors are a more immature (less reactor run time experience) and certainly more capital intensive. Unless you have a couple billion dollars to play with, MSRs are a bit out of the price range. I favor molten salts as an ideal solution to our national energy strategy to replace large light water reactors or coal plants, not least of which for disposing of some LWR waste, and perhaps making a tidy profit off of fission platinum metals and useful radioisotopes. If I only had capital or could steer it...
It wont happen of course; We'll be stuck with coal or LWR's for decades more as the inertia of old economies drag us along.
But my main point of advocacy of MSRs is that they are superior to any other breeder reactor technology. Fast neutron reactors solve a problem we won't ever have: A shortage of plutonium.