|Google search Ramblings|
In what follows, I have tried to state facts, pose questions, and in some
cases, provide answers.
There is no attempt here to cover all the ground; that's too big a job.
written on subjects that people might be interested in, or those where
I felt I might be able to make a contribution.
I am very ready, and very happy, to hear and
consider opinions, dissenting ones included.
It doesn't cost much more than ordinary power, because a large part of our power bills is the supply charge anyway, but it must make a difference in reducing greenhouse gas production.
I've written a little more on solar water heating on another page.
In Australia most electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels. So electrically powered heating, whether by reverse cycle air conditioners or by simple radiators, is largely heating by burning fossil fuels (unless you buy green electricity or produce your own power with solar panels). However, reverse cycle air conditioners should give you more heat per kilogram of carbon dioxide produced.
In the cooler part of the year, water too can usefully be heated by burning firewood. See wood-fired water heaters.
Chopping firewood for the stove will also give you some exercise, which most of us need. There is also an interrelationship between firewood, overpopulation, greenhouse and air pollution that you might consider.
People are sometimes told that if they want to be greenhouse friendly they should get rid of their old, inefficient, polluting, car and buy a new one. There is much validity in this, so long as the car you replace the old one with is significantly more fuel-efficient than the old one.
But what also must be considered is the balance between the amount of additional pollution that might be produced by running an old car compared to the huge waste of material involved in scrapping the old car and replacing it with a new one. There is not a lot of recycling of material from old cars. They might sit around in a wrecker's yard for a few years, then after a few parts have been taken to keep other peoples' old cars going, they will be crushed and melted down for the steel that's in them.
If the engine in an old car runs well it should produce little more pollution than a new car. (It does depend a bit on what sort of pollution we are talking about.)
I have a car that has done 330 000 km and was still going strong when I retired it a couple of years ago; although it was getting draughty and the heater no longer worked. A friend has a car that has done very nearly 400 000 km, and still going strong. If some cars can do it, why shouldn't all be able to? Consider how much less waste there would be, consider how much further your income would go if you only had to buy a new car every twenty or thirty years rather than every four or five years.
Car manufacturers would have to build more quality into cars if they were all to last 300 000 km+, but I suspect that the cost of doubling the potential life of a car might be an additional 10%. See 'Building for a longer life' below.
Big four wheel drives are modern status symbols, but they are also environmental disasters.
For years I have driven at 90km/hr, as much as possible, rather than the Australian open-road speed limit which is usually 110km/hr, because I was aware that the higher speeds waste energy, fuel, and produces unnecessarily large amounts of greenhouse gasses. I have also experimented with driving at 70km/hr on open roads with very little traffic, and found that fuel consumption per kilometre travelled is perhaps 20% less than when travelling at 90km/hr.
I was recently surprised to find that my car, a Honda Jazz, – driven at relatively low speeds because of mountain roads – would go up and down a 1000m mountain and average about the same fuel consumption as when travelling a similar distance on level roads at higher speeds! (The Honda Jazz can display fuel economy in litres per hundred kilometres as you drive; the mountain was Ben Lomond in Tasmania, the average speed climbing the mountain was around 40-50km/hr, the length of the climb about 7km, the gradient about 1 in 7.) Think how much energy is needed to lift a one-tonne car 1000m, and then consider that a similar amount of energy is used in pushing a car 15km or so along a level road at around 100km/hr. (In both situations the Jazz used about 5.8 litres per hundred kilometres.)
In a sane world which was running out of petroleum and had dire climate change problems due to excessive burning of fossil fuels highway speed limits would be greatly reduced. What has that to do with this world you might ask!
For a discussion of the consequences of driving more slowly see Speed limit links.
From George Monbiot's Internet site, losing the battle with entropy...
"The world's problem is as follows. We now consume six barrels of oil for every new barrel we discover. Major oil finds (of over 500 million barrels) peaked in 1964. In 2000, there were 13 such discoveries, in 2001 six, in 2002 two and in 2003 none. Three major new projects will come on-stream in 2007 and three in 2008. For the following years, none have yet been scheduled."
Burning natural gas as a fuel is only a little better than burning petroleum; it still releases carbon dioxide, and natural gas reserves will not last long. Burning coal, especially brown (low grade) coal, produces the highest level of carbon dioxide emissions relative to useful energy. (Some more detail on this point is given in efficiency of electricity generation methods.)
The big question is, what can we use to replace fossil fuels as an energy source? Some answers are given on these pages.
When fossil fuels are burned they produce gasses (most significantly carbon dioxide, but others as well, including sulphur dioxide) which are released into, and pollute, the atmosphere. This is a cost which should be taken into account when defining what the 'level playing field' is, but it usually is not taken into account.
To fairly compare the cost of sustainable or alternative energy with fossil fuels one should add in the costs of capturing and disposing of the CO2, SO2, and other pollutants. As of November 2008 no-one has built a full-scale operational fossil-fuel-burning power station that captures and disposes of its waste gasses, so there is no level playing field.
In any case, the fossil fuel
industries are powerful and entrenched; they have a huge political
clout. Governments in countries such as Australia and the USA have
allowed themselves to be influenced by the strong fossil fuel lobbies.
At present the fuel cell engine (FCE) is very expensive compared to the internal combustion engine (ICE), but good progress on this is being made as there has been a ten-fold fall in cost from earlier versions. The ICE has the advantage of very large scale mass production, and there is no doubt that the cost of the FCE will drop as its production numbers increase.
Western nations are currently highly dependent on petroleum supplies. As much petroleum is imported from the politically unstable Middle East, the attempts of nations to secure their fuel supplies has lead to some dirty politics. (See The Real USA.)
The hydrogen for the FCEs can be produced electrolytically from water. Some form of sustainable energy could be used to power this process. There could be a closed cycle with some form of solar energy used to break water up into hydrogen and oxygen and then the hydrogen and oxygen being recombined into water in the FCE. No emissions, no pollution.
There is a long way yet to go before hydrogen powered vehicles take over from ICE powered vehicles, but the change, if it comes, will be a big step toward sustainability.
I have written more on the production and uses, and advantages and disadvantages, of hydrogen as a fuel in Hydrogen and Energy and on converting electricity to hydrogen in Power to Gas in Australia; both on this site.
While it is true that it is quite impossible to grow sufficient wood to replace our present rate of fossil fuel consumption (there just is not enough land available), wood could be at least a part of the solution. My impression is that there is a lot of money going into hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicle research, but very little into research on sustainable production of liquid or gas fuel from wood.
Wood is still a major source of energy in the Third World. A useful site is Regional Wood Energy Development Programme in Asia. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN has a site on Promoting sustainable wood energy systems.
It hardly needs be said that use of wood as a fuel must be done sustainably. Plainly logging or wood-chipping of old growth forests must not happen; it is environmentally destructive.
The typical retail cost of one kWh of electricity in SA is $0.17, or $170/MWh. As 1MWh is equal to 3.6GJ this converts to $47/GJ for electrical power. So firewood energy is about 21% the price of electrical energy.
Energy Calculator discusses these matters in more detail and allows you to calculate your per GJ energy costs from a variety of fuels.
Obviously, heating oil and electricity are much more convenient energy sources than is wood in most cases.
Energy conversions and
"The (Australian) Federal Government has made a policy decision that 2 per cent of Australia's electricity will be generated from renewable resources by the year 2010 and is actively encouraging the development of alternative energy technologies. Hot Dry Rock (HDR) geothermal energy is a vast, environmentally benign, economically appealing energy source. HDR is a conceptually simple technology.The link to this ANU site is hotrock. This site has many links to HDR sites around the world.
A company has been floated to set up a pilot plant to demonstrate the feasibility of this technology. Here is a link to their Web site; Geodynamics.
Geodynamics has prospects in the Cooper Basin (SA), Muswellbrook (NSW), Eromanga Basin (QLD), and the Hunter Valley (NSW). Their Web site provides useful information on the hot rock electricity generation principle.
Apparently the original source of the heat is the
radioactive decay of some
elements within the hot dry (granite) rock. All granite is slightly
radioactive. Thus, unlike most energy used by mankind, the primary
source of hot rock energy is not the Sun.
Scientists are developing ways around this problem. One solution being researched at the Australian National University is to use large dish solar collectors to heat ammonia gas (NH3) to a sufficient temperature for it to 'break up' into its constituent nitrogen (N2) and hydrogen (H2) gasses. These gasses can then be piped to wherever energy is required and, as needed, the nitrogen and hydrogen are recombined to form the original ammonia, with the release of the original solar energy in the form of heat. This process is shown symbolically in the graphic below.
|The graphic above was lifted from the ANU Department of Engineering's Internet site.|
The Australian National University Department of Engineering's Internet page on the subject seems no longer to be available (October 2020).
"Some people say that petrol and alcohol don't mix. They do, but the mixture tastes awful."
Mixing a fixed fraction of ethanol with petrol would make Australia's petroleum reserves last a little longer and, because the ethanol would be made from sugar, would provide a much needed boost to the Australian sugar industry. It is also argued that adding ethanol to petrol would reduce the net amount of greenhouse gas production because growing the sugar cane to make the ethanol absorbs as much carbon dioxide as is released by burning the ethanol.
The petroleum industry is arguing that they would agree to a voluntary very small fraction (perhaps 2%) of ethanol in petrol, but oppose a mandatory larger fraction (say, 10%). They hold that if 10% was mandated then they would have to import ethanol because it is produced overseas much more cheaply than in Australia.
One wonders how, given that the Australian sugar industry seems to be as efficient as any in the world, ethanol can really be produced more cheaply elsewhere; perhaps the lower prices are due to subsidies?
One wonders too whether some contraction in the Australian sugar industry
might be a good thing, given that it has been implicated in
producing dirty run-off that, it is claimed, damages the Great Barrier
Reef. However, it is undeniable that we must find alternatives to burning
If the life of cars was doubled, by building them to a higher standard, then disposal pollution could be halved. See Building for a longer life below.
So long as consumers are willing to buy manufactured goods that have a short life, rather than demanding goods with a long life, it is to the advantage of the manufacturers to build short-life products. By doing so they save costs, and they can sell a replacement product earlier.
Consumers should, for their own good (and for the good of their nation and the environment), learn to buy for durability. Since the good of the state is involved a good government would educate people to discriminate durable from non-durable goods.
Why are durable products good for the state and environment?
As mentioned above, it is to the advantage of manufacturers to produce more cheaper goods than to produce fewer high-quality goods. Manufacturers, particularly the multi-national companies, have the ear of government. They can and do lobby government to change policy to suit themselves.
The fallacy of providing jobs
Some ways we might use are:
A person can travel on an electrically powered bicycle weighing around 30kg at a speed of about 20km per hour; although at present these only have a range of around 30km.
The vehicle of the future may well come somewhere between these two extremes in weight, speed, and fuel consumption. It may be similar to a very light-weight, aerodynamic, and low powered version of the current very small car.
The car of the future may not be very far off; it is quite possible that the heavy 4WDs and big V8s that people are buying in 2005 may become unusable in a few years time because of steeply rising fuel prices.
"Prof Lovegrove's idea for a 'fully sustainable future' would have farmers growing salt water algae - which he says produces about 40 times more biomass than food crops per hectare. Once harvested the algae would be 'gasified' at 700 degrees Celsius in massive pressure cookers powered by energy from solar dishes. The resulting methane gas would be put under another high-pressure industrial process and emerge as methanol [a type of alcohol]."Prof Lovegrove has the source of the solar energy in mind too. Quoting from the Melbourne Herrald Sun article again...
"A 500-square-metre parabolic dish [to be built in Whyalla, South Australia] - that's bigger than an average house block - consisting of 424 mirrored panels will be erected over coming months as a prototype for a solar farm planned for Whyalla, South Australia. Private company Wizard Power has partnered with the solar thermal boffins at the ANU, led by Keith Lovegrove, to build what they say will be the first renewable energy power station capable of producing electricity around the clock by the end of next year. Combined with an ammonia-based storage system, the solar thermal concentrator will not only create carbon emission-free base load power, its technology could also be used to one day solve the widening oil crisis and supplant high-earning coal exports, Prof Lovegrove said in Melbourne this week."Unfortunately I have not been able to find more significant information on the proposal on the Net.
Advantage of rail
Alternative energy: can it compete
Building for a longer life
Comparative cost of energy
Drive a smaller car
Drive more slowly
Energy from algae
Energy from wood
Ethanol and sugar
Fuel of the future
Hot dry rock
Hydrogen powered transport
Keep your car longer
Pollution from cars
Post petroleum transport
Solar water heating
Storing solar energy; A method
Vehicles of the future
What can we do
Wood fired heating