|Home||Energy Physics||Nuclear Power||Electricity||Climate Change||Lighting Control||Contacts||Links|
|ENERGY AND SOCIETY;||ENERGY PHYSICS;|
|CLIMATE CHANGE;||LIGHTING CONTROL;|
|INTEGRATED ZERO EMISSION ENERGY PLAN;|
Hydrocarbon pipeline matters are included in the ELECTRICITY section under the heading:
ENERGY TRANSMISSION AND DISTRIBUTION.
Synthetic liquid hydrocarbon fuel production is included in the ELECTRICITY section under the heading:
Every successful life form has to adapt to its local climate. Otherwise that life form can not continue to exist. Rapid climate change is a major threat to the continued existence of all large land animal species.
Present day rapid climate change is primarily a result of large scale combustion of fossil fuels by an increasing human population. The products of combustion of fossil fuels are causing higher Earth surface temperatures and thermal energy absorption by the oceans. The consequences are increased droughts, insect infestations, wild fires, violent storms, polar ice melting, sea level rise and human migration. Halting this climate change requires leaving fossil fuels in the ground and reducing the human population.
In order to displace fossil fuels as primary energy sources mankind must obtain equal amounts of power, energy and heat from non-fossil energy sources. Due to intermittency in renewable electricity generation and fundamental engineering constraints on both electricity transmission and electrical energy storage there is only one non-fossil energy technology with the capacity to sustainably, dependably and economically fully displace fossil fuels. That technology is Fast Neutron Reactors (FNRs) with fuel recycling. Other energy technologies are not sustainable, not dependable or not economic.
The necessity for large scale deployment of FNR technology is a blunt reality that most governments have yet to accept. In North America in 2019 the annual financial costs reasonably attributable to rapid climate change are exceeding $300 billion per year. Escalating storm, fire and crop damage, Arctic ice melting and sea level rise are constantly in the news. Denial of the obvious is no longer an acceptable political response.
The physics of climate change and the energy and power system changes necessary to halt climate change are the primary subjects of this web site. This web site does not attempt to address the social changes necessary for a peaceful reduction of the human population.
One of the most difficult issues relating to funding changes in energy systems is lack of public education in the physical sciences, especially amongst career politicians. Few career politicians have sufficient grasp of physics and engineering to make rational energy policy decisions. Even fewer are willing to make such decisions in the face of contrary public opinion.
Public opinion has been biased by parties with short term vested financial interests. For four decades the fossil fuel industry has funded anti-nuclear groups, has engaged in deceptive advertising and has expanded fossil fuel production in spite of the increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration and melting polar ice pack. The only obvious solution to this information bias problem lies in improving the public education core curriculum with respect to energy and power matters. This web site attempts to address this public education deficiency.
Public opinion is also biased by selfish hedonism. Older people are often reluctant to make long term investments in education and sustainable clean energy infrastructure that will only materially benefit younger persons. In this respect the concentration of wealth and power amongst older persons is a threat to the long term sustainability of human life on planet Earth.
INTEGRATED ZERO EMISSION ENERGY PLAN:
The Integrated Zero Emission (INZEM) Energy Plan is a plan which identifies the only practical path for elimination of fossil fuels from the Canadian energy sector by the year 2070, so as to eventually comply with Canada's international climate change commitments. This plan was developed during the period November 2017 to May 2018 by a senior engineering team consisting of Paul Acchione, Peter Ottensmeyer and Charles Rhodes. Implementation of the INZEM plan requires immediate public policy changes with respect to pricing of electricity as set out on the web page titled:
requires adoption of fast neutron reactors as set out on the web page titled:
FAST NEUTRON REACTORS,
and requires recycling of used CANDU reactor fuel as set out on the web page titled:
Due to failure by both Canadian federal and provincial governments to promptly make the necessary public policy changes Canada's 2030 CO2 emission reduction commitments, made in Paris in 2015, are already unattainable.
A reality that Canadians must face is that increased fossil carbon extraction and reduced fossil carbon emissions are mutually exclusive. New investments in fossil fuel infrastructure will result in stranded assets. The Liberal federal government's May 2018 commitment of many billions of dollars of Canadian federal taxpayer funds to an increase in bitumen export pipeline capacity was a complete repudiation of its 2015 undertakings with respect to the Paris agreement on climate change. These taxpayer funds would be far better invested in incenting production of nuclear power.
Nuclear power should be complemented by nuclear fuel recycling in Fast Neutron Reactors (FNRs) to reduce the long lived nuclear fuel waste stream by about 1000 fold.
There is nothing wrong with expanding use of renewable power, but the present system of electricity pricing is not consistent with large scale use of renewable power. Governments must face the reality of totally repricing electricity in order to promote efficient use of renewable power.
Fossil fuel exports should be replaced with exports of high energy content foodstuffs and high energy content chemicals such as ammonia, aluminum, lithium, nickel, sodium, nitrate fertilizers, synthetic jet fuel, etc.
There is merit in near term natural gas exports only to the extent that CO2 emissions are reduced when natural gas displaces coal and oil for production of heat and electricity. However, the 2.5 um particulates emitted by natural gas fired combustion turbines accelerate ice melting and cause human asthma.
An interim CO2 mitigation measure might be to use nuclear energy to produce steam and electrolytic hydrogen. The steam could be used for bitumen extraction. The hydrogen could be chemically combined with bitumen to produce lower density oil. Such prerefining would: reduce tar sands CO2 emissions, reduce the oil viscosity for pipeline transport, reduce the environmental consequences of a marine bitumen shipping accident and increase the market value of the exported oil.
The other big public policy issue with respect to energy is reducing the world's human population. Between 1960 and 2010 Canada reduced its average human female fertility from 3.9 children per woman to 1.6 children per woman. While human population control is not a main subject on this web site many nations could benefit by adopting the Canadian social policies which led to this reduction in average Canadian human female fertility.
For millions of years prior to the industrial revolution the solar radiation power absorbed by Earth approximately equalled the thermal infrared radiation power emitted by Earth into deep outer space, so Earth's thermal energy content (enthalpy) remained nearly constant. However, recent large scale combustion of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) has injected products of combustion into Earth's atmosphere that have caused a significant increase in the fraction of incident solar radiation power that is absorbed by Earth and have caused a significant reduction in the thermal infrared radiation power that is emitted by Earth. This problem is compounded by heat and CO2 absorption by the oceans. Precise satellite measurements show that during the year 2017 the difference between the absorbed and emitted radiation fluxes, known as the net absorbed heat flux, averaged about 3.5 W / m^2 of open ocean. This net absorbed heat flux is gradually warming the oceans, is melting polar ice and is changing Earth's climate. Simultaneously about half of the CO2 produced by combustion of fossil fuels is being absorbed by the oceans via conversion of water and insoluble CaCO3 (limestone) into water soluble Ca(HCO3)2. The increased concentration of dissolved Ca(HCO3)2 will significantly change both marine and land animal life for millennia into the future.
The net absorbed heat flux is increasing because due to rising lower atmosphere temperature the average seasonal snow cover, polar ice cover and white cloud cover are all decreasing which together cause Earth's average solar reflectivity (planetary Bond albedo) to decrease and because Earth's atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration is increasing which, at a constant lower atmosphere temperature, causes the thermal infrared radiation emitted into outer space to decrease.
The rate of Earth ocean surface temperature rise is primarily set by the net absorbed heat flux and by the effective heat capacity of the oceans. Due to the increasing net absorbed heat flux the rate of sea level rise, which in 2017 was about 3.4 mm / year, will likely increase several fold during the coming decades.
The rate of loss of polar ice and the rate of rise of average sea level have been accurately measured since 1992 via satellites. The satellites use laser altimeters to measure changes in average sea level with respect to Earth's center of mass to an accuracy of better than +/- 1 mm. The satellites use changes in differential gravity to determine changes in polar glacier ice mass.
The measured atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in 2018 is 410 ppmv and is increasing at about 2.5 ppmv per year. The mass of CO2 dissolved in the oceans is increasing at approximately the same rate as the mass of CO2 in the atmosphere.
The increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration has set in motion a relatively rapid Earth surface temperature transition from a stable climatic "cool" state to a stable climatic "warm" state. These stable states arise from Earth radiant energy exchange equation non-linearities primarily caused by the liquid-solid phase transition of water. The solar reflectivity of ice is much greater than the solar reflectivity of liquid water.
Unless combustion of fossil hydrocarbons is promptly halted the change in planetary solar reflectivity (planetary Bond albedo) from about 0.30 in the year 2000 to a projected future value of about 0.10 will cause the average lower atmosphere temperature on planet Earth to rise by as much as 17.5 degrees C with respect to the average temperature during the year 1996. This average temperature rise, herein referred to as thermal runaway, will cause an extinction of all animal and plant species that cannot rapidly adapt to the increasing temperatures and other changing environmental conditions.
In the near term human migration from tropical and low elevation countries to more northern and higher elevation countries will be an ongoing source of social unrest.
Natural solar driven biochemical processes required more than 2,000,000,000 years to convert water, atmospheric CO2 and igneous silicate rock into atmospheric oxygen, carbonate rock (limestone), quartz (silica sand) and naturally sequestered fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas). The time required for natural processes to restore the present atmospheric and ocean CO2 concentrations to their pre-industrial revolution values is hundreds of thousands of years. From a practical human perspective, the consequences of combustion of fossil fuels are permanent.
The climate change problems will continue to worsen until after mankind collectively agrees to leave fossil hydrocarbons in the ground. There must be a widespread acceptance of use of fast neutron fission energy in place of fossil fuel energy. Due to both intermittency and local insufficiency the renewable energy supply cannot meet the needs of the present human population. However, there is sufficient primary fuel for fast neutron reactors to meet mankind's resonable energy needs for thousands of years. The existing water moderated nuclear reactor technology is not sustainable because it requires about 134X more natural uranium per kWht of thermal output than do fast neutron reactors with fuel recycling.
This author believes that it is morally unacceptable for people living today to behave in a manner that deprives future human generations of an equal quality of life.
This website focuses on: energy physics, quantification of Earth's net radiant energy (heat) absorption and identification of practical energy and power system changes necessary for economically meeting mankind's energy and power requirements without combustion of fossil hydrocarbons.
FOSSIL HYDROCARBON DISPLACEMENT:
1) Complete displacement of fossil hydrocarbons will require a several fold expansion in electricity system capacity using only non-fossil prime energy. The required electricity system capacity increase can be minimized by siting small nuclear power plants in cities to minimize the required amount of electricity transmission and to allow efficient use of the reactor supplied heat.
2) If this electricity system capacity expansion is further delayed the thermal runaway process will likely become impossible to stop.
3) The available non-fossil energy sources are hydroelectric, nuclear, solar and wind.
4) In most jurisdictions the economic hydroelectric capacity is already fully exploited. In most industrialized countries nuclear electricity generation is much less expensive than intermittent solar and wind electricity generation in combination with the extra: power transmission, energy storage and related extra power generation capacity required to achieve electricity supply dependability.
5) There are many types of nuclear reactors. However, only one reactor type provides the combined economic fuel sustainability and long lived nuclear waste elimination required for complete fossil fuel displacement. This reactor type, the liquid sodium cooled fast neutron reactor, has inherent safety features that are not available in water moderated reactors and can be designed to avoid production of decommissioning waste.
6) Liquid sodium cooled fast neutron reactors (FNRs) require nuclear fuel reprocessing to minimize natural uranium consumption and to avoid production of long lived nuclear waste. These fission reactors typically require 20% plutonium in the initial core fuel. In order to rapidly deploy FNRs the limited supply of plutonium must be conserved, not buried or expended as fuel in water moderated fission reactors. To prevent weapon proliferation the plutonium should be a mix of Pu-239 and Pu-240.
7) After uranium fueled liquid sodium cooled FNRs are fully deployed their U-238 fuel supply can can be extended as much as 5 fold using Th-232. The Th-232 readily breeds into U-233. However, unlke fissioning of Pu-239, fissioning of U-233 does not yield enough spare neutrons per fission to significantly grow the core fuel inventory as required to increase the number of reactors in operation.
8) Practical fusion based electricity generation requires a large supply of the fuel isotope He-3 which is rare on Earth but in the future might be mined from the surface of the moon. Practical fusion also requires sustained magnetic confinement of a 400 keV per particle random plasma, which is a major technological and economic challenge. Fusion reactions emit equipment damaging high energy (13.6 MeV) neutrons, that must be used to breed additonal fusion fuel. There is no realistic expectation of dependable and economic fusion power generation within the foreseeable future.
9) Nuclear and renewable electricity are both more economic if each customer has behind-the-meter energy storage controlled to match the electricity load to the available non-fossil electricity generation.
10) Installation of behind-the-meter energy storage and displacement of fossil fuels by non-fossil electricity will not occur until the retail price of uninterruptible electricity is made primarily proportional to the customer's monthly peak demand (kW or kVA) instead of being proportional to the customer's energy consumption (kWh). The delivery charge must also be made proportional to monthly peak demand (kW or kVA). For consumers with load control the projected future uninterruptible retail electricity rate for Ontario is:
[($30.00 / kW-month) + ($0.02 / kWh)]. A key enabling issue is that the marginal cost per electrical kWhe must be significantly less than the cost per kWht of the competing fossil fuel.
11) For a customer with a 50% load factor the corresponding blended uninterruptible electricity rate per kWh is projected to be:
[($30.00 / kW-month X 1 kW-month) + 0.5 (730.5 kWh X $0.02 / kWh)] / [0.5 (730.5 kWh)]
= $0.1021 / kWh
12) In terms of both fossil fuel cost savings and reduced CO2 emissions it is more beneficial to displace liquid hydrocarbon fuels with surplus non-fossil electricity than to displace natural gas with surplus non-fossil electricity.
13) In order to effectively sell interruptible electricity a customer's monthly peak demand (kW) calculation must be disabled during metering intervals when interruptible electricity is available for that customer.
14) Full displacement of fossil fuels will likely require a price on fossil carbon emissions of at least $200 / tonne of emitted CO2. The revenue from a fossil carbon emissions tax should be applied to construction of new nuclear power stations and supporting energy transmission.
15) In urban centers the heat output from nuclear power stations should be used for district heating, dehumidification, water purification and desalination. The thermal energy should be delivered to customers via buried insulated water and/or steam pipes. At customer premises far from the nuclear power station the thermal energy can be upgraded using electric heat pumps.
16) Absent sufficient energy storage solar and wind power are only useful for fossil fuel displacement and electrolytic hydrogen production. These interruptible electricity applications will become financially viable when electricity is primarily priced by peak capacity required (kWe or kVA) rather than by absorbed energy (kWhe).
17) By repurposing the existing natural gas distribution piping network electrolytic hydrogen can be efficiently stored and redistributed. During the winter the waste heat from the electrolysis process can be used for comfort heating. The hydrogen is required for meeting peak winter heating loads, for powering heavy duty vehicles and for converting biomass into high energy density aircraft fuel.
18) Hydrogen can be stored and transported for meeting the peak winter heating load in rural areas by chemically combining compressed hydrogen gas with liquid toluene to form liquid methyl cyclohexane, which is a stable transportable and storable liquid at normal temperatures and atmospheric pressure. At the thermal load the hydrogen can be extracted from the methyl cyclohexane, allowing recycling of the toluene.19) For marine fuel applications anhydrous ammonia (NH3) is a practical energy dense means of storing hydrogen as a liquid. However, anhydrous ammonia is too dangerous for general consumer use and needs proximity of large amounts of water to safely absorb even small leaks.
CONSERVATION OF ENERGY:
Planet Earth continuously absorbs a fraction of its incident solar radiation and continuously emits thermal infrared radiation. Over dry land the law of conservation of energy causes these two radiation fluxes to reach approximate balance within a few hours of a step change in atmospheric CO2 concentration. However, over the deep ocean these two radiation fluxes require centuries to reach approximate balance following a step change in atmospheric CO2 concentration. Over shorter periods of time the radiation flux difference causes changes in ocean enthalpy (heat content).
Changes in ocean enthalpy cause changes in Earth surface temperature, humidity, atmospheric CO2 concentration, storms and sea level.
The rate at which Earth emits thermal infrared radiation outside the GHG absorption bands is set by the planetary emission temperature T, which is also known as the top of atmosphere temperature. It is effectively the temperature at the cloud tops.
Earth's effective planetary emission temperature:
T = 270 degrees K
Ft = 0.7555
were measured in November 1996 using a thermal infrared spectrometer mounted on an interplanetary spacecraft.
MULTIPLE STABLE TEMPERATURES:
Due to non-linearity in the radiant energy exchange equations Earth's planetary emission temperature T has several real stable solutions, a "cold" state corresponding to extensive glaciation, a "cool" state corresponding to presence of north polar ice, a "warm" state corresponding to absence of north polar ice and a "hot" state corresponding to absence of south polar ice. The "cool" and "hot" stable solutions are separated by about 17.5 degrees C. The geologic record shows regular oscillations between the "cool" and "warm" states with occasional excursions into the "cold" and "hot" states.
Past transitions between these stable states occurred as a result of combinations of astrophysical phenomena that affect the solar irradiance and atmospheric phenomena that affect Earth's solar reflectivity (planetary Bond albedo) and thermal infrared emissivity.
In the "cool" state:
T ~ 270 degrees K
as measured by the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft in November 1996.
In the "hot" state:
T ~ 287 degrees K.
as determined by astrophysical albedo measurements.
The local value of the emission temperature Tr at which cool state to warm state transition occurs is:
Tr ~ 273.15 degrees K
where 273.15 degrees K is the freezing point of water.
In recent decades products of combustion of fossil fuels have caused an increase in Earth's absorption of solar radiation and have reduced Earth's emission of thermal infrared radiation. As a result there is ongoing net heat absorption by the oceans which is melting floating polar ice and there is a gradual increase in Earth's dry land surface temperature and hence Earth's effective planetary emission temperature T. The rate of emission temperature rise is limited by the heat capacity of the oceans and the latent heat of fusion of the polar ice. Absorption of heat by dry land reduces snow and ice cover which further reduces solar reflectivity.
In early 2017 Earth was still in its "cool" state but a spontaneous transition from the "cool" state to the "warm" state had commenced. This spontaneous "cool" state to "warm" state transition is known as thermal runaway. The term "thermal runaway" is appropriate because it will soon be impossible to stop this temperature transition process.
The geophysical record shows that over the history of life on planet Earth there have been several transitions back and forth between the "hot" state and the "cold" state. These transitions are believed to have been triggered by relatively infrequent astrophysical phenomena. Each such transition was accompanied by a global land animal extinction.
The political reaction to global warming has been to attempt to partially displace fossil fuels with renewable energy.
In Ontario politically driven attempts to conserve electricity and implement solar and wind based electricity generation, without seasonal energy storage, achieved little net reduction in fossil CO2 emissions. Without sufficient seasonal energy storage wind and solar electricity generation cannot meet electricity system dependability requirements. In Ontario, due to geographic constraints, seasonal electrical energy storage is both prohibitively inefficient and prohibitively expensive. Furthermore, over commitment to wind and solar electricity generation without generator self excitation has reduced the electricity grid stability and potentially threatens the electricity grid black start capability.
However, a major reduction in fossil CO2 emissions was achieved by replacing coal fired electricity generation with nuclear electricity generation.
Nuclear is by far the safest form of electricity generation. However, part of the public has an irrational fear of nuclear energy. This fear is largely a result of failure by elected governments to properly address nuclear education, nuclear safety, nuclear fuel supply sustainability and sustainable disposal of nuclear waste.
Since the early 1980s at every opportunity the established fossil fuel industry has acted to prevent loss of market share due to expansion of nuclear power. However, the blunt reality is that in most jurisdictions due to lack of economically accessible hydroelectric seasonal energy storage capacity there is no practical non-fossil alternative to nuclear power for base load electricity generation.
The on-going failure of elected governments to rationally choose nuclear power over power obtained by combustion of fossil hydrocarbons may ultimately lead to the extinction of large land animal life on planet Earth, including the human species.
In most jurisdictions fast neutron nuclear fission together with nuclear fuel recycling is the only technology that can sustainably, economically and safely supply sufficient power, when and where required, to completely displace fossil hydrocarbons.
THE CHALLENGE OF COAL FIRED ELECTRICITY GENERATION:
In spite of public education about global warming, according to the UK Times, in the following countries the numbers of coal fired electricity generating plants operating or under construction in February 2017 were:
Europe: 468 operating plants, building 27 more, for a total of 495
Turkey: 56 operating plants, building 93 more, for a total of 149
South Africa: 79 operating plants, building 24 more, for a total of 103
India: 589 operating plants, building 446 more, for a total of 1036
Philippines: 19 operating plants, building 60 more, for a total of 79
South Korea: 58 operating plants, building 26 more, for a total 84
Japan: 90 operating plants, building 45 more, for a total of 135
China: 2363 operating plants,building 1171, for a total of 3534
Missing from this list are coal fired electricity generating plants in Canada, USA, Russia and numerous other countries.
World wide in 2018 an additional 1360 new coal fired electricity generating stations were under construction.
The increase in Earth's atmospheric CO2 concentration due to combustion of fossil fuels has led to Earth's thermal infrared emissivity falling below its long term steady state value.
The increase in Earth surface temperature due to the increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration has caused snow and ice melting which has reduced Earth's average solar reflectivity (planetary Bond albedo).
Soot and dust depositing on polar ice sheets and trapped in clouds capture solar photons which cause ice melting which further reduces Earth's average solar reflectivity (planetary Bond albedo).
The decrease in thermal infrared emissivity and the decrease in planetary Bond albedo both cause net thermal energy absorption by the oceans. The absorbed heat circulates via ocean currents, melts near polar floating ice and liberates methane (CH4) and more CO2 which together cause yet more net thermal energy absorption.
These processes acting together form a positive feedback loop which accelerates net heat accumulation by planet Earth and acceleratesthermal runaway.
If present trends continue thermal runaway will eventually melt all of Earth's surface ice. The resulting decrease in Earth's average solar reflectivity (planetary Bond albedo) from about 0.30 to about 0.10 will cause: an average planetary thermal emission temperature rise of about 17.5 degrees C, an average sea level rise of about 80 m and an extinction of all large land animal species including humans. The geophysical record shows that thermal runaway into the "hot" state has occurred in the past and that climatic recovery from the "hot" state via natural processes typically takes over 200 thousand years.
ATMOSPHERIC CO2 AND SOOT:
Prior to the industrial revolution Earth's atmospheric CO2 concentration was nearly steady at about 280 ppmv. Today in 2018 Earth's atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration is over 410 ppmv and the atmospheric CO2 concentration is rising at over 2.5 ppmv per year. Humans are injecting fossil CO2 into the atmosphere about twice as fast as CO2 is absorbed by the oceans and orders of magnitude faster than the rate at which CO2 is removed from the oceans by natural processes (formation of carbonate rock and natural sequestration of fossil hydrocarbons). A consequence of the increased atmospheric CO2 concentration is that Earth is absorbing more radiant solar energy from the sun than it is emitting via thermal infrared radiation. This net energy absorption is causing continuous heat accumulation by the oceans.
There is further solar energy absorption due to soot (incompletely burned hydro-carbon compounds) accumulating on and in otherwise highly reflective snow and ice.
The net heat accumulation is melting: ice that floats on the ocean surface, ice that occurs as land borne glaciers, ice that occurs as permafrost and ice that occurs as fine particles in clouds. This melting of ice is reducing Earth's solar reflectivity (planetary Bond albedo), which is further increasing the rate of net radiant energy absorption. This net radiant energy absorption is gradually warming the oceans. Photographs of Earth from outer space show that this warming process will continue until the average Earth solar reflectivity (planetary Bond albedo) drops from about 30% to about 10% with an accompanying planetary emission temperature rise of about 17.5 degrees C.
A foreseeable consequence of thermal runaway will be large scale human migration into Canada and Russia from lower latitude countries to such an extent that there will be insufficient food and serious social conflict.
Thermal runaway is not an unproven theory. The sedimentary isotope ratio and fossil record show that CO2 triggered atmospheric thermal runaway occurred about 56 million years ago, during a period known as the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). During the PETM all exposed biocarbon burned, the polar ice caps completely melted and all land animals larger than a mole became extinct. Thermal runaway will not happen over night. It will take decades to fully develop. However, once thermal runaway is firmly established the accompanying sea level rise will be impossible to stop.
The geophysical record indicates that the emission temperature increase caused by thermal runaway will likely persist for about two hundred thousand years. This emission temperature increase is due to a decrease in Earth's average solar reflectivity (planetary Bond albedo) from about 0.30 to about 0.10 caused by the phase change of water from ice to liquid both in clouds and in the polar regions. There may also be a further emission temperature increase of as much as 4 degrees C due to the decrease in Earth infrared emissivity caused by increased CO2 and H2O concentrations in the upper atmosphere.
PREVENTION OF THERMAL RUNAWAY:
The only means of preventing thermal runaway is:
Leaving fossil carbon in the ground requires:
Note that even when extraction of fossil carbon is halted
Natural gas is often claimed by its proponents to be "clean burning". However, natural gas fuelled combustion turbines produce very fine (2.5 um) soot particles which are invisible to the naked eye but which, when they deposit on snow or ice, strongly absorb solar radiation.
Some coal and oil combustion processes produce soot containing stable aromatic hydrocarbon rings that may persist in the environment for many years.
Reliance on the much heralded 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Changewill guarantee human extinction via thermal runaway because the fossil CO2 emission reductions contemplated in the Paris agreement are not sufficient to prevent thermal runaway. Due to a combination of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration and decreasing local Bond albedo in most of Canada the 1.5 degree C to 2.0 degree C average temperature rise contemplated in the Paris Agreement has already been exceeded.
On November 29, 2016 the Liberal government of Canada demonstrated its refusal to be guided by scienceby its approval of the Trans Mountain Pipe Line expansion from Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby, British Columbia. The government further compounded its error by committing over $12 billion of federal taxpayer resources to purchase of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion in May 2018. The energy, jobs, investment and tax revenue from that new liquid fossil fuel infrastructure investment would be much better realized by a comparable investment in nuclear power capacity.
The concept that Canada can economically gain via expansion of tar sands production is completely preposterous. The contemplated new multi-billion dollar liquid fossil fuel infrastructure will soon become a stranded asset that will threaten the solvency of Canadian banks and the future value of pension funds and life insurance policies.
The future consequences of thermal runaway are immense. The belief that mankind can continue extraction and combustion of fossil hydrocarbons without major climatic consequences is completely false. In a few decades mankind has released into the atmosphere fossil carbon that natural processes took millions of years to sequester. Already there are major storms, droughts, wild fires, insect infestations, land animal species extinctions and mass human migrations from tropical countries to more temperate countries.
DEFICIENT PUBLIC EDUCATION:
At the root of the thermal runaway problem is widespread lack of public understanding regarding the effects of changes in planetary solar reflectivity and planetary infrared emissivity on cumulative net heat absorption. As long as there is an above equilibrium atmospheric CO2 concentration or there is fine soot mixed with snow and ice
The rising ocean surface temperature is fuelling hurricanes that are making tropical islands increasingly more uninhabitable.
In Canada during the last three decades almost every year has been significantly warmer than the year before. The cumulative warming effects on glaciers, ocean ice, ice roads, permafrost, average air temperature, insect infestations, forest fires and flash floods have been obvious. In the USA in recent years the direct insured costs of sea level rise, floods, storms, wild fires and droughts have risen by more than $200 billion per year. In the US south-west major aquifers critical for agriculture are near depletion.
Fossil fuel producers and consumers must face the reality that they are directly responsible for the consequences of fossil carbon triggered climate change. Continued extraction of fossil hydrocarbons is simply not a sustainable option. Citizens must do all necessary to make investments in fossil hydrocarbon extraction, refining, transportation and combustion financially unrewarding.
Governments must face the politically difficult decision to impose a price on fossil carbon sufficient to ensure that fossil hydrocarbons are left in the ground and to adopt an appropriate mix of renewable energy and nuclear energy. The minimum fossil carbon emissions tax required to keep fossil carbon in the ground is reasonably estimated to be about $200 per emitted CO2 tonne. The optimum energy supply mix depends on the availability and reliability of local sources of renewable energy, the availability and sufficiency of geography permitting economic local seasonal energy storage and on the political stability, public education and work force training required to support nuclear power.
Problems common to all renewable energy forms are the intermittency and seasonality, and insufficient capacity for seasonal storage of energy when it is plentiful for later use when it is scarce. Energy storage for a few hours is economically possible but energy storage for weeks or months is usually both inefficient and prohibitively expensive.
A mountainous region blessed with consistent rainfall and a low average population density, such as British Columbia or Quebec, can rely on hydraulic energy storage if the population is willing to build and maintain the required large hydraulic reservoirs. Adjacent regions with intermittent solar and wind generation may be able to access this hydraulic energy storage capacity by integrating their electricity grids with the region containing the hydraulic energy storage. However,there are significant constraints on hydraulic balancing of intermittent wind and solar generation imposed by dam storage capacity, high and low limits on downstream river flow and impacts on fisheries and indigenous populations.
A related major issue is thatriver water that is used for hydraulic electricity production is river water that is not available for agricultural irrigation or for recharging depleted aquifers. The amount of river water required per kWh for hydraulic electricity production is far greater than the amount of river water required per kWh for nuclear electricity production. As fresh water aquifers are depleted the resulting increased requirement for river water for agricultural irrigation will reduce the amount of river water that is available for hydraulic electricity generation and hence will reduce the hydraulic power available for balancing wind and solar electricity generation.
In theory the river water shortage could be mitigated by use of pumped storage, but the practical political problems attendant to large scale pumped storage systems are immense. From a geographical perspective the obvious location in North America for implementation of large scale pumped storage is between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. However, there are so many conflicting governmental and water front property interests around these two great lakes and on the Niagara River that realizing a cost effective pumped storage implementation agreement is thought to be impossible. Pursuit of this project would likely require a change to the US constitution.
An alternative means of energy storage is electrolysis of water to make hydrogen, storage of compressed hydrogen gas in deep underground salt caves or compounded with toluene and subsequent use of the hydrogen for meeting the peak heating and electricity load. However, this process is only about 60% efficient on heat recovery and 25% to 35% efficient on electricity recovery. Hence the stored energy is very expensive. However, in the absence of hydraulic energy storage hydrogen storage is better than nothing. Stored hydrogen is potentially suitable as a peak winter heating fuel and as a vehicle fuel.
The nuclear energy supply alternative requires transparency, political stability, public education, and a highly trained work force. Making nuclear power safe and sustainable requires enlightened government policies relating to:
fast neutron nuclear reactor technology, reactor siting, district heating, natural draft dry cooling towers, nuclear fuel reprocessing, radioactive material transport and radio isotope storage.
Obtaining such enlightened government policies from legislators who lack an advanced science education is extremely difficult. The legislators respond to irrational demands of voters and special interest lobbies neither of which understand or care about the relevant technical issues. The North American education system has failed to teach the general pubic basic energy related physics and economics. The general public is unaware of advances in fast neutron reactors that, as compared to CANDU reactors, have improved uranium utilization 100 fold, have reduced long term spent fuel storage requirements by more than 1000 fold and have reduced required public safety exclusion zones to zero. Comment on this issue was recently provided by the popular and respected magazine Scientific American
The present end user electricity rate structure in Ontario is primarily based on kWh consumed rather than on peak kW or peak kVA demand. This electricity rate structure does not reflect actual electricity system costs, prevents use of surplus non-fossil electricity for fossil fuel displacement and prevents construction and use of consumer owned energy storage. At the root of these problems is a faulty government policy of encouraging minimization of electrical kWhe consumption instead of encouraging minimization of electrical peak kWe demand at times of non-fossil electricity shortage and encouraging minimization of overall fossil fuel consumption.
An issue of paramount importance is adopting electricity rates that financially enable energy storage, load management and displacement of fossil fuels with surplus non-fossil electricity. These same electricity rates are required to enable investment in additional nuclear power capacity.
As a result of over a century of heavy dependence on fossil fuels, in most jurisdictions the electricity rate is primarily based on measured kWh consumed. However, that electricity rate encourages use of fossil fuels in preference to non-fossil electricity even when there are surplus non-fossil kWh available at zero marginal cost to the electricity system. In order for non-fossil electricity to economically displace fossil fuelsthe electricty rate must be primarily based on the peak kWe or peak kVA demand during each billing period. A peak kWe or peak kVA based electricity rate, in addition to encouraging conservation of energy, financially encourages construction and appropriate use of consumer owned energy storage and enables substitution of electricity for fossil fuels when surplus non-fossil electrical energy is available. Measurements of kWhe consumed are required for allocating surplus non-fossil electrical energy to parties with hybrid heating and energy storage systems that can usefully use intermittent electricity for fossil fuel displacement and for production of electrolytic hydrogen.
In order to enable displacement of fossil fuels with non-fossil electricity the cost of a marginal electrical kWh to the consumer must be less than the cost of a marginal fossil fuel thermal kWht. To meet this requirement the electricity system revenue must be primarily obtained from a charge proportional to each consumer's metered monthly peak kWe or peak kVA. The peak kWe or kVA meter should have a 2 hour exponential time constant (90% step response in 4.3 hours) and should be automatically disabled at times of non-fossil electricity surplus when interruptible electricity is being made available to that customer.
A new retail electricity rate rate of the form:
[($30.00 / peak kW-month) + ($0.02 / kWh)]
would allow economic use of surplus non-fossil electrical kWh for displacement of fossil fuels in Ontario while maintaining the required gross electricity rate revenue. This electricity rate would also encourage implementation of behind the meter energy storage.
Changing the electricity billing methodology involves transition issues relating to consumer education. Consumers must be taught that to reduce their electricity and fossil fuel costs they should invest in energy storage, load management and hybrid heating (fossil fuel displacement) equipment. That education process will take several years. It is recommended that to encourage consumer acceptance in the initial years adoption of the new electricity rate should be voluntary.
Today, in spite of decades of overwhelming scientific evidence, most governments have failed to adopt the energy system changes required to prevent severe climate change. These governmental failures include:
1) Continued planning and construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure;
2) Failure to build sufficient non-fossil electricity generation, transmission and energy storage capacity to replace fossil fuels;
3) Failure to impose a price on fossil carbon sufficient to keep fossil carbon in the ground;
4) Failure to set aside and suitably zone river valleys that are potentially suitable for hydraulic energy storage;
5) Failure to set aside and suitably zone the land corridors needed for the high voltage electricity transmission lines, rail lines and district heating pipelines required for fossil fuel displacement;
6) Failure to set aside and suitably zone sites for the required nuclear electricity generating stations, nuclear district heating plants and commuter railway parking lots;
7) Failure to set aside and suitably zone depleted mine sites and surrounding property suitable for interim nuclear waste storage;
8) Failure to set aside and suitably zone natural salt cavern sites and depleted oil well sites suitable for compressed hydrogen gas storage.
9) Failure to adopt an electricity rate structure that financially rewards consumers for appropriate use of load management and energy storage;
10) Failure to adopt an electricity rate structure that enables economic use of intermittent surplus non-fossil electricity generation capacity for displacement of fossil fuels.
11) Failure to adopt site zoning, electricity system interface, thermal energy utility, sub-surface pipe right-of-way and building code legislation necessary to enable nuclear district heating/cooling in urban areas.
12) Failure to educate the public with respect to critical energy related matters including:
a) the law of conservation of energy;
b) thermal runaway;
c) the nature of electricity;
d) photon energy quantization;
e) sustainable non-fossil energy sources;
f) constraints on utility supplied power and energy;
g) long distance electricity transmission;
h) energy storage;
i) electricity rate structure;
j) nuclear energy;
k) fast neutron reactors;
l) nuclear fuel reprocessing;
m) nuclear waste disposal.
13) When legislators comprehend the scope of the work that must be done to prevent thermal runaway they often feel overwhelmed and do nothing. Legislative action is driven by public demand and most voters do not understand the basic physics of energy systems and climate change.
In North America no major political party is facing the full scope of the required fossil carbon extraction reduction. Nowhere in North America is net new nuclear power capacity being built. In every case corruption by the fossil fuel industry is driving government decisions. In the USA CO2 emissions are increasing due to irrational replacement of nuclear electricity generation capacity by natural gas fuelled electricity generation.
In Ontario the Liberal government failed to adopt peak kVA based electricity rates to enable displacement of fossil fuel consumption by surplus non-fossil electricity. Instead that government squandered electricity ratepayer funds on incenting electrical energy conservation that increases fossil fuel consumption.
In Ontario the improper end user electricity rate structure makes construction of behind the meter energy storage financially impossible and acts as a huge disincentive to further construction of reliable nuclear generation.
In Ontario CO2 and soot emissions are increasing due to increasing use of natural gas fueled electricity generation in place of non-fossil nuclear electricity generation.
In Ontario ratepayer funds have been squandered on wind and solar electricity generation, over 70% of which is discarded for lack of energy storage and for lack of a suitable retail electricity price structure.
Major reductions in fossil CO2 emissions can only be achieved by construction of additional nuclear power capacity. The fossil fuel industry funds multiple parties that lobby against construction of additional nuclear capacity. This problem is compounded by a voting public that does not understand basic energy issues.
The 2017 Ontario Long Term Energy Plan does not address displacement of fossil fuels in the heating and transportation markets with nuclear heat and non-fossil electricity. The Ontario government has yet to face the reality that to completely displace fossil carbon the nuclear reactor capacity in Ontario must be increased at least 3 fold and new reactors must be located in urban areas. For efficiency and economy small modular reactors must be sited to provide both district heating and district cooling augmentation via dehumidification.
Non-fossil energy requirements that are completely missing from the 2017 Ontario Long Term Energy Plan include energy: for biomass processing to make synthetic liquid hydrocarbon fuels, for additional cement and metal production to replace asphalt and for non-combustion municipal waste processing to recycle hydrocarbon resins.
In recent years in Ontario there has been a disproportionate investment in wind and solar electricity generation without sufficient investment in nuclear power, energy storage and electricity transmission. Over investment in intermittent renewable electricity generation without sufficient seasonal energy storage creates stranded assets having little market value.
There is no recognition that the cost per kWhe of transmitting intermittent wind and solar generated electrical energy from rural generation sites to urban load sites is about 12X the cost per kWhe of transmitting reliable nuclear electricity from relatively nearby nuclear generators to urban load sites.
As nuclear electricity generation displaces fossil fueled electricity generation the market value of intermittent renewable electricity generation will decrease unless there is sufficient seasonal energy storage. However, in Ontario there is almost no seasonal energy storage and little prospect of any new daily energy storage until the electricity rate structure is changed to be power oriented rather than energy oriented. That rate change would financially enable production and storage of electrolytic hydrogen as a vehicle fuel.
As a result Ontario electricity rates are extremely high and much of the non-fossil electricity generation capacity is discarded. This policy of discarding useful non-fossil energy has been concealed by improper electricity rates and by deceptive accounting by parties with vested interests and short term political and profit agendas. The ongoing cost of this scam to the Ontario rate payers and taxpayers is over $2 billion per year.
Ontario has been in the ridiculous position of exporting electricity at about $0.016 / kWh while charging Ontario rural consumers as much as $0.270 / kWh. This electricity pricing strategy has increased consumption of fossil fuels in Ontario and has made many Ontario businesses internationally uncompetitive. The Ontario government has repeatedly ignored engineering advice to allow consumers to voluntary change from the obsolete electicity rate primarily based on measured kWhe to a new electricity rate primarily based on measured peak kWe or peak kVA. The proposed new rate would reflect the true cost of electricity generation and transmission in Ontario and would allow Ontario consumers access to the intermittent surplus non-fossil electricity generation that is presently discarded or exported at a very low price.
A new retail electricity rate rate of the form:
[($30.00 /peak kW-month) + ($0.02 / kWh)]
a) maintain the required electricity system gross revenue;
b) encourage implementation of behind the meter energy storage;
c) allow economic use of surplus non-fossil electrical kWhe for displacement of fossil fuels;
d) reduce the blended cost of electricity per kWhe by enabling larger kWhe consumptions without increasing the metered peak kWe demand;
e) Encourage load control which would minimize future electricity system costs.
Up until the present the government of Ontario has been unwilling to act rationally to displace fossil hydrocarbon fuels with available zero cost surplus non-fossil electricity, which would reduce the blended electricity cost per kWhe. The only explanation for this governmental inaction is deep seated corruption. The financial beneficiaries of this corruption are US bulk electricity purchasers and the Canadian fossil fuel industry.
The failure of elected governments to adopt advanced nuclear power technology is highly troubling. If present governmental behavior patterns continue much of the existing world population will die of starvation within the 21st century. This starvation will be triggered by agricultural failures due to drought and aquifer depletion at equatorial and middle latitudes. As Earth's average atmospheric temperature continues to rise so also will the sea level and soil moisture evaporation. Absent sufficient nuclear power for desalination of sea water and for pumping of desalinated water inland for crop irrigation, in many places there will not be enough fresh water in the dry season to support intensive agriculture.
Already there are substantial reductions in land used for agriculture in Australia, Africa and North America due to lack of irrigation water. At the time of writing over 5 million people in Somolia, Etheopia, South Sudan and neighboring equatorial regions are facing death due to drought induced starvation. Less well covered by the news media are ongoing droughts in parts of South America and southern Africa. In Capetown, South Africa the public water supply is on the brink of exhaustion.
THE NUCLEAR ALTERNATIVE:
In most jurisdictions the available renewable energy supply and energy storage options are not sufficient for complete displacement of fossil fuels, so rapid deployment of advanced nuclear power reactors and corresponding electricity transmission/distribution is essential.
There is insufficient public recognition that the cost of nuclear electricity delivered to an urban load is much less than the cost of equal reliability wind and solar energy delivered to the same urban load. A faulty electricity price structure is largely to blame. Nuclear electricity kWh measured at the generator are more expensive than wind generated kWh measured at the generator but unlike wind, nuclear electricity is reliable, is 3 fold less expensive to transmit per kWh-km, involves about 4 fold shorter average transmission distances, does not require expensive or unavailable seasonal energy storage, does not incur energy storage related losses and does not require balancing generation.
These issues collectively make dependable electricity delivered to an urban load from a nuclear power station in Ontario many fold less expensive than equally dependable electricity supplied by wind and solar generation.
THE CASE FOR NUCLEAR ENERGY:
Michael Shellenberger presents the case for nuclear energy
FAST NEUTRON REACTORS (FNRs):
There is only one sustainable path for displacement of fossil fuels and that path requires widespread deployment of liquid sodium cooled fast neutron nuclear reactors for non-military purposes. Hence, for expansion of nuclear power capacity to make economic and environmental sense, there must also be a major investment in conversion from CANDU and other water moderated nuclear reactors to liquid sodium cooled Fast Neutron Reactors (FNRs).
A liquid sodium cooled Fast Neutron Reactor (FNR) heats a pool of primary liquid sodium comparable in size to an Olympic diving pool. Immersed in the center of this primary liquid sodium pool are fuel tubes which keep the primary liquid sodium surface temperature at 440 to 450 degrees C. Immersed in the primary liquid sodium around the perimeter of the pool are metal heat exchange tubes which contain pumped secondary liquid sodium. The secondary liquid sodium removes heat from the primary liquid sodium and uses that heat for electricity generation and district heating. Since the primary liquid sodium temperature is fixed the reactor thermal power output is set by the flow rate of the secondary liquid sodium and the temperature of the load. Hence an important part of a FNR power plant is the isolated variable flow rate secondary liquid sodium heat transfer system. The heat transfer system provides at least three independent radioactive species safety isolation barriers.
A practical FNR is an assembly of heat emitting active fuel bundles surrounded by a blanket of passive fuel bundles. For safety each active fuel bundle features:
1) Natural primary sodium circulation;
2) Passive automatic shut down if the fuel bundle's discharge temperature exceeds its setpoint;
3) Independent discharge temperature setpoint control;
4) Two independent shutdown systems.
Each FNR power plant has multiple independent intermediate heat removal systems. There is sufficient natural circulation in the intermediate heat removal systems to remove fission product decay heat.
Underneath the fuel tubes is a primary sodium pool bottom material that, in the event of fuel melting, will prevent formation of a critical mass on the bottom of the primary sodium pool.
Each FNR has a 2.8 m thickness of blanket fuel and liquid sodium around the outside of the core fuel tubes that absorbs all leakage neutrons and hence extends equipment life and prevents production of decommissioning waste.
Each FNR must be installed where it will never be exposed to flood water.
In 1994 former US president Bill Clinton, for reasons of political expediency, cancelled the highly successsful US fast neutron reactor development program. Due to lack of program funding the USA, which until that time was a world leader in nuclear engineering matters, totally gave up its leadership role in fast neutron reactor engineering.
There has been a failure by all levels of government to recognize that in high latitude countries, such as Canada, the only technology that can sustainably displace fossil fuels is liquid sodium cooled fast neutron reactors (FNRs). The FNRs require substantial plutonium inventories so the US policy of intentional disposal of plutonium in thermal reactors must be changed.
There is also insufficient public recognition that advances in liquid sodium cooled fast neutron reactors and related technology have potentially enabled a large increase in nuclear plant life, an over 100 fold improvement in natural uranium utilization efficiency, an over 1000 fold reduction in the requirement for isolated long term storage of spent nuclear fuel and electricity grid load following by nuclear generation.
Due to repeated political procrastination with respect to fossil carbon taxes, electricity rates and new nuclear reactor development there is no certainty that atmospheric thermal runaway can be halted. Under the best of circumstances the time required to build the nuclear reactor capacity required for total fossil carbon displacement in the Ontario energy sector is at least 50 years. Absent prompt construction of this FNR capacity thermal runaway will become impossible to stop.
In summary, stopping thermal runaway requires:
a) Immediate halting of investment in new dedicated fossil fuel infrastructure such as oil wells and oil pipelines;
b) A fossil carbon emissions tax sufficient to keep fossil hydrocarbons in the ground;
c) Immediate construction of much more nuclear electricity generation and related electricity transmission capacity;
d) Siting new nuclear reactor capacity in urban population centers;
e) Widespread deployment of small modular liquid sodium cooled fast neutron reactors (FNRs) and nuclear fuel recycling;
f) Use of intermittent renewable energy when and where available for hydrogen production and displacement of fossil fuels;
g) Adoption of noninterruptible electricity rates primarily based on each consumer's monthly peak kW or peak kVA measured during metering intervals when interruptible electricity is not being supplied;
h) Widespread adoption of consumer owned behind-the-meter energy storage;
i) Large scale production of synthetic liquid hydrocarbon fuels for fueling aircraft;
j) Large scale production of anhydrous ammonia for fueling small and meduim size ships;
k) Wide spread adoption of lithium batteries and compressed electrolytic hydrogen for automotive and truck propulsion;
l) Widespread adoption of electricity and hydrogen for railway propulsion;
m) Repurposing of the natural gas piping system for hydrogen distribution;
n) Repurposing of existing natural gas storage caverns for storing hydrogen;
o) Development of toluene/methylcyclohexane facilities for rural distribution and storage of hydrogen;
p) Adoption of nuclear district heating and dehumidification in urban areas;
q) Widespread adoption of ground source and district energy source heat pumps for comfort heating and cooling.
NOTES TO READER:
Most of the material on this web site is suitable for persons with a high school science education. However, some of the material requires the reader to have a deeper understanding of mathematics, physics, chemistry or engineering.
The web page ENERGY AND SOCIETY gives an overview of some of the major issues that are more fully developed elsewhere on this web site.
Visitors to this web site should review the tables of contents that are accessible via links located at the top and bottom of each web page.
Web site visitors are encouraged to email constructive comments to the author.
A document worthy of careful study is a March 2016 report by the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers titled: Ontario's Energy Dilemma: Reducing Emissions at an Affordable Cost.
This web page last updated February 20, 2019.
|Home||Energy Physics||Nuclear Power||Electricity||Climate Change||Lighting Control||Contacts||Links|