Fixing the Energy Crisis

Energy Alternatives

"exotic" may be cheaper

An Editorial by A.Lizard
©2005,2006,2007,2008,2009 by ReptileLabs

Since I last worked on this site, we now have a Presidential candidate who's promised to go to work on global warming if elected. So I'm leading this page off with a discussion of an emergency first aid plan for global warming trouble that can be implemented by a President who is determined to save America and willing to do what is needed, rather than what's politically acceptable to Big Oil and Big Coal and the members of Congress they own. I plan to revisit what's here and revise the rest of this paper for consistency with this new part of the site.

September 2009 Update. Unfortunately, we have neither a President nor a Congress who appears to be interested in fixing global warming. The ACES climate change bill in progress appears to be about giveways to incumbent carbon-belching energy producers with just enough in terms of subsidies to research to ensure that the bill wouldn't be attacked en masse by environmental groups.

However, there is one nation that appears to take clean energy seriously. Solar Power Satellites - Japanese Government - $21B Work In Progress. I'm sure the Japanese will be happy to sell the US solar power satellites for a lot less than the $21B that includes the front-end-loaded development costs. And to keep the profits, jobs, and the tax revenues from corporations selling the technology and the Japanese workers who will be building these things for the rest of the world.

Emergency First Aid for Global Warming

It's going to get worse before it gets better, we've got enough crap in the pipeline that we can take this as a given. But if we don't get started, it'll keep getting worse until there's no longer a technological civilization and dieoff before it gets better.

The original of this revised document was posted here.

This is basically a set of recommendations for what a President and Congress who actually wants to solve the problem can get going while a program with long-term fixes is put together; something to do for the first "100 days".

Some of you may already have seen this or portions of this, these are some ideas that have been cooking in my head for a while and I decided to put them together and see how people react. There are a lot of things that need to be done that aren't listed here on purpose.

For those of you that don't like aspects of my recommendations, nobody is exempt from sacrifice in any serious war against global warming. If anyone is exempted, we all fail.

What I propose here is not THE solution but I'd settle for a decent starting point to stabilize the situation while we work on the long-term answers.

Also note that the best jobs program the Obama Administration can possibly create would be a serious crash program of the sort described here to transition off fossil fuel, creating jobs across the occupational and educational spectrum.

Put real money ($300-500 billion a year) into this and we go from labor surplus to labor shortage which will reduce the need for aid programs for individuals. From what is known about the Climate Change legislation in the form that passed the house, this is NOT what is planned. Even the $50B/year plan proposed by a major technology analyst firm isn't something that fits into the giveaway to corporate polluter program the pork-laden bill became.

Our choices are to do this or watch America disintegrate over the next generation. This is really the main issue on which historians will decide a generation from now whether Obama should be compared as a President to FDR ... or George W. Bush. If Obama fails this test, those historians will be in the EU and Asia, because there won't be an economy capable of supporting higher learning in what used to be the USA.

It's already crunch time, and we still have to wait for Bush to leave office to get started.

Here's what a workable program might look like for cutting our carbon footprint in a hurry.

The first step is to get a President willing to make like FDR in a willingness to take on the Richistani and the Fortune 1000... i.e. to save our system despite itself. If Obama proves not to be that man, forget about greening America, it's time to take your passport and go.

The second step is to stop wasting Federal money on expensively stupid shit like Iraq (IMO, we need to pull them out as soon as we can organize the logistics, not wait for some mythical point of stability) and the current broken health care non-system.

If these happen, investment banks might still be willing to keep on buying our T-bills on the basis that the problems that increasingly made America look like a money pit are being solved and they'll find ways to profit off the new greentech. I doubt they'll be willing to keep funding K-Street-driven business as usual no matter who the next President is.

Now that we have some inkling of how to come up with the trillions of dollars we're going to need to get serious about fixing global warming. . .

1. Telecommuting. We need to push it hard NOW.

Here's a four point program:

If we can get rid of even half of daily auto commute trips, we've bought ourselves some time. A look at Summary of Travel Trends - 2001 National Household Travel Survey says that 27% of VMT (vehicle miles traveled) says that 1/2 of this would be 13.5%, given how much commute time is spent idling and in start-stop commute traffic, i.e. the least efficient way to use an auto engine, I think we'd save a lot more than 13.5% of fuel consumption via 1/2 of commute trip replacement with telecommuting.

2. Electricity 3. Building Energy Efficiency 4. Transportation 5. Geoengineering
note: the "proposed project" section isn't complete, there's a new proposal to take gigatons of limestone, reduce it to lime (releasing some CO2), and scatter that lime into the oceans to render them more alkaline and resulting in far greater ocean uptake of CO2 than the lime reduction would release. Lovelock has also proposed a project for large-scale removing CO2.
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SUMMARY: What is discussed below is complete conversion to solar energy power sources to replace fossil fuel and nuclear power using better technologies than have become part of the public debate on energy. If done correctly, using solar power energy can be cheap, it's clean, and enough of our eggs are in the solar basket that a few more don't matter. The specific methods discussed below are the most cost-effective ways that I know of to convert solar power into liquid form for transportation and into electricity for everybody's industrial, business, and personal needs, and none require massive changes to energy distribution infrastructures. There is a very good chance that these will prove cheaper when fully deployed than our current oil and coal-based energy supply is.

In the scenario discussed here, biodiesel replaces fossil fuel oil from the Third World and solar power from space power satellites replaces coal.

This document was originally aimed at the US.

Unfortunately, the reelection of George Bush has eliminated the possibility of the creation of a viable energy policy for the USA. The future America has chosen for itself by re-electing Bush is that of American military units guarding every oil field in the world that America can grab by whatever means necessary, right up to when there is simply no more oil to be taken out of the ground. After that, look for conversion to electric vehicles driving around under skies turning a darker brown every year as coal replaces oil as an energy source for transportation as well.

Recent news: Bush publically endorsed biodiesel. Unfortunately, the bad news is that his real priorities are better reflected in the recent GOP energy legislation whose funding priorities are oriented towards "clean" coal (an oxymoron), nuclear and hydrogen power research, with the biodiesel funding being oriented towards soy biodiesel, the least cost-effective form whose primary virtue from the Bush Administration viewpoint is that it's yet another corporate farm tax subsidy aimed at his campaign contributors at ADM. However, the fact that he's given biodiesel greater visibility may be good for something or other, hopefully, his endorsement hasn't reduced biodiesel credibility.. More later, this is in the nature of a newsflash.

This page is now addressed to the rest of the world, some of which I hope will be rational enough to look for alternatives to a cycle of oil wars and the pollutants involved in global climate change being allowed to proliferate without any attempt to stop them or even slow them down. If for no other reason, because there's potential profit in this. Most or all of what's discussed here is well within the reach of the EU and perhaps India, China, and Russia.

Since then, Obama has replaced Bush in the White House and a Climate Change Bill has gotten through the House. I'll comment in detail if time allows, but I'll simply say it appears to be about taxpayer giveaways to polluters, not about ending the danger of global warming. And that our President appears to have no problem with this.

I believe that "conventional wisdom" that says we need to investigate using government and foundation money all of the dozens of possible alternative renewable solutions and that "we must not keep all our eggs in one basket" is only good for one thing, keeping the "rice bowls" of politically connected researchers full. This is essentially irrelevant to powering our cars and our homes with a replacement to fossil fuel power or solving global climate change. We need "good enough" answers NOW, not perfect answers a generation or two from now. Anyone familiar with the phrase "tipping point" should understand what I mean.

For discussion of global climate change discussion by real scientists rather than attractively packaged corporate and right-wing propaganda, go to Real Climate. If you want to discover who is behind bogus "facts" that say that "global warming is imaginary", go here. Short summary: the "scientific anti-global warming consensus" is an ExxonMobil public relations program and anything that looks like "grass roots" opinion is either astroturf or people repeating ExxonMobil-funded talking points and too clueless to realize it. Anti-global warming "science" is just as good as "creation science" or "intelligent design". . . i.e. right-wing superstition labeled as science for people not bright enough to know better. More information on ExxonMobil shi lls here.

Anyone who needs talking points on global warming or hasn't quite gotten that the scientific consensus says it's going on and that the "scientists" providing the ExxonMobil side of the debate are as out of step as "creationist" biologists should go here.

Research into alternative energy has been going on for generations. We should know what the best answers are by now. What is needed to make renewable energy a viable replacement for fossil fuels is to deliberately and consciously pick a handful of the best technologies which are closest to reality and push them the rest of the way. The main purpose of this document is to spot the most viable ones and call attention to them.

I recommend using algae biomass technology to literally turn sewage into biodiesel as is discussed below. Sewage and carbon dioxide aren't exactly scarce natural resources, and biodiesel is inherently eco-friendly.

The most expensive thing with respect to algae biomass would be retrofitting a sewage treatment plant to grow algae the way the City of Sunnyvale did, though they are simply using it for secondary treatment, not for growing strains suitable for biomass.

most countries have plants suitable for pilot-plant experimentation of this sort, almost any modern sewage treatment plant should meet the basic criteria. .

The fact that the Bush Adminstration does not think we need space power satellite solar energy (see below) should not discourage anybody else who knows we need to think "outside the box" if we really want to turn the energy crisis into a solvable problem.

Blimp-to-space technology may at the point where a good push should make it commercially viable, and it can be used to move solar cells into orbit cheaply. While JP Aerospace may have the edge regarding ultra-high altitute blimp-to-space technology cheap enough to make solar power satellites affordable, I believe that this is only by default and any large corporation or government can match or beat what they are planning. Or alternately, a large corporation or government can buy the company and move it out of the USA.

One interesting possibility is Pulse Detonation combustion engines. This basically uses supersonic fuel detonation to replace ordinary subsonic combustion. There is ongoing research into this area, as it can drastically increase the efficiency of jet engines and reduce their impact on global warming. The second goal of this project is to reduce the cost of delivering a payload to LEO by a factor of 10 by 2010 and another factor of 10 by 2025. There is ongoing research in this area by both NASA and aerospace contractors. Definite dates on this are impossible to project at this point, there are difficult engineering problems to solve here. Wikipedia article.

I will be reviewing pyrolysis from cellulose wastes some time in the future.

I am currently researching the feasibility of putting together a startup company for the purpose of research and development in the area of more efficient processes for extracting oil from algae to reduce the cost of the final oil product, hopefully drastically. The techology required to do this cost-effectively can remove sewage decomposition as a source of GHG gases for all time, even after the transition from biofuel to electric storage is complete.

The intent is to create marketable products and technology. Potential investors willing to fund this kind of project in the Canada (developing in Canada is the easiest R&D cost-cutting measure for an English-speaker) should go to the SvoTech site. Since this is for a commercial venture, the technology under development will be discussed only under NDA, not displayed or discussed on the site.

Yes, I know about Aquaflow's apparent success in converting sewage to biodiesel and I congratulate them (or you if anyone from there is reading this), my comments are here. I'll just say my plans are unchanged unless I find out certain things about their technology I don't expect to see, (some time later - my plans are unchanged) my comments in the link just before this sentence should explain why. If they've got unbeatable technology, I'll say so. . . and there won't be any need for me to start a company in this area, I'll find other projects to pursue.

I decided to restart the page again around a recent slashdot post I made in the The Trillion-Barrel Tar Pit slashdot discussion of the well-known, largely uneconomic and environmentally hazardous extraction of usable oil from Canadian heavy tar sands. This post is below in drastically expanded form and reformatted for easier reading. The original post URL is in the reformatted slashdot header below. The original page that was at this URL is here and will be fixed if time permits. I added a change-tracking feature to the site above, so if you want to see new changes and revisions to this page as I make them, use it. This page is mirrored at

oil independence - closer than you think (Score:5, Informative)
by alizard (107678) <my_email_address> on Wednesday June 30, @09:49PM (#9578580)
(#9578580: original slashdot post this is based on)

The numbers for replacing foriegn oil with home-grown algae biodiesel are:

. . . what comes out can be processed in conventional oil refineries.

You can look at them for yourself at the University of New Hampshire site here [] This is largely based on research successfully completed at DOE in 1998 and shelved because cheap oil looked like forever back then. You can find the DOE reports from the UNH link. Biomass algae is a more efficient biodiesel source than food grains, etc. because a single-cell organism doesn't require wasting energy and nutrients on making the rest of the plant (stalks, roots, etc.) and grows in hours, not months. The difference between food grain biomass and algae biomass is the difference between 1-3 barrel / acre / year and 91-360 barrels / acre / year. (see the UNH site for detail) Biodiesel you can burn in a car / truck / plane. I've heard reports that even food grain-based biodiesel is now sold in some places at prices comparable to "bin Laden's best" Middle East-produced diesel fuel. How much cheaper is sewage-grown biodiesel going to be in mass production?. I think we need to find out. NOW. NEWS: A New Zealand company claims to have an industrial scale process extracting usable quantities of biodiesel from random natural algae strains. Interesting as proof of concept, though their use of natural algae should reduce capitalization costs balanced against what I would expect to be a MUCH higher extraction cost. I suspect that this will be much more useful for wastewater cleanup, i.e. a niche market like Greentech's, than it will be for producing ultra-high industrial volumes of biodiesel. But it's an interesting start.

Other than that, remember $250/ton shipping to LEO? (Low Earth Orbit) using blimps as orbital launch vehicles? Counter-intuitive, but what they've got looks very workable. Hint: air resistance is pretty negligible over 200K feet. [] This matters because most of the projected cost for a SPS is getting the solar cells to orbit, so if the launch cost drops drastically, so does the SPS price. Follow the links from the slashdot article, to JP Aerospace and to evaluations by experts. From what I saw at the JP Aerospace site, the only reason why it's going to take 7 years for them to get to orbit is lack of funding. They're getting DOD experimental contracts for high-altitude surveillance vehicles, but even with this, they're bootstrapping and depending largely on volunteer labor. The NASA space power satellite (SPS) [] system was planned on a basis of $400/kg shipping cost. $250/ton is a lot cheaper than $400/kg. A solar power satellite network could replace coal and oil wherever it is being burned for electric utility power. No pollution, and no quantum jump in technology required for either building solar cells or getting to orbit. No fuel costs, some fixed maintenance costs. The SPS project can replace the coal burning contribution to global warming and oil in the places which are buying it from the Middle East to turn generators as well as run vehicles. Note on NASA URL. . . it's moved to the Wayback Machine, since apparently, somebody at NASA noticed that a good idea the Bush Administration killed was still available on the Web and tried to dump it down the memory hole.

The only thing keeping these technologies from becoming a viable alternative in the very near term is bad habit on the part of what passes for our business and governmental leadership.

Our "leaders" are obsessed with the ideas that:

Even if the cost estimates for biomass oil and the SPS are off by a factor of 10, they look awfully good next to the projected $16T (yes, that's $16,000,000,000,000 - and yes, that's supposed to be 12 zeroes) dollar cost of "business as usual"... based on an unproven and unlikely assumption that "enough" oil is there to be found. (see below) This is an assumption even the International Energy Agency, the people who were calling on spending $16T on new oil development no longer buys into.

The Bush Administration's idea of helpful energy strategy was defunding the Space Power Satellite project back in 2001, and anyone who follows the news knows that their energy strategy based on Middle East oil becomes more irrational as time goes on.

Concrete steps to replace fossil fuel permanently?

For the oil side, how about:

For the space side:

The alternative: The International Energy Agency wants $16 TRILLION DOLLARS [] to be spent on new oil exploration and development and facilities to "prevent" energy crisis. This makes the happy assumption that there's enough oil to solve the problem. A look at these charts peak oil will convince you that there isn't. Here is more cheery news about our energy future with oil from the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre,

The $16T does NOT include the military / security (including "homeland" security) costs of dealing with the Middle East or other Third World locations where what's left of the world's oil is sitting. It makes more sense to work towards leaving the oil in the ground than to deal with the natives who live on top of it.

Personally, I'd rather see a lot less than $16T spent on something useful that will create a lot of jobs across both a wider range of vendors and a wider range of skill levels, prevent global climate change from getting worse (biomass is carbon-neutral, as is space solar power)and using resources renewable by their very nature. Putting 500,000,000 acres under cultivation on land marginal for any other kind of agriculture (this is less than 1% of the area of the USA) and/or converting sewage treatment plants and/or building facilities to grow algae in ag runoff will take a lot of people. Enough to create full employment in America, I think. For a few years, anyway.

Why should we have to put up with running out of energy when we can grow it or passively extract it?

When do we need to do this?

This is stuff we need to start testing at the pilot plant level now so we know whether or not we can depend on these solutions before committing hundreds of billions of dollars to them. It is obvious that we are going to have to spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year on something to deal with future energy demand. In the highly probable event that the best place to spend this money is anywhere but the Middle East, we need to know this as soon as we can.

I believe that the solutions discussed here are the right ones. They are all based on things we know how to do.

Can we do these things in a way that delivers energy at comparable or cheaper costs than the present way of doing business? (oil was about $40/barrel when this was written) I think we need to find out. NOW. We are finding out the hard way that oil imports drive bad foriegn policy. The Chinese and their neighbors may be able to tell us about this from experience soon. I've seen industry discussions that tell us that paying for the future oil infrastructure will require $182/barrel oil, if the oil can be found to build the infrastructure on top of. That is a very big if. Are you looking forward to $10/gallon gas? Or gas unavailable at any price?

This is the price of "business as usual", plus the chance that your oil money may be returned to you in the form of a terrorist nuke or biowar device in your back yard. While there is still discussion of global climate change and even argument about what effect human activites have on it, one thing is certain. If we continue to burn fossil fuel at the current and projected rates, we will find out just how true the warnings we have been getting from the scientific community are. That's the other price of "business as usual".

$182/barrel oil in a few years is the best form of "business as usual" our political and business leadership can come up with. That does not make it your patriotic duty to go along.

Personally, I'm not all that interested in finding out from experience what will really come out of continuing "business as usual". We need to start implementing better alternatives while there is still time to pursue them. When "business as usual" goes catastrophically sour, we will need immediate proven alternatives, otherwise the lights go out and food production grinds to a halt. If the only choice was between "business as usual" and civilization grinds to a halt, $182/barrel and pollution might be acceptable. We should be willing to try almost anything else at this point. Instead, we have access to technologies which just might solve the problems of both energy availability and pollution simultaneously. What's not to like?

There are probably several other workable combinations of solutions as well, though I think I've found the most cost-effective ones. Prove to me that you have a better integrated solution and I'll probably push yours instead. Why aren't our leaders looking for "anything" which might work? Better ask them this question.

Personally, I think it's because our leaders are the kind of people who only know what their "experts" tell them about technology instead of understanding it themselves, and they frequently pay these "experts" to tell them what they want to hear. And the experts they listen most carefully to are the ones packaged by the same corporations where their campaign money comes from. Ultimately, we need to be led by people who understand how technology works, not people who need to have it explained to them, but that's another article. What's here is cool stuff that doesn't have major corporate backing, even though it is something of rather vast potential private sector profit. I've believed for many years that the first trillionaires will be the people early into space industrialization and exploiting asteroid resources. Perhaps one of those future trillionaires is reading this article now.

The weirdest part of the "invest in American energy" scenario described above, the majority of businesses based in America prosper, especially "big oil".

Major oil companies switch refinery capacity to biodiesel and keep right on doing business as usual, no longer concerned with future supply and no longer concerned about a possible conversion to a hydrogen economy. Whether or not they want to invest directly in energy farms is up to them.

Yes, they've got big investments in the Middle East. They can write them off and carry their losses forward for the next few years... i.e. it's very possible that they could escape paying corporate income taxes completely over this for several years. (disclaimer: I am not an accountant, if you need numbers on this, hire one.) If current law doesn't permit this, laws can be changed.

Plus, their capital might show a very significant ROI on a space power satellite network soon enough to make a difference to the compensation for oil industry CEOs *currently in office*. How long would it take to get a return on investment on a Space Power Satellite project shipping solar cells to L5 or L7 as quickly as they can be manufactured by wafer fab houses? Particularly since stock in such a project would probably be valued in multiples of the capital invested in ways we haven't seen since the boom.

We can push these into the tarpits now.

The rules we grew up with were designed to make it unnecessary to build new power plants. We have to force the construction of renewable energy power production infrastructure a bit faster than humanly possible to make it possible to replace only the parts of the current fossil-fuel based infrastructure which are giving us both environmental and political trouble. In the future I describe here, you'll continue to pull up to gas pumps whose fuel comes from tanker trucks from oil refineries, you'll probably want a diesel SUV to replace a gas SUV, you'll get your solar-powered electricity from the grid instead of your rooftop solar cells or fuel cells. I think that ultimately, we will wind up with unlimited non-polluting energy cheaper than it is today.

If you want to "save mankind", or possibly, your own ass from the consequences of global climate change or the oil running out, push algae biomass and a space power satellite network, not recycling. Actually, cheap energy is a good thing for materials recycling anyway, since it reduces the cost of the physical processes used in recycling.

With a program such as described here, SUVs will be running on bio-diesel in the future instead of going away.

  • The "alternative sustainable lifestyles" which are being pushed by the environmental community are as obsolete as the Space Elevator. Probably just as well that we know it now instead of having to pay for the transition and then find the oceans are rising and the lights are going out anyway.

    The real bad news about them is that if a genuine energy creation strategy like the one described is not pursued here, the conservation strategy is unlikely to have a major impact either on climate change or running out of oil. Saying this is going to annoy a lot of people, but this document is intended to describe good alternatives, not pander to any specific constituency. Including yours, whichever one you belong to. The EU idea that 20% of energy come from renewable sources by 2020 is good enough is not any more than "The Kerry-Edwards plan will ensure that 20 percent of America's electricity is produced from renewable sources by 2020." is. (Though it's slightly better than Bush's lack of plan, as discussed elsewhere here.) Better the EU and America turn their and our sewage treatment plants into algae farms. The algae strains proposed for biomass biodiesel will eat practically anything. We might actually be able to use energy farms to clean up some parts of our environment involving liquid biological wastes. The algae types that work for this will apparently thrive quite happily on some forms of agricultural runoff and in semi-treated sewage. I'd rather buy cheap, low efficiency light bulbs and pay higher taxes to support building renewable power energy programs. (some parts of this document need revision for internal consistency and I don't have time right now)

  • The "energy crisis" is simply a collection of bad habits. Our only choices are to find something better to do than "business as usual", or we can follow the dinosaurs. Perhaps if we become future petroleum ourselves, we'll create cheap energy for future intelligent life forms, but I have better things to do with my life even if our leaders don't have anything better to do with theirs.

    What can you do about this?

    If the technologies I discussed here are going to reduce our electricity and transportation costs or put an end to global warming, we need to find ways to get our political and business leadership to do something intelligent about energy, NOW.

    I am considering putting together a mailing list to discuss this and ways to propagate the message that THE ENERGY CRISIS IS A SOLVABLE PROBLEM, but I am currently involved in some Linux-related writing projects (the kind with deadlines) and simply don't have the time,. I'm looking for a moderator who is familiar with the kinds of concepts I've discussed here and I'd like to see some people who have some political communications or marcom experience get involved. That's up and running, go here for more information. You can contact me here.
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