Constraints on growth even in a world with cheap electricity

If polywell fusion is developed, in what ways will the world change for better or worse? Discuss.

Moderators: tonybarry, MSimon

CharlesKramer
Posts: 138
Joined: Thu Jan 15, 2009 4:20 pm

Constraints on growth even in a world with cheap electricity

Postby CharlesKramer » Fri Feb 11, 2011 8:25 pm

The conservative view on resource constraints are they are illusory. A resource (say, copper) becomes insufficient relative to demand, so the price goes up, so exploration and research increase, and presto! In the end prices go DOWN because more copper is found, and more substitutes are found.

The "proof" of that analysis is seen in the results of the famous Simone-Ehrlich wager. Basically one guy predicted copper prices would increase by a certain date due to supply running out, and the other guy bet prices would DECREASE because new sources would be found. The guy who predicted the price decrease won -- new copper sources were found, and the price of copper declined. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon%E2%8 ... lich_wager).

WELL, I have a reason to believe the results of that wager were wrong, and it applies to a world of cheap fusion energy. In short: even if electricity becomes much more cheap and much more safe and universal (all potential outcomes of fusion energy) other resource constraints will still necessitate a change in how we live.

Consider this: while the total world reserves of copper may have increased (in fulfillment of the conservative point of view) the quality of copper ore has DECLINED in a straight and unbroken line since copper was first used. This highlights that resources are running out, and unless something dramatic and unlikely changes that (undersea mines?) it will cause near-term and permanent constraints on industrial continuation EVEN IN a world with cheap fusion energy.

In other words, while we find more rocks with copper, they contain less copper, which means it takes a lot more time and energy to get the copper out. This trend cannot be sustained. The ancients found copper nuggets -- like gold, copper sometimes appears naturally in a pure form (or did, 10,000 years ago) so nomads wandering around could find it and pound it with a rock until it became the first metal tools. But now the amount of copper in commercial ore is startlingly low. Here are some figures:

-- ancient times: nearly 100% pure copper nuggets
-- 1870: 6.5% <--- good copper ore was this percent copper
-- 1902: 2.7% <--- good copper ore was this percent copper
-- 1911: 1.6% <--- good copper ore was this percent copper
-- Currently: 0.5 is considered good copper ore

So much for the Simone-Ehrlich wager! The wrong guy won -- because increased reserves masked the real decline.

Sure, some mysterious new source -- further down, maybe -- of concentrated copper could be discovered -- but 10,000 years of human scratching around for the stuff says otherwise.

And my point is just about copper. Similar charts can be made for other key industrial metals. The Mesabi range in the USA for example used to have mountains of 60% iron -- the real reason the USA was such a titanic iron power (combined with its cheap coal). The USA still has tons of iron ore, but now great quality ore (worthy of shipping to China) contains 35% iron.

Cheap electricity from fusion = a dream to be devoutly wished.

But like all great things, it will create problems as well as solve them, and it may not stop the end of industrial civilization.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olduvai_theory

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limits_to_Growth
================================
CBK
Blog: http://www.provideocoalition.com/ckramer

kurt9
Posts: 561
Joined: Mon Oct 15, 2007 4:14 pm
Location: Portland, Oregon, USA

Postby kurt9 » Wed Mar 23, 2011 5:19 pm

The REAL limits to growth on planet Earth:

http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/

We've still got plenty of growth opportunity on Earth.

Also, cheap fusion will open up the solar system to development and settlement. The resources of the asteroid belt, outer system, and Kuiper belts are orders of magnitude greater than Earth itself.

Skipjack
Posts: 6014
Joined: Sun Sep 28, 2008 2:29 pm

Postby Skipjack » Wed Mar 23, 2011 6:02 pm

I think that with unlimited cheap energy, everything is possible. If energy is cheap, you can just build a fleet of whatever robots that will go through every single garbage dump on this planet and extract every last bit of copper, or other valuable mineral/elemt, resource from that. It could still be cost effective, since the energy to operate the robots would be cheap. It would only be the intial cost of the robots (and the development of those) and the cost for maintenance. Actually and looking how energy prices have affected inflation in my country in the past, I think that free unlimited energy would cause a huge economic boom.
Of course even fusion is not free, though it could potentially be cheaper than other sources.

PS: I do think that the price of copper has gone up overall. I would not think that the copper in a penny was always worth more than a penny, or was it?

happyjack27
Posts: 1435
Joined: Wed Jul 14, 2010 5:27 pm

Postby happyjack27 » Wed Mar 23, 2011 6:37 pm

Skipjack wrote:PS: I do think that the price of copper has gone up overall. I would not think that the copper in a penny was always worth more than a penny, or was it?


yeah, but is that because the value of copper has gone up, or the value of a penny has gone down? (inflation)

though i do agree that copper might make for a good investment instrument.

I did a little research, and if you look at the bottom chart here: http://www.kitcometals.com/charts/coppe ... large.html you'll see that in early 2009 there was a sharp increase in copper storage. It seems to me that when you store something its because you're preparing for a reduced (or at less consistent) supply. and in financial markets, people buy "calls" or "futures" contracts, etc. - which is the virtual equivalent of putting a quantity of the thing you're buying calls on in storage - precisely because they anticipate the price of it to go up. in fact, is that not why you buy - which really means "store" - _anything_ in the financial market?

in any case, the appreciation in value of the copper being stored minus the cost of the risk of not being able to fullfill a demand that is alleviated by the stored supply must at least equal the cost to store it (e.g. property tax, etc.) in order for there to be an economic incentive to store it.

Torulf2
Posts: 285
Joined: Fri Sep 21, 2007 9:50 pm
Location: Swedem

Postby Torulf2 » Wed Mar 23, 2011 7:42 pm

There is manage nodules, manage crust in the sea.
In this is even Cu and some rare metals. To get this its needs energy.
Radical recycling necessary.

And I think not the material site of the economic growth will proceed in infinity.
Not du to constrains but because there is no time for people to consume in infinity.
There will also be no population growth then the whole earth is industrial.
Processes are going to be much more effective.

The lack of economic growth can also be a problem.
The only way to have growth in infinity is to going to space.

kurt9
Posts: 561
Joined: Mon Oct 15, 2007 4:14 pm
Location: Portland, Oregon, USA

Postby kurt9 » Wed Mar 23, 2011 10:52 pm

At some point, recycling of all metals becomes cost competitive. Most steel has been recycled since the 1920's, long before "environmentalism" became popular.

93143
Posts: 1130
Joined: Fri Oct 19, 2007 7:51 pm

Postby 93143 » Thu Mar 24, 2011 6:49 pm

Torulf2 wrote:There is manage nodules, manage crust in the sea.


...manganese nodules?

Torulf2
Posts: 285
Joined: Fri Sep 21, 2007 9:50 pm
Location: Swedem

Postby Torulf2 » Thu Mar 24, 2011 8:05 pm


chrismb
Posts: 3161
Joined: Sat Dec 13, 2008 6:00 pm

Postby chrismb » Thu Mar 24, 2011 8:11 pm

Charles, I am right there with you on the question and worries of sourcing raw materials.

But I don't understand the connection with your comment
Cheap electricity from fusion = a dream to be devoutly wished. But like all great things, it will create problems as well as solve them, and it may not stop the end of industrial civilization.


What is the problem fusion energy would create, with respect to raw material supplies?

Skipjack
Posts: 6014
Joined: Sun Sep 28, 2008 2:29 pm

Postby Skipjack » Thu Mar 24, 2011 8:18 pm

I dont think that the industrial civilization will ever end. It might be thrown back a bit by some events, but that would only be temporary. Mankinds ingenuity will prevail in the end. I am sure of it.

chrismb
Posts: 3161
Joined: Sat Dec 13, 2008 6:00 pm

Postby chrismb » Thu Mar 24, 2011 8:43 pm

Skipjack wrote:I dont think that the industrial civilization will ever end. It might be thrown back a bit by some events, but that would only be temporary. Mankinds ingenuity will prevail in the end. I am sure of it.
I disagree.

The reality is that the industrial revolution wasn't simply someone's bright idea - it came about, in part, because of dwindling supplies of wood in Britain. We began running out of natural raw materials to build for the growing population and the needs of the Government, so turned to new materials. Fortunately this served two purposes; it was both an improvement to the existing materials, enabling new manufacturing, as well as providing new sources of raw materials.

At the start of this revolution, you could literally get a bucket and go collect oil from surface pools of the stuff.

Now we are drilling for it, 2 miles below the surface of the sea.

Raw materials just aren't there any more like they were. And if you have no industrial infrastructure, then you can't extract and make use of these deep, very lean deposits. Which means if we loose our industrial infrastructure we just won't have the raw materials available to access those remote deposits and recover again to a technological species. We'll be locked into the stone age until the earth's plates refresh the whole of the earth's crust, and more fossilised biomass hydrocarbon deposits reform.

Skipjack
Posts: 6014
Joined: Sun Sep 28, 2008 2:29 pm

Postby Skipjack » Thu Mar 24, 2011 10:16 pm

Chris, why would we loose our industrial infrastructure like that?
This does seem highly unlikely, doesnt it?
Also, the industrial revolution came about because we developed the steam engine, mostly.
The development of the steam engine lead to a mechanization of the industry. This is the industrial revolution. With this came. of course, an increased demand for resources, in part because the industrial revolution also brought an explosion in population.
The invention of the steam engine can not be undone and wood is still very common. In fact there is now more wood in Europe than there was 2 centuries ago, when they burned most of it and used to build ships and other things that are nowadays built from metal and plastic.
Steam engines can be quite comfortably fired by wood. It would not be as efficient as coal, but allright.
So I dont quite get why you believe that the industrial revolution can be undone....

chrismb
Posts: 3161
Joined: Sat Dec 13, 2008 6:00 pm

Postby chrismb » Thu Mar 24, 2011 10:24 pm

Skipjack wrote:Chris, why would we loose our industrial infrastructure like that?
I hope we don't. But the reasons would be, for example, that the majority of all the raw materials coming into a country are from abroad, cost an absolute small fortune, are essential to maintain any sort of manufacturing, and then there is some sort of global conflict that causes that to dry up. A few week of civil discord later, and no-one will be making anything anymore in that country.

This does seem highly unlikely, doesnt it?
It won't matter how likely we think it is or isn't, if we're no longer able to turn the computer on to write to each other about it - if we're not been mugged over and killed by the mob.


Also, the industrial revolution came about because we developed the steam engine, mostly....So I dont quite get why you believe that the industrial revolution can be undone....
Quite so, but it was a whole web of different reasons, I was just reflecting on one of them which is particularly germane - that we were even running out of wood!

..and what powered the industrial works - coal and iron ore, both easily acquired from surface layers by hand. Now just think this through; we have a few years of civil disorder driven by a complete collapse of new material imports.. so with what do we then build steam engines with?

Skipjack
Posts: 6014
Joined: Sun Sep 28, 2008 2:29 pm

Postby Skipjack » Thu Mar 24, 2011 11:41 pm

Actually, we have a pretty nice source of iron ore in Austria. The erzberg. It had been minded for centuries, but after the imports of iron got so cheap from other countries, it became uneconomical to do it. If there ever was a shortage of iron and iron imports became unavailable, we could reopen it at any time.
Same with many of the brown coal reserves that we have in our country.
Now Austria is a comparably resource poor country. I am sure that other countries have simillar situations. A good example is the rare earth minerals that have been such a popular topic recently. They are all coming from China, not because only China has them, but because they are cheapest to get from there. China announced that it will stop or cut down the export of these minerals and the mines in the US and other countries will open again.
Sometimes a mine being uneconomical does not mean that there is a shortage of ore, or less ore in it, just that there is much cheaper competition. You cut the competition and the mine becomes economical again.
Yes, of course there are less resources now than there were a couple of centuries ago, but it is not that drastic. We have also discovered many new resources.
Energy storing resources such as coal and oil are a bit different though. They are not unlimited and they will run out one day. People differ on the "when" though.
In any case, it would be smart to invest into alternatives because of that... and I think many of us are here because of this.
Still, even an extreme shortage of coal and oil would not undo the industrial revolution. No way!
There are alternatives, more expensive, but there are...
As long as the entire mankind does not have its memory erased, the industrial revolution will stay. There may be setbacks for whatever reasons you can imagine, but they would only be temporary.

chrismb
Posts: 3161
Joined: Sat Dec 13, 2008 6:00 pm

Postby chrismb » Fri Mar 25, 2011 12:15 am

You are thinking hundreds to thousands of years, whereas I am thinking that techno-man will be all but wiped out at the next ice age in a few 10,000's years. Will your iron ore stocks be enough to last Austria for 10,000 years?


Return to “Implications”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests