Initial Responses

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

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TallDave
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Post by TallDave »

scareduck wrote:Edit: WRT China building corn ethanol facilities -- well, they stopped, at least for corn ethanol.
Yeah, Mexico isn't happy either. That problem is a big driver of cellulosic research (since we can't eat cellulose without some serious genetic modification).

MSimon
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Post by MSimon »

Another perhaps more useful way of looking at the gain is 5 gallons of ethanol produced per gallon of gasoline expended in growing it (this ignores total energy for things like fertilizer, which will have non-petroleum inputs, but since you're probably willing to trade cheaper coal energy for precious liquid fuel (which is much more expensive right now) you don't really care). Now keep in mind, that's for corn.
If you factor all inputs and lump them with gasoline you get five gallons (gasoline equivalents) of ethanol for a four gallon input.

The higher the gain the more robust the civilization. A gain of 1.3 and any little disruption, crop failure, or climate change and you are out of business.

A gain of 5X to 20X is more secure against disruptions.
Engineering is the art of making what you want from what you can get at a profit.

MSimon
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Post by MSimon »

rj40 wrote:
MSimon wrote:What can we do to ameliorate the situation? Not much. If we can get electrical costs at the bus bar for electrical energy to come in at less than natural gas, BFRs will be used as peakers. If it comes in at coal prices and can be modulated over a 2:1 range it will replace base load and peaker plants. If it comes in at 1/2 coal prices or less - watch out. It will be very destructive and there is very little that can be done about the disruption.
Sorry, but what is a bus bar or BFRs and peakers? I am still trying to learn all this stuff. :oops:
BFRs - Bussard Fusion Reactors. A term I coined a few days ago. Its use is picking up. It is not quite trendy.

Buss bar - where the power plant connects to the electrical grid. This is a pretty old term. Probably around 100 years or more.
Engineering is the art of making what you want from what you can get at a profit.

TallDave
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Post by TallDave »

If you factor all inputs and lump them with gasoline you get five gallons (gasoline equivalents) of ethanol for a four gallon input.
Again, this is not very meaningful because different sources of energy have different costs and different utility. A joule of energy in the form of coal is not as useful as a joule of energy in the form of ethanol/gasoline, and therefore not as expensive. Since much of the energy input (electricity) is not produced from liquid fuel but instead from other cheaper sources, converting it to the more expensive liquid fuel energy equivalents isn't really a good way to judge the utility of the process.
The higher the gain the more robust the civilization. A gain of 1.3 and any little disruption, crop failure, or climate change and you are out of business.
We don't need any net energy gain from ethanol, as long as we have other higher-gain sources of energy. We would be perfectly fine fueling everything with ethanol that had a negative energy balance, as long as we could provide the energy inputs for producing the ethanol from other sources like coal, hydro, and nuclear. The question is whether it makes economic sense, when compared to other sources of liquid fuel.

In fact, one can argue gasoline itself has a negative gain when monetary value is considered. If you take the monetary equivalent of a gallon of gas in coal, you would find there is vastly more energy in the coal. Therefore, in terms of energy/dollar, it makes very little sense to buy gas (or produce it using coal energy as an input) when you could buy/use coal instead. But we all buy gas, because our cars don't run on coal: liquid fuel has added value.

MSimon
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Post by MSimon »

We don't need any net energy gain from ethanol, as long as we have other higher-gain sources of energy. We would be perfectly fine fueling everything with ethanol that had a negative energy balance, as long as we could provide the energy inputs for producing the ethanol from other sources like coal, hydro, and nuclear. The question is whether it makes economic sense, when compared to other sources of liquid fuel.
True. And your other points as well.

There are some who believe we could run our civilization from income sources alone (wind, solar, biomass) which may be true at some point (since our technology is continually improving), but is likely not true for at least 100 years (50 anyway).

As you point out - liquid fuel need only be an energy carrier if the economics is right.
Engineering is the art of making what you want from what you can get at a profit.

Helius
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Post by Helius »

TallDave wrote:

Will it come to violence? Nah, not likely. Again, the vast majority of people will benefit. The losers will be certain corporations, and corporations generally prefer lawyers and lobbyists to violence.
I don't know.... I want to slap anyone who wants to confuse farm policy with energy policy. We should just have John Mellencamp and Willy Nelson running the DOE. :roll: If you ran the distilleries by burning alcohol instead of vast quantities of Natural gas, how much alcohol would be left over? I'll bet pretty dang close to .... none.

Helius
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Lay off the Alcohol

Post by Helius »

scareduck wrote:Problem is, nobody has developed a scalable enzymatic process for converting cellulose into ethanol. Cellulose is tough to crack for a reason.
Cellulose doesn't seem to be remediated even by the plant that produced it. It is used for structure alone, never used to produce spore or seed; It is left after the plant dies. The flora / fauna within the gut of termite and ungulate can get some energy out and produce some methane, but it is a slow, energy inefficient and arduous process. Yeast enzymes don't touch it.

Cellulostic ethanol is a wistful dream, and, dare I say it, ... it always lies 40 years in the future.

Ethanol is a polar molecule. It's got that dang hydroxyl hangin' off it. We need to produce "-ane" molecules and other molecules that can be cheaply and easily seperated from water.

hanelyp
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Post by hanelyp »

drifting off topic...
Cellulose has a fair energy content, but conversion to ethanol is hard. However, if you're flexible about the chemistry of your liquid fuel there are other processes available. I'm still a fan of wet thermal cracking of waste biomass to oil.

rj40
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Post by rj40 »

A friend of mine, who doesn't believe global warming is mainly human induced, says that if Polywell works, enviro's will start to claim that the estimates of CO2 were off and we will need to cut back even more than thought. She thinks they will come up with new cut-back levels that will, conveniently, imply society still has to "suffer" at some level (still implement Kyoto, for example). She also thinks there will be previously ignored issues that will "suddenly" come to the fore, forcing societies to scale back anyway. What do you think?

Helius
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Post by Helius »

rj40 wrote:A friend of mine, who doesn't believe global warming is mainly human induced, says that if Polywell works, enviro's will start to claim that the estimates of CO2 were off and we will need to cut back even more than thought. She thinks they will come up with new cut-back levels that will, conveniently, imply society still has to "suffer" at some level (still implement Kyoto, for example). She also thinks there will be previously ignored issues that will "suddenly" come to the fore, forcing societies to scale back anyway. What do you think?
She is correct. Good solutions to difficult problems _always_ causes new problems to come to the forfront. This is as true for Society as it is for the individual. Good solutions don't cause a "problemless" state, they just create an improved state, with new Challenges "coming to the fore". It bothers me that people sometimes seek either a "problemless" state or see no difference in the problems that they are trying to solve.

rj40
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Post by rj40 »

Helius wrote:She is correct. Good solutions to difficult problems _always_ causes new problems to come to the forfront. This is as true for Society as it is for the individual. Good solutions don't cause a "problemless" state, they just create an improved state, with new Challenges "coming to the fore". It bothers me that people sometimes seek either a "problemless" state or see no difference in the problems that they are trying to solve.
I agree that new problems will arise, and I think she would agree too (I will see her on Monday and ask), but if I take her point, she believes there is a group of people that want to slow progress regardless of the good or bad affects. For instance, CO2 would be less of a problem once Polywell is worked out. Still a problem (cars chugging away), but much less. I think I agree with her on some points, but I don't see enviro's pushing CO2 as an issue as much after implementation. Some will, but most others (including me) will move on to other things.

TallDave
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Post by TallDave »

hanelyp wrote: I'm still a fan of wet thermal cracking of waste biomass to oil.
Yeah, there's a being built in Georgia to do that or something similar. 20M gal/year to start, and 100M/year at full production.

http://www.rangefuels.com/our-first-plant

If it works, of course. And if oil prices don't come crashing down.

kttopdad
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Re: Initial Responses

Post by kttopdad »

rj40 wrote:What do you think the initial responses would be to the announcement of a working Polywell reactor?

From:
1. Governments
2. Corporations
3. NGOs
Joining late is better than not joining at all. :)

Here's a picture I ran across recently that shows where BFRs (I like that acronym) would have the greatest and most immediate impact:

Image

What are the impacts of BFRs on the energy market?

Looking at the gazins and gazouts, the hands-down loser is King Coal (as was pointed out by TallDave and MSimon). The coal industry will very quickly have to find new markets for their product, as mentioned farther up the thread. This will be a fairly disruptive event if the BFRs are brought on-line as quickly as I suspect they will once the technology is proven. There is too much money at stake for society for this transition not to happen as quickly as possible.

Natural gas is currently used more for heating applications in residential and commercial sites than it is for generating electricity, so it'll suffer relatively little to begin with. Eventually, those residential/commercial uses for NG will switch to cheaper BFR-generated electricity, and the price of NG will drop to match demand. Since the infrastructure exists for "producing" (mining is a more accurate term) natural gas, the Big Oil folks will find other markets for their product, most likely conversion to suit the transportation sector as a liquid fuel.

Nuclear (fission plants) incurs most of its cost (I believe) in construction and decommissioning, so I suspect there won't be any real market-driven reasons to get rid of the existing plants. Some people will get black eyes over any half-constructed units when the BFRs start coming on-line.

The 400-pound gorilla in this thread is how this will affect the petro market. Initially, not at all. Petroleum products are overwhelmingly used in the transportation sector, not the energy generation sector (where the BFRs will have direct impacts). Until 1) enabling technologies come to market that allow viable pure battery electric vehicles and 2) those new vehicles become a large part of the transportation infrastructure, the petro market will remain almost untouched. As a side note for those who think LiIon batteries, the Chevy Volt, Tesla's product line and the Prius meet the needs defined above, they don't come close. They're important first steps, and the PBEV market-place is here to stay, but we're years away from electricity storage technologies that can be mass produced (Lithium is a scarce commodity) cheaply enough (battery packs are largest cost drivers in current BEVs) to affect the transportation market in any meaningful way. My next car will be a Tesla White Star (if I can afford it), and I'd love to work for Mr. Musk, but that doesn't mean I have delusions of adequacy when it comes to the current state of battery technology. End of note. :)

So where does this leave us with regards to the original question?

Government:

The Big Oil players still have decades to do their business. According to Dr. Bussard himself, disruptive energy changes have a half-life of around 50 years. This means that it will take the BFRs 50 years to replace half of the current (pun) electricity generation infrastructure. The antiquated, inefficient, expensive plants will be the first to go, which means the newer natural gas plants will still be around. Given that the petro industry is not directly threatened (at this time) by free electricity, the BFRs pose no direct, immediate threat to their livelihood. There will be impacts to them, such as reduced demand for Natural Gas, but nothing disruptive is on the near horizon. Therefore, BFRs offer them nothing but another source of revenue! They can safely invest some of their windfall revenue in BFR plants and enter the electricity generation market without the encumberance of legacy infrastructure. This means that there would probably be very little interference from Big Oil lobbying dollars.

Who would benefit from BFRs? The current energy providers actually stand to make money with this new/disruptive technology. Currently, they get their primary source materials (coal and natural gas) from the open market. They don't make more money when the cost of their input materials goes up. If they had the option to generate their electricity from inexpensive boron and hydrogen, they'd be perfectly happy to do so.

Again, how does this relate to the primary question of this thread? The money to be made by introducing BFRs into the energy market as quickly as possible in the developed world is great enough for enough of the key players that I don't foresee any significant effort to derail their introduction. King Coal is the big loser vs. BFRs, and the coal industry doesn't enjoy all that much support by the public.

If the government faces no serious negative lobbying from the powerhouse petro industry or from the utility industry, then the politicians will have every incentive to look like the good guys and support the rapid deployment of BFRs. Of course there will always be lobbying against any change, but in this case I predict much political support for "free" energy among our political leaders.

Corporate support:

As I said above, the big loser (coal) is not as powerful as the other players in the game (big oil, utilities, the common people) who stand to benefit from inexpensive, safe, non-polluting, plentiful electricity. High energy prices affect every aspect of doing business, so inexpensive energy equals higher profits in general. Without the drag of expensive electricity on our economy, the general business tide will rise and (almost) all sectors will benefit. Those few niche corporations that are adversely affected by the introduction of BFRs into the energy sector will be outvoted by those who benefit from inexpensive energy and won't stand a chance.

NGOs:

By NGO, I presume we're talking about entities like UNESCO, the WTO, etc. which break down into two types - humanitarian and business-oriented.

The defining characteristic of non-profit entities like UNESCO is that they are cash-strapped. Always. By definition. Any change in the world economy that makes their cash go farther towards their main goals will be welcome by them. Better economic conditions equate to more donations to their efforts. The BFR-related changes will be welcome to them for many reasons.

Those NGOs like the World Trade Organization exist to facilitate economic activity. Most of these NGOs represent broad business interests, so they should have the same attitude towards the BFR-induced changes that their constituent businesses have - positive.

So, looking into my crystal ball, I predict that 1) Governments (in general), 2) Corporations and 3) NGOs will all support the rapid introduction of this disruptive technology. Other than a few entrenched players in the narrow (but pervasive) energy sector, the support of BFRs should be wide-spread.

So ends my scrying.

Cheers.
Dean.

kttopdad
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Post by kttopdad »

MSimon wrote:
Another perhaps more useful way of looking at the gain is 5 gallons of ethanol produced per gallon of gasoline expended in growing it (this ignores total energy for things like fertilizer, which will have non-petroleum inputs, but since you're probably willing to trade cheaper coal energy for precious liquid fuel (which is much more expensive right now) you don't really care). Now keep in mind, that's for corn.
If you factor all inputs and lump them with gasoline you get five gallons (gasoline equivalents) of ethanol for a four gallon input.

The higher the gain the more robust the civilization. A gain of 1.3 and any little disruption, crop failure, or climate change and you are out of business.

A gain of 5X to 20X is more secure against disruptions.
I suspect that if the BFRs prove out, then the discussion of any type of ethanol production is moot. Ethanol production is designed to offset petro-products in the transportation sector. With inexpensive energy, the drivers for this offset are reduced.

If electricity is inexpensive, the marketplace will produce batteries to support electric-powered transportation. (We're almost there - exciting stuff going on in the energy storage world.) An increasingly electrified transportation sector will have decreasing need for ethanol because the price of petro-products will come down to meet the reduced market demand. So, the day that the BFR is proven is the day that the long-term prospects for a market-driven alternative to petro-products are hit.

Given that the greatest producers of greenhouse gases are the power-generation and the transportation sectors, we could see a net greenhouse gas production reduction (sounds like Schoolhouse Rock!) very quickly with the introduction of BFRs into the energy sector. That reduces the immediacy of addressing the petro-transportation-induced greenhouse contributions.

When BFRs enter the equation, ethanol enters a race against time. Ethanol must grow faster than the electrified transportation sector, and must also race a declining popular demand for greenhouse reduction. If you were a wealthy investor looking for a place to put your money, would you put it in ethanol if BFRs entered the picture? Probably not. The life-expectancy of ethanol becomes a few decades at most, set against declining petro-prices and reduced popular demand.

It'll be interesting to see how this whole question plays out over the next 10 years.

Cheers.
Dean.

TallDave
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Post by TallDave »

I suspect that if the BFRs prove out, then the discussion of any type of ethanol production is moot. Ethanol production is designed to offset petro-products in the transportation sector. With inexpensive energy, the drivers for this offset are reduced.
...
If electricity is inexpensive, the marketplace will produce batteries to support electric-powered transportation.
I can see why you might think so, but the situation is quite the opposite in fact. Electricity is not the major cost of a battery, but can be the primary cost in the conversion of biomass to liquid fuel. Even were that not true, liquid fuels are not going away, beacuse they have tremendous utility relative to batteries in many situations.

In fact, one of Bussard's proposals was floating ethanol plants that took in biomass and spit out ethanol at pennies per gallon.

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