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Archive for March, 2012

A Better City Layout

In new city design, high rises shouldn’t just be parts of a city… They need to be the city.

Imagine a building that has electric car paths on all the levels, that have cables to which the electric “cars” attach to for vertical transport. Consisting of many architecturally different designs all melded together, spaces for mini-parks and places of business throughout.

The overall efficiency would excel over the usual American landscape with no need for stop signs and where “everything” is within bicycle (and vertical cable) distance. After being built, the 3-d city would require far less fossil fuels, perhaps even being able to support itself by concentrated solar thermal and other RE (or advanced nuclear if residents would allow). Process heat could then be used to desalinate water.

We still have all the seeds to create a better future, with less congestion, even if the global population was to reach many tens of billions! As long as the ideas are not shredded by big “business as usual”…

EROEI and the Solar Breeder

There is a myth out there that says solar panels take more energy to make than what they generate. Wrong! http://solarbus.org/documents/pvpayback.pdf and http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy04osti/35489.pdf

Energy Returned On Energy Invested…
Solar panels will take between 6 months and 15 years depending on efficiency of source energy, type and location to generate the amount of energy it takes to make them and they last much longer than that.  Conventional silicon panels are the most energy intensive but I do believe they last much longer than thinfilm amorphous (which is less efficient and degrades over time). Copper indium gallium selenium (CIGS) takes about a year and a half to reach EROEI and is almost as efficient as silicon (and doesn’t degrade).  Gallium arsenide (GaAs, the most efficient and robust) requires a bit more energy per cell, but should use concentrating optics (to about a thousand suns) which would greatly shorten the time to reach EROEI to about 6 months (since much less energy is required to make the optics). Realize that aluminum and glass (included in these figures) require energy to make too.

It is generally assumed that wind turbines take only 6 months to reach EROEI. With a lifespan of 20 years, that would be an EROEI of 40 which is better than oil!

I figure that average solar panels generate 10 x the electricity than the equivalent amount of energy used to make them (or an EROEI of 10). This is assuming it takes 3 years to reach EROEI and that it lasts 30 years.  However, I have stumbled upon a very serious question… The above listed links state x amount of kWh required to make a certain kind of panel. Does that include the 2/3rds energy wasted in the conversion process to electricity in the first place? Or is that just an equivalent used to measure the amount of fossil fuels used (assuming very little electricity used)? Worst case, it could take up to TEN years (if the bulk of the energy required is electricity without regards to all the extra fossil fuels wasted in the conversion process in its generation). With a lifetime of 30 years, that is an EROEI of only 3! Still positive, but not good. After further searching, I believe it IS mostly electricity since an electric arc furnace is used to make silicon ingots. Hmmm. http://www.electrochem.org/dl/interface/wtr/wtr08/wtr08_p30-35.pdf . Electricity does not always have to be “dirty” however 🙂

For comparison, back in the early days of oil in Pennsylvania, it only took 1 barrel of oil to recover 100! And now, during the peak (when global recoverable oil is already half way consumed) the EROEI is still about 33 and 10 for imported and domestic oil, respectively   http://www.theoildrum.com/node/8625 . This is where the excitement over renewable energy quickly fades. Even though wind power has an EROEI of nearly 40, it takes much longer to regain said energy, than say, a barrel of oil from the tar sands with EROEI of only 2 to 8 (also listed in the link to the oil drum)! Thus, the quickness of which fossil fuels can be extracted can justify a much lower EROEI in our world of monetary concerns and ambition, especially since interest rates charged for building generating capacity IS based on time.

Is it possible for solar energy to make itself? At first glance, it seems so. However, in the overall manufacturing process, employees still use gasoline powered cars and parts and tools (everywhere) made from fossil fueled processes. Ok, let’s pretend that all the parts and transpo are magically already made and powered from clean energy sources. How long can it take for solar and wind to “energy make itself”? First, we need to make a solar panel (or concentrated array) with the greatest EROEI. Second, we need to “invest” some of the electricity it generates into its continued mass production. And third, we need to account for a decreasing supply of fossil fuel which suggests that we need to mass produce an even greater amount of solar capacity. Fourth, let’s not count on any fossil fuels or nuclear for sake of (this) argument except for initial start up.

I will assume that GaAs Fresnel concentrated PV with two axis tracking has an average EROEI of 9 months and that it will last 30 years placed primarily in the desert regions.  Ok, we use fossil fuels and or nuclear to build a gigantic robotic factory that can mass produce 10 square miles of GaAs solar collection per year. I will further guess that the building of the factory itself will entail an additional 30% energy input to the final product.

To add even further, let’s assume that it requires an additional 50% of all that to mine raw materials, make parts and factories for a decent storage system (be it the LiFePO4 battery, pumped hydro or whatever). Thus, it takes 18 months (in this imaginary example) for a GaAs Fresnel array and its storage to reach EROEI. If we use all of that energy to power air conditioners and watch fashion shows, liquid fuels are now (30 years later) too expensive, parts break down, we have no energy left to build another factory… end of story!

But if we use 20% of that energy to build additional robotic GaAs plants, in almost 8 years, we would have built another such factory. Now we have double the production capacity. In 15 years, four times, and in 30 years, 16 times the production minus the first one that would then be breaking down and being recycled. At the turn of the century, we would be building some 30,000 square miles of solar collection… every year.  Surely, this would be enough electricity to power 20 billion people (and their electric cars) at near today’s western standard assuming better insulation, efficient led lighting (which is already almost twice as so than florescent) and slightly less overall transportation miles per person.

I based the math on a factory doubling rate every 7.5 years… After 90 years, that’s about 4,100 factories minus all the start up ones recycled after their 30 year lifespan.

Now, that amount of land seems preposterous, however America alone has paved 50,000 square miles just for roads and highways! Note that it will be impossible to grade the deserts for such an ambition, as that would cause environmental problems. Thus the mandate to post mount whatever best collection media without need for bulldozing. 1,000,000 square miles is 2% of the Earth’s land area. I would imagine that solar collection should be kept at a maximum of about 1%… Thus the need to look into other forms of clean energy and the need to halt population growth.

This is the concept of the

solar breeder

It is indeed wishful, as the basic premise excludes the current political and short term financial motivations. It is, however, imperative (if we exclude advanced nuclear) in order to sustain civilization!

Solar verses Nuclear

Usually, I see that advocates of nuclear do NOT like solar and vice versa.   I’m all about promoting ALL forms of (unlimited) clean energy, as we can never be sure that just one will win out over the other. I am NOT in favor of conventional nuclear, however.

First, one only needs to do the numbers on solar to be convinced that it is the “best”, considering that sunlight provides thousands of times the amount of energy we use. Just 1% of the land covered by GaAs concentrated Fresnel arrays would power 10,000,000,000 people at near the western standard assuming efficiency improvements brought about by electric cars, led lighting and more insulation. Consider also that it MUST become a global priority to develop the advanced machine automation necessary to make such solar cheap enough to afford, and that there is no reason to even try to have us “inefficient humans” make it. GaAs or gallium arsenide is what NASA uses and the gallium is quite rare. That’s why it has to be concentrated (~1,000 suns) with Fresnel or other means. Recent manufacturing “ideas” reveal that it IS possible to make these kinds of cells for less than what NASA pays. http://www.physorg.com/news193557233.html. The downsides are the moving parts (for two way sun tracking) and possible concern over the small amounts of the poisonous arsenic needed.

Conventional solar panels would have to cover 2% of the land surface, in order to provide that same power to ten billion people. I’m kinda thinking these would convert too much ordinary sunlight into infrared (as the dark panels do get rather hot). However,  non moving robustness and less parts point to an easier machine made possibility.

It is ultimately ESSENTIAL to have factories that can mass produce hundreds of thousands of square km of solar collection if we are to prevent the fall of Western civilization as we know it…

Unless we can come up with some other way of powering planetary civilizations (fossil fuels are obviously causing XSCO2 and are depleting at an ever increasing rate).

Wind power is capable of doing the job, just barely. And the rest of the renewables don’t even come close. However, not to dismiss biofuels and such for individual use! Added together, they might be able to pan out. But why? Why should we place hope in a whole bunch of little,  expensive (and thus remaining trivial) options when it would be wise to focus on ironing out the ones with the best potential, which is solar and wind? When it comes to biofuels and such, I believe they are just another 3rd political party.

The only other option at this time is nuclear. Even though France is mostly powered by conventional water cooled reactors, the US actually relies on MORE nuclear (about 450,000 GWh to some 800,000 GWh respectively) as roughly graphed here…  http://sabolscience.blogspot.com/2011/03/japans-nuclear-power-vs-united-states.html Yet this nuclear has got to be the worst kind. It only fissions a small percent of uranium, requires high pressures, is thus prone to meltdown and leaves a heap of radiotoxic wastes which takes thousands of years, just to decay back down to almost acceptable levels. The only upside (besides less XSCO2) is that the light water reactor (LWR) and its kind have been thoroughly developed, and possibly, that its wastes will NOT be buried, but instead, be used to start up an entirely different kind of reactor… the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR). Here’s some links…



Our collective clean energy future depends on you to become involved!


Considering Options…

Thanks for clicking by…

We’ve all heard about global warming and peak oil, but what solutions are being implemented?

Efficiency and conservation is half the solution…

And clean energy is the UNLIMITED solution!

There are many technological proven options, including but not limited to concentrated PV, concentrated solar thermal, conventional solar panels, wind (and ocean wind) power,  advanced geothermal and even advanced nuclear (such as LFTR) which is much less dangerous and that creates much less wastes. Each of these solutions can effectively power all the world’s people all by themselves if coupled with the proper storage systems like pumped hydro, kinetic, and batteries.

Clean electric vehicles can be powered for about 2,000 cycles using the LiFePO4 battery which is much better than ordinary li-ion due to vastly improved thermal issues (they don’t catch fire when severely over or under discharged).

I ask you to please consider what happens to the entire western world when the COSTS of oil extraction not only emits XSCO2, but impedes the actual flow of goods (such as food and water).

I hereby present a place to “do the math” and prove whether or not certain clean energy concepts are indeed viable on a costs, societal and sustaining basis. Please post your thoughts as to the best ways to not only generate clean energy, but also the best ways to conserve… After all, efficiency and conservation IS part of the solution too.