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  • Gigaton - some Big Energy ideas 4 comments
    Jun 26, 2009 1:53 PM

    The Gigaton Throw Down has published a 150 page report on their view of the big energy bets for the next ten years. (see it at http://gigatonthrowdown.org/files/Gigaton_EntireReport.pdf

     

    They analyze nine energy technologies that have the potential of displacing at least a billion tons of CO2 each within the next ten years.  A gigaton by their calculation is 205 gigawatts of installed power, which is about 5% of US energy consumption. Some of their analysis is pretty good, some a bit over-optimistic, and they forgot a few biggies.

     

    Their rundown:

     

    Biofuels: yes, but a close reading shows that ethanol, in any flavor, really does not make much economic sense on a macro scale. Ignores/understates the additional cost of erosion and fertilizer for cellulose ethanol, assumes a near zero cost for those feed stocks, and assumes a huge amount of currently non-agricultural land can be used in the future with some unspecified technology. Does not address that simply burning the feed stocks of cellulose alcohol produces more energy (as electricity) than ethanol, and a lot less expensively. Biodiesel is mentioned, but no explanation of how it will become an important part of the energy picture energy. Algae is considered a lot father away than ten years.

     

    Building efficiency: yes, major requirement is change in the building codes.

     

    Concentrating solar: yes.

     

    Construction materials: yes, mostly focuses on concrete manufacture which consumes huge amounts of energy. Talks of low-energy cement, but with little background of how that would actually work or be implemented.

     

    Geothermal: qualified yes. I think it overstates some of the risk associated with it.

     

    Nuclear: qualified yes. Does not discuss "mini-nuclear" (sub 10 MW plants) for distributed energy production at lower risk. Also does not mention waste disposal issues, or the use of the Mariana trench.

    Plugin electric vehicles: big no, and quite realistic analysis.

     

    Solar photovoltaics: yes.

     

    Wind: strong yes, underestimates wind resources of deep water offshore wind and high altitude.

     

    Does not include any information on OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion), which can produce many times current world total energy.

     

    Does not include any information of hydrokinetic (waves, tides, and currents). The estimates for the amount of capturable energy in these resources vary tremendously, but the high estimates are many times the entire world's requirements.

     

    Does not include any information on anhydrous ammonia. While not technically a fuel but an energy carrier, it can bridge the gap from making electricity and using it as a transportations fuel. Ammonia can run in most internal combustion engines with some modifications. Ammonia burns cleans; it's exhaust is water vapor and nitrogen gas. Ammonia and its byproducts are not greenhouse gases, and already is produced in a huge scale. One hundred and twenty millions tons were produced last year, about 50 pounds per capita worldwide. It is the most produced chemical in the world, other than petro-fuels. The technology of storing and distributing is already well known, and there is a significant infrastructure in place already. There are over 3,000 miles of ammonia pipelines in the US - compare that to zero miles of ethanol pipeline. The biggest use of ammonia is as a fertilizer, and it is used very widely as a refrigerant gas.

     

     

    Since the report limits the horizon to ten years, it does not mention extra-terrestrial solar, or fusion (cold or hot). There are, of course, many niche energy solutions that may have good investing opportunities, but cannot be expected to produce a substantial amount of energy.

     

    Disclosures: no stocks mentioned. Long a number of renewable energy technologies.

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Comments (4)
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  • Axil
    , contributor
    Comments (3) | Send Message
     
    Why wasn’t fusion considered? It will be available in far less then ten years. Do some research?

     

    The concept of fusion-fission hybrids – using high-energy neutrons from fusion reactions to transmute, or burn, fissile material – has been explored by Andrei Sakharov, Hans Bethe and other scientists since about 1951. Although the focus of many of these studies was the use of fusion neutrons to generate fuel for fast nuclear reactors, Nikolai Basov and others discussed the possibility of fast neutrons to drive a fission blanket for generating power. Many proposals have also been made to use accelerators to generate neutrons that can then be used to burn nuclear waste and generate electricity.

     

    Fusion-fission engines did not advance beyond the discussion stage at that time because powerful high energy neutron sources and other required technologies did not exist. Similarly, accelerator-based schemes never advanced past the conceptual study phase, in part because a complete nuclear fuel cycle – including uranium enrichment and nuclear waste reprocessing – was still required to generate economical electricity. The inefficiency and cost of those systems outweighed the benefit of transmuting nuclear waste.

     

    Today, however, researchers have demonstrated the physics and key technologies required to make fusion/fission hybrid a reality. The capability of Field Reversed Configuration (FRC) to create the conditions required for ignition and thermonuclear burn in the laboratory with inertial confinement fusion (ICF) has been demonstrated by the 1/3 scale model of the Helion Energy prototype.

     

    The FRC Power Plant

     

    The FRC is designed to operate with fusion energy gains of about 6 and fusion yields of about 20 MJ to provide about 100 to 200 megawatts (MW) of fusion/fission power – about 80 percent of which comes in the form of 14.1 million electron-volt (MeV) neutrons with the rest of the energy in X-rays and ions.

     

    The fission blanket contains 40 metric tons (MT) thorium (Th232);

     

    The point source of fusion neutrons acts as a catalyst to drive the fission blanket, so there is no need for a critical assembly to sustain the fission chain reaction. Starting from as little 20 MW of fusion power, a single FRC engine can generate 100 to 200 megawatts in steady state for periods of years to decades.

     

    The fission Blanket

     

    The blanket is comprised of a molten salt called flibe (2LiF + BeF2 ) and thorium fluoride. It carries away heat and also produces tritium that can be harvested to manufacture new deuterium-tritium fusion plasma packets.

     

    The Burn Chamber

     

    The neutrons pass through the first beryllium wall which surrounds the point of T – D fusion. This wall generates 1.8 neutrons for every neutron that it absorbs. The newly generated neutrons have a significantly lower energy spectrum that is ideal for fission energy generation in the thorium blanket. To keep the first wall cool, the molten salt is allowed to form a constantly flowing cover on the inside of the first wall where a coating of imbedded carbon nano-fibers increase the service area and the thickness of this liquid first wall.

     

    The moderated neutrons strike the next layer, a two-meter-thick, subcritical fission blanket containing 40 MT of thorium fuel. The neutrons absorbed by the blanket drive neutron capture and fission reactions, releasing tremendous amounts of heat to drive turbines.

     

    The burn chamber is oriented vertically, and the molten fluoride salt is pumped from top to bottom within the chamber. Both a blanket of high pressure helium and an axial magnetic field keeps the molten salt away from the second wall and at the same time cools its surface and the pulsed magnets on the outside of the burn chamber.

     

    The flow of helium gas removes both tritium produced during fission of lithium 6 in the filBe and gaseous fission products.

     

    Heat is removed from the molten salt by the primary heat exchangers.

     

    A fission/fusion hybrid is the only way to go. The fusion energy gain Qfus can be less then one and still produce copious amounts of heat from the fission blanket.

     

    The production of ion heating from fusion alone hardly matters Almost all of the power of the FRC reactor is produced as heat from the fission reaction.

     

    Even if fusion breakeven is not achieved; more power is produced by fission in the blanket that is formed in a perfectly efficient fusion reactor.

     

    Waste Production

     

    Because of the continuous availability of external neutrons from the fusion source, a FRC engine can extract more than 99.8 percent of the energy content of its fuel, resulting in greatly enhanced energy generation per metric ton of nuclear fuel. The external source of neutrons also allows the FRC engine to burn the initial fertile or fissile fuel to more than 99 percent FIMA (fission of initial metal atoms) without refueling or reprocessing, allowing for nuclear waste forms with significantly reduced concentrations of long-lived, weapons-usable actinides per gigawatt-year of electric energy produced. This remaining waste has such a low actinide content that it falls into DOE's lowest attractiveness category for nuclear proliferation.

     

    In addition, because of the very high fission product content, the waste is self-protecting for decades: its radiation flux is so great that any attempt at stealing it would be suicidal.

     

    Following the initial interim storage and cooling at the reactor site, a geological repository similar to Yucca Mountain could be used for long-term storage or disposal. The size of a geological repository needed to accommodate a entire fleet of FRC engines (with the same generating capacity as our current Light water reactor (LWR) fleet with a once-through fuel cycle) will be approximately 5 percent of that required for disposal of LWR nuclear waste in a geological repository similar to Yucca Mountain.

     

    27 Jun 2009, 02:07 AM Reply Like
  • MSimon
    , contributor
    Comments (264) | Send Message
     
    The Bussard Fusion Reactor has a good chance of being deployable in 10 years - if it works. We will know in 2 years.
    2 Jul 2009, 08:30 PM Reply Like
  • John R. Fortun
    , contributor
    Comment (1) | Send Message
     
    Currently global Co2 emissions are about 30 gigatons or 30 billion metric tons yearly. By 2020, if we stay on our current course, they are expected to reach 40 gigatons yearly. So in 2020, according to The Gigaton Throwdown, we will have only 39 gigatons to contend with?

     

    John R. Fortun,
    environmentalist,
    long-time Sierra Club member and
    author of the the Global Energy Handbook
    12 Jul 2009, 05:20 PM Reply Like
  • Rick Krementz
    , contributor
    Comments (2213) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » Fusion-fission hybrids, if viable, are nowhere ready to be a significant souce of energy in ten years. Recent articles talk about the next step to be computer simulation, which means they are not even to the prototype stage yet.

     

    Fusion has been the energy of the future for many decades, and will probably keep that status for many decades yet to come. I am quite skeptical, but certainly would be pleased to see actual production.

     

    Thank you for your post.

     

    On Jun 27 02:07 AM Axil wrote:

     

    > Why wasn’t fusion considered? It will be available in far less then
    > ten years. Do some research?
    >
    > The concept of fusion-fission hybrids – using high-energy neutrons
    > from fusion reactions to transmute, or burn, fissile material – has
    > been explored by Andrei Sakharov, Hans Bethe and other scientists
    > since about 1951. Although the focus of many of these studies was
    > the use of fusion neutrons to generate fuel for fast nuclear reactors,
    > Nikolai Basov and others discussed the possibility of fast neutrons
    > to drive a fission blanket for generating power. Many proposals have
    > also been made to use accelerators to generate neutrons that can
    > then be used to burn nuclear waste and generate electricity.
    >
    > Fusion-fission engines did not advance beyond the discussion stage
    > at that time because powerful high energy neutron sources and other
    > required technologies did not exist. Similarly, accelerator-based
    > schemes never advanced past the conceptual study phase, in part because
    > a complete nuclear fuel cycle – including uranium enrichment and
    > nuclear waste reprocessing – was still required to generate economical
    > electricity. The inefficiency and cost of those systems outweighed
    > the benefit of transmuting nuclear waste.
    >
    > Today, however, researchers have demonstrated the physics and key
    > technologies required to make fusion/fission hybrid a reality. The
    > capability of Field Reversed Configuration (seekingalpha.com/symbo...)
    > to create the conditions required for ignition and thermonuclear
    > burn in the laboratory with inertial confinement fusion (seekingalpha.com/symbo...)
    > has been demonstrated by the 1/3 scale model of the Helion Energy
    > prototype.
    >
    > The FRC Power Plant
    >
    > The FRC is designed to operate with fusion energy gains of about
    > 6 and fusion yields of about 20 MJ to provide about 100 to 200 megawatts
    > (seekingalpha.com/symbo...) of fusion/fission power – about
    > 80 percent of which comes in the form of 14.1 million electron-volt
    > (MeV) neutrons with the rest of the energy in X-rays and ions.<br/>
    >
    > The fission blanket contains 40 metric tons (seekingalpha.com/symbo...)
    > thorium (Th232);
    >
    > The point source of fusion neutrons acts as a catalyst to drive the
    > fission blanket, so there is no need for a critical assembly to sustain
    > the fission chain reaction. Starting from as little 20 MW of fusion
    > power, a single FRC engine can generate 100 to 200 megawatts in steady
    > state for periods of years to decades.
    >
    > The fission Blanket
    >
    > The blanket is comprised of a molten salt called flibe (2LiF + BeF2
    > ) and thorium fluoride. It carries away heat and also produces tritium
    > that can be harvested to manufacture new deuterium-tritium fusion
    > plasma packets.
    >
    > The Burn Chamber
    >
    > The neutrons pass through the first beryllium wall which surrounds
    > the point of T – D fusion. This wall generates 1.8 neutrons for every
    > neutron that it absorbs. The newly generated neutrons have a significantly
    > lower energy spectrum that is ideal for fission energy generation
    > in the thorium blanket. To keep the first wall cool, the molten salt
    > is allowed to form a constantly flowing cover on the inside of the
    > first wall where a coating of imbedded carbon nano-fibers increase
    > the service area and the thickness of this liquid first wall.
    >
    > The moderated neutrons strike the next layer, a two-meter-thick,
    > subcritical fission blanket containing 40 MT of thorium fuel. The
    > neutrons absorbed by the blanket drive neutron capture and fission
    > reactions, releasing tremendous amounts of heat to drive turbines.
    >
    >
    > The burn chamber is oriented vertically, and the molten fluoride
    > salt is pumped from top to bottom within the chamber. Both a blanket
    > of high pressure helium and an axial magnetic field keeps the molten
    > salt away from the second wall and at the same time cools its surface
    > and the pulsed magnets on the outside of the burn chamber.
    >
    > The flow of helium gas removes both tritium produced during fission
    > of lithium 6 in the filBe and gaseous fission products.
    >
    > Heat is removed from the molten salt by the primary heat exchangers.
    >
    >
    > A fission/fusion hybrid is the only way to go. The fusion energy
    > gain Qfus can be less then one and still produce copious amounts
    > of heat from the fission blanket.
    >
    > The production of ion heating from fusion alone hardly matters Almost
    > all of the power of the FRC reactor is produced as heat from the
    > fission reaction.
    >
    > Even if fusion breakeven is not achieved; more power is produced
    > by fission in the blanket that is formed in a perfectly efficient
    > fusion reactor.
    >
    > Waste Production
    >
    > Because of the continuous availability of external neutrons from
    > the fusion source, a FRC engine can extract more than 99.8 percent
    > of the energy content of its fuel, resulting in greatly enhanced
    > energy generation per metric ton of nuclear fuel. The external source
    > of neutrons also allows the FRC engine to burn the initial fertile
    > or fissile fuel to more than 99 percent FIMA (fission of initial
    > metal atoms) without refueling or reprocessing, allowing for nuclear
    > waste forms with significantly reduced concentrations of long-lived,
    > weapons-usable actinides per gigawatt-year of electric energy produced.
    > This remaining waste has such a low actinide content that it falls
    > into DOE's lowest attractiveness category for nuclear proliferation.
    >
    >
    > In addition, because of the very high fission product content, the
    > waste is self-protecting for decades: its radiation flux is so great
    > that any attempt at stealing it would be suicidal.
    >
    > Following the initial interim storage and cooling at the reactor
    > site, a geological repository similar to Yucca Mountain could be
    > used for long-term storage or disposal. The size of a geological
    > repository needed to accommodate a entire fleet of FRC engines (with
    > the same generating capacity as our current Light water reactor (seekingalpha.com/symbo...)
    > fleet with a once-through fuel cycle) will be approximately 5 percent
    > of that required for disposal of LWR nuclear waste in a geological
    > repository similar to Yucca Mountain.
    >
    17 Jul 2009, 10:23 PM Reply Like
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