Energy Independence and Sustainability
- excerpts from Gal Luft and Ann Korin of the IAGS Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (link)
- excerpts from Jim Holm at www.Coal2nuclear.com
An ideal energy supply has three components: generation, delivery, and predictability.
- Does the technology produce electricity or fuel cleanly, efficiently, and cheaply, with a minimum impact upon the environment?
- Can production of the fuel or electricity be ramped up and down as needed and supply our energy needs when fuel or electricity is called for?
- Predicting when there is a need for energy and being able to most closely match energy needs with production is vital to producing affordable fuel and electricity. Can the technology produce fuel/electricity on a predictable production schedule?
Analyzing the Problem
America is a land of many vast resources including many abundant natural energy resources. The resource that has had the most geopolitical ramifications and influence upon the world is oil, though it is only one of many natural resources America has. The United States has enough untapped oil and non oil energy sources to have a dominant global strategic advantage of huge significance. It is now within America’s grasp to cut the OPEC Oil Producing and Exporting Countries umbilical cord and thereby transform the worlds economic prospects in a short order. Seizing upon this advantage does not require or depend upon any far fetched technology breakthroughs. It does not require assistance from allies. This transformation does not require any sacrifice by citizens or need to be implemented by government imposed mandates. It does not require new taxes or convoluted cap-and-trade schemes. It merely requires that the office of the President and the U.S. Congress get their collective heads on straight for once and produce a dynamic energy policy that is based upon sound science and our proven reserves. It also requires less government regulation and the government to act in a responsible manner.
It has been common sense since the Nixon Administration that, in order to strengthen our energy security and international position, the United States should reduce its dependence on imported oil, specifically from those that promote violence against U.S. interests. The argument has been“Drill, baby, drill!” versus greater conservation and efficiency and higher energy taxes to encourage both. While the wizards of smart have argued over energy policy, imports of oil from countries not friendly to America have grown by leaps and bounds both in relative and absolute terms.
Passionate environmentalist want to end America’s dependency on fossil fuels. Their motives are not because of the economy or the socio-political ramifications, their reasons are, as you would expect, environmentally motivated. Whether built upon sound science, misperceptions, or upon political falsehoods, there are many valid reasons to move away from fossil fuel derived oil aside from environmental impact. The use of oil destabilizes the Middle East due to conflicts with a populous that opposes western sensibilities and lifestyles. By purchasing oil through those that do not have America’s best interest at heart, Americans essentially pay for both sides of the conflict for oil.
Whether built upon sound science, misperceptions, or upon political falsehoods, there are many other valid reasons to move away from fossil fuel derived oil aside from environmental impact.
Americans have many misconceptions about how the international oil business works, the most common misconception is that exporters have the ability to determine the destination of their oil exports for political or commercial purposes. This is simply not true. Think of the oil market as a swimming pool: Producers pour oil in, consumers take oil out. The oil itself is totally is an unrestricted commodity, and everybody faces the good and the bad of the free market system. While individual producing countries may have contracts with consuming countries, most oil is purchased on the spot market for an international price. This arrangement is enabled by the fact that the international oil companies determine what happens to the oil once it enters the global market. they are primarily driven by profit and not politics. With rare exceptions, the governments of oil-exporting countries are simply unable to control where their oil goes.
Some oil-producing countries declared an embargo of the United States and certain selected European countries in the October 1973 Middle Eastern war, but whatever modest shortage resulted from these actions was distributed evenly by the international oil companies. There weren’t any specific shortages in the United States; the long gas lines and price hikes had much more to do with panicked consumer behavior and the outright bungling of the Federal energy bureaucracy. But to this day most Americans believe otherwise.
the most common misconception is that exporters have the ability to determine the destination of their oil exports for political or commercial purposes
During the Cold War American statesmen and strategists worried that the Soviet Union or its allies might be able to disrupt the flow of oil, particularly from the Middle East, to America’s European and Asian allies. They worried that war or revolution in the countries of the region might have a similar effect, as seemed to be borne out in 1978–79, during the throes of the Iranian Revolution. These were not unreasonable concerns at the time. More recently, we have worried about the direct and indirect flow of oil revenues to anti-American subversives, be they countries or non-state sponsored terrorists, and the physical disruption of supply by major attacks on Persian Gulf oil facilities. Again, these are not unreasonable concerns.
Yet, the idea that energy independence is mainly about the security of supply is still the one stuck in the heads of most Americans and even most policymakers. Not to put too fine a point on it, this assumption is misguided, and our inability to rid ourselves of this misunderstanding is still leading us to overlook a readily available remedy for our oil problems. The problem we face is about world supply, world demand, and world price (remember the giant swimming pool). In recent years America’s demand of imported oil has dropped significantly even as the price we have paid and are still paying for oil has sharply increased, this is due to world wide demand from emerging countries like China and India and OPEC’s manipulation of the market. It follows, then, that the policy options we ought to consider differs significantly from those of the past half century. Yet, there seems to be something seriously the matter with our mental clutch. We’re stuck in the wrong gear, and we’re not getting anywhere.
Taxpayers pay for oil through military costs of providing oil and consumers (taxpayer and non taxpayers alike) pay through the nose for oil through their gasoline pump purchases. If the true cost of oil was levied (military costs plus pump costs) at the gasoline pump surely, one would think, America’s policy on oil would change. In 2012, America is using less and less OPEC oil but we are sending more and more money to OPEC for that oil and that is due to several factors. The price of oil is largely determined by the market and the market is very susceptible to the laws of supply and demand. Because there is not a surplus of oil (and normally never is a surplus because oil is desirable by all modern countries) and the market is controlled and heavily regulated, this means the market can be easily manipulated, and is constantly manipulated by OPEC countries seeking to maximize their profits.
The Economics of the Cost of Oil
OPEC wields its dominance over the free market by controlling only a portion of the oil market. If the oil price gets to low they only need to pump less oil and cut supply to ramp up the price of oil. If oil gets too high in price, so that they start to suffer on market share, then they can increase production to lower the cost of oil and increase sales. So while domestic production of oil is very good, it may not necessarily (and doesn’t normally) have any affect on the price of oil because the OPEC interests will just pump less oil in order to maintain price (**note that only if we could pump oil quickly enough and with enough volume then we could significantly affect the price of oil, with current techniques that is not possible). There are other factors as well, such as the world wide demand for oil. China and India are exploding third world countries that consume a lot of oil. Increasingly, this demand is outstripping supply and soon oil interests will not be able to manipulate the market because they will not be able to pump oil fast enough to satisfy world-wide demand. The price of oil is also reflected in the purchasing power of the dollar. When the government devalues the dollar by over printing our currency, it suddenly takes more dollars to buy the same amount of oil. The futures market, the oil trading market, regulatory compliance, severance taxes, even derivatives trading has an effect on the price of oil. As a result of so many different factors affecting the price of oil we are taken on a roller coaster ride every time we visit the pump and the public is astounded at there being no seeming correlation between the price of gasoline and any one geo-political issue. Many conspiracy theories exist on who sets the price of oil and the reality is that it is you and I set the price of oil by our willingness to pay high prices for it. Our willingness to pay high prices for oil is because our society is built upon almost mandatory gasoline powered transportation and our transportation fuels are almost all derived from oil.
Clearly, and surprisingly to those trapped in old ways of thinking, the volume of U.S. imports and the cost of those imports have moved in opposite directions. While America became more self-sufficient and more fuel-efficient, it became poorer and got deeper in debt. The volume of foreign oil has went down and yet the price has increased (this is due from an increase in world wide demand……China and India…..remember). If one accepts the traditional mantra of energy security as “availability of sufficient supply at affordable prices”, then whatever points we gained on the availability front, were offset by those lost on the affordability side of the ledger. The price of oil matters more in times of economic adversity.
If we want to get to a more stable transportation fuel market we need to establish a market for economically viable alternative fuels
If we want to get to a more stable transportation fuel market we need to establish a market for economically viable alternative fuels. Two fuels that could have the biggest impacts, the quickest, are methanol and natural gas (methane gas). By utilizing these alternative fuels we can diversify the demand by the market to cheap, clean, and affordable fuels. These fuels also allow us to transition to much cleaner, cheaper, environmentally friendly, and sustainable fuel sources for transportation fuels.
The inability to keep the price of oil at bay is the crux of America’s vulnerability
Here is where LFTR Can help solve the short term and long term problems of transportation fuels.
LFTR can transform the 3 trillion barrels (*with LFTR’s production of cheap heat and supercritical CO2 much more shale oil can be extracted from the formation) of shale oil locked in America’s Green River shale formation into usable oil sold on the open market, more quickly and efficiently, than any other current technology. To convert shale into oil takes a massive amount of heat and LFTR can provide that massive amount of heat very cheaply. While, America may not be able to flood the market quickly enough or with enough volume to make OPEC irrelevant it could help to lower the world price of oil or at the very least stabilize the price of oil by satisfying any new world-wide demand for oil. America producing oil has another tangible benefit other than lowering the price of oil significantly. A massive production of domestic oil allows America to keep its petrol dollars within America instead of sending that money to oil interests or to other interests abroad. With more of our money staying within our borders this is money will spur job creation and put millions of Americans to work with good paying jobs.
An example of the American Shale Oil Company in situ concept. Red are steam lines, oil extraction lines are green.
Test wells and echo imaging assure the shale oil holding strata are well-known.
At the same time, if America would deregulate the automobile market and eliminate the expensive hurdles to producing new automobiles, new auto manufacturers would begin to pop up. Over-regulation is a barrier to market competition (think of this as an overprotective mother that will not let her son swim because swimming is dangerous, lift that restriction, and though there is a chance her son may drown, her son more than likely will love to swim and derive great enjoyment from swimming). New auto manufacturers are needed to bring much needed competition to large automobile manufacturers and, because of market forces, start to produce cars with fuels that compete with gasoline (we see this starting to happen now with Ford and GM producing CNG Compressed Natural Gas trucks and vans). Of course there is the problem of availability of these fuels…..keep reading…..we address that to!
The price of oil, is what it is, because virtually all the cars and trucks in the world are unable to run on anything but petroleum-based fuels. Oil faces no real competition from other energy commodities in the sector from which its strategic importance stems, namely transportation (and transportation is vital to a modern society and freedom). Since consumers are unable to choose between different commodities (because of government over-regulation in the auto industry, which kills competition), suppliers of oil do not need to compete for market share by increasing production capacity and supplying lower prices. And that, in turn, leads us to OPEC and a virtual monopoly and leveraging production to manipulate price.
In effect, because automobile manufacturers do not mass produce vehicles in any meaningful quantity that can use fuels other than oil, the world oil market essentially has a monopoly on the market. Competing on the same playing field with the current set of major oil exporting countries is playing a game America can never win without LFTR. The OPEC cartel’s financial wants, to stay in power to oppress their people, will drive it to respond to defensive behavior by its clients to the degree that any slack that isn’t taken up by increased developing world demand. This is easy for a cartel to do: If we drill for more oil at home, the cartel can simply reduce production to return to a tight supply-demand relationship; increase our automobile’s fuel efficiency, same response; mandate a specific small volume of non-petroleum fuels in the market over an extended period, same response. So it doesn’t matter how well we follow the “drill baby, drill” or the conservation, efficiency, and tax; we’ll still be on the same treadmill we’ve been on for decades unless we can produce oil quickly enough with enough volume to make OPEC irrelevant, or diversify our fuel sources significantly enough to make OPEC irrelevant.
In order to get leverage against manufactured increases in the price of oil we must break the monopoly, consumers must be able to respond to price changes as they occur. Drivers cannot rapidly change the fuel economy of their vehicles, but, with vehicles that enable fuel competition, they could choose to purchase a less costly substitute fuel as an immediate response to changes in oil price. In other words, drivers could switch fuels. Switching fuels is a way oil’s monopoly over transportation fuel can be broken. Luckily for us, the current glut of cheap natural gas provides a unique opportunity to do just that.
Luckily for us, the current glut of cheap natural gas provides a unique opportunity to end oil’s monopoly[/quote]
Our local, county, sate. and federal governments should be setting an example and using the cheapest and cleanest fuels possible: Natural Gas and Methanol. Federal, state, and local fleets, when considering combined fuel purchases in a community, can justify, by themselves, a fueling center for alternative fuels like Natural Gas or Methanol or both. Think of all the fleets that our combined governments own. Postal vehicles, school buses, municipal buses, police cruisers, fire trucks, ambulances, city, county, and state, work vehicles and heavy equipment. Any city, with a population more than 10,000 can normally easily justify an alternative fueling station by the cost savings. This begins to build the infrastructure for large private fleets to access this network of alternative and affordable fuels. Fleets such as Walmart, UPS, Fed Ex, Frito Lay and the like. Then local fuel suppliers will start to build alternative fuel stations to compete with the government created stations (that should be privatized once there is substantial private sector demand). This is planting the seed (government alternative fuel fleet adoption of methanol and CNG) that will help grow a network (along with private business fleets) to bloom into a robust alternative energy source that is readily accessible and convenient to the public.
Methanol is a globally traded commodity, and its spot price averages $1.10 per gallon. Add taxes, distribution and retail markup, and on a per-mile basis and methanol is substantially less expensive than gasoline. (Different fuels have different energy contents, so the proper price comparison is not per gallon but per mile.”you get less miles per gallon with Methanol”. China is already blending 15 percent methanol (made primarily from coal in China) into its automotive fuel, and in recent years 26 of its thirty mainland provinces have carried out testing and demonstrations of methanol fuel and methanol fuel vehicles. The economics of methanol are so favorable compared to gasoline that, in China, illegal methanol blending has become rampant.
In the United States, methanol blending will not occur without warranty guarantees for the vehicles into which this fuel is poured. In order for vehicles to run on methanol (and other alcohol fuels such as ethanol) in addition to gasoline, they must be tweaked to manage its greater corrosiveness. Essentially, all the tweaks needed are a fuel sensor and a corrosion-resistant fuel line. The cost? About $100 for a car or light truck. No, that’s not a typo: just one hundred dollars.
A CNG Compressed Natural Gas vehicle cost more to convert a normal gasoline fueled automobile to a bi-fuel automobile (capable of running both gasoline and CNG) because of the addition of a fuel tank that handles the CNG (normally mounted in the trunk). A CNG single fuel vehicle can cost the equivalent of a regular vehicle because the vehicle needs no pollution control equipment for CNG if produced as original equipment.
CNG causes a slight decrease in horsepower and in a bi-fuel configuration adds additional weight via a second fuel tank, but, you get a great benefit of your engine lasting longer, cleaner burning, better for the environment, and very cheap fuel cost.
Methanol has more water in it and so it slightly shortens engine life (unless you use a water/methanol injection system, watch video below), has no reduction in horsepower, gets less miles per gallon than gasoline, and does not need a separate fuel tank on your vehicle. Methanol is more convenient to the public as it is a liquid and is handled and used the same as gasoline.
CNG only, methanol only, methanol flex fuel, and CNG bi-fuel flex fueled automobiles can significant reduce fuel costs, unlike ethanol, which can add to fuel costs when corn harvest are low.
Such flex-fuel vehicles provide a platform on which liquid or gas fuels can compete, thus placing a variety of commodities (methanol can be made from coal, biomass and, in the future, atmospheric carbon dioxide) in competition at the pump and letting the market determine the winning fuels and feedstocks based on economics: comparative per-mile cost. The proliferation of flex-fuel vehicles in Brazil has already driven fuel competition at the pump to the point that in 2008, when oil prices were at record highs, gasoline became the alternative rather than the primary fuel.
Nothing like what happened in Brazil can happen in the United States as long as vehicles are warrantied to run exclusively on petroleum fuels, with non-petroleum liquids confined to a protected and limited market or as fuel additives. Over the past seven years, as U.S. import dependence dropped, nearly 100 million new petroleum-only vehicles rolled onto America’s roads, each with an average lifespan of 15 years. This has effectively extended the stranglehold of oil (and its possessors) on our economy by two decades. This is a needless tragedy.
Because LFTR can make electricity much cheaper and cleaner than Natural Gas and coal it is expected to supplant these energy sources for electrical production through natural market forces. LFTR can then transform American coal into methanol cheaper than the Chinese process and can convert Natural Gas into Methanol as well. LFTR can do this in a cogeneration process that utilizes LFTR’s process heat and thereby redirects the energy that was used to produce electricity to be used in the transportation industry. This all adds up to making an abundant amount of very clean and affordable transportation fuel that is not reliant upon oil. Combine this with thousands of local alternative fueling centers and the manufacture of new cars that take advantage of cheap natural gas and methanol and we can jump start the diversification process and the transition to a more stable transportation fuel market.
But wait there is more!
The next generation of LFTR will operate at much higher temperatures and will be able to crack atmospheric carbon and produce carbon neutral synthetic natural gas and carbon neutral methanol and Di-Methyl Ether. (Di-Methyl Ether is a replacement for diesel fuel).
LFTR is a short term solution to becoming more energy independent and a long term solution to lowering transportation fuel costs and energy and environmental sustainability.
What Do We Need To Do?
We are solidly on track to continue suffering at the hands of OPEC. At no point so far in the 2012 presidential elections cycle has any major candidate demonstrated even a rudimentary understanding of the actual problem of foreign oil, let alone articulated a solution for it. Clearly, our objective should not be to reduce the magnitude of U.S. oil imports but rather to diminish the strategic importance of oil altogether. The policy needs to be not about learning to endure the impact that price spikes have on the economy, but about banishing those spikes by placing petroleum in competition with other forms of transportation fuel. LFTR is a tool that accomplishes those goals by using its process heat to transform our coal and natural gas into transportation fuel.
Clinging to old mantras and new supply developments may bring America closer to self-sufficiency, but that will not help forestall economic decline. The most immediate and effective step the U.S. government can take to insulate our economy from oil shocks is to enact an open fuel standard, eliminate needless automobile regulations and economy standards, and build licensing standards for LFTR reactors. All of these items help to ensure that new cars are open to fuel competition. These acts would signal that the U.S. transportation fuel market is no longer held captive to oil. The capacity expansion among various fuels that flex-fuel vehicles would stimulate will eventually lead to competition over fuel market share and thus drag down the price of oil. The sooner we adjust our thinking and focus on this game-changing, transformational solution instead of inconsequential, time-buying policies, the sooner we will attain true and lasting energy security.
What are the environmental consequences of following this strategy? For those that believe that man made CO2 is destroying our environment, you would think, at first blush, the above strategy, is suicidal with its use of so many fossil fuels. Many global warming advocates point to wind and solar as being solutions to our global warming problems, but until there is an efficient and economical way to store the energy that these technologies produce then they simply are not economically or environmentally sustainable and they add to our CO2 problem.
LFTR is an economically realistic path toward sustainability and answers the CO2 problem in a couple of decades.
Affordable energy has three main components: generation, delivery, and predictability.
- does the technology produce fuel cleanly, efficiently, and cheaply, with a minimum impact upon the environment?
- can production of the fuel be ramped up and down as needed and supply our fuel needs when fuel is called for by the public?
- predicting when there is a need for fuel and being able to most closely match fuel needs is vital to producing an affordable transportation fuel. Can the technology produce transportation on a predictable production schedule?
There must be a paradigm shift away from unsustainable energy to sustainable, and affordable energy sources such as the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor.
LFTR is not a concept. LFTR is combination of proven technologies the Federal Government pursued in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The Thorium fuel cycle was abandoned, not because it was unsuccessful, it was abandoned because of political and military considerations. Other nuclear fuel cycles produce materials needed to make nuclear weapons and the Thorium fuel cycle does not produce materials suitable for making weapons.
A precursor to the LFTR reactor, a MSR Molten Salt Reactor, was build at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. This pilot reactor ran flawlessly for 4 years and help proved the basic concepts of a LFTR reactor.
What about the Nuclear waste?
A traditional LWR Light Water Reactor is a solid fuel design and the LFTR reactor is a liquid fuel design. Today’s LWR’s run on Uranium which is hard to find and needs to be enriched in order to be used in a reactor. During the fissioning process in a LWR, heat is produced, which is used along with pressure and water to produce steam, that in turn drives the turbines that produce electricity.
During the fissioning process “transuranics” are produced. The best way of thinking of transuranics are as a byproduct of the fissioning process that eventually contaminates the perfectly good uranium fuel and stops the fissioning process.
LWRs consume less than 1% of their fuel and the rest is contaminated with transuranics making it unusable.
LFTRs are exactly the opposite of LWRs as they consume about 99% of their fuel. A LFTR can do this because its fuel is a liquid and the transuranics can be chemically removed in the normal course of operations. Transuranics materials such as xenon are a valuable material used in industry. The 1% of waste that is left from a LFTR is only radioactive for 300 years, compared to the 10,000 year waste produced by a LWR, and is a valuable used as a power source for deep space probes.
Because a LFTR’s core is made of molten salt and thorium it cannot melt down, the core is already melted, and because of the physical design of a LFTR, it does not require human intervention or backup systems to shut the reaction down. The design and reaction of LFTR are passively safe.
LFTR does not use water as a coolant. It uses the molten salt as a coolant. this means a LFTR can be placed in areas with no water source and there is no potential for a massive cloud of radioactive steam forming if something would go wrong with the reactor. Because the reactors do not use water and run at near atmospheric pressures the reactor itself can be much smaller and be placed closer to energy consumers.
This means a LFTR system improves the energy grid through distributive generation.
The very high process temperatures of LFTR make it a great candidate for co-generation and to produce transportation fuels.
We believe the second generation of LFTR will be manufactured with high heat neutron resistant materials that will allow higher process heat that can be used to crack carbon out of the atmosphere and produce carbon neutral transportation fuels.
- Phase 1: LFTR will displace less environmentally friendly forms of electricity generation.
- Phase 2: LFTR will be used to turn Shale into oil and help stabilize world energy markets.
- Phase 3: LFTR will be used to transform Coal and Natural Gas into Methanol and CNG Compressed Natural Gas in an affordable and environmentally friendly manner.
- Phase 4: A VHTLFTR Very High Temperature Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor will be developed that will use atmospheric carbon to produce CO2 neutral transportation fuels.
Solar and Wind do not put us on a path of economic or environmental sustainability or a path of prosperity. LFTR does!