Autonomous Big City Travel

A week in Paris has opened my eyes on how inevitable the autonomous driving future really is. I live in the South of Holland and try to live a Practice What You Preach live because I am very concerned by the prospect of what our continued Western lifestyle will mean for the future of planet Earth. So I took the train to Paris for a week long holiday. 
Traveling by public transportation means planning ahead so days before my trip I looked the departure times of the trains and I got the scare of my life: In order to be in time for my 12:00 pm Thalys from Rotterdam to Paris I had to leave my house at 8 AM because half way my journey a bridge was being repaired. It meant I had to leave 2,5 hours earlier than if trains ran regularly. Just to get to the starting point of my journey.

I decided that starting the day with the delay risk of 4 train switches was not going to increase my relaxation I decided to drive my hybrid to Rotterdam, create some unnecessary CO₂ and park there. Practice what you preach goes a long way but I don’t go so far as to ridicule myself.
The Thalys was right on time although I don’t understand why I had to be at the platform half an hour early. The coffee in the station was great and I got on my first High Speed Train ever!
Within minutes of departure the train was comfortably blasting with 300 km/h in the direction of Paris, first stop Antwerp. There the train had to wait for a full hour because between Antwerp and Bruxelles an accident had happened. 

This was when I realized how highly inflexible the railway infrastructure really is: hundreds or thousands of people are stranded because somewhere in the system somebody didn’t look out and got run over by a train. All Trains on both sides of the accident have to wait till the track is made available again. On a highway you get a traffic jam but at least 2 of the 3 lanes are usually available shortly after something happens and you can take an exit to drive around a problem.
Anyways, we arrived fossil free in Paris an hour late. No big deal because I was in holiday mode. The total travelling time (6:40) from my house to Paris was substantially longer than had I driven point to point. How would this travel scenario roll out in a not so distance future autonomous EV world? Would I order a vehicle to bring me from Weert to Paris in 4,5 hours while I was enjoying blogging in the back seat? Absolutely!

I walked to my hotel with my roller suitcase, enjoying the Big City sound, smell and buzz. My eye immediately caught the numerous Toyota Hybrid cabs (mostly Prius), busses, botched cars and triple wheel motorcycles. My hotel was just ten minutes walking from Gare du Nord, in the middle of a busy neighborhood.
The next morning I got myself a public transportation chipcard (valid for ten years, 5€) and ordered a 1 week unlimited travel fee for just €23 and was ready to go. Paris had an amazing subway network and you can get from anywhere to anywhere and the frequency of the trains is amazing, can’t remember having to wait more that 3 minutes.

I really enjoyed the rides to get around town. But once you get back out in the streets you notice that there is an even denser network of buses overlaying the subway network. The sound of the buses is everywhere and the (tourist) buses are followed by at least ten taxis and 50 personal transportation devices (including occasional public bikes). In numerous streets you see really dirty shared public EV’s charging and occasionally you actually see one moving. The idea is cool but who wants to drive such a dirty not looked after piece of shit?

Paris is a pandemonium of people moving around all the time and I sat down at one cafe to think out this blog….
Just close your eyes and fast forward 10 years:

  • all the taxis are replaced by autonomous Uber/Tesla EV’s. Not Model S, not model 3, but more something like a Smart. Taking up no space and moving 2 people at a time over empty boulevards
  • All the dirty public EV’s are gone, because they are charged and maintained outside the city 
  • Nobody uses buses because point to point travel with an app is way easier and cheaper
  • No cars parked anywhere
  • Air quality improves big time
  • Noise level improves big time 
  • I think metro will survive because it is already fully electric, quiet, fast and really cheap

I am sure this city is absolutely ready for this autonomous EV revolution. They have done many experiments with public and shared services and paying for taxis. Autonomous EV’s will revolutionize the Paris experience, in a very good way.
If you want to enjoy the diesel noise and smoke and a million dented cars, you better hurry, they won’t last.

PS. For the major Paris : immidiatly forbid new fuel powered two/three wheelers and mandatory replacement by 2020, quickest win for cleaner air and less noise,

The NegaWatt – unknown source of Renewable Energy

My regular readers know it, I’m a Treehugger. Actively proclaiming the end of the fossil fuel era because I have seen CO2 levels rise from 320 to 400 ppm during my lifetime, and coal and oil are to blame.

Most denyists think Treehuggers want massive government subsidies so those beloved windfarms can kick coal plants out of the energy market. This is not true for me at least. I just ask for a level playing field, where the full costs of using fossil fuels are payed by the fossil energy producers. This carbon tax is totally out of the question as long as oil companies run our governments of course. That’s what fires my passion for change.

Of course direct subsidies are given to renewables, and this is very visible in budget reports. (As opposed to the lung diseases, rising seas and forrest fires that are nicely decoupled from the cause). “This money is wasted” the doubt brigade keeps shouting so I have a better plan. We’re going to generate Negatwatts with that money.

What is a NegaWatt? It is a Megawatt removed from the energy equation for ever so no windmill is needed to generate it. It’s a 5 Watt LED bulb replacing a 50 Watt incandescent bulb. It’s a hot fill washing machine using sun heated water that only uses a few watts to tumble the wash. It’s a heatpump dryer. It’s an OLED TV. It’s a well insulated house needing no external heat, or cooling. The fun thing is that generating a NegaWatt is up to 10 times cheaper than creating a Reneweable MegaWatt

The potential is really incredible. If we replace petrol cars by EV’s and burn the saved petrol centrally in power generators we save HALF of the energy that would be wasted in the exhaust pipe. Not one windmill needed.

If we replace fridges by high efficient ones we can save half of the energy used now, even compared to fridges just 5 years old. This is where subsidies should go because a dollar or euro spent on saving is 10 times efficient than a dollar spent on a windmill or solar panel.

Look around you, as long as you have old appliances, bulbs, petrol cars, air conditioners in use you would be insane to invest in renewable energy.

Once that has been done the small amount of energy needed can be created (and stored) with renewable sources, with or without subsidies.

“But Apple and Google will just build data centers in places where massive saving leads to low energy prices”……..maybe, but I’m willing to take the risk, these companies look ahead and see the fossil power generation slowly dying.

And companies like aluminum factories that try to benefit? They find this treehugger on their way 🙂

My best friend in Mexico has an interesting calculation example

An inconvenient truth about solar panels?

Yesterday I came across this article, pointing to the ugly downside of solar energy: to create the panels you apparently need
* to burn coal to create electricity to make silicon.
* use chemicals to clean the panels that are 24.000 times more heat capturing than CO2
* toxic metals like Cadmium to change the properties of the silicon to turn it into PV material
* massive amounts of aluminum for the frames
* people driving around in Diesel trucks to deliver the panels
* slaves
* ambulances running on petrol to collect roof workers falling of roofs
it goes on

I know this game now. I’ve debunked the “wind is dirty” bit, so I know what to look for.
Usually they assume that the production needs coal power to run the plants, data used is old, incomplete and cherry picked. And it is not different this time around.

I will only say one thing about the electricity needed for making silicon: it is absurd to assume that PV-factories can only run on coal. Elon Musk is building the worlds largest battery plant with an immense PV-array that will make more energy than the plant uses. I am sure new PV-plants will do the same thing.

Luckily I discovered a coalition in California,, that actually keeps track of the whole PV-industry performance and guess what? As a consumer you can already buy panels that score an almost perfect 92% on every aspect of PV production one can think of. More interestingly, even in the below average group GHG-chemicals and energy use are already fully under control by 30% of this group.

The problem is, again as with the Neodymium magnets, small Chinese producers that do not have to comply with regulations. So a consumer label showing the sustainability score will help consumers identify the black sheep.
Choosing non-sustainable panels thus becomes a consumer choice where individual buyers can be held accountable for.
The PV industry is getting its act together very quickly, something that cannot be said for Coal Diggers and Burners.

Here the latest 2014 list:

Non stop renewable that would end the nuclear debate

The IPCC proved this week that mankind is changing earth’s climate at an alarming rate. Greenhouse gases are the culprit. We need to act really really fast if we want to have a chance of staying within 2 degrees temperature rise compared to pre-industrial times.

“Wind power and solar are going to save us” was my state of mind for years. Especially PV is becoming so cheep so fast that it is inevitable that it will become a serious source of electricity in our lifetime. Wind and sun have some very important drawbacks that make them unsuitable to run a whole modern society on:
– the energy is available intermittently : PV doesn’t work at night and in the winter, wind is predictable but not always there
– the solutions are very dispersed, you need vast amounts of area to gather significant amounts of energy
– suitable storage solutions (power2gas and flow batteries) are a long way down the road

So I have come to the conclusion that we need yet another source of electricity. Nuclear has crossed my mind I must admit because it solves a couple of important issues:
– very energy dense
– very high load factor (hours running/hours in 1 year)
I got enthusiastic about 4th generation reactors: Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor. Only problem, it’s fantasy technology, nobody had got it working and nobody has plans to go that way. Older reactors running on Uranium are not feasible because there is not enough Uranium ore available.

That was a long introduction to get to what I came across today: Plant-e (pronounce – plenty). A Dutch startup/spinoff from Wageningen University.
They discovered that soil microbes excrete electrons as part of their metabolism. The electrons are a real waste product for them. If you are able to collect these electrons, run ‘m through a bulb and return them to the soil you have a sustainable, unstopable, vast amount of “free” electricity. The microbes only stop when it freezes, but huge wetlands (rice fields) never freeze and could deliver enormous amounts of energy. The facts look something like this :
* 280 MWh/ hectare / year
* 3-5 years until hectare scale size
* original function of soil remains in tact : pasture land, wetland, rice fields
* electricity gathering with long pipes buried in the wet soil (no figures on density yet).
* The low energy density is not really an issue here because of this fact because the energy is removed as a bonus from the land use, it’s not the main “task” of the land

The main question is what the cost price per hectare will be. The electricity it gives of would be worth $15000 a year (@ 5ct/kWH). So if you require a 7 year payback time you have a $100.000 budget. I believe the electrodes will be placed in the form of pipes.

At this moment I am cautiously optimistic that this could actually work. It would deliver base load electricity in parts of the world where reliable energy is now not available and truly sustainable. Question: How are we going to help them get the first hectares up and running as they’re only testing small patches now? If this actually works it needs industrial style upscaling ASAP.



Could our world run on nuclear fuel?

Reposted blog by Luis Baram

Introduction : With IPCC’s latest report is has become 100% clear that our Fossil Society is totally unsustainable. It is Force Majeur, we need to act now or else…. I’ve been reluctant to think about the nuclear option, but I think our problems are so dire that we have to look at every option to reduce our carbon GHG emissions. The following blogpost shows that the nuclear option doesn’t look good though:

Nuclear power has many advantages about which we have written extensively in the past but there is a question we need to ask today.
Do we have enough uranium reserves to power a “nuclear renaissance?” Let’s run the math.

Today, our global total primary energy supply (TPES) is equivalent to 12,717 Mtoe (million tons of oil equivalent).
For the year 2035 the IEA (International Energy Agency) predicts two scenarios, one at 16,961 and the other at 14,870 Mtoe. For simplicity let’s use the mathematical average of the above: 15,916.

Today, nuclear energy provides 5.7% of our TPES.
In order for nuclear to be a very significant energy source that would help us to drastically reduce our carbon emissions, let’s say we target for 25% of our TPES by the year 2035 to be uranium based nuclear power.
How much uranium would we need per year and, most importantly, what are our current known reserves?
According to MIT (below), 200 tons of natural uranium are required to produce one Giga Watt of electricity for a full year. That means currently we use close to 65,000 tons per year**.

For the 2035 scenario, we would need grossly (25% / 5.7%) x (15,916 Mtoe / 12,717Mtoe) * 65,000 tons = 356,802 tons every year.
According to Wikipedia (below) the current uranium reserves are around 5.5 million tons, so this would turn out to be around 15 years of supply. Not very encouraging. Sure, more reserves will be found, but still…

On the other hand, today we have close to 430 nuclear power reactors. Assuming the same average power from new reactors as we have right now, we would need an additional 1,930 reactors, in other words, commissioning an average of 88 new reactors EVERY year for 22 consecutive years (and this without decommissioning any of the current ones).
Sorry, but this ain’t going to happen.

With respect to the uranium shortage, thorium looks, on paper, quite promising, but even if it did go mainstream soon, the thorium build out would have to be of monumental proportions (see above).

Conclusion: moving to a low carbon economy is MUCH more difficult than is generally realized.

**Annual nuclear electricity production: 2,765 TWh * 1,000 = 2,765,000 GWh
2,765,000 / (1GW x 24 hrs. x 365 days) x 200 tons = 63,128 tons.


Labels: electricity, energy, nuclear, thorium, TPES, uranium

An energy source for the industry ? : Lifter Plants – Thorium

Households will have no issue whatsoever to decarbonize. Their rooftops will catch all the energy they need from Fusion reactor number 1, and community windmills will fill in the gaps when the sun is down. Our Tesla batteries store energy for half a neighborhood and in case we want to go all the way in reliability we will place flow batteries in every street.
If energy is in tight supply our smart neighborhood net will follow the programmed heuristic to lower power demand by switching of washing machines, boilers and lowering power usage of heat pumps. No doubt in my mind that “we the people” can be fossil free within 15 years. The most expensive part of the energy infrastructure (the low voltage distribution network in towns) will loose their goal and be decommissioned. We only need to connect with our neighbors in a mesh network to distribute our local power.

Not so for the industry. 365×24 aluminum smelters, paper mills, nuclear fuel processing plants, steel factories, manufacturing industry, they are desperately dependent on stable and MASSIVE amounts of cheap and stable energy. It is this group that screams from the rooftops that “Renewable is not feasible”. It is this group that has the lobby power to keep coal taxes low. It is this group that has Energy Ministers in their pocket to give of fracking permits. I’ve been angry at them, for refusing to modernize, for refusing to rethink, for only thinking about short term solutions.

But if you truly want the whole world to decarbonize there is no other solution than to think for these mastodons. So last week I came across a solution that is so beautiful in its simplicity that it really a shame that I didn’t come across it earlier**. The reason for this is because when you research the technology Google trashes you with documents laced with these words:
Forbidden Words
I’ve made it a picture so Google can’t index them.

Point is, there this an element number 90 (look it up) that in 100% pure form, when mixed with a minute amount of waste U233 that acts like a catalyst, magically starts to give of HUGE amounts of energy that can be harvested in a completely safe way, without the risks associated with “Fossil” Nuclear Power plants.

I always used to be very very anti-Nuclear, for the right reasons, but researching Liquid-Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR, or “lifter”) I must conclude that this technology should really be framed as “iNergy” in an Apple style glamorous setting if it actually made true it’s promises.

This is because the physics look rock solid based on 100% pure Thorium, accidents like Fukushima can’t happen (no pressure, no massive amounts of radioactive pollutants). And in case of complete systems failure it shuts itself down, even if all pumps were Tsunamied away. It needs Nuclear Waste to get started and burns the shit away if the starting material is 100% pure! The waste that comes out of a Thorium plant (if any) is safer than the ore it originated from within 300 years. Any how, Google Thorium LFTR, ignore the ’50’s and ’60’s frame and look at whats there**

A rock solid energy source, extremely expensive to develop and based on 100% clean fuel sources, but if we let the MegaCorps bite that bullet (it’s called investing), thats really OK, because they will get what they so desperately need : unmeasurable amounts of free energy! Check it out!

** since Thorium is ratio active (it falls apart) 100% pure is not possible and the contaminants make the whole idea utterly unfeasible. That is the reason that after 50 years of research the “fast breeder” reactor was buried on economic grounds. Only India pursuits the idea. And even if it would work it would take centuries to “breed” all the Uranium needed to start these reactors. Looks like industry has to rethink the sun anyways.

Everything you need to know about methane but were afraid to ask

“Listen, the North Pole is starting to tilt towards the sun, so of course it melts, and that’s also why the Antarctic is growing so fast now”

This is the kind of rubbish I find on my replies when I tweet about Climate Change. Good thing I have my blog where I can spend more than 140 characters to explain my concerns. Today some reflection on methane related issues, because Carbon Dioxide may be In the news all over, there may be a much larger issue lurking out there.

Methane is a 25 times more potent Greenhouse Gas than CO2. Methane is released into the atmosphere from several sources, most of which are largely influenced by human behavior:
– oil and Gas industry (Natural gas = methane)
– farming (cow farts = methane )
– landfills create large amounts of methane
– decay of natural material (thawing permafrost is going to be a huge source of methane in the decades to come)
– fracking

That last category is very important, because the Fracking Gods make us believe that natural gas is much more environmentaly friendly than coal. This may be true if you replace the coal in the coal plant with a gas flame, but the problem is getting the gas there. During Fracking a significant amount of gas is leaked (1-3%). This leakage negates the positive effects of burning gas, and now appears 100-1000 larger than previously thought

Methane is a gas with a short lifespan in the atmosphere as opposed to carbon dioxide that stays in the atmosphere for a very long time. Methane is absorbed my moist soil at the bottom part of the atmosphere (by biological processes) and by a mechanism that I just learned of today : the hydroxy layer at 10-15 kilometers altitude. At that elevation solar radiation breaks apart water into very reactive particles called hydroxy ions (OH). These will bind to almost anything that comes along, and especially methane gets neutralized in this way. This hydroxy-zone is a thin shield covering the globe working like a vacuum cleaner for aggressive chemicals.

Enter problem number two
In the western Pacific scientists (oh, not them again!!) found a huge hole in the hydroxy-zone where methane can pop through into the stratosphere where it can perform its super blanket properties almost indefinitely. Given that that part of the Pacific is going to be in a turbulent state the following two years due to the awakening El Niño, we may see that hole even grow larger.

So not only do we need to cap CO2 emissions, we now also need to take a very good look at our methane emissions. For a good deal the two are directly related (via fossil fuel burning) so getting rid of one also means getting rid of the other, but given the vested interests of fossil fuel companies and governments tied to these companies with both hands (UK, Norway, Mexico, Netherlands) we have to be very afraid of rising methane emissions. Banning shale fracking would be a very good starting point.

Read the whole story here

By Lars Boelen