Making fuel out of air and sunshine

Plants do it. Why not you?


helios.jpg

In principle it would be possible to combine carbon dioxide from the air with water to create hydrocarbons that could be used to power motor vehicles. Of course it takes energy to do this, so in effect you’re just taking another energy source (such as nuclear) and converting it (with a thermodynamic loss) into something you could use to drive your car. But as long as the primary source is not a fossil fuel, you have a truly carbon-neutral way to drive to work, since you’d take just as much carbon out of the air to make the fuel as you’d put back in when it’s combusted. If you want to be really green, the primary source would be solar.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory reports:

Helios SERC [Solar Energy Research Center] scientists are developing solar-driven chemical converters that will create transportation fuels from water and carbon dioxide. Centered at Berkeley Lab, this project also includes experts from UC Berkeley and several other universities. Research focuses on advanced nanomaterials for use in solar light collectors and electrodes, a new generation of catalysts for energy-efficient chemistry, and specialized soft and hard membranes for integrating the light harvesting, charge separating and fuel forming components.

Maybe they’re just dreaming. But as Oscar Hammerstein observed,

You gotta have a dream
if you don’t have a dream
How you gonna have a dream come true?



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50 thoughts on “Making fuel out of air and sunshine

  1. Thruxton

    All our energy is derived from the sun (or other stars).
    Fossil fuels are the stored chemical energy of paleo-photosynthesis. Wind energy is derived from convection currents caused by solar heating of the atmosphere, hydro-power from the evaporation of water after heating by the sun. Tidal energy comes from the gravitational energy of the solar system. Geothermal energy from the conversion of the solar system’s gravitational potential to heat during planetary accretion. And nuclear energy is derived from the decay of radioactive isotopes originally produced in stellar supernovae.
    The only question is: how do we go about converting that solar energy for our own use?

  2. anon

    This sounds like a way to combine the disadvantanges of biofuels (use too much land and water resources) with the disadvantages of solar photovoltaics (too expensive for large-scale energy supply).
    The best plants are about 1% efficient (over their lifetime) in converting solar energy to stored chemical energy – how likely is it that technology will improve on 3 billion years of evolution?
    The problem with dreams is that they divert us from fixing the problem now with technologies that already work. Solar thermal in deserts is a cheaper and more efficient way to capture solar energy directly: it’s about the only renewable that comes anywhere near coal or nuclear in potential to supply energy on an exajoule scale. With fast electrified rail for long-distance transport, and plug-in electric vehicles for short-distance transport, we wouldn’t need much liquid fuel.

  3. Buzzcut

    Okay, this is pie in the sky. But so were Canadian tar sands 20 years ago. Now not only are the tar sands online, they’re making money on it. Lots of money.
    This is yet another example that civillization will not collapse if oil prices rise. There are alternatives, and if the price gets high enough, these alternatives make financial sense and will not only get developed, they will get implemented.
    With that said, I expect that gassified coal used as a feedstock for GTL diesel will make financial sense a lot sooner than this process. Hell, GTL diesel from natural gas makes sense now at these diesel prices. That’s why there are so many GTL plants being built in the middle east.

  4. M1EK

    Tar sands aren’t and can’t be exploited in large enough volume to make up for the cheap oil they’re supposed to displace; neither can this new thing.
    Oil is basically thousands of years of photosynthesis stored up for us to use all at once. That, in a nutshell, is why ethanol and biodiesel are such a joke.

  5. Charles

    Buzzcut, this is one of those things that’s pathway dependent. We might well develop alternatives that fix the problem, but it matters whether it’s before or after massive damage has already been caused. It matters whether the solutions have to be implemented in an atmosphere of crisis or whether they can be implemented calmly and deliberately.
    I love technology and know that it changes the outcomes on many extrapolated trends. But I also know that global warming is not something to play around with or rely on a solution emerging timely without planning.

  6. SkepMod

    Yes, this effort is directionally correct, but doesn’t get the scale right. What is the petroleum we are burning but millions of years’ worth of stored biomass? The problem is that we are expending what took almost forever to accumulate. If these guys think we can devise a system that can do nature one better and create one day’s worth of fuel in one day, they are dreaming. Dreaming big, but still just dreaming. Good to see our tax dollars hard at work on blue-sky research.

  7. Darren

    M1EK is right…. the Alberta Tar Sands are producing a couple million barrels per day of oil (with prodigious inputs of water and natural gas)… they MIGHT be able to ramp that up to 3 or 4 mbbl/day eventually (but the infrastructure up there is strained to bursting as it is). But global consumption is 85mbbl/day… the Canadian Tar Sands can’t save us (unfortunately). It’s like having a billion dollar bank account, but a $100 daily withdrawal limit.
    The tar sands at least had promising physical fundamentals to go along with their engineering challenges. This Helios SERC project doesn’t even have that by the sounds of it… it sounds like a government grant boondoggle.

  8. DickF

    Charles wrote:
    I love technology and know that it changes the outcomes on many extrapolated trends. But I also know that global warming is not something to play around with or rely on a solution emerging timely without planning.
    Okay Charles. I will apply for the job of Planning Czar. Will you let me? If not are you planning to take the job? If neither you nor I are qualified to do the job then will you allow me to appoint the right person or are you “planning” to take that job too? Just who can do this planning job? Oh, I know, let’s let government do it? Then we don’t have to have a real person making any decisions. We all know that government is this mystical entity that is omnipresent, is all powerful, and is all knowing. Gosh, that kind of reminds me of someone….

  9. Silas Barta (formerly Person)

    You forgot to add one more critical step: power the system with nuclear: According to this NYT account of it, that’s what a lot of the research is directed at: Aircraft carriers have nuclear power stations on board, and they can take seawater, CO2 in the atmosphers, and the power output of their nuclear reactors, and make fuel (like octane) for other ships at sea.
    In a flash, we could solve the global warming problem: make all the fuel for cars from nuclear. Currest estimates in the link say it can be done for $4.60/gallon, about what it is now in California, though still a few dollars/gallon more than the tax-free cost. (I think entrepreneurs can get it lower.) Since all the CO2 comes from the atmosphere to begin with, all cars are carbon neutral (effectively complying with Kyoto several times over), and no money goes to bad countries.
    No cars or gas stations or consumer behavior need to be modded. Which is exactly why environmentalists will oppose this tooth and nail.

  10. Buzzcut

    But I also know that global warming is not something to play around with or rely on a solution emerging timely without planning.
    If you look at the more rational estimates, global warming costs like 3% of world growth 100 years from now (at a time when the world will be much, much richer).
    Global warming requires us to do some contingency planning for the worst case scenarios. But then should we be doing contingency planning for other unlikely but catastrophic disasters, like comets hitting the earth?
    The median estimates of global warming are such that we would be foolish to change our lifestyles dramatically to ensure that people 5 generations from now, vastly richer than we, don’t suffer a small loss.
    The argument may be moot if gas prices stay this high from now on.

  11. Buzzcut

    The tar sands are just the leading edge of the move to superheavy crudes. They’ve got them in Venuzuela and Saudi. They’re the future.
    So, while the tar sands themselves are not going to displace all the other oil out there, other superheavy crudes will some day.
    Speaking for the midwest refiners, availability of tar sands is driving all the upgrades at all the refiners. Literally every refiner with a midwest refinery is working on some tar sand related upgrade. Some are bigger than others, of course. But everybody is doing it.

  12. Hitchhiker

    DickF, You haven’t heard? They have created a computer model that has been proven to accurately model every past climate change before we even came down from the trees. They are currently playing around with it and extrapolating trends. The future looks bleak. It is a good thing our consensus of scientists is right this time. We might have stumbled along unknowing and then, pow, the day after tomorrow and we are all drowned or frozen to death from global warming. It’s true. It was on video.

  13. Charles

    DickF asks, “I will apply for the job of Planning Czar. Will you let me? If not are you planning to take the job? If neither you nor I are qualified to do the job …”
    There you go, Dick, confusing “qualified for” with “planning to take the job.”
    Let me ask you this question: do companies plan their R&D? If you answer “yes,” then you have no business talking against government planning R&D in basic science and engineering. If you answer “no,” well, I don’t think you’re that dishonest. And if you answer that government has no role in promoting scientific development, then you missed something in your class on America. I suggest you re-read Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution
    Applied technology requires a fair amount of planning. I happen to know a little something about that. And you don’t, as is obvious from your post.
    So, could we please end this exchange on a pleasant note? Like, “Farewell, forever”?
    Buzzcut says, “If you look at the more rational estimates, global warming costs like 3% of world growth 100 years from now …”
    Unfortunately, Buzzcut, what you call “rational,” the scientific community calls bulls–t, first of all because of the high uncertainty associated with any model-dependent extrapolation that far into the future, second of all because it doesn’t take much of a loss of agricultural productivity to create mass starvation, epidemics, wars, and chaos, and third because of the effect coal company funding has on scientific judgment. But even if I were to accept your (unsourced) estimate as gospel truth, a 3% reduction in today’s world GDP would represent a trillion dollars. One can buy a lot of R&D for that price.
    Many of the measures needed to address global warming are actually money-saving. They might actually reduce GDP but increase the standard of living. Insulating a house, for example, or building new houses so that gather more sunlight is not expensive. A very long time ago, I added a small greenhouse to a property. It paid itself off in 10 years, even with a realistic discount rate, while adding to the re-sale value of the property.
    There are many, many similar things– adding up to major shifts in consumption– that require nothing more than modest investments and national leadership. But they don’t happen by accident or because people suddenly become virtuous or even just because of legislation. They happen because a nation decides that it wants it and everyone, from government to companies to individuals work to make it happen.

  14. green marketeer

    Dr. Hamilton

    Generally, I really like your blog and try to read it daily. However, this post would have been more appropriate for April Fool’s Day. We need solutions to the Global Warming/Liquid Fuels problem that will start to take effect today, not some pie in the sky by and by. If you study transportation economics, you must appreciate that the demand for gasoline is driven by the fact that so many costs of driving are being subsidized. If you want to start reducing driving TODAY, eliminate the tax deduction that corporations can take for providing “free” parking to employees, or better yet let employees choose between “free” parking and the cash (known as parking cash out). Where this has been done, 15% of commuters voluntarily use an alternate method to get to work. Or how about changing auto insurance from the current “all you can drive” per year basis to a “per-mile” basis. This would allow drivers to pocket the resultant savings when they drive less. Both of these measures would reduce demand for driving and gasoline as well as the price of gasoline, and would also reduce pollution, congestion and road expenditures. See Aaron Edelman at UC Berekley or Todd Litman at Victoria Transport Policy Institute for more details about these proposals.

  15. Buzzcut

    Charles, your doom and gloom is NOT the most likely outcome. It is an outlier, but certainly possible, and one scenario that needs to be prepared for. Maybe you could spend a lot of money on, say, nuclear fusion or something like that, just in case. Use the excess power to strip CO2 right out of the air and inject it back into the earth, or something of that nature.
    Regarding your insulation example, you’re ignoring opportunity cost. If the choice is, say, insulation or invest in IT technology circa 1996, you’d be a fool to take the money and put it in insulation.
    One of the great ignored facts of the 1990s was that the computer/ IT boom happened at the same time that energy prices were collapsing. What we didn’t spend on gas we could spend on IT, with huge ROIs.
    If we HAVE to invest in insulation, we are going to be a lot poorer than some of the alternatives.
    Finally, the choice is NOT 3% today. It is 3% in the future. The FAR future. It would be like us asking people of the past to live without, say, Socialist Insecurity, just so we don’t have to pay payroll taxes. It ignores the fact that we are a hell of a lot richer than, say, Americans circa 1935. We can afford the taxes now, and the program helped people survive back then.

  16. c thomson

    When you need a good laugh, it’s great to know that this splendid site is still around.
    Thanks everyone. But where is PhD Electrician these days? I think we should be told.

  17. CoRev

    When JH or Menzie want so stir the pot they drop another Global Warming/Climate Change (GW/CC) article and off we go. If it, solar driven converters, happens, it will be an excellent improvement for mankind, and help us extend the life of our oil needs.
    As for GW/CC, pshaw!!! It’s not that the planet is not warming, but the catastrophic predictions thereof, that deserve the PSHAW!! We have cooled for the past 8-10 years. The ocean temps are not rising. Lower Troposphere is not rising. Solar energy is not rising, and we are about to synchronize several of the major ocean current into their cold phases. All are omens for cooling. Extended? Dunno. Nor does anyone else.
    The planet has been cooler and hotter in the past, and it survived. Our own human history tells us it has been warmer and cooler, and we survived. But, we need the catastrophic prediction to get attention.
    Ok, the alarmists have gotten their attention and some actions, but not without unanticipated consequences. Europe is turning decidedly less green. Millions are going hungry. Prices for many staples are going up too fast for us to adjust. Taxes are being proposed that have the possibility of severely negatively impacting economies. All in the name of controlling GW/CC because “MAN” is to blame for GW/CC?
    The basic difference between weather and climate is time and scope. Just change the target to weather in the GW/CC discussions, because that is what we are trying to control, and see how much support is out there for the extreme proposals.
    Just sayin!

  18. CoRev

    From today’s Washington Times:
    http://www.washingtontimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080516/EDITORIAL/8210510

    If you think about it, all we possess to project the future of complex systems are computer models. Therefore, if the models that serve as the basis for policy do not work and that must be the conclusion if indeed we are at the midpoint of a two-decade hiatus in global warming then there is no verifiable science behind the current legislative hysteria….

    Or GW/CC hysteria. Or … you can add your own topic.

  19. don

    I’m with green marketeer. We need to cut the subsidies for driving, and for flying as well. Neither activity is forced to pay for its true social cost. We need to stop ignoring their externalities and start collecting serious money with carbon taxes.
    Our political solutions have been really bad. The mandated mileage standards that were ignored for SUV’s, for example, compared to Europe’s policy of high gasoline taxes.
    As for technology, I think helping prices give more accurate signals as to social costs and benefits would help to better direct research. For example, some of the auto research spent designing SUV’s might have gone to improving fuel efficiency.

  20. Silas Barta (formerly Person)

    green_marketeer: You seem to be going to great lengths to read policies as anti-green
    We need solutions to the Global Warming/Liquid Fuels problem that will start to take effect today, not some pie in the sky by and by.
    Yes, and with nuclear power for the source, this can be done today with current infrastructure.
    If you study transportation economics, you must appreciate that the demand for gasoline is driven by the fact that so many costs of driving are being subsidized.
    No, they’re not, at least not in the instances you give:
    If you want to start reducing driving TODAY, eliminate the tax deduction that corporations can take for providing “free” parking to employees,
    They get that deduction because, as a provision of something employees need to work, it is a *cost* to the corporation. Corporations are taxed on net income, so naturally this can be deducted. It’s *not* some specific tax deduction carved out; it’s at most, an official interpretation of how the “tax net income” principle is applied. To the extent that “what is a cost for a corporation” is complicated, it’s an indictment of taxing net corporate income in the first place! And if we’re going to write a tax code that avoids having to resolve bizarre issues like this, we should do it systematically, not in hodge-podge manner that targets the social goals you like.
    or better yet let employees choose between “free” parking and the cash (known as parking cash out). Where this has been done, 15% of commuters voluntarily use an alternate method to get to work. Or how about changing auto insurance from the current “all you can drive” per year basis to a “per-mile” basis.
    Both of these are cases of you wrongly equating “X is inefficient” with “X is inefficient and the cost of removing the inefficiency is less than the savings“. Yes, insurers could more accurately price your driving risk by making your costs more closely track miles driven, but then they’d have collect and monitor such data more often and then charge you more at base. Forcing insurers to predicate polices this way would be the subsidy of your social goal, not the other way around!
    This would allow drivers to pocket the resultant savings when they drive less. Both of these measures would reduce demand for driving and gasoline as well as the price of gasoline, and would also reduce pollution, congestion and road expenditures.
    Only in a very short-term sense. If you really did make prices more accurately reflect costs, that would increase economic growth, which tracks energy use growth. Second, congestion is extremely insensitive to higher fuel prices because of the immense premium placed on being able to drive to work. I don’t think your authors found an instance of rush hour traffic becoming unchoked because of higher gasoline costs. They would have to be ~$50 to make it worthwhile to take a bus. But then, if you want to reduce congestion, why not toll the people that are actually, er, using those roads at that time, and not *everyone* that happens to be using gasoline at some point.
    If you want energy use to incorporate the externalities, tax, and be done with it — don’t massively distor other price signals in the hope that it will trickle over to energy.
    And don, I don’t see why you’re “with” green_marketeer; he advocated policies that grab a few target areas, an push the price signals one way, while you want accurate price signals, whichever way that makes them go.

  21. ramirez

    There isn’t ONE solution.
    We must get energy on a local basis
    (of course whenever possible) exploiting
    what we have available ‘in situ’,
    Furthermore we must have nuclear energy
    in order to gain time towards better
    renewables.
    Of course we must learn to save energy.
    And yes…we must dream !!

  22. Josh Stern

    There are a couple of companies that seem to be having success developing compressed air batteries for standard automobiles (the energy of the battery is the thermodynamic energy stored in compressed air – yes I wonder about safety and don’t know the answers on that).

    There is also at least one company working on converting solar energy to steam

    It strikes me as plausible that these two techniques could be combined effectively on a large scale for converting solar energy to thermodynamic energy with zero pollution and all the energy coming from renewable resources.

  23. green marketeer

    Don

    “helping prices give more accurate signals as to social costs and benefits” (as you put it) is the key principle to developing efficient markets in transportation.

    Silas Barta

    Leaving aside the un-demonstated commercial feasibility of converting atmospheric CO2 to methanol with nuclear-powered electricity, you seem to have let your obvious right-wing biases get in the way of accurate analysis. Employees obviously don’t NEED parking to work; some walk, bike or ride public transportation. Some businesses don’t furnish “free” employee parking, and allow the market to provide it at the going rate. The businesses that do bring employee parking (like lunches or medical insurance)onto their books do so largely because they are encouraged to do so by a tax code that allows them deduct the cost. This is clearly a tax subsidy. However, if you want to keep the tax-deductibility of “free” work parking, at least offer those workers who don’t use the parking the cash equivalent to eliminate the incentive to drive alone (this is called parking cash-out).

    Addressing the general issue of corporate taxation is beyond the scope of this discussion, but I actually agree that corporate taxes are counterproductive and need to be replace by other revenue sources, such as taxes on pollution and traffic congestion.

    You admit that “per-mile” auto insurance would be more efficient than the current “all you can drive” basis, but suggest that the cost of enforcement is prohibitive. In fact all vehicles are currently equipped with a device called an ODOMETER which could be monitored at minimal cost to determine how much an individual would pay for insurance. If this is not high-tech enough for you, Progressive has a pilot “per-mile” auto insurance program that uses a little device that plugs into your car’s ODB port.

    You then state that “If you really did make prices more accurately reflect costs, that would increase economic growth, which tracks energy use growth”. Prices that accurately reflect costs are more efficient in the sense that consumer utility would be increased, but would not necessarily increase energy-intensive consumption. Prices for transportation that accurately reflected marginal costs of pollution, congestion, parking, road wear, and insurance would clearly result in a lot more use of non-SOV (single occupancy vehicle) transportation.

    Regarding the congestion effects of my proposals, I did not even discuss “traffic becoming unchoked because of higher gasoline costs”. I merely pointed out that these proposals would have the beneficial side effect of reducing traffic. “Parking cash out” in particular would have it’s peak effects during the work-commute rush hour. I wholly support congestion charges, but that is a separate matter that is beyond the scope of this discussion.

    Silas, don may be “with” me on this because he has done some research on this subject and realizes that price distortions are heavily weighted towards subsidizing SOV use. May I suggest that you look more deeply into this subject, starting with the references I provided previously.

  24. Charles

    Buzzcut says, “Charles, your doom and gloom is NOT the most likely outcome.”
    You have no idea, really, what I think will happen, Buzzcut, so most of your post is occurring inside your own mind. Mind-reading is something better left to psychics and Johnny Carson.
    There are several sources which represent the consensus scientific view. For example,
    1. the National Academies of Science of eleven nations have released a statement urging that we “Acknowledge that the threat of climate change is clear and increasing.”
    2. The Board of AAAS has issued a statement that “The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society.”
    3. The Pew Center has put together a review that includes a review if economic modeling which states that “Under a plausible range of assumptions about the U.S. economy and assuming a policy architecture that imposes a modest cap on GHG emissions but allows trading and is implemented gradually, with advance announcement, the likely impact on the U.S. economy in a near- to medium-term timeframe is quite small: a less than 1 percent reduction in the expected growth of U.S. GDP by 2020.” Maybe in 2004, a 3% reduction in GDP was considered the high end estimate for the damage that global warming would do, but recent developments have changed the landscape. Lord Stern of the World Bank now thinks he underestimated the costs at 5-20% of GDP.
    You’re also wrong about using future GDP as a measure of burden. If present investment is a cost to future GDP, the appropriate discount rate is the same rate as by which GDP compounds.
    The basic scientific evidence is contained in the IPCC report, which judges as a robust conclusion that “Unmitigated climate change would, in the long term, be likely to exceed the capacity of natural, managed and human systems to adapt.” Translating from the dry language of science, that says, if we don’t intervene, our environment will suffer serious disruption, agriculture, forestry, and fisheries will suffer major damage, and people will die on a mass scale.
    You are trying to call this fringe science, just an “outlier.”
    But just who, exactly, are you?

  25. Michael Cain

    We must get energy on a local basis
    (of course whenever possible)

    There have been a rash of columns published in various places recently asserting that “energy independence” for the US is an impossible dream, not worth pursuing. In the medium-to-long term, it seems much more likely to me that the US will have energy independence thrust upon it as the energy exporters encounter production and/or transport limitations, as well the political need to serve their growing domestic demand first.

  26. CoRev

    Charles, you cite IPCC predictions that are based upon models. Models that are not initialized to any reality, just some series of IPCC scenarios. Models that are diverging from current observations. Models that are so poor in predicting that IPCC has to use their outputs as an ensemble, and then average to get a reasonable result. Model results that are so diverse that it is easy to claim nearly any weather as being consistent with the model(s) (pick the closest one.) That’s what your alarmist, catastrophic concerns are about.
    I will add the IPCC definition of Climate:

    Climate in a narrow sense is usually defined as the average weather, or more rigorously, as the statistical description in terms of the mean and variability of relevant quantities over a period of time ranging from months to thousands or millions of years. The classical period is 30 years, as defined by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). These quantities are most often surface variables such as temperature, precipitation, and wind.

    When we realize that the proposals are to control weather, then it easier to see how futile are the efforts. Climate looks backward, but to effect it we must change future weather.
    CAN’T CONTROL CLIMATE WITHOUT CONTROLLING WEATHER.

  27. Matt

    “Progressive has a pilot “per-mile” auto insurance program that uses a little device that plugs into your car’s ODB port. ”
    Thanks for the tip, something I was looking for.

  28. ramirez

    Michael Cain
    when I wrote ‘on local basis’
    I thought about small towns
    or may be parts of big cities.
    Recently I saw a TV report about a
    town in Germany, whom inhabitants,
    bought by themselves the local power company.
    Now they produce the energy they need and they
    sold the surplus to the national grid.
    Here in Italy some small towns in Alto Adige
    use the waste from sawmill plus solar energy
    to meet the local energy needs.
    In Brescia(Italy) by burning household
    waste they produce energy end hot water
    for (about) 50.000 people..and so on.
    Of course this is only a (small) part of the
    solution….but I think you can agree with me
    that, on local basis, solutions are easier
    to find.

  29. Hal

    I’d suggest that these debates about global warming are remarkably myopic, failing to see how the world is changing all around us.
    Has everyone failed to notice the increasing gas prices posted on every corner? Are you unaware that oil breaks new records almost daily, with the once-unthinkable $100 price now being only a fond and nostalgic memory, something we might hope in our wildest dreams to see again?
    Less publicized, but just as significant, have been increases in prices of other fossil fuels, natural gas and coal. All these price increases have gone beyond the dreams of the most fervent carbon tax advocates. And sure enough, we are seeing behavioral changes throughout the economy as people are beginning to cut back, to conserve, to look for ways to save energy. SUV sales are falling while compacts and hybrids are in great demand. Trucking organizations are calling for lower speed limits to save energy. All through society we are seeing changes which were unthinkable just a couple of years ago.
    We are in a new world now, a world where energy availability is no longer the automatic assumption it once was. Energy shortages are the new reality. And this totally changes the global warming equation. Climate change activists need to wake up and look around. Everything they have asked for is coming to pass.
    It is time to put arguments behind us, and to focus our efforts on new, non-fossil sources of energy. Everyone should be able to agree on that, every time we open our wallets to pay prices which have climbed higher yet again due to increased energy costs.

  30. CoRev

    Hal, I agree with everything you said with just one minor exception.

    Energy shortages are the new reality.

    I don’t see shortages, just higher and higher prices.
    On the other hand, the AGWers are starting to get the inevitable blow back from being less than perfect and over zealous in their predictions.
    The market will overcome!

  31. Joseph Somsel

    I’m usually very skeptical of such schemes but I’m willing to give this one some slack. It is thermodynamically feasible but as noted, billions of years of evolution has producted photosynthetic systems with little more than 1% yield.
    However, it doubt it will scale very well and would take huge land area to make a commercial dent.
    GTL is one current alternative that looks poised for takeoff. I think that it will compete with LNG for supplies and ultimately make LNG non-competitive for US electric production. Transport fuels are just too high value with limited alternatives while electricity can be easily made with nuclear and scaled quickly.
    Using nuclear to capture atmospheric CO2 and make hydrocarbon transport fuels just doesn’t seem competitive with using coal as the carbon source. I’m a big fan of nuclear-driven CTL – my company is driving the pebble bed reactor technology to the required temperatures as a major corporate investment.
    Again, a gallon of gasoline-equivalent from nuclear CTL requires 26 cents of coal, about 2 gallons of water, and 6 cents of nuclear heat, in theory. Double those numbers for raw materials from process inefficencies and you’ve still got competitive room for expensive capital plant investment.

  32. Charles

    CoRev says, “Charles, you cite IPCC predictions that are based upon models. Models that are not initialized to any reality, just some series of IPCC scenarios.”
    Of course, CoRev, we should just abandon scientist, ignore the scientists’s advice, and just operate on faith.
    Are you paying attention to what you are saying?
    Of course there’s uncertainty in the models. Lord Stern thinks we have vastly underestimated the economic damage that global warming will do. But he could be wrong.
    The question comes down to this sort of simple Pascal’s wager (the table will doubtless format poorly; use your imagination)
    ……………………………..Do nothing……………. Reduce CO2
    Global warming
    is real and serious……..Catastrophe……………..Damage avoided
    Global warming is…………………………………….Pay $1T unnecessarily
    not real or not serious….Pay nothing…………….(1/3 of cost of Iraq war)
    Pascal was right. With this kind of wager, you do what it takes to avoid hell. If there is no God and no devil, then at least you cared enough for your soul to do the right thing on your own.

  33. Michael

    Well.. the smallest nuclear reactor made is currently running on our subs. If it could be made smaller and legal..

  34. CoRev

    Charles, with all due respect, your $1T seems way too low. One estimate for costs in Australia alone were $1,300/family at @ 8.6M families. Just a little higher than your estimate and that is just for Australia.

  35. Buzzcut

    Okay Charles. Let’s say that it is 15% of Gross world product in 2100. At 3% growth until 2100, the world is nearly 4 times richer than today. Even after your 15% reduction in GWP from global warming, the world is still more than 3 times richer than today.
    Okay, that is a very simplistic model, and CoRev doesn’t like models. But you get my point: compounding growth is more powerful than global warming!
    My question is, how do we get the third world to grow faster? If Bangledesh were as rich as South Korea, would anyone worry about it being swamped by rising oceans?

  36. Charles

    Buzzcut says, “But you get my point: compounding growth is more powerful than global warming!”
    So, let me get this straight. Given the choice in investing in a 3% bond or in an essentially identical 2.9% bond, you would choose the 2.9% bond because, well, just because.
    Buzzcut says, “If Bangledesh were as rich as South Korea, would anyone worry about it being swamped by rising oceans?”
    They’d be much more concerned, because that wealth would be based on assets that would be in danger of flooding. No one cares what happens to Bangladesh because they are poor.
    ___________
    CoRev says, “Charles, with all due respect, your $1T [estimate for the cost of addressing global warming] seems way too low.”
    Ah, the man who denies the validity of models draws on one for a precise estimate.
    The precise figure one uses for the costs of addressing global warming is not important when the costs of not addressing it are catastrophic.

  37. Silas Barta (formerly Person)

    green_marketer: Let me first say that you have a very questionable idea of what counts as “relevant to this question”.
    -You accused the government of a distortive intervention specifically making parking subsidies artificially profitable. I showed that the profitability of this subsidy simply emerges from the “tax corporate net income” principle. That makes the question of “what should count as an expense” relevant.
    Now, whether or not employees “need” (in the relevant sense) a parking space is debatable, as you argued. (Is it a form of compensation, or a kind of capital expense toward labor efficiency amplification?) That is my whole point! The tax system forces us to answer these questions, and ideally, a tax system should be as simple as possible, specifically to avoid such wasteful philosophical musing. But since that musing results in the policies you find objecitonable, of course it’s relevant! But in no case is it some kind of subsidy we can just turn off, since it’s inherent to the concept of a corporate net income tax.
    -You claimed that a benefit of higher gasoline costs would be less congestion, but that arguments about *what* should be taxee to contain the externality, are irrelevant. However, once you justify your policies on the grounds of exterality generators not paying their true costs, that *makes* them relevant. Furthermore, even with the studies you cite, the gains in gasoline costs (passing the costs you want onto drivers), aren’t yielding supply=demand, since it leaves roads choked, so the benefit you claim isn’t materializing.
    You simply can’t pick and choose what is logically relevant to the points you raise.
    Finally, you claim that the existence of odometers somehow contradicts my claim that this is a case of “an ineffeiciency that costs more to remove than to leave alone”. That’s false: the odometers have to be checked up to prevent lying.
    There’s an insurance company that has a feasible solution such that entire package (installation costs [subjective and otherwise] + insurance) is competitive)? Great! That means that, just like I claimed, there’s some inefficiency, and where it costs less to correct than to leave, the market fixes it. Where’s the subsidy?
    It’s great that your’e able to ascertain instances where driving is subsidized, but to be evenhanded, you can’t just ignore the instances where it’s taxed, and where its positive externalities aren’t compensated.

  38. CoRev

    Charles, you claim I used a model??? Where did you get that idea? I did use an AU Govt estimate of costs, and did not do the math allowing others to do that. BTW, one estimate for the current US Lieberman/Warner Bill is ~ $985B by 2015. IIRC the IPCC AR4 claimed a 3% hit on the world’s GDP for GW mitigation.
    So I ask again, where did you get that ole $1T cost? I’m beginning to guess it is not from any reputable source.

  39. Buzzcut

    Given the choice in investing in a 3% bond or in an essentially identical 2.9% bond, you would choose the 2.9% bond because, well, just because.
    I don’t get your point. You’re saying that “investing” in projects to address global warming is going to pay higher returns than other investments like IT? Not bloody likely.
    They’d be much more concerned, because that wealth would be based on assets that would be in danger of flooding. No one cares what happens to Bangladesh because they are poor.
    Wrong on both counts.
    First, Bangledesh is the poster child of the dangers of global warming. That it “will be” flooded is a common argument.
    Next, if they were at South Korean levels of income, they could pay to remediate the danger of flooding: dikes and whatnot.
    Is there any doubt that China circa 2008 is a lot more able to financially withstand disasters than, say, Maoist China? I mean, the earthquake was bad, but how much worse would it be in Mao’s time? And if that earthquake happened in California, how many people would have died? A small fraction of the dead in China, no dount.
    Wealth is the best defense against disaster. We need to get the rest of the world to grow faster to prepare for the consequences of warming, should they come.

  40. Charles

    CoRev says, “Charles, you claim I used a model??? Where did you get that idea? I did use an AU Govt estimate of costs…”
    Where do you think they got those costs, CoRev? They made assumptions, to produce the best model they could generate.
    Models are everywhere. The IPCC’s happens to be the best that science can produce. That model is endorsed by the major scientific organizations such as NAS and AAAS. Your easy dismissal of that estimate persuades me that you’re not seriously debating this issue, just throwing out fog.
    By the way–on that score– you might want to check your post on my blog. It turns out it wasn’t half as clever as you may have thought.
    CoRev says, “So I ask again, where did you get that ole $1T cost?”
    It’s an irrelevant question since, as I have said, there’s very high uncertainty about cost, much more uncertainty than there is about the magnitude of disaster before us. But to satisfy your thirst for irrelevancy, I was inspired to use that number it by Fig. 5 of Peace and Weyant, which I cited above.
    _______________________
    Buzzcut says, “Wealth is the best defense against disaster. We need to get the rest of the world to grow faster to prepare for the consequences of warming, should they come.”
    You’re from the Paris Hilton school of economics, I see.
    Wealth without wisdom cannot protect a nation, nor will attending to the problems that technology has created through R&D make us poorer.
    Ironically, those are genuinely conservative principles, to the extent that conservatism as a philosophy can be said to exist at all.

  41. CoRev

    Charles,

    Where do you think they got those costs, CoRev? They made assumptions, to produce the best model they could generate.

    Now that;s quite a stretch! Any math problem, even simple math, is now a model for a Liberal. Ok, Got me, Charles!

  42. Joseph Somsel

    The lower limits on size for a nuclear reactor making useful power is not directly related to the power level.
    The limit is the radiation shielding. Even a reactor putting out 100 watts requres about the same thickness for neutron and gamma ray shielding in concrete and iron as one putting out 1 megawatt.
    Another way to put it is that the mass for power scales much faster than the mass for shielding.

  43. Pitt

    how likely is it that technology will improve on 3 billion years of evolution?

    Considering the number of animals capable of supersonic flight evolution’s managed to come up with, not that unlikely.

    Photovoltaic cells are already more than an order of magnitude more efficient than plants at capturing solar energy, so holding up the efficiency of plants as some kind of upper bound is simply uninformed and irrelevant.

  44. STS

    CoRev:

    CAN’T CONTROL CLIMATE WITHOUT CONTROLLING WEATHER

    LOL … next you’ll be explaining that you can’t change the temperature in your bathtub without controlling water molecules.

  45. The Market Traders

    Reconciling Estimates: Biofuels & Food Prices

    Menzie Chinn submits: The AP describes Lazear’s views on the role of biofuels on rising prices thus: “US disputes IMF on food prices”.
    From the article by Desmond Butler:Complete Story »

  46. Buzzcut

    nor will attending to the problems that technology has created through R&D make us poorer.
    You know, Charles, I’m not an economist. I’ve got an undergrad degree from a third rate school. My SAT scores are mediocre.
    But even I understand opportunity cost. That’s a pretty basic concept.
    Look into it.

  47. CoRev

    STS, with all due respect, care to explain how one controls the climate without at the same time controlling the weather. BTW, here’s the first paragraph from the Wiki definition of Weather:

    The weather is a set of all extant phenomena in a given atmosphere at a given time. It also includes interactions with the hydrosphere. The term usually refers to the activity of these phenomena over short periods (hours or days), as opposed to the term climate, which refers to the average atmospheric conditions over longer periods of time. When used without qualification, “weather” is understood to be the weather of Earth.

    You see they, climate and weather, can not be defined without using the other. This is especially true for climate.
    There is much more in the Wiki definitions, and can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weather
    So I ask again, how do we control climate without also controlling the weather? It’s a simple question. I admit it may not be answered so simply. If you wish to change the words control to effect and climate to global warming that would be fine.
    I will not repeat the definition for climate, but will repeat what I said earlier:

    Climate looks backward, but to effect it we must change future weather.

  48. Contrarian

    Surely one needs to take a longer term perspective on this so-called “warming”

    10,000 years ago Britain was connected to the rest of Europe by an ice bridge.

    10,000 years before that warm climate animals roamed freely.

    500 years ago, it was hot enough in Britain to grow grapes and make wine. 300 years ago, eggs froze in larders.

    It comes and goes as Gaia decides.

    Perhaps people should just focus on the things we SHOULD do, like saving species that may have as yet undiscovered benefits to medicine and science, rather than establishing what seems to be an increasingly wasteful and irrelevant “climate change industry”?

    BTW if you want power — 84 petawatts fall on the earth from the sum every day. 1 petawatt will power New York City for 10 years. Just a thought.

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