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Chief UK scientist backs nuclear power revival

David Adam, The Guardian
· PM’s adviser calls for new generation of reactors
· Relying on renewable energy ‘tough challenge’

The government’s chief scientific adviser has sent his clearest signal that Britain will need to revive its nuclear power industry in the face of a looming energy crisis and the threat of global warming. In an interview with the Guardian, Sir David King said there were economic as well as environmental reasons for a new generation of reactors.

He said nuclear power had “the safest record of all the power industries in the world”. Professor King, who has previously said more nuclear power stations “may be necessary” to meet carbon dioxide emission targets, said the decline of North Sea oil and gas could tip the balance. “We need indigenous energy sources so we don’t rely on imported gas from Russia. We’re the last in the pipeline across Europe, so a second requirement is that we have a secure energy supply. Indigenous supplies include all renewables and nuclear.”

Relying on renewable sources including wind, solar and wave power to replace lost capacity when existing nuclear power stations close would be a “remarkably tough challenge,” he said.
(21 October 2005)

Feuding over the origins of fossil fuels

Lisa M. Pinsker, GeoTimes
In July, Mike Lewan had an unusual conversation with his new neighbor, who had been reading lately about oil from deep sources that “can’t be explained.” Lewan, though slightly amused, was not entirely surprised to hear this topic in casual conversation.

A petroleum geochemist at the U.S. Geological Survey, Lewan is an expert on the origins of oil, and quite familiar with an idea that has been lingering within some scientific circles for many years now: that petroleum – oil and natural gas – comes from processes deep in Earth that do not involve organic material. This idea runs contrary to the theory that has driven modern oil exploration: that petroleum comes from the heating of organic material over time in Earth’s shallower crust.

The so-called inorganic or abiogenic oil idea has been getting more attention lately, at a time when it seems that energy is on everyone’s mind. With oil more expensive than ever and many people citing future shortages, understanding the origins of petroleum is increasingly relevant.
(October 2005)
A good article; Lisa Pinsker and her main protagonist Lewan take a reasonable and non-partisan approach to this issue, giving the abiotic oil hypothesis a fair airing, but conclude that while abiotic hydrocarbons may exist they have “not been proven to be a significant contributor to currently known economic petroleum accumulations.” The greenhouse implications of a new souce of hydrocarbons might be disasterous, so perhaps we should be thankful. -AF

Bio-fuel hopes for palm oil are overstated

Benjamin Low, Dow Jones via Yahoo!Finance
KUALA LUMPUR – Recent optimism of surging demand for palm oil as a fuel substitute in Europe may be overdone as there are still major obstacles to the use of the commodity in this emerging sector, a European bio-fuels industry official said.

As the cheapest edible oil in the world, palm oil does have a bright future as an alternative to conventional mineral oil.

But for now it is premature to expect huge volumes to be consumed – at least not for another year or so, said Ard van de Kreeke, managing director of Dutch bio-fuels trading company Biox Group BV.

“Yes, there is a future (for palm oil). But it’s not the sort of thing which is going to happen the next month or next year. It’s a long-term thing,” he said in an interview.

“It’s a market that is slowly developing, but, that is, at the moment, highly overestimated,” he said.
(20 October 2005)

Outgoing German environment minister: why we should consign atomic energy to the past

Jurgen Trittin, BBC
Outgoing German environment minister Jurgen Trittin played a key role in the country’s decision to shut down all its nuclear reactors by 2020.

Although the new Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party wanted to extend the closure deadline, outgoing Chancellor’s Gerhard Schroeder’s SPD party have retained the environment ministry in coalition negotiations and say they do not intend to review the policy.

As Britain gears up for a debate on the future of its nuclear industry, Mr Trittin, a member of Germany’s Green Party, explains to the BBC News website why he believes his country should consign atomic energy to the past.

We want to follow a path towards a sustainable energy supply, for the protection of the global climate, the conservation of finite resources and for the sake of future generations.

We want to make even greater energy savings, increase energy efficiency even further and expand the use of renewable energies. In Germany this is known as the ‘Energiewende’ – the transformation of our energy system.

Nuclear power is not needed to achieve this. Quite the contrary: technically speaking, this base-load relic of the past is standing in the way of flexible and intelligent electricity production.

The safety risks associated with nuclear power have in no way decreased in recent years – in particular with regard to the threat of terrorism, they have in fact increased dramatically. And as far as the long-term management of radioactive wastes is concerned, we are fundamentally no wiser than we were 30 years ago. The use of nuclear power is and will remain a global risk, especially for future generations.
(21 October 2005)
Mentioned by David Roberts at Gristmill.

Expert lambastes Canada’s massive oil sands play

OTTAWA – Canada is squandering valuable natural gas in trying to develop its much-vaunted oil sands reserves, a Houston-based oil expert said on Wednesday.

“We shouldn’t be laying a foundation of saying we can replace Saudi Arabia’s reserves with Canada’s tar sands,” analyst and investment banker Matthew Simmons told a business and media audience in Ottawa.

“They are extremely energy-intensive, to turn it into usable energy, and natural gas is in decline.”

He says the oil sands, centered in northern Alberta, would be more appropriately called coal. Natural gas is used to heat steam which is injected into the tar sands to help convert it into oil.

The energy industry is investing tens of billions of dollars on projects to develop the massive resource, which now accounts for more than one third of Canada’s overall oil production.
(19 October 2005)

Hybrid grass may prove to be valuable fuel source

Molly McElroy, News Bureau ( University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Giant Miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus), a hybrid grass that can grow 13 feet high, may be a valuable renewable fuel source for the future, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign say.

Stephen P. Long, a professor of crop sciences and of plant biology, recently took that message to Dublin, Ireland, where the British Association for the Advancement of Science sponsored the annual BA Festival of Science Sept. 3-10.

…Dry, leafless Miscanthus stems can be used as a solid fuel. The cool-weather-friendly perennial grass, sometimes referred to as elephant grass or E-grass, grows from an underground stem-like organ called a rhizome. Miscanthus, a crop native to Asia and a relative of sugarcane, drops its slender leaves in the winter, leaving behind tall bamboo-like stems that can be harvested in early spring and burned for fuel.

Rhizomatous grasses such as Miscanthus are very clean fuels, said Dohleman, who is studying for a doctorate in plant biology. Nutrients such as nitrogen are transferred to the rhizome to be saved until the next growing season, he said.

Burning Miscanthus produces only as much carbon dioxide as it removes from the air as it grows, said Heaton, who is seeking a doctorate in crop sciences. That balance means there is no net effect on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, which is not the case with fossil fuels, she said.

Miscanthus also is a very efficient fuel, because the energy ratio of input to output is less than 0.2, Heaton said. In contrast, the ratios exceed 0.8 for ethanol and biodiesel from canola, which are other plant-derived energy sources.

Besides being a clean, efficient and renewable fuel source, Miscanthus also is remarkably easy to grow.
(27 September 2005)

Governor Schweitzer, I have a few questions for you

Jerome a Paris, Daily Kos
(Gov. Schweitzer’s promise of energy independence is a rightfully exciting one, greatly improving our nation’s security. Now, while Schweitzer has repeatedly suggested that his solution, the Fischer-Tropsch process, will be cleaner than existing fossil fuels, it should be in his interest to answer the concerns addressed in this diary. If he’s right about the environmental benefits of F-T, this is a huge no-brainer to tide us over from fossil fuels to the green fuels of tomorrow — kos)

Today, you provide an interesting op-ed in the New York Times, where you rightfully point out the danger for the USA of depending too much on oil.

America is addicted to foreign oil, and like any addict we are at the mercy of the pushers and require an intervention.

Your solution is a pretty legitimate one when you’ve seen the graph below and your State happens to sit on one third of the US reserves of coal: make synthetic fuels from coal, using coal-to-liquids technology, also known as the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process. Thus the USA can keep on burning oil, but using domestically produced – and cleaner – liquids.

…My questions here are as follows …

* don’t you think it is dangerous to tout Montana coal as the miracle solution for a problem (our wasteful and unsustainable energy consumption habits) which, in fact, is a lot bigger, and can only be solved by demand-side solutions (conservation, smarter energy use)?

…The conclusion of your article … rightfully points out that energy is a national security issue, that diversity is essential, and that the USA must take the lead in the new energy technologies of the future. Coal-to-liquids could be a part of that balance, but only if it is done in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way, and is not sold as an effortless way to continue on driving gas-guzzlers.
(3 October 2005)
Remarkably, Governor Scheitzer responded to Jerome a Paris! See Dialogue with Gov. Schweitzer – words of thanks and of hope for details.

Why oil intensity changed in the US economy

Stuart Staniford, The Oil Drum
Ok, so let’s make a bit more thorough effort to understand what the main effects are that allow the economy to use less oil to make GDP than it used to. My goal is to get us to the point where we understand most of the change and then I’ll get bored and stop.

…Having explained 37% of the reduction as strictly due to efficiency and fuel switching in the non-industrial sectors, I will let our fine team of commenters continue the good fight over how much of the 13% living in the industrial sector is due to which of those five factors [listed in the original article].

A final observation.  Our esteemed economic patriach quoth:

Moreover, since oil use, as I noted, is only two-thirds as important an input into world GDP as it was three decades ago, the effect of the current surge in oil prices, though noticeable, is likely to prove significantly less consequential to economic growth and inflation than the surge in the 1970s

So to me this would imply that if we were to have another series of oil shocks like we did in the 1970s, and thus we desired to get another 50% reduction in oil intensity out of the economy, Dr Greenspan is saying that would be easier now that it was then.  He’s got to be wrong.  Last time 18% came from reducing building heating and electricity generation.  We cannot do that again – those uses are almost gone.  So the next time it would have to come almost entirely from transportation and industrial gains; those groups would need to step up to the plate in a bigger way than before.  Since transportation is now 2/3 of usage, that would have to be a big factor.  This was where we did the least reduction last time (0.69 – we only dropped it 31%), presumably because we were less willing to do that than other things.  And since we seem to have been remarkably resistant to behavioral changes, presumably we’d pretty much have to find the transportation part in increased vehicle fuel efficiency, or else economic contraction if we can’t get efficient fast enough.  I don’t think that’s going to be easier at all.
(21 October 2005)
More analysis from The Oil Drum. The productive Staniford also posted on article today on Minimal behavioral adaptation to oil shocks.