Thursday, December 20, 2007

A comment on the future of Energy in the United States

Brian Wong is very very bright. Brian, along with Kirk Sorensen of Energy from Thorium should get a MacArthur Genius Prize.  Brian's blog Advanced Nanotechnologyis always interesting, and Brian comes up with the basic information that is useful for problem analysis. Today Brian reposted a table which indicates how oil use is allocated in the United States

I posted a comment on Brian's blog which sets out my rough and ready analysis of where CO2 cuts will come from, and how we will get there. My analysis requires that an amazing variety of American businesses will have to go away in the next generation and a half. In my model most future energy will come from nuclear energy. This is what I call the Alvin Weinberg model. I believe that we as a society are facing a great challenge, analogous to the challenge that American society faced during the Civil War and World War II. We are not yet fully alert, and the skeptics are calling those who express concern alarmist. Sooner or later the skeptics will be forced to acknowledge the threat. Our thinking is not yet clear on strategies and implementation. And we need a symbol to capture the imagination (see my next post). We are still grasping at straws rather than acknowledging the genius of Weinberg's plan. My own suggested plan, which I outlined briefly in this comment on Brian Wong's blog, envisions the substitution of nuclear produced energy for CO2 emitting fossil fuels. I believe that in the long run this approach will be inevitable and can serve as an energy base for society for thousands of years to come. Here is my comment on Brian Wong's blog today:

Brian, You have provided us with an excellent starting point to analyze the attack points at which cuts in CO2 emissions can be made. I am not a fan of flex fueled vehicles, for which I see numerous and serious disadvantages. But electrifying surface transportation has real potential. If batteries or capacitors can be built with a driving range potential of several hundred miles, then the internal combustion engine should be history.

Inter urban freight hauling should be conducted by electrified rail, which is much more energy efficient than diesel trucks.

Oil (and natural gas)use can be eliminated as a source of industrial process heat, space heating, heat for the production of electricity, water heating, and fuel for RVs.

The use of oil for industrial heat in refineries will be greatly curtailed over time by curtailing the demand for refined oil.

Road paving and using oil for industrial feedstocks are not major CO2 offenders. There is no reason to limit these uses as far as I can tell.

The problem aries are air and water born transportation, where no good substitute for oil products exist, agriculture, construction, mining, and military use.

Of these problem areas air transportation is clearly the most problematic. High speed electrical rail can basically replace air passenger travel within the United States and Europe. International flights cannot be easily replaced, and so should be permitted.

That leaves us with 1.5 to 2 million barrels per day to be allocated between the various problem users, which would bring us close to an 80% reduction in oil demand in for the United States, and close to a 90% reduction in CO2 emissions from oil use. This is possible by 2050.

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