No, Idiot, There Is No Free Lunch

The Stupid Burns

Good God, the Stupid BURNS:

Curiously, this doesn’t seem to be making much of a splash (no pun intended) on the evening news. Let’s repeat this: The United States Navy has figured out how to turn seawater into fuel and it will cost about the same as gasoline.

This technology is in its infancy and it’s already this cheap? What happens when it’s refined and perfected? Oil is only getting more expensive as the easy-to-reach deposits are tapped so this truly is, as it’s being called, a “game changer.”

I expect the GOP to go ballistic over this and try to legislate it out of existence. It’s a threat to their fossil fuel masters because it will cost them trillions in profits. It’s also “green” technology and Republicans will despise it on those grounds alone. They already have a track record of trying to do this. Unfortunately, once this kind of genie is out of the bottle, it’s very hard to put back in.

Oh smiley

No such thing has been done because there is no such thing as a free lunch.

It in fact has been known how to turn any carbon source into liquid hydrocarbons since the 1930s and 40s.  Germany figured it out and used it to produce fuel for their war machines in WWII.  See, they had a little problem with not having much oil but they needed fuel for their tanks, jeeps and planes.

Here’s the rub — you always get less out than you put in.  That’s what the laws of Thermodynamics tell you.  And they’re laws, not suggestions.

So what has the Navy figured out?  That it has these really gigantic sources of energy (they’re called nuclear reactors) on board ships — big ships like aircraft carriers.  They can produce more energy than than ship needs most of the time.  That extra energy is “free”, more-or-less, so they can use it to convert carbon (which is in CO2, natch) into hydrocarbons that can then be burned in the airplane engines.


What’s the magic here?  There isn’t any.  And it’s only “about as expensive as gasoline” today because the energy is basically “free” since they already bought the reactor and its capacity!

Now can we do this elsewhere?  You bet.  In fact, one of the points I make in Leverage is that using this process and MSRs (that is, molten-salt reactors) we can do this using fuel we already burn (that is, coal), extracting the thorium first and using that to fuel the reactor.  Net-net this uses no more coal than we use now, but shifts its use from power production to fuel production, and we get a bunch of electricity left over (beyond parity.)

But again, there’s no free lunch; we currently throw away the Thorium in the ash pile at coal-fired power plants (or worse eject it into the atmosphere accidentally where it can and does cause lung cancer.)

Oh by the way, there is no “excess” CO2.  Indeed plants love CO2 and grow faster (producing Oxygen in the process) as CO2 levels rise.  What does exist is an utterly-enormous amount of CO2 found in carbonate in the oceans.  There’s a buffering reaction in between and plenty of evidence that this buffering reaction is in fact one of the reasons that life exists on Earth.  These reactions are common in nature, they’re essential to most biological processes (because most want various chemical parameters within certain tight boundaries) and we don’t understand them in the context of CO2 all that well, despite certain alarmist’s claims to the contrary (just try to get one of them to give you a precise answer as to how much CO2 is in fact in these carbonates for starters — ask five of them and see what sort of numerical answer you get, and whether they are anything approaching comparable or simply a wild guess.  I’ll save you the time: They’re guesses and not very educated ones either.)

So yeah, this is a good thing, but it’s not what that article tries to put forward.

It does, however, point out and validate what I laid forth in my book — that there is a means by which we can become hydrocarbon-independent, it’s not impossible, we can do it today, the challenges remaining are engineering ones .vs. theoretical constraints and while this is by no means “free” energy (or even close to same) putting a hard ceiling on price provides a tremendous amount of certainty in the economy, which is net-net a huge positive.

Oh, by the way, that the Chinese are working in LFTRs strongly implies that they’ve figured all this out — and since we have refused for something like 50 years to exploit our clear head start guess who’s going to win that one unless we get off our ass, and what it will mean for their economy along with ours?

Hattip to mabman for the link and the opportunity to demolish another nut.

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