[FoRK] Are you Malthusiastic? Re: Concrete results

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Tue Jun 18 02:19:49 PDT 2013

On Mon, Jun 17, 2013 at 01:22:34PM -0700, Stephen D. Williams wrote:

> Not digested yet and ill prepared to properly debunk.  However, the

Please do read the first three hits, and more, in case you have
spare synapseseconds. The data is extensive, and interpretation
comes from professional oil geologists.

> hand wavey dismissal of nuclear with essentially

The same peak analysis for fissible applies. There are also
considerable material, energy and fabrication bottlenecks
in bootstrap, which limit total fissible output to ~TW,
and briefly at that.

Breeders are not considered for related and also different
factors -- let's not argue about these at the moment.

> preaching-to-the-converted reasoning smells bad.  And that was the
> first document that I read.

My metaproblem here is that this material is extensive and
technical, which precludes widespread acceptance (and be
it because most people are authority-driven, and authorities
are not yet on the boat, and will be too late when they
deign to embark).
> >>>What's your plan B?
> >>More innovation, of course.
> >What is the precise game plan to fill the fossil gap?
> >The number is 1 TW/year deployed. Where is the innovation
> >that can give us that, starting yesterdecade, for the next
> >40 years? Notice that there are no exponential in this,
> >it's linear at best, and arguably sublinear at high values.
> I'm innovating in different areas, so perhaps this is best left as an exercise for the reader.  ;-)

Unfortunately, very few people innovate in the area,
because it is actually hard and costs a lot of money.

> Biodiesel seems promising for non-electricity generation.

Biodiesel has negligible EROEI and biofuels in general can't
be scaled up due to HANPP, especially that we're going to
get peak food quite soon, so the fraction of biofuels is
likely to decrease due to increased food production on
less land and worse land.

> Nuclear, plus wind, solar, and waves seem promising for electricity.

Nuclear is not going to happen, wind is limited to selected
areas but has considerable potential there. Solar, specifically
thin-film photovoltaics has the greatest potential, but total
world deployment is falling short a factor of 100 of these
1 TW/year required, and deployment rate tends to saturate
over the initial exponential due to considerable costs required.

Notice that electricity alone cannot fill the demand for
liquid fuels and gases, synthetic input (methane for ammonia),
and requires extensive infrastructure to be built concurrently
(increase degreee of electrification, electrified heavy rail
everywhere, upgraded power grids, MWh scale battery storage,
change from ICE to EVs with according charging infrastructure,
large scale hydrogen and synmethane production and distribution,
retooling of petrochemistry to C1 synthetic stock (methane and
methanol), large scale synfuel production, and so on.

This is the reason why such things take several TUSD/year
world wide spending. I suggest that a) it's not being done
b) there's no longer that kind of money available

> Mainly nuclear, unless we get serious about a heliostat with

Nuclear won't happen. What else?

> microwave satellite relay for serious energy density or drop
> shipments of space-pumped dilithium-like energy storage.

SPS from terrestrial materials have negligible EROEI, and
we'll lose access to space, possibly for good if we fall
off the net energy cliff.
> Getting a heliostat energy relay working will take decades. Building
> some boilers and turbines could be completed in a few years, at
> scale, if we were serious.  I don't see anything about it that can't
> be built out in parallel, other than a few key scientific and design
> problems.

I'm still missing something that *is already being* deployed
to the tune of TW/year. It's too late for R&D so you need something
which you can order *today*, and get greenfielded within
less than a decade, about 2000 nuclear reactor/year equivalents,

Do you see anything, even a mix of somethings that can
fit above requirements? And notice that these somethings
need to be already operating in full swing. R&D is straight
out for things we need in next 20 years. 
> >It takes that much to go from a paper design to a commercial product
> >in volume (all assumes that your paper design works, so far it
> >doesn't seem likely). Remember that the volume is 2000 new reactors/year.
> >The demand gap is cumulative, and failure to deploy now limits your
> >ability to deploy in future. Does this sound like a winner scenario to you?
> It does now.  When we, collectively, are dragging our feet.  A

My point was precisely that we've been dragging our feet for
the last 40 years, and we're still doing that, with no behavior
change, so far. Nobody is linking the first signs of trouble
with the real reasons behind it.

> serious scale out is much different.  What limits this in an
> emergency, really?  Number of trained welders?  Electricians?

Now you're talking!
> >
> >>are relatively simple.  Assuming an urgent need, we need only relax
> >>safety scrutiny and add money & people to speed things up some
> >>numbers of magnitudes.
> >Sorry, going from zero/year to thousands reactors/year overnight doesn't
> >happen in reality. Same applies for synfuel plants. Same applies
> >for grid upgrades. Same applies for storage. Same applies for
> >photovoltaics.
> Depends on the technology involved.

We already know the technology. Because we have it, or, rather,
we fail to fund it and to build it.
> >
> >This isn't about making a NoSQL farm scale. This is actual,
> >hard work that takes real skill and real resources, including
> >real money.
> >
> >It doesn't matter, since we're already too late.
> >
> >Since I have to explain elementary truths to a dubious audience,
> >here's your proof: we're fucked.
> Well then we can try anything because it won't matter.

It still matters whether we'll be part of the extinction 
event, or whether we'll lose just a few 100 millions.

> Or maybe they are dubious truths to an elementary audience?
> Anyway, hopefully you are wrong, but we should act like you are close enough to right and start doing something.

Exactly, considered the pessimum outcome we need to hedge
our bets. 

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