Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How Do We Use The Energy We've Got

(Andy's note:  If you haven't read this blog before, or are reading down the blog (thanks!) and therefore back in time, you may be confused by this entry.  In that case you may use this link to goto the beginning of the subject, one entry back.  Otherwise feel free to navigate by the index at the bottom of this Blog's window, on the left margin.)


So how do we use (extract and produce) the energy we've got then.  Let's look at some numbers Professor Danielo Nocera, the Chemist at MIT, provided in his lecture.  Many thanks to powerpoint and the MIT World website.  It is awesome. (I never would have gotten all this down if I hadn't been able to pause the good Professor and write down everything he had on his slides.  He kept skipping through his data, saying, "Oh, you don't need to know this."  Really?  I think you do need to know this.  That's why I wrote it down once, and now am writing it down again.)

Some Numbers and Nomenclature:

First:  A terawatt is 10 to the twelve watts:  since this should mean very little to you unless you are unusually facile with math I have looked up some examples on Wikipedia of what various numbers of terawatts represent in real energy.

2 TW-- approximate power generated between the surfaces of Jupiter and its moon IO due to Jupiters tremendous magnetic field.

3.4 TW-- average total (gas, electricity, ect. ) power consumption of the US.  (for 2005)

44 TW  average total heat flux from the earth's interior (I have no idea what heat flux is either, I don't have time to look it up.  Feel better.)

75 TW based on global net primary production via photosynthesis (that's biomass, produced, as in growing)

50 to 200 TW  Rate of heat energy released by a hurricane

I could go on, but it gets tiresomely Sci Fi after that.  And besides we have the two figures that I think are relevant to the remainder of my entries that pertain to this subject.  Basically just remember that a terawatt is a unit of energy usage large enough to stand in for national and international energy usage.  This gives us a standard by which to compare the various technologies that claim to send us to heaven in style.

So the little terawatt thing above say's that in 2005 we used in the US 3.4 TW for the annum.  My notes from good Professor Nocera show that we used 12.8 terawatts globally in 2007.  Maybe, like me, you would like to know what that means.  Well... don't think twice:

For 12.8 TW globally

renewables were .29 TW

nuclear was .82 TW

hydro was .29 TW

biomass was 1.21

coal was 2.96

gas was 2.7

oil was 4.52

So with these figures, and looking again at word supply of Carbon Base(d) energy we have:

for the optimist

200 years of oil

400 years of methane (not including the frozen methane under the sea and in the Tiaga and Arctic permasfrosts.  There is tons and tons of the frozen methane under the ocean.  The stuff in permafrost however is going to melt out whilst the planet warms.  Unless I don't have kids... and quit watching Hulu....)

1900 years of coal (sand and tars)  YES!!!!!  

for the pessimist 


The good professor pointed out, by the way that it isn't like our only choices are to burn coal for energy.  We can turn it into anything we like.  It is called "Fisher Proust Chemistry".  Basically it is turning chains of carbon molecules into different chains of carbon molecules.  You knew we could do that, right?  I mean we make plastic from oil, so with enough money, ect. yeah we can make gas and whatever else we want from coal, and biomass, ect.  We actually have been doing this for nearly a century, but I digress.

It is obvious from the numbers above that it is the CO2 content alone that is the issue for the world where energy is concerned.  The rest has in many ways already been solved and is political and humanitarian, ect.  

Next time  we will talk more about the conclusions we should draw from the ways we are using energy.

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