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Energy

To whom it may concern.

My thoughts on the current state of energy consumption and generation in the USA and other developed parts of the world.

Current energy usage both in the USA and other parts of the world cannot be maintained. We are dependent upon dirty sources of fuel to generate electricity as well as directly fuel our vehicles. We, as a nation as well as a portion of the world population need to both reduce our use of “dirty” fuels as well as develop other sources of energy production. I have a few ideas that I want to share.

First, our vehicles currently use gasoline to generate heat. Heat is directly converted to the rotation of a drive wheel that in turn moves our vehicles. There have been many great strides in increasing the efficiency of the gasoline powered vehicle. Today one can purchase a gasoline driven car that can ferry its passengers more than 30 miles on less than one gallon of fuel. Compared to 30 years ago this is nearly double the efficiency. But, efficiency alone cannot reduce the use of fuel enough to enable us to maintain our current consumption of so-called “fossil” fuels. While current estimates vary the internal combustion engine is a rather inefficient way to convert fuel to motion.

Quoting Wikipedia:

Engine efficiency

Modern gasoline engines have an average efficiency of about 18% to 20% when used to power a car.

Read more at Wikipedia…

This means that over 80% of the heat generated by your cars engine is lost through a combination of the cooling system (radiator and heater) and the tailpipe. It is thought  that even under the best conditions with the best possible engine design changes the internal combustion engine cannot exceed an efficiency of more than about 30%. So, no matter how much we tinker with it the car, in its current form, must go. What we need is a more efficient conversion from heat to rotation. Electricity is one alternative. With the current increase in battery efficiency combined with the reduction in weight afforded by a LION or other rechargeable battery the use of electricity as a means of transportation is, most likely, the future of personal transportation. However, electricity alone is not the answer to the problem.

Electricity, when used to power a vehicle, is often touted as a “Zero Emission” fuel source. The term “EV” or “Electric Vehicle” is now used to reference these newer vehicles we see being sold by all major manufacturers. However, this is hardly the case. In fact it might be more polluting and more expensive, overall, to drive an electric vehicle than it is to fuel and power a gasoline engine vehicle depending on the source of the electricity used to charge the vehicle.  Why? Because in essence, with our current electric power production the electric vehicle is essentially an “elsewhere emission vehicle”. While it uses no fossil fuels it causes power plants that use fossil fuels to consume more resulting in more pollution. However, in all fairness, the amount of pollution released by a power plant to charge an electric vehicle is far less than a gasoline engine directly driving wheels. We have recently seen the introduction of the “Hybrid” vehicle, a car with an engine connected to a generator driven by electric motors. Such a vehicle is more efficient because it can leverage the efficiency of smaller engine designs to offset some of the inefficiency of the larger direct engine-driven gasoline car.  Although the hybrid is a step in the right direction, it still has a long way to go in terms of replacing the conventional gasoline driven internal combustion “Lexus ISF 11“.

Quoting “Electro Automotive

Are EVs true ZEVs?

One of the most common issues surrounding EVs today is their status as ZEVs. Critics proclaim that EVs are simply “elsewhere emission vehicles” because they transfer emissions from the tailpipe to the smokestack. Although there are emissions associated with coal- and oil-fired power plants, smokestack emissions associated with charging EVs are extremely low (3). In fact, EVs can charge from zero emission sources such as nuclear, hydroelectric, solar, and wind power.

Although the electric car is a step forward it skirts the fossil fuel issue altogether. We still need a “replacement” energy technology. A technology that can replace the inefficient fossil fuel for electricity production. What we need is to revisit the past and reconsider the widespread use of nuclear power as a clean, low cost, efficient way to solve our future energy needs. What we need is a safe, clean, efficient, meltdown-proof nuclear reactor.

Current nuclear reactors
Current reactor designs use high grade fuels such as U235 or Plutonium239 to generate fission which in turn creates heat that boils water to drive a steam turbine and generate electricity. However, current reactor designs are fundamentally unsafe due to both the high quality fuels used (because if they escape they will contaminate a large area) as well as the way in which the fission occurs. We need a reactor that cannot melt down under any circumstances. A reactor that, if left unattended will naturally expire and shut down uneventfully on its own. The issue is in the way the fission is achieved. In a typical reactor the fuel is placed in a graphite-lined chamber that contains the neutron radiation naturally emanating from the fuel source. This neutron radiation impacts neighboring high quality fuel breaking down the uranium or plutonium atoms releasing still more neutron radiation that in turn maintains the fission. This type of reactor uses enriched fuel in order to maximize fission and, if left unattended, will continue to increase its level of fission until it melts down unless the reactor is “controlled” with special nuclear inhibitor rods AKA “Nuclear Poisons” that inhibit fission by blocking some of the neutron radiation. In this type of reactor the natural state of the reactor without these control rods is “runaway”. Without the nuclear inhibitor rods the fission reaction will continue to increase until the reactor reaches very high temperatures breaches its casing and explodes resulting in a meltdown spewing radioactive fuels and other contaminants in the form of radioactive graphite dust in the process. Needless to say such a reactor is potentially unsafe no matter how well shielded or how substantial the reactor casing because its natural state is a “runaway”.

An alternative:
First we need to construct numerous small reactors rather than one single behemoth to serve a specific geographic area. Numerous small reactors limit the risk of a malfunction and prevent a total loss of power should the unthinkable occur. If the fuel used were a lower grade fuel contained in a chamber that can only achieve fission when certain very specific conditions are present, such as reflected neutron radiation within the reactor built up to high enough levels to produce fission, the natural state of the reactor would be “cold”. Enough neutron radiation to excite the fuel to fission would only be available if appropriate neutron reflectors were placed at either end of the reactor fission tubes. The reflectors essentially bounce the neutron radiation back and forth through the fuel source much like photons in a LASER until it reached critical mass and eventually a well controlled fission. If the reflectors are removed the neutron radiation is released and the reactor cools down rapidly due to the low quality fuel and the lack of sufficient neutron radiation to excite it. In this type of reactor the fuel is essentially “burned” unlike current designs where the fuel is essentially exploded over a long time. If such a reactor were carefully designed to match the fuel source one could even guarantee that a runaway or meltdown could not occur.  Such a reactor would not require inhibitor rods to control the fission so even if it were mismanaged it would not, even could not achieve runaway or meltdown. It would also be less expensive to operate due to the lower grade fuels necessary. If such a reactor were located several hundred feet underground in a concrete lined casing operated by robotics it would be further shielded from radiation release and protect both the workers as well as the general public from a malfunction. Once designed such a reactor could be easily duplicated en-masse and would go a long way towards replacing the lowly gallon of million year old, mineral rich, oozing black vaporous poison we now use to fuel our vehicles.

Finally remember that;

We don’t inherit the Earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children

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  1. Thomas
    August 6th, 2011 at 10:40 | #1

    Come on Family and America at-large. Someone else has to have an opinion on the topic!

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