Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Electric cars will put strain on ... water?


Study comes in this morning over science news that apparently electric-cars, also known as "plug-in" cars, may not solve our environmental problems because they will put a lot of strain on the water system in water-scarce regions like the west of the US.

I am number 260 something in line for the Tesla, which I was supposed to receive this month but is being delayed by a year. Consolation price is that Tesla is officially the "hot car du jour" and since it was publicized that George Clooney and Hanold Gubernator are ahead of me in line, people around me think I am cool. Right now I feel like a chump for having ponied up 50k upfront for the right to ... be in line with people way cooler than me. Ah whatever, I define techno-cool.

But apart from telling you how geeckily cool I am, let's go back to the news: why does electricity consume water? well a lot of electricity is still produced with 19th century steam technology. Fancy huh? I remember having this conversation with Sacha Labourey. Steam or the water drives a big magnet that generates electricity. It is coupling thermal/gravitational energy to electrical energy through electro-magnetism. Simple, very effective and completely dependent on water. Hydro, uses water to drive the turbine. Coal and Nuclear both use water to cool and the steam to drive the engines. Even solar, at least in the mirror concentrator scheme, uses steam water to drive the stuff.

Only solid state solar offers a prayer of getting out of the 19th century, and avoiding the dumb conumdrum or running up commidity prices like the ethanol/corn, political debacle.

19 comments:

Roy Russo said...

I've never heard of a nuke power plant's reservoir running dry even while powering cities. I'm sure if we're actually allowed to build the first power plant since the 70s, in this country, we'll be ok.

Anyway, we have plenty of water... oceans and lakes, all fueled by melting icecaps.

Marcf said...

Water, at least the drinkable kind, is the next disappearing resource. Which is why these studies are conducted. The fact that you are blissfully un-aware of it doesn't make it false.

Bill Pyne said...

De-salinization technologies seem like they would increase in importance.

Fission processes seem unacceptably high in waste production. Are you aware of any progress in fusion? Are there any downsides to fusion from a waste production standpoint?

Nothing is for free (used in more than an economic sense) so my assumption is that we have to choose the most acceptable benefit/cost ratio with energy technologies. Most likely we'll use a combination of technologies that work the best in differing situations.

Anonymous said...

Marc,

You are too often right ;-) The book Blue Gold (from Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke) sent shivers down my spine. According to the book, and other studies, the amount of drinkable water is reducing – and I do not remember how many billions (yep) will not have access to drinkable water in the next decade or so; it is also a resource that is at the centre of many (engineered) wars today.
I'll let you google Beyond Peak Oil by Michael Kane.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, here is the link

http://www.fromthewilderness.com/free/ww3/091704_beyond_peak.shtml

Marcf said...

Bill,

Fusion is still a dream, unfortunately. Although that would consume water as well, but at that point who cares. It is really too bad that Fusion is still '30 years off' for the past 50 years. When I was at MIT I was working for the crazy man that is still pursuing cold fusion. He was insane, really f* up.

If only fusion came about. I read about this private research guy working on cold fusion, he argues that all that is needed is a couple of billions to get the thing finished with Z-ping machines if my recollection is correct. He then of course goes on ranting about the cost of the war in iraq and those resources diverted away from research. Me? i wholeheartedly agree.

There is no downside to fusion byproducts.

There is fission technology that reuses the product and only leaves 1% of the waste the traditional plants do. I know they are in production in france and this is "right now". I also was reading about the "safe pellet" design in China. Basically they are re-adopting the early 50's design of using pellets as fuel, if the fuel heats up to much, the pellets expand and the reaction rate geometrically cools which is A SAFE REGULATING SAFETY VALVE, which is really very cool. Why that design did not come to pass, i can't remember but it is coming back with a vengeance. Of course the byproduct is still there.

I am a big believer in distributed solar, where instead of big centralized power plants, each house, home powers its own and then some.

I was also reading a nature article the other day that uses 'nano-hair" to create electricity from movement for wearable electronics and medical devices.

It will be figured out.

Michael Neale said...

Well there was fast breeder nuclear reactors. They used liquid sodium (metallic) as coolant.

Great idea - lets use a molten metal that EXPLODES on contact with air or water to call a nuke reactor ;)

Dana said...

The claim is nonsense. You can electrolyze salt water. (Try it at home, kids.) Put your electrodes into sea water and you get hydrogen on one side, oxygen on the other, and if you change the water regularly you can ignore the rest -- just clean the rig regularly.

My main concern is that hydrogen car designers are currently choosing to vent their water into the air, rather than collecting it for disposal at re-fill. This ups the "hydrogen mileage" but at an immense ecological cost.

Imagine millions of such cars driving around Phoenix or Las Vegas, spewing water into the air. Changes the climate.

The water, if saved and deposited as liquid on fill-up, is a positive boon. It's clean, and it's produced where the people are, in direct proportion to the population.

Bill Pyne said...

Thanks for clearing things up.

Fission energy production seems to work fine in China and France due to a greater government oversight on plant design and construction. One of the problems we have had in the past in the US with fission plants is the construction itself. In one extreme case, construction workers were throwing garbage from their lunches (paper cups, bottles, etc.) into the cement, causing weaknesses when it set. Another problem is that there is no standard design: it's a little more of a free market. This is a situation in which I don't want to trust a free market.

I think you're completely on target with the distributed energy production scenario. I'm not sure that it's going to be strictly solar though. The question, in the US, is whether or not the big energy producers will allow the right thing to happen.

Marcf said...

Bill...

I couldn't help but chuckle at your "I can't help but NOT trust the free market on bla bla bla"... he he sign of the times huh? Free markets with the Bernanke put, it is a nice equilibrium of socialism and capitalism...

As for distributed energy source, what else for electricity, wind? I like geothermal options too.

Bill Pyne said...

I guess I should say that we're free market when it's convenient. Still, there are certain social endeavours that I feel are too critical to allow the possibility that (e.g.) better marketing may cause an inferior product/design to win in the market. Medicine and energy production are two of them.

As for socialism vs. capitalism, I'm not one for ideology. Look around for something that works, throw the rest away, and adapt as necessary.

Wind, geothermal, solar, and fusion(sometime in the next 100 years) are the ones I'm watching. Solar is probably going to be the most widely used but again, adapt as necessary. If your area of the world can convert wind cheaper than solar, by all means do it.

Marcf said...

True,

not a time for empty ideology. Use what works, if it doesn't change just as fast, :)

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