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Thursday, October 2, 2002
2:15 PM ARCHIVE
Getting Cash Fast
The easy way to get a cash loan:
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Monday, April 29, 2002
6:35 PM LINK
What is the capacity of a coal car in a train?
4431 cubic feet, according to what was printed on the one I saw in Denver last week.
The Mortgage Crisis
What can people do to maintain their homes and mortgages?
A reverse mortgage is an option available to seniors, and is used to release the equity in the property in a lump sum or multiple payments. The homeowner's requirement to repay the loan is deferred until the owner dies, the home is sold, or the owner leaves (e.g., into aged care)..
Finance Your Businss Equipment in This Economy!
Business financing was never easy - but how can you finance equipment now?
There was a time where a business owner could walk into a bank, ask for a loan and walk out with enough to finance his
needed commercial equipment. OK, maybe not that easy - but times were better. In todays credit reality, equipment financing has become
more difficult than obtaining a mortgage. Some equipment financing companies has made it through the initial crash, while others
have lost their funding. Don't worry there is still hope! Also take a look at this page for information on bad credit loans.
6:35 PM LINK
What is the capacity of a coal car in a train?
4431 cubic feet, according to what was printed on the one I saw in Denver last week.
6:33 PM LINK
What is the capacity of a coal car in a train?
4431 cubic feet, according to what was printed on the one I saw in Denver last week.
Tuesday, April 23, 2002
3:32 PM LINK
How to Cook the Earth
This is an interesting article, about a physicist at University of Houston Institute for Space Systems who has proposed a solution to the world's energy supply problems.
The basic idea is to collect solar energy on the surface of the moon, then beam it to earth in the form of microwave radiation, which is collected on the ground for conversion into electricity. Criswell, the physicist, estimates that 100 terrawatts of power (enough to supply all the earth's power needs) could be harvested by several dozen stations, with the panels fabricated on the moon out of mostly lunar minerals.
Let me get this straight. He's saying we should use the Moon to microwave the Earth? Well, that will certainly help alleviate global warming.
What, you say, can I be serious that sending microwaves beams from the moon onto the earth is the same thing as putting the earth in a microwave oven? Yes, it's pretty much the same thing.
There is a deep issue at work here, something to be decided in this century. Should we collect solar radiation that wouldn't otherwise fall upon the earth, and redirect it into the earth's atmosphere, in order to serve our energy needs?
From the persepctive of the earth, the redirection of sunshine, in whatever wavelength, from space into the earth's atmosphere is basically the same as if the sun were shining slightly harder than it actually is upon the earth. Or, equivalently, it is as if the earth were slightly closer to the sun than it actually is, not anywhere near the orbit of Venus perhaps, but effectively closer, nonetheless.
Of course, we are already doing this very thing. The burning of fuels on earth, for whatever purpose, helps keep the atmosphere slightly heated up, more than it would have been if the sun were the only source of heat. The fact that the fuel was originally created by solar energy can be immaterial, so long as this energy fell on the earth a long time ago, and has been stored as chemical fuel since then. This is because of the fact that the earth is, from thermodynamic perspective, in quasi-equilibrium.
What if the stored fuel is burned to create motion? Does this result in heat? Of course. Have you felt the radiator of a car? All that heat, as well as the air resistance, road friction, and brake friction that eventually brings a car to a half, is dumped into the reservoir of the atmosphere as heat. The roughly 125,000 BTU of chemical potential energy in a gallon of gasoline will eventually be manifest as 125,000 BTU of heat in the atmosphere.
To keep cool, the earth radiates some of its atmospheric heat into space, mostly on its night side. This is what keeps the earth from experiencing a runaway temperature increase from the sunlight it receives. The question is: how much more can the earth take before it undergoes what's known in the thermodynamics trade as a "phase change."
We know the sun experiences periodic fluctuations in its energy output, one cycle of which lasts about eleven years. Yet the earth's climate remains fairly constant over each eleven-year period. Thus the atmosphere is stable enough to endure this fluctuation without the climate patterns going haywire. But the long-term patterns of solar energy pattern are not yet known. Also there is evidence to support the idea that if the thermal conditions in the atmosphere reach a tipping point, climate patterns can be altered quite rapidly, on a human scale. This kind of behavior is typical for complex systems.
By the way, there are certain forms of energy that indeed require no net addition of heat to the atmosphere. Wind power, for example, is the extraction of heat from the atmosphere (yes, in this sense, you can think of wind as heat energy), and the transformation of this energy into electricity, which is then converted back to heat, once it's done "doing its work" of, say, moving a train. There is no net increase. That is, in harvesting wind power, you actually "cool" the atmosphere, and then heat it back up by the same amount when you use the electricity you have harvested.
Likewise there is no net change if terrestrial solar energy is harnessed for any purpose, including to distill hydrogen from water. The burning of that hydrogen would result in no net heat increase to the atmosphere (hydrogen mined from rocks is a different story).
The moral of this story: before embarking on any venture to bring extraterrestrial solar radiation to the earth's atmosphere, we should make sure we have our ducks in a row.
Sunday, April 21, 2002
12:41 PM LINK
How to Burn Hydrogen
In 1766 in England, Henry Cavendish separated and experimented with a gas he called "flammable air." He reported that upon burning, the gas left a dewy residue, which he suspected was ordinary water. Lavoisier of France independently discovered this property and gave the gas the name "hydrogen," which stuck.
Hydrogen turns out to be an element, the lightest one in the Periodic Table. Hydrogen gas (the substance distilled by Cavendish and Lavoisier) is actually two hydrogen atoms bonded together into a molecule.
The sun, like most stars, is almost entirely elemental hydrogen, i.e., not bonded into a molecule as hydrogen gas. The shining of the sun is therefore not due to ordinary burning of hydrogen gas. Rather the sun shines due to the separate physical process of hydrogen fusion.
On the other hand, Jupiter is made up largely of molecular hydrogen gas, yet it also does not burn, at least on any planetary scale. This is despite the observed presence in its atmosphere of electromagnetic storms, which could ignite large-scale combustion.
Why doesn't Jupiter's atmospheric hydrogen gas burn? Because in order to combust by an ordinary chemical reaction, hydrogen also requires the presence of oxygen gas, such as that widely found in the atmosphere of Earth (but not Jupiter).
In the presence of enough heat, the hydrogen and oxygen gas molecules will chemically react to form a more stable compound, consisting of water molecules, as well as heat.
From a burning perspective, all hydrogen gas, no matter its origin, is the same. You could have scooped it out of the atmosphere of Jupiter, squeezed in from the lunar soil, or distilled from rain water by solar-powered electrolysis. It all burns the same.
When many people think of hydrogen combustion, they erroneously assume it must be undergoing an uncontrolled explosion. Like natural gas, propane gas, or gasoline, hydrogen gas can either burn or explode, depending on the conditions. With internal combustion engines, it is very desirable not only to store the gasoline property, but also to control the rate of burning of gasoline in the piston, to yield the greatest horsepower per engine cycle. The same is true of burning hydrogen gas. If you want to use it as fuel, you must not only store it properly, but you must also control the rate and conditions of its burning.
Friday, April 19, 2002
12:06 AM LINK
What the Heck is this Thing Called a Stirling Engine?
I'm embarassed to admit it, but I find myself scrambling to learn about the Stirling engine after the recent announcements regarding Dean Kamen's patent of an engine of this type.
Stirling engines are nothing new. Robert Stirling patented his original design in 1816. This site shows a simple Stirling engine that uses a coffee cup as its power source. Heck, there's a whole category on e-bay for them.
From a physics perspective, engines are defined by their basic design. I'm not talking about the V-8 or the Slant-6 or anything you'd find in a mass-produced automobile today. Those are all variations on one particular type of engine, namely the Otto engine, which is commonly called the internal combustion engine, and was one of the great inventions that defined the 20th Century.
In a physics sense, engines are defined by their thermodynamic cycles, specifically how the pressure, temperature, and volume vary throughout the cycle of the engine. When you study basic physics, you start off learning the Carnot cycle, which is the most zen-simple category of engine. The four-stroke Otto cycle is a little fancier. Another example is the Wankel engine, commonly called the rotary engine, which I wrote about a couple weeks ago.
So what exactly is Stirling engine, you ask? The bottom line is that unlike the internal combustion engine, which has intake and exhaust valves for the critical fuel-mix gasses, the Stirling engine gases remain forever inside the engine. There is no intake and no exhaust. Instead of being burned internally, the gases that drive the pistons are heated by an external source. This heat source be anything. Hence the Mr. Fusion appeal of the design. Anything that produces heat (including gasoline, hydrogen, biomass, plastic army men, the sun, etc.) can be used as the power source. With internal combustion, you have to use gasoline mixed in the right proportion with oxygen.
Thus the magic of the Stirling engine is that it can provide locomotion from an arbitrarily wide selection of possible fuels. Since the Stirling engine produces no inherent exhaust from its internal gasses, if this external fuel source is non-polluting, then voilà, you have a non-polluting way of providing useful work.
Another appeal of the Stirling engine is that with the proper design, it can run almost silently.
The Stirling engine is one of the those "curious phenomena" that every physics student is fascinated by. Many hobbyists love to build them from kits. The problem was that it was not considered practical to mass produce them for locomotion.
Furthermore, even if you did mass produce them, you still need to provide some source of heat. That is, something has to be burned. To run a heavy steel automobile off a Stirling engine, you might still need to burn a high-BTU fuel like gasoline, albeit not inside the pistons. In that case, you'd still get all the overhead that goes with our current energy economy. The real breakthrough would be a mass-produced Stirling engine that would provide enough horsepower for practical transportation without requiring the burning of a hydocarbon fuel.
Has Kamen done this? It's hard to tell right now. If the Ginger pattern is followed, we will get all the details in time, but first we will endure some requisite Kamenesque drumrolling. I personally am willing to cut the guy some slack. If I were to criticize him, it would only be out of pure jealously.
Thursday, April 18, 2002
11:58 PM LINK
Well I survived my one day of fame as Fox News' "Blog of the Week" It was sure, well, yummy. The majority of the mostly-angry emails I received were responding to the headlines that Fox slapped over my paragraphs, rather than to the material I actually wrote. I'm beginning to see how this works. It was quite a lesson in how to generate lots of feedback.
Wednesday, April 17, 2002
4:18 PM LINK
Enron Wind Power?
Yes, Enron Wind. Sound strange, doesn't it? I stumbled into this site looking for more information about the power output of wind farms. One the things that disturbs me about wind-power articles in the press in how easily the authors throw around figures like "it will produce 420 MW" of electricity.
My immediate question is: what is the meaning of this figure? Is it the peak power output (when the wind is blowing so as to crank the turbine at its faster rate), or is it an expected average, based on how much the wind will actually blow. If it's the peak output, then really you are comparing apples to oranges, when you put the 400 MW from a wind farm next to 400 MW produced by, say, a nuclear power plant (unless you account for shutdowns in the plant, which do occur, even on a routine basis).
The peak number is pretty straightforward to calculate. The expected average is a lot more complicated. You have to know a lot of the how the winds blow in the exact spot where the wind farm is located. The only exception is if the wind blows all the time, at the same speed, which it doesn't, even at the South Pole.
The Enron Wind link above about a small wind farm in Wisconsin offers some clues. The 30 MW figure they quote is the "capacity." This is synonymous with "peak", so there is no mystery here. On the next line they offer how much energy they actually expect to harvest in a year. If the peak were the actual expected amount, you could obtain the energy in a year simply by multiplying the power by the number of hours in a year (giving you energy in megawatt-hours).
For example, under that scenario, 30 MW would translate to about 260 thousand kilowatt-hours. But Enron says they expect to harvest only about 52 thousand kilowatt-hours each each, which is almost exactly 1/5 of what the peak would bring. In other words, the real power output of the farm is about 6 MW, averaged over the year (The closeness to 20% makes me wonder if this is a standard rule-of-thumb).
On the other hand, a coal-fired plant with a capacity of 500 MW could, in theory, run at that level almost constantly, as if the "wind were always blowing."
From now on, I'm going to assume the numbers I see about wind farms are peak capacity numbers, unless I find out otherwise.
In that light, the advantages of running an offshore wind farm become much more obvious. If the wind blows at a fairly steady rate, as it does over the ocean, then you can come up with a much more reliable figure for the energy produced over time. This is an obvious advantage is raising the capital for such projects.
I don't mind if the articles in the press use peak power outputs to describe wind farms. But I just wish they would be more up front about this.
Tuesday, April 16, 2002
2:48 PM LINK
Off-Shore Windfarming in the Kennedys' Backyard
This article in today's NYTimes by Karen Lee Ziner is about a controversial proposal by Cape Wind Associates of Boston to spend 600,000 dollars (financed through conventional loans) to build a 170-unit windfarm on 28 square miles of Horseshoe Shoals in the waters off Hyannis, Massachussetts.
It seems off-shore windfarming is not a new idea. Although there are existing fields in Europe, this one would be unprecedented in the U.S. because of its scale. The towers themselves would be enormous compared to the ones typically seen in California. The carbon-steel turbine columns would tower 270 feet high, over 40 stories high at the tallest blade tip. They would be spaced one-third to one-half mile apart and would deliver up to 420 MW of electricity to the New England regional grid (equivalent to a small nuclear reactor; up to one-half million homes, using the "1 MW = 1000 residences" rule of thumb). The farm would supposedly be operational by 2005.
Local residents are less than enthusiatic. Greenpeace is in favor of it.
Here's a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers article about the project. Evidently such a project requires a "Section 10/404 Individual Permit."
This article from the National Geograhpic a couple month's ago is about a proposal by the same company to build a 200-turbine offshore windfarm off the coast of Ireland that would produce up to 520 MW.
"Currently Europe leads the world in its use of wind power. Denmark generates 15 percent of its energy needs using wind power with Germany and Sweden close behind. By 2020 Denmark expects to generate 50 percent of it power demands using wind."
The article gives some interesting figures about the difference in subsidies for wind power between Europe and the U.S.:
"Brian Parsons of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, believes that 5 percent of the country's energy demands could be met with wind power by 2020. "But it would be a big challenge," he said.
According to this article in Scientific American, one of the principal advantages of offshore farms is that ocean winds are steadier than those on land. The article also mentions that the Massachussets farm would be visible from the Kennedy compound.
1:44 PM LINK
Real Lifespans of Nuclear Power Plants
Some informed comments from Eric Epstein, the Chairman of TMI-Alert in a letter to the edtior of the Pennsylvania DEP newsletter, regarding the "premature" shutdowns of nuclear generation stations. He provides numerous examples of plants that did not fulfill their projected lifespans, and cites data to show that performance declines with age.
One example he provides is the Fort Saint Vrain Nuclear Generating Station in Plattesburg, Colorado. During the ten years it was in operation, it was the only helium-cooled commercial reactor in the U.S. It produced a mere 330 MW of electrcity (on the low side, definitely). It was operational for only 27.5% of its projected lifespan, from 1979-1989.
Fort St. Vrain is near to my heart. In 1986, while I was a sophomore in college, I held a summer job in Colorado at the Radiation Biology Dept. at Colorado State, as a part of the official monitoring of the plant for leakage of radioactive waste materials into the environment. We had to go to all the nearby dairy farms to collect milk samples once a week, and on two occassions I had to grind up carp that were caught with stun guns from a nearby pond. I had a date that night and had to wash the smell off in the shower with salt.
We would run the samples through a Silicon-Germanium crystal looking for signature peaks in the gamma spectrum. One thing you learn is that for a reactor, "there is no such thing as perfect containment." But if all goes well, the radioactivity of the waste products is barely noticeable above the natural radioactivity present in all living tissues.
It was right after Chernobyl. My boss would have his friends who had returned from Europe get measured in our lab's whole-body detector, which was surrounded by a big lead tank remanufactured from the doors of a nuclear submarine (my boss liked to take naps on the cot in there). There were always traces of radioiodine in our visitors' bodies, but by that time, several half lives had passed, so the gamma peaks weren't very big. "No cause for alarm!"
Monday, April 15, 2002
9:40 PM LINK
I had fun all morning with this site by Joseph Gonyeau. You can find out loads of information on the nuclear generating stations around the U.S., although the links to pages on the Nuclear Regular Commission site no longer work, because of Sept. 11.
What I did find out that interested me were some "typical numbers" about nuclear plants. A typical load of uranium oxide fuel for a plant is between 100-150 tons, of which 3% or less is fissionable U-235.
A typical power output from a reactor is between 2000 and 3000 MW, although only one-third of this gets translated into electrical energy. Thus your typical nuclear power plant unit generates somewhere around 600-1000 MWe (MWe="megawatts of electricity").
Often, a single "plant" has several reactor units. It is not untypical for these units to be owned by different private utility entities. An example is the split ownership of the two reactors at the Indian Point facility up the Hudson from New York, which is currently the subject of a lot of controversy from nearby citizens, mainly because of a breach in the reactor circulation system of Unit 2, which leaked radioactive water from the reactor into the turbines.
"...in NY state, nuclear power represents only 16.1% of the capacity, it provides 33.8% of the generated energy. Thus Indian Point 2, in actuality, provides about 5 % of total electrical energy generated in the state."
It must drive the citizens near the plant into a frenzy that the NRC also removed its own page detailing this incident.
12:12 AM LINK
Perhaps a Christian-based site, based on this lead in:
"Fossil fuels are one of the Creator's greatest gifts to humamankind..."
O.K. Let's run with that idea. God apparently gave the U.S. enough oil to get us all hooked on the stuff, but he gave the Moslems a lot more, so that they'll have plently of it to sell us when we run out of our stocks. Nice little power play. Who's side is God on?
They published this article on how the Internet is essentially a coal-powered phenomenon. This is true. Quite Dickensian, when you think about it, but 51% of U.S. electricity comes from burning the shiny black rock, all of which is mined right here within our borders.
But the article contains some rather interesting claims about how much of U.S. electrical demand increase is actually due to the growth of the Internet. I don't even bother reading these numbers. They might as well be made up out of thin air, coming from a site like that one, without a detailed explanation of how they were obtained.
Saturday, April 13, 2002
3:21 PM LINK
The Newspaper That Couldn't Shoot Straight
The link above points to "Turmoil in Venezuela Causes Jitters at Citgo Home" by Bob Haring in today's business section of the New York Times. It is supposedly about how Citgo is particularly affected by the turmoil in Venezuela. The reason is that PDV, Venezuela's state oil company, actually owns Citgo outright. Southland (7-11) sold their last shares to them in 1990.
As a result, most of Citgo's oil comes from Venezuela, and the shakiness of the situation there has people in Tulsa, where the company is headquartered, particularly edgy about being able to bring oil to market.
How much oil? Well, uh..., according to the Times' graphic, Citgo purchases over 500 million barrels a day, over 300 million of which come from Venezuela.
500 million barrels a day? Hmm...Funny. The U.S. only uses 20 million barrels in a given day. I have a feeling they meant 500 million barrels a year. But who knows? I suppose I could go look it up, but I'm not interested enough. That's their job.
Also, in the thick of the article, we hear that Venezuela ships about "one million gallons" of crude oil to U.S. each day, about half of it destined for Citgo refineries.
Let me say this flat out: units of gallons of crude oil have no place in any informative article. They are used (like acres instead of square miles) simply to puff up a number to make it more grandiose. To make any intelligent summary using this information, it is immediately necessary to convert the figure to barrels, in this case yielding about 25,000 barrels a day. Hmm seems sort of low for Venezuela. I don't trust that number.
Which brings me to my point: I have come to conclusion that any use of the units of gallons of crude oil (as opposed to gasoline) in any article about the oil industry in the press is a dead give away that the author doesn't know shite from shineola about the real dynamics of the oil business. You can pretty take the article as so much blather based on culling PR statements and the company's web site without any reflection about the meaning of the numbers.
O.K. I'm not asking for Brookings Institute-style commentary from Times reporters, but any more, I am thinking they have little grasp of the significance of the figures they throw around.
Obviously the graphic I mentioned was incorrect. I wonder if we'll see a correction about it. I'm betting on no.
One last point: the article mentioned that Citgo's two East Coast refineries are its asphalt plants at Paulsboro, New Jersey and Savannah, Georgia. This illustrates what I mentioned in my last post, that Venezuelan crude has a high specific gravity, and is more useful for heavier petroleum products. It's more expensive to recover gasoline from a typical Venezuelan barrel than most other oil producing nations. It is very well suited for asphalt, however, which comprises the heaviest hydrocarbon molecules in crude oil.
1:21 PM LINK
Gas Guzzling in America
I'm posting this link because it made on Fark today, under the title "Take the mystery out of gas prices." It reminds of something someone said on the news lately, that many Americans judge the economic health of the country mostly on the current price of gasoline. I think nothing speaks to the truth-blindness of our society about energy more than this. Personally, I never notice the price of gas at the pump. It's of no concern to me. I know it's going to take between twenty and thirty dollars to fill up. I have a lot more important things to worry about than the exact amount.
I think there is this unspoken assumption among our citizenry that the government runs the oil business. That is, the government somehow controls the price, like the Federal Reserve, and that the fluctuations are a temperature of the government's ability to manage world affairs, instead of being simply a short-term indicator of a constantly-fluctuating free market. Fluctuations in price are natural. The spike due to the Chavez crisis in Venezuela had nothing to do with the economic health of the country. Yet it probably bummed out millions of people, making them wonder if the world was indeed going to hell.
Thus the price of gasoline is to "Main Street" what the Dow Jones/Nasdaq indices are to Wall Street: rather meaningless figures by themselves which are taken as reflective of something much more than they are (by the way, I hate the use of the phrase "Main Street" to mean "small town America," since Main Street no longer exists in most towns except as a relic).
An interesting fact from the link above: the daily gasoline consumption by the U.S. is around 360 million gallons a day, which (using an estimate of 100 million households), gives about 3.6 gallons per day per household. The 360 million gallons is not an direct measured figure, but is an estimate obtained by taking 43% of the daily crude oil consumption of 19.5 million barrels, since 43% is supposedly the fraction that winds up as gasoline.
2:12 AM LINK
The Venezuelan Coup
I liked this writeup by Steven Den Beste about Venezuela. The coup there came and went and I barely noticed. I didn't write about it because I don't really care about the short term picture and fluctuations in the current price of crude. Whether or not Venezuela is currently pumping out crude oil is not of any concern to me. Oil is free market commodity, and no matter what happens with the politics in Venezuela, its oil will find a way to market. What I care about is how much oil is really there.
Den Beste's article was good because it focused on the long-term, to wit:
"Indeed, they may well increase output in order to get more money, which does not bode well for Arab plans to use the "oil weapon". Venezuela has no stake whatever in Middle Eastern politics except due to its membership in OPEC, and it certainly has no reason to cut oil shipments to work towards an Arab political goal."
Indeed, Venezuela is the poster child for the capitivity of OPEC nations to their oil economy. Indeed this OEIS report from March 2001 is enlightening:
"The last government of the ancien régime under pressure from the national oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDV), came close to abandoning OPEC, and PDV's publicly heralded policy to maximize volumes disregarding OPEC quotas and price objectives was a major cause of the 1998 oil price crisis."
In that vein, it's worth mentioning a few facts about Venezuela. First off, as far as imports to the U.S. are concerned, it is part of the "Big Four" nations which each contribute about 15% of the U.S. oil imports, the other three being Canada, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia (position is constantly shifting, but each hovers around 15%).
Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the western hemisphere, about 76 billion barrels of proven reserves (10-year U.S. supply; 3 x proven reserves of the U.S.; 1/4 proven reserves of Saudi Arabia).
There was an article a couple months ago in the New York Times about Venezuelan oil (I've lost the link). One of the facts I learned is that Venezuelan oil tends to be heavier than, say, Mexican oil. In the oil business, "light" oil is good (as measured by specific gravity). It is easier to pull up out of the ground, easier to transport, and easier to refine into the lighter hydrocarbon fractions such as the ones in gasoline. The fact that Venezuelan crude is heavier means its inherently more expensive recover and to refine than the crude in other countries. The cost of recovering oil is a factor that is almost never mentioned in the press, where oil seems to "just happen."
Following the shallow sea model of oil field locations, it is not surprising that the biggest Venezuelan oil fields are found in or around Lake Maracaibo, which contrary to the name, is actually a lagoon of the Carribbean Sea, somewhat like a miniature version of the Persian Gulf. It's exactly the kind of place you'd expect to be rich with crude oil.
Map of the Venezuelan Oil and Gas Fields.
Friday, April 12, 2002
5:40 PM LINK
More Uranium fact gathering...Uranium is sold on the world market as uranium oxide concentrate (U3-O8). There is a spot price, but 90% of sales are through long-term contracts straight to the utilities. The spot price peaked in the late seventies at about 40 US$ per kg, but has been on a downward slide, and is now at about 7$ per kg. This is actually below the cost of production. In the mid 1990's prices were slightly elevated, allowing uranium mines to reach temporary profitability, but since then, the price has slid down again.
The cost of the oxide ore makes up only about 1/4 of the real price of the fuel. Enrichment and other processing makes up the rest of the real price.
In 1999, the total amount uranium oxide sold on the world markets to utilties was about 36,000 tons, which is amostly exactly half of the amount used each year by utilitity reactors The rest was made up from stockpiles, which have largely been depleted by now. The drawdown is expected to continue through 2005-2006.
The leading exporter of Uranium was Canada, at around 10000 tons, followed by Australia, at around 7600 tons. Niger and Namibia are the two leading producers in Africa, contributing several thousand tons each. South African production was as high as 5000 tons per year in the mid 1980's, but has dwindled to around a 1000 tons per year.
In the 1970's, the U.S. was the leading producer of Uranium, but production has dwindled as well, to around 2000 tons per year, less than Niger and Namibia. The decrease largely coincides with the drop in price of Uranium. Likewise French production has largely petered out because of a decline in profitability. (see graph) The production figures by country are here.
Another large source of uranium since 1997 is the "Megatons to Megawatts" program whereby Russian/CIS military uranium is sold on the world market at a constant rate of around 12000 tons per year. see graph.
"Because of the cost structure of nuclear power generation, with high capital and low fuel costs, the demand for uranium fuel is
much more predictable than with probably any other mineral commodity. Once reactors are built, it is very cost-effective to keep
them running at high capacity and for utilities to make any adjustments to load trends by cutting back on fossil fuel use. Demand
forecasts for uranium thus depend largely on installed and operable capacity, regardless of economic fluctuations. For instance,
when South Korea's overall energy use decreased in 1997, nuclear energy output actually rose, to replace imported fossil fuels."
The largest Uranium mining company in the world is Cameco, which operates the two largest mines in Canada and which produces about 1/6 of the world's mined uranium oxide ore. Cameco's McArthur River /Key Lake mine, which is both underground and open bit, currently produces about 12% of the world's mined uranium (4141 tons per year). Their second largest mine, Rabbit Lake, produces about 8% of the world's mined uranium. Both mines are in northern Saskatchewan, which is currently the heartland of Canadian uranium production.
Current Uranium Spot Price
Uranium Mine Ownership in Canada
Map of Canadian Uranium Mines
12:45 AM LINK
It's uranium day. In answering the question about how much electricity is generated by coal, and all the consequences that come along with that, it is impossible to escape the question of nuclear power, which generates around 20% of the electricity in the country. If you're flat-out anti-nuke, then the discussion is trivial. But supposing we cast aside all previous assumptions (as I like to), let's consider uranium as a possible savior from the ravages of coal.
First I need to gather some facts. I took a great nuclear physics class as an undergraduate at Willamette from Roberta Bigelow, who had just started teaching there, and now is the head of the physics department. I learned a lot about how nuclear power plants operate from her.
From the above link, I relearn the following facts about natural uranium, which is the elemental uranium that is extracted from uranium ore mined from the ground:
Natural uranium consists of a mixture of three radioactive isotopes which are identified by the mass numbers U-238 (99.27% by mass), U-235 (0.72%) and U-234 (0.0054%).
...most reactors require uranium in which the U-235 content is enriched from 0.72% to about 3%
That is, the trick in creating uranium fuel is that after you mine it out of the ground and extract it from the ore, you have to beef up the U-235 fraction from its natural amount, as stated. The process of enriching the uranium in this way was one of the big war secrets of the Manhattan Project. Both isotopes are chemically identical. It turns out that one of the best ways to do this is to take advantage of the difference in mass between the two isotopes by using a centrifuge. At U.T. a couple years ago, I saw a talk from a physicist who was a UN inspector in Iraq, and he said that when they were always on the lookout for centrifuges.
In previous eras of the earth's history, the fraction of U-235 in natural uranium was higher than it is today. In class, we learned about a famous natural uranium reactor in Gabon.
Thursday, April 11, 2002
10:38 PM LINK
Solar Radiation Map of Australia
Shades indicate daily exposures in megajoules per square meter. Down in Tasmania, it is around 11-15 MJ/m^2 per day. In the desert, it gets up to around 25 MJ/m^2 per day. It makes much more sense to give the figures in terms of energy/area per day, instead of power/area. If you wanted you could divide the energy figure by the number of seconds in a day, to get megawatts per square meter, but this would be the average, which is not typical of course, since there is no energy harvested at night. Converting megajoules to kilowatt-hours means that down in Tasmania, the sun yields at most 3-4 kWh per day for every square meter of surface area. Out in the desert, you the sun yields 7 kWh per day. The actual harvestable amount is always less. The electrical energy harvested by a panel is much less than 100% of the amount of sunlight that falls upon it. How much less? Well, I am going to find that out...
Wednesday, April 10, 2002
4:09 PM LINK
Caspian Pseudo-information from the Press
Article in today's "World Business" section by Birgit Brauer, "Oil Field Hopes to Become World Power," buttressing idea that Caspian is the "new Middle East."
What a piece of jibberish. I am so tired of this crap:
The article is supposed to be about the Karachaganak oil field in Kazakhstan, several hundred miles north of the Caspian Sea, and how it could become an important source of oil and gas.
So I'm reading the article, and asking when the author is going to deign to tell me how much oil this field is supposed to hold. Finally, about eigth column inches into it:
"Karachaganak, one of the three premium Kazakh fields being developed in the northern Caspian region, was discovered in 1979. Though it is smaller than the other two, Kashagan and Tengiz, its 116 square miles contain more than 1.2 billion metric tons of oil and condensate and more than 1.35 trillion cubic meters of gas..." (italics mine)
What the f** is wrong with the Times? I AM SO F*ING SICK OF THE NUMERICAL JIBBERISH. Haven't you guys heard of barrels, the commonly accepted unit in the United States for describing reserves of crude oil?
It's all part of the same story, the "confuse 'em with numbers because no one is really paying attention" routine I've come to expect. It's like on television, where newscasters with their "large number" voices, drawing out the word "million" or "billion" without any context of what the number actually means. It's a continuation of the hypnosis of innumeracy to give the illusion of providing fact.
Tell me how many barrels, for cripesake, so I can decide for myself, as an informed citizen, how important this place supposedly is.
So I have to dig around on the net, as usual, to find the elusive conversion factor between metric tons of crude oil and the same amount in barrels.
After Google, I return. Evidently there are 7.33 barrels in a metric ton of crude oil. So we are looking at around 9 billion barrels of oil in this field.
O.K. that's more like it. Then I think: wow, only nine billion barrels. This is the third largest field in the Caspian? That's about ANWR sized. Small potatoes if it were in the Middle East. Why doesn't the article say that? And why couldn't the Times editor spot a simple stylistic problem of units regarding the only truly inportant piece of information in the entire article?
12:10 PM LINK
Oil as the Great Equalizer
Interesting article from Jeremy Rifkin in the L.A. Times. He's writing a book about hydrogen power.
"Many younger Muslim fundamentalists view
oil as "a soft loan from Allah." They see
oil as the great equalizer, a spiritual as
well as geopolitical weapon that, if
Islamized in the service of Allah, could
lead to the second coming of Islam."
Tuesday, April 09, 2002
10:45 PM LINK
Juneau, Alaska kWh/year residential average
10,090 kilowatt hours annually per residence, according to this article from the The Juneau Empire.
10:42 PM LINK
Canadian kWh/year residential average
the Canadian Clean Power Coalition says the average is 7000 kWh/year per residence in Canada.
Funny. I'm noticing a pattern that the sites where I am finding these numbers are all alternative energy sites. Fits in with the typical patterns of hard numbers being hard to dig up in the conventional energy industry.
10:37 PM LINK
Residential kWh/year for Indiana
from a Univ. of Indiana site. Wish they would give their sources for this:
"Residential electricity sales per household in Indiana averaged 13,018 kilowatt-hours in 1999, which was the 20th highest usage level in the nation...At 16,790 kilowatt-hours, Tennessee led the
nation in usage..."
10:33 PM LINK
Boulder, Colorado residential kWh/year
According to this site from the Boulder County Civic Forum (scroll down to middle of page), the average residence usage has been increasing since 1983 from just over 6000 kWh/year to just under 8000 kWh/year. Makes you wonder what the source of the increase is. Computers? Recall this is the average per residence, and therefore has nothing to do with a population growth. I am tempted to say "McMansions." Boulder itself has growth restrictions, but outside the boundary, many of the new houses could well be described by Thorstein Velben's famous phrase.
10:28 PM LINK
Siemens Figures for kWh/year for Los Angeles
This is from a site on earthsafe, a solar energy system that Siemens makes. It is passive, mainly for residential rooftops.
"The earthsafe[tm] systems can meet any power need. The power production of the earthsafe[tm] systems depends on size. A two kilowatt system installed in Los Angeles will produce approximately 11 kilowatt hours per day, which is over 50% of the power required an average household using 20 kilowatt hours per day."
Here we see a figure of 20 kWh/day. This comes out to 7300 kWh/year, which is slightly higher than the other California figure, but in the same ballmark. Dividing 11 kWh/day by 2kW yields 5.5 hours per day of full sunlight exposure, which is about the same as the other California figure for solar exposure. I guess 5 hours of exposure is considered the typical dosage you can receive in California.
10:22 PM LINK
Klickitat PUD Electricity Consumption
utlity figures from Washington state. They are over double the figures reported by the California web site. Perhaps it is due to the electric generation of heat in a colder climate.
"Last year, the average household used 14,418 kilowatt hours of electricity. In 1998 the average residential consumption was 14,059 and in 1997 it was 15,328."
So we have a range of typical figures developing, from 6500 kWh per year upwards to around 15000 kWh/year.
10:17 PM LINK
CO-2 per kilowatt-hour
This EPA site says "1.64 pounds CO2 per kilowatt-hour" is the average per household.
Other "carbon coeffcients":
natural gas: 117 pounds of CO2 per million BTU, or 0.12 pounds per cubic foot of gas.
fuel oil: 161.44 pounds of CO2 per million BTU, or 22.29 pounds per gallon
7:35 PM LINK
Average California Household Electricity Usage
According to the California Solar Energy Industries Association:
"The average household in California uses about 6,500 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year. If your usage is typical of the average household, a system in the 3 to 4 kilowatt (kW) range would be adequate to meet most of your electricity needs.
"A system with a capacity of 1 kW can produce about 1750 kWh per year...Divide your annual electricity usage (in kWh per year) by 1750 kWh to get the system size (capacity in kilowatts) that would meet most of your electricity needs.
Interesting numbers. Diving 365 days by 1750 hours gives 4.8 hours/per day. That must be the average number of harvestable sunlight hours per day in California. But certainly this varies with location. It is not the same in Reading as it in Palm Springs. Vague numbers like this drive me nuts.
6:51 PM LINK
Using a little arithmetic:
The U.S. power demand averaged 670,000 megawatts in 2001.
Since there are 8760 hours in one year, and there are 1000 kilowatts in one megawatt, it means that the total demand for electricity was 5.9 trillion kilowatt hours.
10:59 AM LINK
U.S. Electricity Production
How to replace coal? Is it possible?
The U.S. government classifies electricity production by two different categories: utility and non-utility. In 1999, the net electricity generated by both categories, in units of billions of kilowatt-hours, was:
1 billion kilowatt hours = 1 terawatt hour = 1 trillion watt hours.
You can see that electricity for utility use is the largest component.
What fuel is used in generating this electricity? For 1999, the breakdown was as follows:
nat. gas 15%
A good question is: how much electricity does the U.S. generate each year by burning coal? Just using the 1999 figures as a benchmark, coal accounted for 1.882 billion kilowatt-hours in the two sectors. This is about 6.8 billion megajoules.
Thus, if we are going to replace coal as a fuel completely in the U.S., we should think of ways of coming up with at least 7 billion megajoules (about 6.4 trillion BTU) of energy each year from some other source.
Monday, April 08, 2002
6:15 PM LINK
Oil in Equatorial Guineau
Interesting feature in the Nation by Ken Silverstein. Calling Equatorial Guineau the "Kuwait of Africa" is an enormous exaggeration. Equatorial Guineau probably has no more than 1/100th of Kuwait's reserves. All they have in common is that they are tiny countries surrounded by larger neighbors.
The article estimates a possible ultimate recovery of around a billion barrels. It is expected to eventually produce around 500,000 barrels per day (1/40th of U.S. daily demand).
Under this scenario, EG would experience a very pronounced and short peak in its oil production, probably lasting no more than a decade until everything is gone. The peak production would probably be sustained for no more than a year or two.
You gotta wonder what that oil revenue will do for the country during that decade. I imagine it will bring tremendous prosperity to dozens of people there.
2:02 PM LINK
Newsweek Special Edition: "Beyond Oil"
"When the Wells Go Dry" is a spotlight article on Deffeyes and Hubbert's Peak. Must be cribbing my blog.
Author is Fred Guterl, a senior editor at Discover Magazine.
1:58 PM LINK
Tom Tomorrow's ANWR Proposal
suggested by Adam.