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NNadir

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Current location: New Jersey
Member since: 2002
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Material Flow Analysis (MFA): Metal Demand and Climate Change.

(Note: This post, and many of my earlier posts in this space, contains some graphics which may not be accessible to Chrome users because of a recent upgrade to that browser, but should work in Firefox and Microsoft Edge. When my son has time, he will adjust the file system for a website he's building for me to make these graphics usable in Chrome, but he seldom has that much time on his hands. Interested parties, should they exist, can still read my posts including the graphics, but regrettably must use a browser other than Chrome. Apologies - NNadir)

The paper I'll discuss in this post is this one: Global Metal Use Targets in Line with Climate Goals (Takuma Watari, Keisuke Nansai, Damien Giurco, Kenichi Nakajima, Benjamin McLellan, and Christoph Helbig
Environmental Science & Technology 2020 54 (19), 12476-12483)

Depending on the source and the focus, these periodic tables vary, but the American Chemical Society's version of periodic table of "endangered elements" is here: ACS Endangered Elements Web Page. The ACS lists 44 elements of economic importance for which supply concerns have been identified. Some of those identified as being of most concern are elements in common experience, generally not thought of as being "precious." These elements, in the darkest red color in the table at the site include helium, zinc, and arsenic for example. Others have high technological importance but are less well known by the general public, indium, tellurium, gallium, tellurium and germanium fall into this class.

These lists and tables - and there are many around, some focusing on elements for the defense industry, others on elements for the electronics industry and still others about metallurgy, others relating to catalysts for the chemical industry - are generally based on existing technology and do not generally discuss possible alternatives that might displace the requirements for them.

For example, if you'd asked me, until recently, whether the element Europium should appear on the list, I would have said "yes," but the chief application for europium was until about ten years ago, to make red phosphors in cathode ray tube based color televisions. Following that application, was its use in fluorescent light bulbs. The recent rapid growth in the LED industry however has eliminated much of this residual demand. I had the pleasure of leafing through a paper late last night, in a current issue of the same journal from which the paper under discussion comes, of learning that once having been a "critical" element, stocks of europium are rising (and prices falling) since it is a side product of the lanthanide (rare earth) industry, and demand no longer matches the supply: Byproduct Surplus: Lighting the Depreciative Europium in China’s Rare Earth Boom (Qiao-Chu Wang, Peng Wang, Yang Qiu, Tao Dai, and Wei-Qiang Chen Environmental Science & Technology 2020 54 (22), 14686-14693)

Over the years, I have been spectacularly successful at being around people who are smarter than I am. A few years ago, I attended a lecture by Dr. Yueh-Lin (Lynn) Loo of Princeton University - she is the director of the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment - on the interesting subject of conducting polymers for which many possible applications exist, including energy saving windows, flexible solar cells, etc., etc. The lecture was recorded and may be viewed here: Science on Saturday: Plastic Electronics.

Dr. Loo's lecture was quite interesting, and involved some very beautiful organic chemistry, about which I commented in the Q&A. (I wasn’t entirely convinced by her answer to my question, but, again, she’s smarter than I am.) My son - then a high school senior - picked up the fact that electrodes in some of her glasses utilized ITO (indium tin oxide) electrodes, and noted in his question that indium is an element of concern. (That's my boy!) Dr. Loo's response, if I recall correctly was along the lines of "Don't worry about it! We'll find something to replace ITO!" She offered a few possibilities.

Indium tin oxide is widely used because it is a material that can conduct electricity and transmit light; it's transparent and it can easily be layered into very thin films.

Now, Dr. Loo is obviously a highly intelligent woman, a professor and the administrator of a technological think tank at Princeton University, one of the world's great universities. She should be taken seriously when she suggests that alternatives to indium tin oxide exist, but on the other hand, there are many cases where extremely brilliant people have searched for alternatives to materials and failed to find something that works better. (I recently made brief remarks about the difficulty we've had with displacing cobalt in "lithium" batteries: This should go a long way to ending modern day human slavery to mine cobalt in the Congo region)

Suppose, with the world now scraping 420 ppm concentrations of the dangerous fossil fuel waste carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, this after half a century of wild cheering for the "solar energy will save us" meme, that, as brilliant as she is, Dr. Loo is wrong and we never find an alternative that works as well as indium tin oxide as a transparent conducting material. Will thin film devices, in particular organic solar cells and the famous CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide) thin film cells prove to be even more unable to scale as the solar industry in general has been demonstrating for half a century, during which its energy output with respect to the growing use of dangerous fossil fuels has been laughably (or perhaps terribly) trivial?

The rote response to this line of inquiry is to mumble about recycling. But let's think a little more deeply about this issue with respect to indium. The chief technological use for indium is to make touch screens on cell phones and on computer monitors. The operative point about indium tin oxide is that it present as extremely thin films. A typical formulation of ITO will be roughly 75% indium by weight and will be present in very thin layers deposited on the surface of glass using vapor deposition and related techniques.

Consider a "typical" solar cell that is 1.5 square meters in area, for argument's sake a CIGS solar cell. The Andlinger Center has put out a nice surprisingly honest - for a wild eyed institution which seems quite fond of advancing the "solar will save us" meme - discussion of some realities about the solar field: Sunlight to Electricity: Navigating the Field Article 2 gives some key concepts and vocabulary. In particular, it discusses issues that are very seldom discussed in the cheering for the solar industry that one hears, specifically the difference between peak capacity and capacity utilization. As it's linked and open, one can read it for oneself, but I'll summarize: On a clear day, near noon, the solar radiation arrives at the surface of the earth at a power level of 1000 watts per square meter (1500 watts for the area of our putative solar cell). A solar cell is capable of reaching - a good solar cell, and CIGS cells are very good solar cells - capable of conversion efficiency of 20%. Thus we have a peak power generation of 300 Watts for this 1.5 square meter CIGS cell at the peak insolation on a clear day. The Andlinger Center offers some information showing that the capacity utilization of solar cells - the amount of capacity that is actually available as a fraction of the peak theoretical capacity (300 Watts in this case) - of 14%. A day contains 86400 seconds, meaning that the total energy is 0.14 X 1500 Watts X .2 X 86400 seconds per day = 3,628,800 Joules per day, since a Watt is a Joule/second. A kilowatt-hour (kWh) is a unit of energy obtained by generating a power of 1000 Watts for 3600 seconds (1 hour) or 3,600,000 J. Thus our putative solar cell generates about a kWh per clear, sunny day.

A gallon of gasoline is said (depending on the octane level) to have an energy content of about 130,000,000 Joules. This means that it would take our putative solar cell a little over a month of clear sunny days to generate as much energy as is contained in a gallon of gasoline. Let us assume that an installation of 10 solar cells having an area of 1.5 square meters involves – I hope I’m being generous – the consumption, by the workers installing it on the roof of a suburban “green” McMansion involves the consumption of 10 gallons of gasoline. One can say that for a period that is a minimum of a month – longer in a less than perfectly sunny climate, will be lost. Someone will pipe into say this is “only” a short period, and that the famous or infamous “EROEI” will still cover this, without noting that the energy (as things stand now) is in a completely different form, gasoline. The alternatives, electric solar panel trucks powered by batteries, hydrogen, blah, blah, blah remain largely fantasies, much as they have for the last half a century. It is important to note that the means of converting electricity to chemical fuels – a charged battery is as much a chemical fuel as is gasoline or hydrogen – involves energy losses according to the second law of thermodynamics, a law no congress can repeal. So there’s that. And then there is the often ignored issue of time. Then there’s also an economic issues: A putative hydrogen plant that powered by so called “renewable energy” that is operating because the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing is a stranded asset, and may have negative value because of depreciation, salaries, maintenance etc. Indeed a battery is a stranded asset whenever it is charging. With this in mind, the 35 days is even more of a minimum figure than the supposition of involving only bright sunny days suggested. Of course, the embodied energy of a solar cell includes many other issues; the gasoline used by the installers is only one item in the list.

It is important to note that when a solar cell (or any other indium containing electronic device) is recycled, all of the environmental costs are pretty much incurred again, as are health costs. "Indium lung disease" is an observed, irreversible and sometimes fatal disease incurred by inhaling indium dusts, very similar in its symptoms and outcome to black lung disease among coal miners.

A fairly sophisticated analysis of indium demand for CIGS type solar cells, which also contain gallium, itself a critical material which is not discussed in any detail in the paper and which I will not discuss further in this post, is given here:

Linking energy scenarios with metal demand modeling–The case of indium in CIGS solar cells (Anna Stamp,∗, Patrick A. Wäger, Stefanie Hellweg, Resources, Conservation and Recycling 93 (2014) 156–167).

Similarly, an excellent and detailed overview of total world indium sources is here: The world’s by-product and critical metal resources part III: A global assessment of indium (T.T. Werner Gavin M. Mudd, Simon M. Jowitt, Ore Geology Reviews 86 (2017) 939–956)

Indium has no highly concentrated ores. It is generally obtained as a by-product (as the title of the latter paper suggests), chiefly of zinc, although other metals, including lead and copper, also contain indium. Typical concentrations range from 1 gram per ton to 100 grams per ton of ore, although some ores are known that have higher concentrations. Thus the recovery of indium is energy intensive, with much of the energy incurred in the form of the embodied energy of solvents, extractants, acids, etc. A feel for the quality of ores with respect to indium can be found in the following graphic from the latter paper just cited:



The caption:

Fig. 4. Apportionment of 101 reported indium deposits according to quality of reporting by (a) country and (b) deposit type. Numbers in brackets indicate the number of reported deposits in each category.


It is interesting to note that the current world supply of indium is dominated by Chinese production, using what are apparently low quality ores.

I've discussed indium at some length with a dumb anti-nuke of the "renewables will save us" type who posts on this website, a person who has happily made it to my "ignore list" since ignorant cultists get boring at some point, who liked to pretend that since so called "renewable energy" is so perfect in his little mind the world could not possibly be restrained with respect to indium. (Indium is also a component of wind turbines as well as solar cells, touch screen monitors and cell phones.) Superficially, in the absence of critical thinking, it would seem that there is a lot of indium. The interested reader can glean from the abstract of the paper, that there are 356,000 metric tons of identified indium reserves, as well as another 24,000 tons available from zinc mine tailings around the world for a total of 380,000 metric tons.

The fantasies of "renewables will save us" types notwithstanding, the idea that the world could never run out of indium because so called "renewable energy" is so wonderful, it does appear that people (lots of people if you look) write papers all the time about the concern over world indium supplies. The former of the two papers just cited is just one of those papers, the Resources, Conservation and Recycling paper, discusses something that reflects something called "reality," which is the mass efficiency of recovery processes for recovering indium from ores, which is surely similar to the recovery in the case where a discarded solar cell is the ore, the "recycling scenario." The mass efficiency is shown in this illuminating graphic from that paper:



The caption:

Fig. 6. Generic representation of indium extraction efficiency from zinc ore to high purity indium. The term “Residues” summarizes various mineral processing wastes. Units In are calculated by multiplying efficiencies of each step. Abbreviations: In = indium, Zn = zinc, Zn ore conc = zinc ore concentrate, 2N = 99% purity, 5N+ = >99.999% purity. References: Effconc (Schwarz-Schampera and Herzig, 2002, Thibault et al., 2010), Effpath (Giasone and Mikolajczak, 2013, Mikolajczak, 2009), Effsmelter × Effextract (Alfantazi and Moskalyk, 2003, Mikolajczak, 2009), Effrefinery (Giasone and Mikolajczak, 2013). For explanations see supplementary material.


Each of the "residues" can be defined as well as "waste" - for people who believe that the existence of "waste" is acceptable - and, of course, in theory, since atoms, except uranium and thorium, are not destroyed by processing or use, but the issue is whether or not the energy and materials for further capture, which translates into cost, justifies it. That is, in fact, the question with the handwaving about recycling indium from spent solar cells.

It is now worth asking how much indium is required to make solar cells.

This information can be gleaned - even without full access - from the abstract of the Resources, Conservation and Recycling paper, which reads:

For the reference case, the installed capacity of CIGS solar cells ranges from 12 to 387 GW in 2030 (31–1401 GW in 2050), depending on the energy scenario chosen. This translates to between 485 and 15,724 tonnes of primary indium needed from 2000 to 2030 (789–30,556 tonnes through 2050)


This phrase utilizes the common, and seldom challenged, misleading unit of the "GW" - GigaWatt - to describe the scale of this proposed growth in the use of CIGS cell. This is, frankly, the most egregious lie, albeit it common lie, associated with the lexicon associated with "renewables will save us" belief system. Recall from above that the capacity utilization of solar energy is taken by the Andlinger Center - an active participant serving up the "renewables will save us rhetoric - is 14%. This a GW, 1000 MW, of power from solar energy is not the equivalent of a power plant capable of running 24/7 (and in relation to demand). Rather, it is the equivalent of a 140 MW power plant of any kind on average, although the unreliability of these systems, connected not to demand but to weather and season, so much so, that the solar cells might be producing power when the electricity produced by the solar cells (and all other generating capacity) is worthless as a result of oversupply. Conversely the capacity is worthless when the sun is low or absent in the sky when high demand is observed in late afternoon or evening hours, precisely the case where peaks are most frequently observed on most grids.

Using the information in the abstract to see how much energy might be produced in the "best" case, 1401 GW of CIGS solar capacity, and the number of seconds in a sideral year, 86,400 seconds per day X 365.25 days/sideral year, 31,556,736 seconds and the 14% capacity utilization, we can see that the amount of energy produced by 1401 "GW" of CIGS solar cells, "by 2050" would produce 6.2 X 10^(18) Joules of energy, 6.2 ExaJoules (EJ), this on a planet where humanity, as of 2018, was consuming just about 600 EJ per year, or roughly 1% of the world's energy demand, quite possibly at precisely the times the energy is essentially unneeded. If we multiply this number by 100 to pretend that solar energy produced 600 EJ in a sideral year - ignoring the 2nd law energy losses from necessary energy storage - the indium requirement becomes 1,572,400 tons, or three times the world's known supply of the element, excluding all other applications of its applications such as touch screens, cell phones, and alloys.

From the peak power figures given by the Andlinger Center for a 1.5 square meter solar cell, 300 Watts, we can estimate the number of solar cells required to reach 1401 "GW" of solar cells, 1401 X 10^(9) watts/300 watts = 4.6 billion 1.5 square meter solar cells. We can thus estimate how much indium is in each cell: 15,724 X 10^(6) grams/4.6 X 10^(9) solar cells = 3.4 grams per solar cell.

It seems quite reasonable to assume that a spent solar cell is a fairly concentrated "ore" for indium, probably richer, in fact, than most zinc mine tailings. However it differs from zinc mine tailings because the zinc mine tailings all start in one place, the tailing's pile, or residues from zinc refining. To collect the solar cell "ore" trucks have to drive around to McMansions where bourgeois types are removing their solar cells, the solar cells have to be stored in some centralized location until enough accumulate to justify shipping them, then trucked to a port, and finally shipped to some third world country featuring citizens in whose health we are spectacularly disinterested, and have them grind up the solar cells, and reprocess the dust, using oodles of solvents and acids, and considerable energy inputs, to collect the recycled indium.

(The estimated usable lifetime of CIGS solar cells is between 20 to 25 years.)

A description of a putative indium recycling procedure, not for solar cells, but for LCD's, although one should expect the processes would be similar, as solar wastes have very little difference from other forms of electronic wastes, can be found here: Recycling Indium from Scraped Glass of Liquid Crystal Display: Process Optimizing and Mechanism Exploring (Xianlai Zeng, Fang Wang, Xiaofei Sun, and Jinhui Li, ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering 2015 3 (7), 1306-1312) The recovery is not quantitative.

The operative point here is that so called "renewable energy" is metal intensive, and the isolation of metals is neither environmentally nor energetically free. The more mass a system or a set of redundant systems require, the more impact they will have on climate change in particular, and other environmental impacts as well. The low energy to mass ratios of so called "renewable energy" as well as the requirement that many involve elements that are subject to depletion, calls into question whether the word "renewable" is in fact, an honest description of what solar and wind energy are.

This brings me to the paper referenced at the outset of this post. From the introduction:

International agreement on both climate change mitigation(1) and sustainable development(2) poses a fundamental global challenge: how to satisfy the basic needs of an expanding global population without jeopardizing the 1.5–2 °C climate goals. Meeting this challenge calls for immediate changes in metal production and usage, which currently accounts for approximately 10% of global greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions(3) while underpinning vital services in a modern society in the form of products, factories, and infrastructures.(4) Despite its importance, however, a clear vision of a future metal use system in harmony with long-term climate goals is lacking, impeding our ability to achieve an international consensus on global targets for metal flow, stock, and use intensity in the global economy based on a systematic understanding.(5) One key to building this consensus is to explore future metal use scenarios that satisfy the metal service demands of future generations without compromising long-term climate goals and to develop a science-based target (SBT)(6−8) to accelerate concerted and innovative efforts by government and industry.


Technology-rich integrated assessment models are typically used to provide such scenarios by exploring possible technology mixes and their costs.(9−11) However, this approach often fails to reflect the physical interconnection in the series of metal cycles(12) that includes material production, manufacturing, in-use stock, and waste management, resulting in a weak foundation for explaining future demand and scrap availability.(13) Furthermore, existing studies have focused strongly on innovative technology solutions such as carbon capture and storage (CCS)(14) and hydrogen-based production,(15) while metal cycle solutions,(16) including circular economy (CE)(17) strategies, have tended to receive less attention...


For the record, I think that "circular economy" approaches are highly desirable, but, as I noted using references above in the case of indium, they are not all some kind of magical slam dunk.

A little further down in the introduction the authors write:

In this study, we develop global targets for metal flow, stock and use intensity out to 2100 harmonized with 2 °C climate goals using a dynamic MFA model coupled with an optimization routine and a global MFA system boundary incorporating 231 countries. Our approach explicitly deals with the physical interconnections of the entire metal cycle based on mass balance principles and carbon budgets, enabling the elucidation of the time series of metal flows, stocks, and efficiency required to meet the climate goal. Given the large uncertainties and environmental risks associated with innovative technology solutions,(22) we aim to provide a benchmark indicating the extent to which material efficiency needs to be improved if the innovative technologies fail to scale as planned. The metal cycle solutions considered in our analysis include product lifetime extension and improved end-of-life recycling based on the concept of a CE.(23)


The authors also consider metal conservation, and focus on the six metals they report as representing 98% of all metals used, iron, aluminum, copper, zinc, and nickel.

They evaluate historical materials flow analysis for these metals from 1900 to 2010, integrating data, they say from 214 countries, to evaluate how future metals use can be consistent with "aligning with the emission pathways of the 2 °C climate goal."

Of course, there is a wide disparity between lifestyles of the rich and the lifestyles of the poor (who end up "recycling" our "stuff" ) about which the authors write:

Historically, in-use stocks of all major metals have been unevenly distributed across countries, based on the income level (Figure 1). Per capita stocks in high-income countries have shown a gradual growth or near-plateauing trend in recent years, reaching approximately 11,370 kg/cap for iron, 360 kg/cap for aluminum, 150 kg/cap for copper, 57 kg/cap for zinc, 23 kg/cap for lead, and 19 kg/cap for nickel in 2010. These levels are three to four times higher than the world average. On the other hand, the figures for upper-middle-income countries have remained at 20–40% of those in the high-income countries despite a sharp increase from around 2000. Most remarkably, lower-middle- and low-income countries have reached only 1–8% of the high-income country levels, suggesting a strong correlation between the major metal stock and economic level.


I trust no one will be surprised with this.

Like the IPCC reports, and the reports of the International Energy Agency's "World Energy Outlook" repots, this paper speaks in terms of "scenarios." Experience teaches that these "scenarios" are always overly optimistic. The degradation of the planetary atmosphere is accelerating, not decelerating or even remaining constant. Even the "BAU" (Business as Usual) scenarios usually prove to be overly optimistic.

Some figures from the text:



The caption:

Figure 1. Per capita in-use stock for six major metals, 1960–2100. The ranges in the 2 °C scenario are due to differences in assumptions regarding the end-of-life recycling rate and product lifetime. The upper limit of the range (CE scenario) assumes that the end-of-life recycling rate and product lifetime increase to the theoretical maximum by 2100 according to the saturation curve. The lower limit of the range (BAU scenario) represents the assumption that all model parameters are constant throughout the scenario period.




The caption:

Figure 2. Production activities for six major metals, 1960-2100. The shade of the line color represents the ratio of secondary production to total production. The 2 °C scenario shows a case assuming increased end-of-life recycling rate and product lifetime (CE scenario).


The "CE" scenario is the "circular economy" scenario, with which, there will be, inevitably, in the best cases, material losses as well as energy demands. A "circular economy implies cheap and sustainable energy.



The caption:

Figure 3. Metal use intensity in the global economy, 2010-2100: (a) metal flow intensity of the economy (metal inflows/GDP) and (b) metal stock intensity of the economy (metal stock/GDP). The ranges of the target are generated by the CE and BAU scenarios. Future GDP is based on SSP2,(58) which represents a middle-of-the-road scenario.




The caption:

Figure 4. Per capita in-use stock of iron and steel with the various innovative technology solutions, 2000–2100. The horizontal grey area indicates the current saturation levels in high-income countries. The baseline represents the stock growth pattern without carbon constraints. CE assumes increased end-of-life recycling rate and product lifetime, while BAU assumes a constant value of these parameters in the 2 °C scenario. Abbreviations for innovative production technologies are as follows: best available technology (BAT), carbon capture and storage (CCS), and hydrogen reduction (Hydro). Superinnovative technologies include top gas recycling, bath smelting, direct reduction, and electrolysis.



From the conclusion of the paper:

Despite the key role of decoupling metal use from economic growth in climate change mitigation, much about material efficiency strategies(57) remains unknown or ill defined, including their full potential, barriers to their implementation, and the trade-offs involved. Scientific knowledge regarding policy instruments and their costs also remains unclear. Notably, the latest International Resource Panel report(51) points out that commitments to material efficiency have been scarcely incorporated into the nationally determined contributions of the Paris Agreement. An important step would be to include material efficiency strategies in the list of climate change mitigation options, taking into account specific policy alternatives and their costs. Broadening the horizons of policy makers, business leaders, and consumers is an essential challenge if they are to see and understand the full range of opportunities across the entire life cycle and value chain. If science-based policy instruments work properly, the metal sector can potentially provide sufficient emission abatement while meeting the basic needs of an expanding global population. The fundamental question is whether we can act fast enough before today’s middle- and low-income countries complete full-scale urbanization.


"If science-based policy instruments work properly..."

Oh well then, good luck with that...

For my money, one of the clearest thinkers on the subject of material flow analysis and energy analysis is Vaclav Smil, whose thinking has influenced me greatly in these areas. Since I choose to be eclectic in what I take, and do not take, from the great thinkers - and Smil is a great thinker - this should not imply that I endorse his libertarian free market rhetoric which one sees in some Czech thinkers who lived under Czechoslovakia's communist government and escaped from it, but in considering energy and mass flows, he is simply one of the best there is.

Recently in another post elsewhere, I cited and quoted from one of his works:

What I see when I see a wind turbine (Numbers Don't Lie) (Vaclav Smil, IEEE Spectrum Volume: 53, Issue: 3, March 2016)

...Large trucks bring steel and other raw materials to the site, earth-moving equipment beats a path to otherwise inaccessible high ground, large cranes erect the structures, and all these machines burn diesel fuel. So do the freight trains and cargo ships that convey the materials needed for the production of cement, steel, and plastics. For a 5-megawatt turbine, the steel alone averages [pdf] 150 metric tons for the reinforced concrete foundations, 250 metric tons for the rotor hubs and nacelles (which house the gearbox and generator), and 500 metric tons for the towers.

If wind-generated electricity were to supply 25 percent of global demand by 2030 (forecast [pdf] to reach about 30 petawatt-hours), then even with a high average capacity factor of 35 percent, the aggregate installed wind power of about 2.5 terawatts would require roughly 450 million metric tons of steel. And that’s without counting the metal for towers, wires, and transformers for the new high-voltage transmission links that would be needed to connect it all to the grid...

...A 5-MW turbine has three roughly 60-meter-long airfoils, each weighing about 15 metric tons. They have light balsa or foam cores and outer laminations made mostly from glass-fiber-reinforced epoxy or polyester resins. The glass is made by melting silicon dioxide and other mineral oxides in furnaces fired by natural gas. The resins begin with ethylene derived from light hydrocarbons, most commonly the products of naphtha cracking, liquefied petroleum gas, or the ethane in natural gas.

The final fiber-reinforced composite embodies on the order of 170 GJ/t. Therefore, to get 2.5 TW of installed wind power by 2030, we would need an aggregate rotor mass of about 23 million metric tons, incorporating the equivalent of about 90 million metric tons of crude oil. And when all is in place, the entire structure must be waterproofed with resins whose synthesis starts with ethylene. Another required oil product is lubricant, for the turbine gearboxes, which has to be changed periodically during the machine’s two-decade lifetime.

Undoubtedly, a well-sited and well-built wind turbine would generate as much energy as it embodies in less than a year. However, all of it will be in the form of intermittent electricity—while its production, installation, and maintenance remain critically dependent on specific fossil energies. Moreover, for most of these energies—coke for iron-ore smelting, coal and petroleum coke to fuel cement kilns, naphtha and natural gas as feedstock and fuel for the synthesis of plastics and the making of fiberglass, diesel fuel for ships, trucks, and construction machinery, lubricants for gearboxes—we have no nonfossil substitutes that would be readily available on the requisite large commercial scales...


Numbers don't lie. This year, the annual maximum concentration of the dangerous fossil fuel waste carbon dioxide in the planetary atmosphere was reached in May, 417.43 ppm. This was 24.80 ppm higher than the figure ten years earlier, in May of 2009, one of the worst ten year increases in recorded history. Whatever it is we think we're doing about climate change hasn't worked, isn't working and frankly, won't work.

No participant on this website can feel anything but extreme relief that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will soon hold the reigns of power in government. It is not enough, however, to obtain power; it is necessary to govern well.

In 1862, in a time of divisiveness that dwarfs even our own times, Abraham Lincoln wrote:

The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves...


That is every bit as true in 2020, 158 years later, as it was in 1862.

One hopes that will be on the agenda and in the back of the mind of the new President, that the "dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present..."

I trust you enjoyed a pleasant and safe Thanksgiving Holiday, and that you will similarly enjoy the upcoming December holidays.






Interesting Book: A Game of Birds and Wolves

Most of us are familiar with the tragedy of Alan Turing, one of the founders of computer science, whose work in breaking the German Enigma code went a long way to help Great Britain survive, and then, with Russian and American help, win the war against Nazi Germany. Turing, being persecuted for being gay, committed suicide in the early 1950's, a massive tragedy for science.

Here's a part of related history about which I didn't know anything:

A Game of Birds and Wolves

Subtitle: The Ingenious Young Women Whose Secret Board Game Helped Win World War II.


I came across it while reading book reviews in back issues of Science, while looking for Christmas ideas for my sons.

Game over (Stacie L. Pettyjohn Science 31 Jan 2020: Vol. 367, Issue 6477, pp. 516)

Excerpt from the review:

In A Game of Birds and Wolves, journalist Simon Parkin reports on a long overlooked piece of World War II's Battle of the Atlantic, focusing on a war game that helped the British counter Nazi U-boats threatening Britain's vital sea lines.

The first part of the book will be familiar to war scholars and history buffs, offering an overview of German Admiral Karl Doenitz's plan to use a fleet of U-boats to cut off commerce to the United Kingdom, which the island nation needed to stay in the war. Although a similar strategy had been tried unsuccessfully in World War I, Doenitz believed that improved communications would enable groups of U-boats to operate together, like a wolf pack, and allow them to coordinate and defeat escorted convoys.

Doenitz's plan, devised in 1937, was not realized until June 1940, when Germany's occupation of France gave it Atlantic bases. Nazis called this the “happy time” because their U-boats roamed the seas with impunity, sinking civilian vessels carrying cargo and, notably, the passenger ship SS City of Benares, which was carrying 90 children fleeing the United Kingdom...

...In January 1942, Winston Churchill enlisted Captain Gilbert Roberts to lead a small organization—the Western Approaches Tactical Unit (WATU)—charged with identifying U-boat tactics, developing effective counter-measures, and teaching British sailors to use new countermaneuvers. Lacking competent men to staff WATU, Roberts turned to the Women's Royal Naval Service (known as the “Wrens”), which assigned women who had a “keen mind for numbers” to build and run a game modeling a two-sided tactical fight between British escorts and German U-boats.

During this game, the two sides maneuvered their respective vessels, dropped depth charges, and fired torpedoes on a linoleum floor, where each 10-inch square represented one nautical mile. The British team commanded their escorts from behind white sheets designed to limit their line of sight to replicate the view from a ship's bridge. While British ships were outlined in conspicuous white chalk, the U-boats were marked in green, rendering them invisible. Throughout the game, the Wrens measured and marked the ships' movements, provided intelligence, guided discussions, and played as the German team. Roberts presided over the game and the postgame discussion...

...Sadly, the Wrens were an anomaly, reflecting a brief moment when women were war gamers out of necessity, operating in a field that to this day is dominated by men. Yet gender diversity has been shown to yield better and more innovative solutions in such settings, and achieving it should be a priority.

Similar Thanksgiving Miracle.

Bearclaw found the Roku remote.

I found my copy of Eliel's Stereochemistry of Organic Compounds, which my wife had placed in a box with some books she'd piled into a box for storage, by mistake. I came across it while mucking through the attic for some Christmas decorating stuff.

Seriously. It's been missing for several years. I pulled it out, I think, for one of my son's high school projects, and he's graduating with his undergraduate degree next month.

I thought it was lost, perhaps mistakenly donated to some book sale, and was dreaming of buying another copy.

It's not cheap: Stereochemistry of Organic Compounds.

It's hard to believe this classic is 26 years old, but still a very solid monograph, if you're into that sort of thing.

Trump finds out Biden Won the Election.

This should go a long way to ending modern day human slavery to mine cobalt in the Congo region.

As most people don't know, and, indeed it is a subject about which most people don't want to know, and a subject about which they couldn't care less, most "lithium" batteries contain cobalt in their anodes. Cobalt is a "conflict metal," whether or not electronics companies have saturated the internet with claims that each of them mine it "responsibly."

Cobalt is monoisotopic. There is very little about it that makes it possible to define its source, and most of the "responsible sourcing" bullshit is just that, bullshit.

A great deal of effort has gone into removing cobalt from lithium batteries, for marketing reasons, with the result that most lithium batteries still contain cobalt. As of now, nothing works as well, not that people have stopped trying to do away with it, because it makes bleeding hearts like me want to cry.

I just came across this paper: Recent Advances in Titanium Niobium Oxide Anodes for High-Power Lithium-Ion Batteries (Tao Yuan, Luke Soule, Bote Zhao, Jie Zou, Junhe Yang, Meilin Liu, and Shiyou Zheng Energy & Fuels 2020 34 (11), 13321-13334.)

Tantalum is yet another conflict metal, essential to making cell phones and similar devices.

Niobium (also monoisotopic) is tantalum's congener, and tantalum is an impurity in niobium ores.

Sigh...

Graham Chapman's Eulogy by John Cleese



Joe Biden's COVID Plan Is Taking Shape and Researchers Approve.

This is a news item in the current issue of the major scientific journal Nature: Joe Biden’s COVID plan is taking shape — and researchers approve The US president-elect has already announced a coronavirus advisory board and an updated strategy that researchers say follows the science. (Nidhi Subbaraman, Nature 587, 339-340 (2020))

It's probably open sourced, but here's excerpts:

Just two days after being declared victors in the US election, future president Joe Biden and vice-president Kamala Harris announced a COVID-19 advisory board stacked with infectious-disease researchers and former public-health advisers who will help them to craft a pandemic plan as they transition into office.

The speed of the announcement, alongside an updated COVID-19 plan, has scientists and doctors hopeful that the United States can correct its course in its handling of the outbreak: so far, 10 million Americans have been infected and more than 240,000 have died. And the numbers continue to rise.

“I really think they put together an outstanding and stellar team to advise the new administration on what is clearly one of their highest priorities,” says Helene Gayle, president and chief executive officer of the Chicago Community Trust and co-chair of a US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine committee that recommended a coronavirus vaccine allocation plan for the country.

Eric Goosby, an infectious-diseases researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, who led past White House AIDS responses, and Vivek Murthy, a doctor who served as US surgeon general between 2014 and 2017, are among the 13 advisory board members who will brief the future leaders. Observers say the board members are an experienced and impressive team...

...The immediate naming of the board is a stark contrast to President Donald Trump’s efforts to contain the pandemic. He has been criticized for ignoring the advice of public-health specialists and downplaying the dangers of the coronavirus, worsening the pandemic’s toll on the country.

But if Biden and Harris follow the science, communicate honestly and openly and have an organized response, it would be “three big resets” from Trump’s administration, says Tom Frieden, who led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as director from 2009 to 2017...

...Among the Biden–Harris team’s top priorities is a strong COVID testing and contact-tracing strategy...


I, and I'm sure that most Americans - the clear majority in fact, to have competent leadership after four years of buffoonery that no one would have ever even imagined 8 years ago.

I feel like I'm about to awaken from a horrible nightmare.


Climate and Health Effects of Conventional and Rotational Crop Practices in Iowa.

(Note: This post, and many of my earlier posts in this space, contains some graphics which may not be accessible to Chrome users because of a recent upgrade to that browser, but should work in Firefox and Microsoft Edge. When my son has time, he will adjust the file system for a website he's building for me to make these graphics usable in Chrome, but he seldom has that much time on his hands. Interested parties, should they exist, can still read my posts including the graphics, but regrettably must use a browser other than Chrome. Apologies - NNadir)

The paper I'll discuss in this post is this one: Fossil Energy Use, Climate Change Impacts, and Air Quality-Related Human Health Damages of Conventional and Diversified Cropping Systems in Iowa, USA (Natalie D. Hunt,* Matt Liebman, Sumil K. Thakrar, and Jason D. Hill, Environ. Sci. Technol. 2020, 54, 18, 11002–11014)

From 2002 until 2014, the Editor of Environ. Sci. Technol. was Jerald L. Schnoor, a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Iowa State University. I have long been a dedicated reader of this journal for decades, and became highly disciplined about how I read it about 12 years ago. Shortly after turning his editorial responsibilities at the journal, Dr. Schnoor came to speak at Princeton University, and as someone who appreciated his efforts at the journal, I made a point of attending the lecture. I don't recall the details of his talk all that well - he is an expert on water use - but I do remember his remark on how appreciative he is that he has tenure, since his research on water use was not in general consistent with unabashed praise for the corn industry.

Many years ago, when I was writing over in the E&E forum on this website, there was a person there who used to write all the time about how wonderful corn ethanol was as an automotive fuel. Ethanol, which was one of the first of the "renewable energy" schemes to become widely embraced, was a Carter era program for addressing the oil shocks of the 1970's. This scheme, which is still in force today, and is probably the most prominent Carter era policies to have survived since his Presidency, led to the destruction of the Mississippi Delta ecosystem, a point, if I recall correctly, Dr. Schnoor addressed in his lecture at Princeton.

Jimmy Carter is clearly a wonderful human being, and interestingly, is the only US President to have participated in a nuclear accident clean up, one of the Chalk River Nuclear Accidents, in the 1950's. As President, much to the chagrin of the Secret Service, he toured the Three Mile Island Reactor after it melted down during his administration.

He is, famously, still alive, well into his 90's. All of his younger siblings are dead, all three of them having succumbed to pancreatic cancer, two in their 50's, one in her 70's. Former President Carter is, again, still quite alive and still doing wonderful things, like planting trees on his farm, one of which was cut down recently and rendered into a very beautiful guitar. The guitar represents carbon that has been removed from the atmosphere and sequestered. A few hundred billion guitars like that and we can sequester as much carbon as we will release this year even as we live in the so called "Renewable Energy Era."

Jimmy Carter's energy policies as President were basically anti-nuclear and favored so called "Renewable Energy." I voted for Jimmy Carter for President twice, and I certainly don't regret doing so. This said I consider his decision to forego nuclear fuel reprocessing and thus offer up a Christian "moral example" for the world, to have been a tragedy, perhaps mitigated that nuclear fuel reprocessing technology in his time as President was a relatively primitive, and relied on the silly use of nuclear "waste" dumps.

Jimmy Carter's energy policies are often praised on the left, but even as I am clearly a leftist in most ways, I consider his energy policies to have been terrible.

The idea of constructing so called "Nuclear waste" dumps is still, inexplicably, popularly represented as a "solution" to the "problem" of the "waste" problem, which I find amazing, since there are zero components of used nuclear fuels that are not potentially useful, some of which are incredibly useful and surely represent materials that can solve environmental problems that are otherwise intractable. It is, I think, therefore a good thing that such dumps were never constructed, and if Jimmy Carter's policies slowed the process of building them down, this is an unintended positive result. The usefulness of used nuclear fuels includes addressing environmental problems other than climate change, notably persistent chemical pollutants, although the only tool capable of addressing the vastly larger scale problem of climate change is, whether it is generally recognized or not, nuclear energy.

The ever popular so called "renewable energy" did not work to address climate change; it is not working to do so; and it will not work to do so. The reason is connected with the physics of energy, specifically the energy to mass ratio and the thermodynamic (and thus environmental) and economic superiority of continuous and predictable processes.

The laws of physics are not subject to reversal by political positions, including those driven by wishful thinking.

Since the Carter administration, the more or less general policy of the Democratic Party - my party, for which I vote 100% of the time - has been consistent with Carter policies and inconsistent with policies with the potential to save a dying planet. We once produced the most anti-nuclear candidate for President ever to run for the office, Michael Dukakis. Although my own views in the 1970's were more or less entirely consistent with Carter policies, by the late 1980's I had changed my mind, and I had to do one of those "hold my nose" things in voting for Michael Dukakis for President, but I voted for him anyway.

Not all of our Democratic Party's nuclear policies have been terrible. In the 1990's Vice President Al Gore negotiated an agreement with the pre-Putin Russians to purchase highly enriched uranium removed from Russian nuclear weapons, which was blended down with depleted uranium and consumed in nuclear reactors, saving hundreds of thousands of lives that would have otherwise have been lost to air pollution, as well as reducing, albeit moderately, the threat of nuclear war. I greatly approved of this "Sword to Ploughshares" policy, although regrettably, it did not address what I regard as the critical element in any effort to minimize the worst of climate change, plutonium. While I regretted the Clinton Administration's cancellation of the IFR, it occurs to me now that many superior breeder technologies have evolved since then, notably the advanced "breed and burn" concepts represented by many advanced designs. (I don't like liquid sodium cooled reactors, although I am very fond of other types of liquid metal reactors.)

The problem with nuclear energy - besides the very stupid selective attention of journalists from the New York Times on down - is probably connected with scaling up too quickly. (The great energy thinker Vaclav Smil as made this point.) Even so, the rapidly scaled and engineered reactors based on 1950's and 1960's technology - produced in a Golden Age of American science and engineering - did a remarkable job of producing energy with extremely low environmental and health costs in comparison to all other technologies. Nevertheless the restraint placed on nuclear technology has not entirely been a loss although tremendous damage has been done. We might have done much better, but we can recover. It is technically feasible, I think, to seriously address climate change, and - while considerably more difficult - even to reverse it to a limited extent. This would involve, however, waking up. There has never been a better time than 2020 to do just that, to wake up.

Anyway...about the paper...and about corn...

The corn ethanol debacle was the first indication to me that so called "renewable energy" was not all it was cracked up to be, that a law of unintended consequences might apply.

From the introduction to the paper:

The intensification of modern conventional agriculture has been effective at increasing crop yields, yet it has come at great cost to the environment and human health from fossil energy consumption and generation of emissions that contribute to climate change and reduced air quality. In 2014, United States agriculture comprised 1.7% of US primary energy consumption and in 2017, comprised 8.4% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,(1,2) driven by carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from soil carbon loss and fossil fuel use, nitrous oxide (N2O) from nitrogenous fertilizer use, and methane (CH4) from ruminant livestock production.(3) Increased concentrations of GHGs in the atmosphere cost society via harm to human health, property damage due to floods, and losses in agricultural productivity.(4)

Agriculture is also a major contributor to atmospheric fine particulate matter (PM2.5) via the production and application of farming inputs and field operations.(5) PM2.5, which adversely affects air quality and human health, is either emitted directly as a product of combustion or as dust (primary PM2.5), or forms in the atmosphere (secondary PM2.5) from reactions among ammonia (NH3), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur oxides (SOx), and volatile organic compounds (VOC).(6,7) Due to its small size, PM2.5 can enter the lungs and bloodstream, leading to health effects that include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, acute lower respiratory illness, ischemic heart disease, and lung cancer.(8) Chronic exposure to PM2.5 generates societal costs via increased risk of premature death.(8,9) In the US, emissions of agricultural NH3 are the dominant driver of PM2.5-emissions related damages, which derive largely from fertilizer application and storage and application of manure. Emissions of PM2.5 also result from diesel fuel production, herbicide production, dust from field operations, and fossil fuel combustion by farm machinery.(5,7,8,10,11) Recent research has shown, for example, that PM2.5 from maize production in the US is responsible for 4300 premature deaths annually.(5)

Overall, increasing energy and resource efficiency while reducing environmental impacts is an important goal for improving the sustainability of agricultural systems. Because agricultural systems are vulnerable to energy price fluctuations, reducing reliance on fossil energy can reduce farm financial volatility and increase profitability, while decreasing fossil energy-related environmental damages. Additional strategies to mitigate GHG emissions from cropping systems include improving fertilizer and manure management, maintaining below- and above-ground soil carbon, and reducing reliance on synthetic inputs.(12) Methods for reducing PM2.5-related emissions and resulting human health impacts include substitution of high NH3-emitting fertilizers with lower ones, using precision agricultural techniques, and selecting crops requiring less nitrogen fertilizer.(5,10,13)

Strategies for simultaneously reducing multiple environmental impacts are especially of interest. Among these is the diversification of conventional corn-soybean cropping systems, which has been shown to deliver several agronomic and environmental benefits, including increased per-hectare corn and soybean productivity, greater resilience to weed and pest infestations, and reduced dependence on synthetic herbicides.(14−17) Diversified cropping systems can also have reduced rates of soil erosion and nutrient discharge to the environment,(15) lower freshwater toxicity loads(14) and enhanced soil functioning.(18−21) The fossil energy use, climate change, and air quality implications of such strategies have not been widely explored.

This study examines the cradle to farm-gate fossil energy consumption, and climate change and air quality damages of three cropping systems differing in levels of crop diversity...


The authors conducted their research at the Iowa State University's Marsden Farm in Boone County, IA, and as it involved modification of crop procedures with each modification requiring a year's growth season, the experiment has been on going since 2002, eighteen years. The author's utilized a two, three and four crop rotation scheme. The two year corn/soybean cycle with Haber (industrial synthetic) fixed nitrogen in the form of ammonium nitrate (which, unlike plutonium, has been involved in diversion for terrorist purposes leading to large losses of life) and urea. This nitrogen is largely obtained using chemistry driven by either dangerous natural gas or dangerous coal. The three year crop rotation scheme involved corn-oat/soybean/red clover rotations. The four year rotation scheme was a corn-oat/soybean/alfalfa/alfalfa system.

Two herbicide application schemes were explored, the conventional (CONV in the graphics below) and Low (LOW in the graphics below) approaches.


The system boundaries are shown in the following figure:



The caption:

Figure 1. Flowchart of system boundaries, system outputs, and impacts.


The tracking of particulate matter (PM), and emissions of greenhouse gases (including nitrous oxide and methane), and the consumption of dangerous fossil fuels were all followed by using the GREET (The Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Transportation) tool for life cycle analysis. Tractors were propelled by diesel engines.

Additional work included a consideration of dust as a generator of particulate matter. The particulate matter is the chief culprit, apparently, in the 4300 deaths occurring each year from farm related air pollution, a surprisingly large number, albeit much smaller than the six to seven million deaths reported to occur each year from combustion of dangerous fossil fossil fuels and "renewable" biomass. The death toll associated with the release of radioactive materials by the much, in fact, endlessly discussed, destroyed reactors at Fukushima is vanishingly small when compared to these two figures.

Phosphorous - although depletion of its ores is a very, very, very serious matter for future generations - and potassium were not considered in this study.

Ammonia is not tracked in the GREET system and was tracked using a different approach. (The release of ammonia is one of the prime drivers, along with phosphorous, of the destruction of the Mississippi River Delta ecosystem.)

On the subject of economic damages the authors write:

Damages from emissions of GHG were monetized using the social cost of carbon (SCC), which considers damages to human health, property due to flood risk changes, and impacts to agricultural productivity as a result of climate change.(4) In this study, we applied a SCC of $43 Mg–1 of CO2e emissions (2017 dollars, with 3% discount rate).(4) Human health damages as a result of chronic exposure to primary and secondary PM2.5 were monetized using the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mortality risk valuation or value of statistical life (VSL). VSL assigns monetary value to an individual’s avoided risk of mortality due to exposure to environmental pollution, so as to facilitate the comparison and aggregation of overall social costs.(9,46−48) Here, we used a VSL estimate of $9.1 M per life (2017 dollars, with 3% discount rate) and multiplied it by the number of premature deaths per gram of air pollutant emitted.(49)


It sounds a little cold-blooded to me, but $9.1M per life seems reasonable, particularly because lives lost by pollution generally involve rather expensive medical treatments on the way out the door, which matter, although not quite as much as the economic productivity lost when the investment in a life results in a shorter productive span. Again, it's cold-blooded, but reasonable all the same.

Some graphical results:



The caption:

Figure 2. Mean annual fossil energy consumption (a) as affected by contrasting rotation systems and herbicide regimes across system components of diesel, seed, N fertilizer, and herbicide production, field operations, and grain drying and (b) as normalized by annual harvested dry commercial crop yields, including corn, soybean, oat grain and straw, and alfalfa. Error bars indicate one standard error of the annual mean annual total energy consumption.




The caption:

Figure 3. Mean annual GHG emissions (a) as affected by contrasting rotation systems and herbicide regimes across system components of diesel, N fertilizer, and herbicide production, field operations, N application, and grain drying and (b) as expressed in GHG emission species. Error bars indicate one standard error of the annual mean total emissions.




The caption:

Figure 4. Mean annual emissions of (a) primary PM2.5 and secondary PM2.5 precursors of (b) NH3, (c) NOx, (d) SOx, and (e) VOC by rotation system and herbicide regime across system components of diesel, N fertilizer production, herbicide production, fugitive dust, field operations, N application, and grain drying. Error bars indicate one standard error of the annual mean total emissions. The legend provided in panel b describes all panels.




The caption:

Figure 5. Mean annual damages from GHG emissions (a) as affected by contrasting rotation systems and herbicide regimes across system components of diesel, N fertilizer, and herbicide production, fugitive dust, field operations, N application, and grain drying and (b) as expressed in GHG species. Error bars indicate one standard error of the annual mean total economic damages.




The caption:

Figure 6. Mean annual economic damages from PM2.5-related emissions (a) as affected by contrasting rotation systems and herbicide regimes across system components of diesel, N fertilizer, and herbicide production, field operations, N application, fugitive dust, and grain drying and (b) as expressed in emissions species. Error bars indicate one standard error of the annual mean total economic damages.




The caption:

Figure 7. Mean annual combined economic damages from GHG and PM2.5-related emissions (a) as affected by contrasting rotation systems and herbicide regimes across system components of diesel, N fertilizer, and herbicide production, field operations, N application, fugitive dust, and grain drying and (b) as expressed by type of economic damage. Error bars indicate one standard error of annual mean total economic damages.


Tables from the paper:








Some remarks from the discussion/conclusion:

...The potential for scaling up such diversified cropping systems could have significant impacts on existing markets, including potential shifts in supply and demand for corn and soybean amidst newly introduced small grain and forage crops. Large-scale shifts to more small grains and forages could constrain domestic corn production, resulting in increased corn prices whereby farmers become incentivized to revert to growing previous corn-soybean rotations. Concurrently, potential expanded production of small grains and forages could result in reduced prices, again, incentivizing farmers to revert back to growing corn and soybean. Nonetheless, economic analyses of such scenarios found that scaling up diversified systems to 20–40% of arable cropland in Iowa (2–4 million ha) could occur without generating price incentives favoring existing corn and soybean rotations.(22)


Here, we estimated changes in the damages associated with GHG and PM2.5-related emissions as a result of implementing diversified cropping systems and an alternative herbicide regime. More diverse cropping systems that include recycled manure and biological nitrogen fixation by forage legumes, such as the 3- and 4-year rotation systems studied here, may not only require less fossil energy but also generate less GHG and PM2.5-related emissions, while maintaining primary agronomic functions. This will be a priority in agriculture in the face of a changing climate and a growing and increasingly affluent global population. Incorporation of a diverse suite of practices and inputs will aid in maintaining systems that are weed-suppressive, productive, profitable, and protective of environmental quality and human health. As shown in the present study, increased reliance on ecological processes and thereby reduced reliance on synthetic inputs can maintain agronomic functions and decrease environmental damage.


I am a critic of biofuels as practiced now, which rely essentially on batch process water and energy intensive fermentation/distillation schemes. This said, agriculture, an essential human activity for meeting human development goals (which I believe to be potentially coterminous with environmental goals in a nuclear powered world), does represent a path for the removal of carbon dioxide from the air. Much has been made of corn stover and other chaff as a potential carbon source, regrettably again in an enzymatic fermentation setting. Another alternative however is reforming using high temperature supercritical water or - in so called "dry reforming" - supercritical high temperature carbon dioxide as an oxidant. Both cases give access to hydrogen carbon oxide mixtures known as "syn gas," and thus to sustainable fuels for tractors and other requisite mobile systems. It is well understood that diesel engines, in particular, are amenable to running on the wonder fuel dimethyl ether, for which many routes from syn gas. Dimethyl ether has an atmospheric lifetime of about 5 days, and thus cannot be considered a greenhouse gas, in contrast to methane, ethane, propane and butane. Syn gas can basically be utilized to replace all applications for dangerous petroleum (including utilization in the chemical industry) and all applications for dangerous natural gas. In fact, carbon monoxide, via the Boudouard Equilibrium, can realize combustion in reverse, one can make carbon from carbon monoxide, and carbon monoxide from carbon dioxide.

All that is required is heat, which is readily available from nuclear sources.

I trust you are safe and well, and that you will be able to enjoy the upcoming holiday in a safe and yet enjoyable way.

A Whiter Shade Of Pale

Fukushima Related Radiation Risks to Olympians at the 2021 Tokyo Games.

(Note: This post, and many of my earlier posts in this space, contains some graphics which may not be accessible to Chrome users because of a recent upgrade to that browser, but should work in Firefox and Microsoft Edge. When my son has time, he will adjust the file system for a website he's building for me to make these graphics usable in Chrome, but he seldom has that much time on his hands. Interested parties, should they exist, can still read my posts including the graphics, but regrettably must use a browser other than Chrome. Apologies - NNadir)

The paper I'll discuss in this post is this one: Radioactive Games? Radiation Hazard Assessment of the Tokyo Olympic Summer Games (Rebecca Querfeld, Mayumi Hori, Anica Weller, Detlev Degering, Katsumi Shozugawa,*and Georg Steinhauser,* Environ. Sci. Technol. 2020, 54, 18, 11414–11423). I've been meaning to get around posting some commentary on this paper for several months, but never did so until now.

The authors of this paper are from German and Japanese Institutions.

Germany has, um, "interesting" energy policies, widely applauded in some circles, none of which I am personally a member. Perish the thought. Here's the German Energy Policy: Nuclear Energy is "dangerous." Nuclear Energy is more dangerous than forms of energy which kill 7 million people per year in the form of air pollution. It is more dangerous than loading the atmosphere with so much of the dangerous fossil fuel waste carbon dioxide that the coasts of major continents burn huge stretches of their ecosystems in vast uncontrollable fires. It is more dangerous, than tens of thousands people dying annually because the ambient temperatures exceed 42°C, the approximate temperature at which sweating stops and body temperature can skyrocket, sometimes even rising above 44°C so that "the brain falters; confusion, agitation, slurred speech, even coma can result." (Pennisi, Living with heat (Science, Vol. 370, Issue 6518, pp. 778-781 (2020)). Nuclear power, according to German Energy policy is more dangerous than most of the world's coral reefs dying from heat stress and acidification, more dangerous than the outgassing of methane and carbon dioxide ice clathrates in melting permafrost, more dangerous than seawater intruding into the ground water of coastal cities, more dangerous than more frequent and more intense hurricanes.

Go figure.

As is well known in many circles, the worst energy disaster of all time includes none of the stuff just listed above as being less dangerous than nuclear energy above. It was, if you believe in the importance of attention paid, Fukushima. Fukushima was an event where 20,000 people died from living in a coastal city inundated by seawater after a 9.0 Richter scale earthquake induced a tsunami, from things like drowning, buildings collapsing and related phenomenon, such as being smashed against walls by massive water flows. Much worse than all these deaths however, according to popular opinion - since those 20,000 deaths don't actually matter in the minds of our media - was that some people were exposed to (gasp) radiation, when three nuclear reactors melted down after their diesel emergency cooling pumps were inundated by, um, seawater.

People drowning in seawater, tens of thousands of them, are not as interesting as people being exposed to radiation.

Now, apparently, our media is very concerned that there may be a radiation risk to athletes traveling to Japan for the 2020 Olympics which will not take place in 2020, apparently, but will take place in 2021, maybe.

The authors of this paper decided to do something called "measurements" to evaluate risk to athletes who might travel to Japan for the Olympics that have been delayed because of the risk of a disease, Covid-19.

From the text of the paper:

The recent outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has had unprecedented impacts on major 2020 sports events, including the Olympic Games, which will be hosted in and around Tokyo, Japan. In a joint decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Prime Minister of Japan, it was decided on March 23, 2020, that the 2020 Summer Olympics will be postponed to “not later than summer 2021,” presumably from July 23 to August 8, 2021.(1) The Summer Olympics (for consistency with its branded name, we continue calling them “Tokyo 2020” hereafter; their official name is Games of the XXXII Olympiad) will hold a total of 339 sport competitions in 33 sports and 51 disciplines, 28 of which take place at venues that are located within a radius of 8 km around the Olympic Village in Tokyo. In addition to Tokyo prefecture, where most competitions take place, there will also be Olympic venues in the prefectures of Hokkaido, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Chiba, Saitama, Kanagawa, and Shizuoka (Figure 1).(2) Despite the (temporary) impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Olympic Games, a second (and lasting) shadow has been on Tokyo 2020 for other reasons: For many, the 2013 decision of the IOC to award the 2020 Summer Olympics to Tokyo, Japan, was overshadowed by memories of the 2011 nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (FDNPP). Recent media reports insistently questioned the safety of the venue for athletes and spectators due to the radioactive fallout from the Fukushima nuclear accident.(3−6)...


References 3 to 6 are not to scientific papers but rather are from public "news" sources written by journalists, furthering my long held suspicion that one cannot get a degree in journalism if one has passed a college level science course.

The authors continue:

The devastating Tohoku earthquake (magnitude 9.0) of March 11, 2011 off the east coast of Japan and a subsequent tsunami triggered a major nuclear accident occurred at FDNPP, which was classified at the maximum level of 7 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale.(7,8) Complete loss of core cooling resulted in core meltings of reactor units 1–3 and the onset of hydrogen, leading to significant releases of radionuclides into the environment through ventings and structural damage to the containment caused by hydrogen explosions.(9−14) The total estimated released activities of mostly volatile radionuclides, excluding noble gases, summed up to 520 PBq.(14) While partly substantial airborne activity levels of radiocesium, radiotellurium, and radioiodine were observed over the Japanese islands, traces of fission products were detected globally.(15) In the aftermath of the accident, the Japanese government ordered an extensive monitoring of air dose rates(16−18) as well as of contamination levels in drinking water and food.(19,20) The analyzed data are publically available on the Web site of the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW).(21) The food inspections were extended in 2012 and are still being carried out today.(22−26)
Despite overwhelming evidence indicating moderate (at worst) direct health effects of the nuclear releases from FDNPP,(27−29) nine years after the accident, many people still doubt the radiological safety of staying in Japan. The reasons for this largely unsubstantiated fear may be rooted in the fact that scientific evidence is often only presented in Japanese and is often addressed to professionals in the field. In some instances, the credibility of the data (or the organization presenting the data) is called into question, especially when the data are used to support, e.g., a particular view of nuclear energy. Since environmental radioactivity is a highly emotional issue, this topic is occasionally prone to become the subject of conspiracy theories, with the result that the accuracy of governmental data as a whole is called into question. In any case, no comprehensive and scientifically substantiated summary of the various radiological aspects of the radiation hazard are available for Tokyo 2020 yet.


The added bold is mine.

Conspiracy theories? The authors are claiming that people embrace conspiracy theories?

Who knew?

The public is entirely rational which is why national governments agree with the notion that nuclear power is more dangerous than 7 million deaths per year from air pollution, and the destruction of continental coastal forests and communities by fire.

The paper contains all kinds of silly scientific stuff about how to detect radiation, for example:

Radiocesium Analysis

For the low-level analysis of 137Cs, gamma spectrometry using high-purity germanium (HPGe) detectors at the underground laboratory Felsenkeller (Dresden, Germany)(30) was applied. In this location, 45 m of rock overburden results in a suppression of the muonic component of cosmic radiation by a factor of about 30.(31) Relative efficiencies of the used detectors ranged from 20 to 90%, the integral blank count rates for the energy range 40–2700 keV varied between 2.4 and 4.4 min–1. The lowest background values were achieved with the spectrometer described in Köhler et al.(32) The water samples (500 and 1500 mL) were measured in Marinelli beaker geometry.


In other words, to distinguish the cesium radioactivity from the samples collected in Japan from the background radiation associated with our very dangerous galaxy, the authors needed to take the samples to Germany and measure the radioactivity under layers or rock to exclude cosmic radiation.

I got 'dem old kozmik blues again Mama!

Anyway, the following figures describe what the authors found out about "dangerous" radioactivity at the upcoming (maybe) Tokyo Olympics in comparison to the radiation risk to athletes at previous Olympic events.



The caption:

Figure 1. Locations of the Olympic venues for Tokyo 2020. Map based on Google Maps.




The caption:

Figure 2. Producing prefectures of potable water samples and venues of additional sampling spots from surface and tap water samples.




The caption:

Figure 3. Current air dose rates in μSv·h–1 of Tokyo 2020 (avg.) and previous Olympic Sites.




The caption:

Figure 4. (a) Cycling route in the prefectures Kanagawa, Yamanashi, and Shizuoka of Tokyo 20202 with contamination map from the September 18, 2011 data taken from MEXT(45) (b) measured air dose rate in September 20, 2018 on the cycling route; (c) marathon course in the city of Tokyo(2) with contamination map from the September 18, 2011 taken from MEXT; (45) and (d) measured air dose rate in September 19, 2018 on the marathon route.


Watch out for 'dem ole Kozmik Blues, while flying!



The caption:

Figure 5. Flight dose in μSv (including neutron dose) from cosmic rays for flights of previous Olympic sites to Tokyo, Japan.(49−52)


Excerpts from the authors conclusions:

Major sporting events such as the Olympic Games are particularly vulnerable to public health threats. For the quantification of the impact of the Fukushima nuclear accident on the upcoming summer Olympics, we conducted a variety of experimental and literature studies for a comprehensive assessment of the external and internal exposure to ionizing radiation for athletes and visitors. All results were compared to radiation exposure from naturally occurring radionuclides and from cosmic rays exposure during flights. Significantly elevated air dose rates were not measured at any of the Tokyo Olympic sites. The results of this study exemplify that, despite the Fukushima nuclear accident, Tokyo 2020 will in fact exhibit a lower radiological risk than the previous major sporting events we chose for comparison. Also for the torch relay, no major deviations from the conclusions of this study are anticipated. The average air dose rates of 0.071 μSv·h−1 at the Tokyo 2020 sites were below the average air dose rates of previous Olympic sites (Beijing, Munich, Helsinki, London, Seoul, and Rio de Janeiro). Furthermore, we analyzed drinking and surface water samples, at which only two out of 17 water samples exhibited the low detection limits in an underground laboratory with a drinking water sample from Chiba prefecture (0.0031 ± 0.0007 Bq·kg−1137Cs) and surface seawater sample from the Kanagawa prefecture (0.021 ± 0.006 Bq·kg−1137Cs). Both 137Cs activity concentrations are minute and far below the regulatory limit for potable water (10 Bq·L−1 radiocesium). They do not pose any radiological risk even at a high intake rate of around 5 L·d−1 for athletes. Likewise, on the basis of previously published food safety studies, we extrapolate a small radiological hazard due to the consumption of food. Thanks to the major efforts in monitoring of food, the food safety in Japan is high...


Of course, none of this science can compare with our appetite for conspiracy theories, with our media now in a paroxysm of joy at making sure we are aware of every single one of them. They're, um, considered "news."

I wish you a healthy, safe and secure weekend and holiday season.
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