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Guest Post: Energy Independence - The Big Lie

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Mon, 11/14/2011 - 16:01 | 1876608 CrashisOptimistic
CrashisOptimistic's picture

50% is absurdly optimistic.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 20:07 | 1877500 blu
blu's picture

Well yeah, but if I said 80% they'd all start in calling me Malthusian again.

After a long day I get tired of that shit. Know what I mean?

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 14:54 | 1876279 tmosley
tmosley's picture

How much nitrogen goes into landfills?  Sewers?

If it becomes rare, it becomes expensive.  If it becomes expensive, previously untapped resources will come online.

Peak Oilers don't seem to understand this.  They see suburban sprawl, and think we can't live any other way (oil gets expensive enough, we will reurbanize as we are forced to move closer and closer to our places of work).

They see a nation where everyone owns a car, and think that there can be no mass transit.  They see a world where vehicles are fueled by gasoline, and can't imagine any other soltions, even if one already exists and is shown to them (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zinc%E2%80%93air_battery).  They see petroleum used as a chemical feedstock, and fail to realize that chemical feedstocks need not be energy positive.  They see a plastic world, and don't realize that plastic is used because it is cheaper, and that things will be built out of more resilient materials if or when petroleum becomes too expensive.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 15:10 | 1876349 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

All a question of flux and trolls on some blog who can't do math and cite non-peer reviewed websites that are hardly reliable sources.

I agree that we should let the free markets work, but again, how much flux is require to keep the population growing exponentially (which is what is required by the current economic system)?

Sorry, having worked in agriculture for 20+ years I know what it takes energetically to deliver on a large scale.

I am sitting on physical, just waiting for the collapse.  This is the ONLY way new solutions will see the light of day.  I'll keep my folks employed as long as I can until we simply form a local farming Co-op, but again, you are delusional of you think there is enough arable land, or good soil, fresh water and available nitrogen, available phosphate, and available sulfur all in the right oxidation state (which is being degraded by bacteria in those landfills to forms that plants CAN't use) to support the kind of urban centers we have now.  Good luck.

 

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 15:21 | 1876403 Dr. Acula
Dr. Acula's picture

>keep the population growing exponentially (which is what is required by the current economic system)

No worries. The Ponzi schemes and frauds will collapse. The warlike socialists governments will collapse. The fiat currencies will collapse.

This happens again and again throughout history.

 

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 15:25 | 1876430 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

Well then we can agree on one thing.  Crash the fucking system already and let's find out what the real value of everyone's labor really is.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 16:19 | 1876715 tmosley
tmosley's picture

Just because something IS doesn't mean it is "required", no more than bacteria require infinite resources to grow just because their numbers increase exponentially during their exponential growth phase.  Exponential growth is no more vital to humans or human economies than it is to bacteria.  The excessive energy input that drives such growth phases also fuels capital growth with both species.  Bacteria form biofilms, humans build cities.  It is the same concept.  The only difference is that humans are smart, and capable of adapting at rates that bacteria could only dream of (lets see bacteria go from earthbound to capable of space travel in two hundred years).

Large scale farming requires large scale energy inputs.  Small scale farming does not.  If food becomes too expensive, more investment moves toward development of capital intensive farming that has less or no marginal energy input.  This is how economics works.  Just because something exists in its current form does not mean it can not change.  If the fuel required to transport food from giant factory farms becomes too expensive, local farmers will switch from their current specialization to provide more of the now profitable food products.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 15:19 | 1876393 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

regarding the nitrogen going into sewers - it gets converted to nitrite and then N2O or peroxynitrite and eventually nitrogen gas ALL of which plants CAN NOT USE.  You have to use MORE ENERGY to reduce that nitrogen gas back to ammonia (that is why it is called a CYCLE).

These landfills are more productive at methane production.  By I digress and agree the the market manipulation needs to STOP.  No real solutions will come forward until then.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 15:34 | 1876471 buyingsterling
buyingsterling's picture

Your disaster scenarios assume a dramatic fall off in production that happens quickly, and maintenance of the status quo. Part of the status quo includes armies of people who add nothing real to productivity. Perhaps tight energy will expose their uselessness. How about the federal government spending 25% of our GDP? That can change as well.

 

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 15:42 | 1876489 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

perhaps, but with over 30% of the energy we use currently going into simply feeding the country, it won't take much of a supply line disruption to make things get ugly quick.   You really think the federal government is going to have more to spend in the future after the GOP crushes any sense of real tax reform?  Can I have some of what you are smoking?

As a simple experiment it might be fun just to see what happens when the SNAP checks stop going out.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 15:52 | 1876565 buyingsterling
buyingsterling's picture

We'll have a retrenchment because our current level of government is unsustainable. Pressure from energy prices will shrink it faster as everyone willl be squeezed. We don't want more government spending, or more taxes. Less  of both will increase our productivity. Taxes aimed at consumption rather than savings and investment would help. It's not as hopeless as you think (we're royally screwed for other reasons, but that's another matter). How would ending the fed change things? You get the idea. If peak oil is going to expose the value of everyone's labor, that sounds like the market at work.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 18:18 | 1877226 tmosley
tmosley's picture

This is very true, and a good argument.  The point is the source of the problem.

Peak Oil, even if it were occuring right this minute, would not be a problem without government intervention in the market covering up the problem, and providing artificially low energy prices.  Higher prices encourage the transition.  But if governments succeed in covering up the problem, whether via financial trickery, money printing, or direct subsidy, to the point that the oil is used and used until it can no longer meet demand, and supply falls off sharply, then you have a problem (understatement of the century, perhaps).

The solution is free markets.  But peak oilers, on the whole, don't believe in markets, and seemingly (in some cases explicitly) want more government power leading up to mass murder and genocide.  They really and truly want death for the vast majority of people, and to that ends deny any and all possible means of continued production, even if it is laid out right in front of their faces.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 16:01 | 1876611 flattrader
flattrader's picture

LawsofPhysics is a guy who can't figure out how to convert fish poo to usable nitrogen...but, he has a PhD in "nitrogen".

Fortunately some x-jock from Milwaukee can figure out how to do it with a simple system and won a McArthur Foundation Genius Award...no PhD required...just some basic chemisty and horse sense needed.

www.growingpower.org

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 16:17 | 1876699 Flakmeister
Flakmeister's picture

Yeah... but how scalable is it?

Can you produce tons per day? Read up on TNH and UAN to see what modest fertilizer plants produce... Then check about how much fish shit you would need.... Sorta like those asshats that claim we can run things on used fryer grease...

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 16:21 | 1876735 tmosley
tmosley's picture

There is a facility to the south of my town that produces ungodly thousands of tons of fertilizer from chicken poop.  Human poop is no different.

Not sure why you think that capture of human waste streams prior to degredation would yeild the products of degradation.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 16:31 | 1876798 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

We use goat, chicken, and horse poop already, we also use a chemical nitrification inhibitor so that the viable nitrogen is not lost to the atmosphere making the fertilizer stick around a lot longer.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 16:48 | 1876873 flattrader
flattrader's picture

I think it is highly scalable.  Basically, what is happening at www.growingpower.org is a smart, sustainable variant of aquaponics...and he does produce tons of food.  (This guy has even grown food on parking lots without pulling up the pavement.)

As tmosley points out capturing the human waste stream would provide more "fertilizer".

Fish pee/poo...Human pee/poo...it can all be converted to usable nitrogen in the right system with the right beneficial bacteria.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 16:53 | 1876904 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

So long as you can slow down nitrification and denitrification by the microbes.  This is orders of magnitude away from meeting demand and I still think that there is more that can be done from the light side of the equation.  The question of replacing the right sulfur and phosphorus compounds will be a problem as well as water.  Scalability is the issue and I simply don't see how this gets scales without incorporating some phototrophic organisms that can also fix nitrogen and recycle sulfur and phosphate compounds.  Essential metals will be less of a concern as will carbon dioxide.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 17:11 | 1876994 flattrader
flattrader's picture

>>>I simply don't see how this gets scale<<<

Yeah, you don't get it.  That's obvious.

And yet this system succeeds, he's expanded it and it's been replicated other places.

I think part of your problem is that you have zero experience with fish/aquaponics and your PhD is getting in the way.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 17:24 | 1877038 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

Impress us, feed even one city.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 14:55 | 1876280 NotApplicable
NotApplicable's picture

Very good points.

Of course, it makes the upcoming wars that much more obvious.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 15:44 | 1876521 flattrader
flattrader's picture

Speaking of the nitrogen cycle...

And for all the problems you identified, this elegantly simple system for food/fish production works.

www.growingpower.org

Yeah, I know...you have a PhD in Nitrogen.

Odd that you haven't figured out how/why it works.

Yeah, I know you don't believe it.

Yeah, I've been there and seen it with my own eyes.

They don't give out McArthur Foundation Genius Awards to ficiticious people who run ficticious organizations.

Where's your award?

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 15:49 | 1876550 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

Again, kudos for getting people to invest time in growing their own food, now let's see 7 billion folks do it. I'll be sure to look for your Nobel Prize when the Haber Bosch process is shut down and everyone is surviving on your system.  In the mean time we will keep selling our produce to folks around the world.  Good luck.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 15:56 | 1876576 flattrader
flattrader's picture

Hmmm...

Nice straw man you set up.  But then again I never said that it would feed 7B.

The system is perfectly scalable to feed many, many more people than partake either through their neighborhood organization or their commercial operation.

One guy's variant for his little family in a former swimming pool...in the desert

www.gardenpool.org

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 16:05 | 1876633 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

So then I guess there is nothing at all to worry about.  Again, I will look forward to 7 billion+ surviving like this.  Yes, one guy and his pool will provide for 7 billion plus.  Have you ever fed your family on only what you have produced and the water and compost taken from you land and livestock?  I do, and provide jobs for several in my area.  Like I said, I look forward to the day when the Haber Bosch process is turned off, but right now the FACT is that this single chemical process consumes over 18% of our energy alone.  Not even considering the farm equipment and transportation of food.

I don't know why you people don't think I am serious when I say i welcome the day when this process is shut down, I thought you might too, I mean if you really believed this "technology" was the real deal.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 16:16 | 1876694 flattrader
flattrader's picture

Hmmm...I never said one guy with a pool can feed 7B either...but you keep building up those strawmen.

During WWII Victory Gardens produced up to 41 percent of all the vegetable produce that was consumed in the nation.

Producing and preserving up to 50% or more of what you consume is not impossible...though you'd have us believe it to be so.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 16:22 | 1876737 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

Never said it was.  Don't put words in my mouth and I won't put them in yours.  How many died during WWII again?

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 16:56 | 1876920 flattrader
flattrader's picture

What does the number of WWII dead have to do with anything?

It was the fact that we were at war and commercial agricultural food production was diverted to THAT effort rather than homefront consumption is the issue.

So, divert commercial agriculture and some people still find a way to feed themselves is the point.

I am awestruck by twisted "logic".

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 17:25 | 1877040 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

Then impress us and feed even ONE city.  We will all know who you are when you appear on the cover of Forbes.

Tue, 11/15/2011 - 02:34 | 1878379 buyingsterling
buyingsterling's picture

You've got a fetish for this subject.

I'd like to see you stop 7 billion people from trying to feed themselves. Are some going to die if food becomes scarce enough to make charity difficult? Yes, but in that instance whatever is being given 'to the starving' might actually get to them. We've got lots of waste and fat that isn't necessary. And any of a number of breakthroughs (desalination, portable nuclear power, etc.) end your argument.

The complex lifestyles enjoyed by many in the west are not necessary for (or even conducive to) happiness. When a reset of kinds comes, things are going to get a lot more basic for many people. Civil war will come before tens of millions of taxpayers are forced onto the streets (literally onto the streets). It will be very inexpensive to get by - food, clothing, shelter, basic health - because the alternative is mass ghettoization or death.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 16:25 | 1876753 tmosley
tmosley's picture

When the cost of food and fuel become greater, the profitability of such operations increase, while the profitability of factory farms you are familiar with increase.

You don't think there could be a couple of these types of facilities in every neighborhood that currently supports a couple of grocery stores?

Just because it isn't doesn't mean it can't be.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 16:35 | 1876823 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

There it is, let the fucking markets work already.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 17:21 | 1877026 tmosley
tmosley's picture

Second "increase" should read "decrease".

But I am glad you agree.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 17:30 | 1877064 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

Understood, let's get this fucking crash over with already some I can use some of this silver.   We all know that the like ov Monsanto and Dupont control the nitrogen flow and food supply.  It is what it is, I can eat my humble pie when this guy feeds a city and his face appears on the cover of Forbes.  My money is on economic collapse happening first.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 16:18 | 1876710 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

Okay, serious question.  Have you tried incorporating microaerophilic diazotrophic phototrophic organisms into your system?  These organism should boost the available nitrogen suppy and can use light to do it.  Not sure what kind of side effect this will have on the fish, not my area of expertise, could be bad.  Many Rhodospirillum species might work, depends how you are mixing, but then you need energy to do the mixing.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 16:54 | 1876905 css1971
css1971's picture

My question is have you farmed without manufactured NPK supplements?

Every harvest you are removing these from the soil. So where do you get yours?

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 17:03 | 1876953 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

Yes, I have the land to rotate with legumes which are turned back in with horse manure (all requiring diesel fuel and taking iup valuable land that can not be used to produce more crops - another problem with scale).  Admittedly I use chemical inhibitors of nitrification and denitrification to make the ammonia and nitrate stick around a bit longer.  I know large scale and know the energy requirements.  hence the skepticism around fish tanks with plants in them.  What about evaporation?  Big problem on a large scale?  Where is the energy coming to bubble oxygen in the fish tanks or circulate the water.  What about the susceptability of the whole system to disease?

I encourage inovation, but understand the mega flux required.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 15:59 | 1876596 Dr. Acula
Dr. Acula's picture

BTW, I admit I have no clue what the Haber Bosch process is or what diazotrophic bacteria are.

Thanks. Looks like I need to do some studying...

Let us know if there is anything good on arxiv.

 

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 16:10 | 1876640 Dr. Acula
Dr. Acula's picture

BTW if natural gas is used then this doesn't seem to be related to oil so much. This seems rather small in the grand scheme of things:

"3–5% of world natural gas production is consumed in the Haber process" - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haber_process

Also, how many nitrogen molecules (e.g. ammonia, nitrate, or nitrite) does 7 billion people crapping generate? i.e. what portion of the molecules must be artificially assembled rather than simply recycled?

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 16:15 | 1876672 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

People do not shit nitrate or nitrite.  Excess nitrogen is released in the form of amino acids and bile acids, which bacteria are all to happy to oxidize all the way to N2O, peroxynitrate, and nitrogen gas - all forms that plants can't use.  The diazotrophs reduce gaseous nitrogen back to ammonia.  the thing is it still cost them a lot of energy and the process is slow (sorry thermodynamics are what they are).

 

An interesting side note is the bile acid taurine (one way we release nitrogen AND sulfur).  This is a secondary messenger in humans as well as a bile acid.  It turns out that it functions to jack up your heart rate and has a regulatory role in regulating the heart.  Go pick up a can of Red Bull and see what the primary ingredient is.  Turns out even your shit can give you wings. 

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 16:22 | 1876723 Dr. Acula
Dr. Acula's picture

So is it as I suspected?

As the human population grows, so do the sources of ammonia?

"Waste water is often high in ammonia. Because discharging ammonia laden water into the environment can cause problems, nitrification is often necessary to remove the ammonia. This may be a potentially sustainable source of ammonia in the future because of its abundance and the need to remove it from the water anyway." - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ammonia_production#Sustainable_ammonia_production

Is it a bad thing to turn more and more of the inert, useless nitrogen molecules in the atmosphere into life-giving molecules like ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite? Is it bad to fill the world with people and lush flora and fauna?

 

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 16:57 | 1876775 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

Dude, read the article, the process of nitrification and denitrffication REMOVES viable nitrogen sources for plants from the water source.  I am confused I thought you wanted use the nitrates for fertillizer, hence you want to INHIBIT or STOP nitrification.  But then you can't use the water for drinking.  all those nitrate and nitrites also kill animal life in the streams lakes and oceans.  hence why I don't surf after a good rain.  The bacteria in our gut do lots of things and the waste is useful. Inhibiting nitrification is one thing we already do in order to increase the effectiveness of the chicken, goat, and horse manure we already apply.

Dude, urea is the primary nitrogen compound all mammals release and bacteria rapidly realease the ammonia contained within this compound.

The article is about OIL and ENERGY.  So you want to extract the ammonia and nitrate, that will take even more energy, why not just directly apply the waste?

We do this with animal waste on one property already.  Again, it is all about FLUX and SCALE.  won't work for 7 billion.  Somehow need to incorporate a faster light driven reaction here.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 17:06 | 1876964 Dr. Acula
Dr. Acula's picture

>I'm confused.

Me too. From what I've gathered:

-The Haber process necessary to support 7 billion people uses, overall, a negligible amount of energy (1-2% of global energy use) mostly from exploiting plentiful natural gas

-Ammonia can thus be manufactured cheaply, and in any case can be largely recycled from waste (if it were economically worthwhile to do so).

-Ammonia is a form of nitrogen accessible to biological organisms (e.g. autotrophic bacteria), and it is the same with nitrates and nitrites.

-There thus are plenty of opportunities to create fertilizers and food.

-There thus isn't a reason to predict 50% of humanity starving 40 years from now.

 

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 17:08 | 1876979 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

Then shut the Haber Bosch process down and let's see what happens, I have wasted enough time today.  I understand selling you want to sell your product.  I am not selling anything, impress me, let's see it feed even one city.  You will have your own Nobel Prize and be a billionaire overnight.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 17:24 | 1876989 Dr. Acula
Dr. Acula's picture

>I understand selling you want to sell your product.

I'm not sure what that would be. I openly admitted I didn't know anything about the Haber process until you mentioned it.

>I have wasted enough time today.

Not really. You've helped us learn about the Haber process and about how it helps feed billions of people using miniscule amounts of energy (when it isn't being used to produce bombs that blow people up). You've helped show how there is no foreseeable dearth of ammonia, nitrates, nitrites, fertilizer, or food.

 

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 18:41 | 1877268 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

Do the math, it takes over one volt to reduce one molecule of nitrogen gas to two molecules of ammonia (there are 6.02 x 10^23 molecules in one mole).  Go to the USDA's website and look how many million tons are produced each year.  This is not a trivial amount of energy.  Again, details matter.  Stop repeating yourself and fucking feed a city already or at least provide REAL metrics for a specific size system and you many people it will feed.  I am interested in the technology, now man up and provide details.  In the real world details mattter. Speaking of details, I noticed a lot of petroleum based polymers in your set-up there.

Okay, now I am just playing.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 20:35 | 1877611 tmosley
tmosley's picture

I thought you were a physics guy?  You should know the difference between charge and energy.

Also note that just because petroleum is the cheapest feedstock for polymers does not mean it is the only one.  Oil is everywhere, it only needs to be harvested and extracted.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 17:03 | 1876955 flattrader
flattrader's picture

Dude, just read here--

http://theaquaponicsource.com/2011/02/07/starting-up-cycling-an-aquaponi...

Large and scalable aquaponics variant systems are not impossilbe.  People are doing it.

LawsofPhysics just can't figure it out.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 17:05 | 1876969 LawsofPhysics
LawsofPhysics's picture

How many people is it feeding again?  Again, never said it won't work, just not feeding even one city yet.

Mon, 11/14/2011 - 17:30 | 1877048 Dr. Acula
Dr. Acula's picture

I Don't Know

http://mises.org/daily/5786

 "How would the free market attend to mail delivery were the postal service desocialized? I don't know! Nor could anyone have known 100 years ago how the free market would develop the means to deliver the human voice from city to city."

 "The greatest fault, of course, is that these students of liberty themselves have not yet learned to answer honestly, "I don't know; I never will know; no one will ever know." They have not wholly cured themselves of the offending psychosis."

 

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