Sunday, August 7, 2016

Hot Rockin'

"All that is necessary to open up unlimited resources of power throughout the world is to find some economic and speedy way of sinking deep shafts." — Nikola Tesla, Our Future Motive Power, 1931

Like many in the Peak Everything/Age of Limits psychographic, we find ourselves rolling our eyes whenever we hear techno-utopians describing AI implants, self-driving Teslas and longevity DNA-splices. We know all too well that each Google search uses enough energy to boil a cup of water, and that the average cellphone adds one ton of carbon to the atmosphere each year - roughly 3 jet passenger trips back and forth between New York and Cancun.

The insularity of Silicon Valley leads to confirmation bias, to the point where someone like Kevin Kelly, in a recent Long Now talk, can describe the diversification of Artificial Smartness as "alien intelligences" without grasping that we have, right now living amongst us, vastly diverse typologies of intelligence in the biological world, but that our overconsuming, polluting technosphere is killing them off in the Sixth Mass Extinction before we even grok their quantum entanglement.

In Kelly's view we will soon be tapping into artificial, alien intellect like we do electricity or wifi. We will become cyber-centaurs — co-dependent humans and AIs. All of us will need to perpetually upgrade just to stay in the game. And power-up too.

Groan. The digital divide on steroids.

We've opined in many posts here that we thought a rubber-road interface would soon be upon this kind of techonarcissism. Limits will be in the driver's seat again. But oddly enough, it might not be the energy shortfall that pitches all that Teslarati into the ditch.

There is no shortage of energy and there never has been.

Take it back an Ice Age or two. So we discovered fire. Get over it! Being stupid apes, we have become completely obsessed with fire. So now we are burning down the house.

All around us there are much more abundant forms of energy than fire. Consider the gravitational pull of the moon that raises oceans. Consider the spin of the Earth, or the latent heat within its slowly cooling core. Who needs dilithium crystals? We travel through space aboard a dynamo.

Nicola Tesla
In the eight years since the post below was originally published in the summer of 2008, it has received a grand total of 68 page views, many of which were doubtless our own. Not wanting to see such gems disappear into the akashic records without at least a few more reads, we're republishing in this summer re-run series.

Bear in mind that Nicola Tesla was a steampunk. In Iceland we can see steam and hydrogen being generated by geothermal heat, but the Teslovian technology being applied -- pumped water and steam -- is inefficient and self-defeating. It sets up a depletion curve -- years to decades -- because it cools the magma. Apply today's dielectric alloys instead of steam and you can imagine live current from the temperature differential without cooling the Earth below. But have a look.

Hot Rockin'

Drill, Drill, Drill say the Republicans
Drill, Drill, Drill say the Democrats
Drill, Drill, Drill says McCain
Drill, Drill, Drill says Obama
It polls well.
And, meanwhile, the climate just goes to Hell.

It is interesting to see the major oil companies take on a really tough challenge, like drilling deep continental or deep ocean sites. In order to drill the Bakken formation, where gigatons of carbon deposits are entombed beneath the wheat fields of North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, they are going to have to go very deep, into very hard and hot rock.

Even tougher challenges await Chevron's mega-well, Jack 2 in the Gulf of Mexico, or Petrobras' Saudi-scale Tupi or Carioca fields in the equatorial Atlantic off Brazil. Individual wells in those fields are expected to run $180 million to $200 million each, assuming Big Oil can even solve the impressive technical issues.

Engineers are estimating three decades will be needed to develop alloys for drills and pipes that can withstand the heat 2 to 6 miles down, with 18,000 pounds per square inch of pressure, and temperatures above 500° Fahrenheit (260°C).

Two years ago, Exxon Mobil and Chevron saw diamond-crusted drill bits disintegrate and steel pipes crumple when they attempted to tap deep deposits in the outer continental shelf. Anadarko Petroleum is successfully extracting natural gas under a mere 8,960 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico, where pressure measures 3,069 pounds per square inch, but it costs a lot to keep replacing imploded joints and ruptured seals.

Pumping oil from the Brazilian fields, parts of which are 32,000 feet (10,000 m) below the surface, will require drilling more than three times the depth of the Anadarko wells and almost twice the world’s deepest Gulf wells, in the Tahiti lease, which cost Chevron $4.7 billion to produce.

But here is the irony. At those depths, the heat is a constant. In energy output worldwide, it measures in the exoWatt range. It could power everything. And you don’t have to sail halfway across the Gulf of Mexico, down into the South Atlantic, or up to the North Pole to find it. Wherever you are on Earth, it is right below you.

We’ve known about this energy source, deep geothermal, for centuries, and we have known how to go about harnessing it, big time, for decades. In 1932, Nicola Tesla wrote in The New York Times, “It is noteworthy that ...  in 1852 Lord Kelvin called attention to natural heat as a source of power available to Man. But, contrary to his habit of going to the bottom of every subject of his investigations, he contented himself with the mere suggestion.”

Tesla went on, “The arrangement of one of the great terrestrial-heat power plants of the future (illustration). Water is circulated to the bottom of the shaft, returning as steam to drive the turbine, and then returned to liquid form in the condenser, in an unending cycle.... The internal heat of the earth is great and practically inexhaustible....”

Karl Grossman produced a piece on it for WVVH-TV in Long Island. You can see that on YouTube. An MIT study in 2007 estimated you could produce 100 GWe (the equivalent of 1000 coal plants) for less than the cost of a single coal plant.

So why can’t we see the forest for the trees?


Annie Gaddis said...

Would this help even a little?

Don Stewart said...

I would like to suggest a thought triggered by reading in Lean Logic. Under the heading Well-Being, we find a distinction between those wants for the avoidance of things we don't like, and those wants for things that we do like. It turns out that the things that we do want, we mostly do not purchase directly:

'rewarding friendships, shared achievements, making music, being uplifted by the sight of the stars. A larger GDP does not increase the supply of such things. On the contrary, in an increasingly boring, excitement-lite, congested and regulated society, the attempt to compensate for the decline in motivators by spending money on stuff--trying to squeeze excitement from things intended to do no more than just keep us ticking over--is not only unstimulating, it is depressing....the clinical consequences of this in the form of a fall in the levels of serotonin.'

If we had good sense and good social order and a sound economy, then, arguably, we wouldn't really need a lot of energy. There is no evidence that we are materially happier than the aborigines who peopled Australia. But IF we are using energy mostly to make up for the fact that we are not evincing good sense and good social order and a sound economy...then our energy and resource requirements will be limitless.

David Fleming points out the high cost of defensive expenditures (the cost of things we have to do as a consequence of living in a society that has grown to a very large scale) and also positional goods (it's not how much money you make, but where you are in the pecking order.)

I believe there are two separate issues:
*Can the source of energy be made to work in terms of thermodynamics? Arnoux's recent series of posts on Ugo Bardi's site takes the position that the oil industry, as presently constituted, is thermodynamically unstable. Which means that no matter how badly we would like to have oil products, and how much money we are willing to print, we won't get them (speaking globally, rather than about the US or the rich, etc.)
*Can we build a sane society where common sense, social cohesion, and rational economics are the rule rather than the exception?

Don Stewart

Danny C said...

Right with you Don. The leap in our 1st world life to a life of just enough is fine with most, I assume, of readers of this blog and like minded blogs. We who are concerned (bothered?) by the current trajectory of society at large need to BE that sane society, community or whatever stands up as a good example to those in the stands or sidelines (I say this as my neighbor is spraying roundup on a couple of weeds that could have been easily pulled). To live simply, with dignity and conscientiously is the only overall answer I see.

UnhingedBecauseLucid said...

It was a good post. I read it on the Doomstead Diner so I commented there under the same name...

Though my comment on DD is longer and more substantial, it can be summed up by these few words: Then why no noise as of yet ?




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