New High Tech Stuff Isn’t Always More ‘Environmentally Friendly’

Which is why the EPA won’t let certain things be manufactured in the US. (Not that shipping that manufacturing overseas is really ‘good’ for the environment. But NIMBY is a strong force in America.)

So first up is the whole electric vehicle craze. (And it is a craze.) The Silicon Graybeard: All-Electric Small Airplane

OK, so there’s an electric plane. Not the first. The thing that caught my eye…

Earlier this week, several outlets reported a study from the Swedish Environmental Research Insitute that the “carbon footprint” of producing the batteries for an electric car was equivalent to driving for 8 years. This ignored recharging the batteries for the life of the car, which is obviously coming from an electric power generating plant somewhere, so more than likely generating CO2 itself. I’m sure you’ve seen electric cars referred to as coal powered.

The report shows that the battery manufacturing leads to high emissions. For every kilowatt hour of storage capacity in the battery generated emissions of 150 to 200 kilos of carbon dioxide already in the factory. The researchers did not study individual brand batteries, how these were produced, or the electricity mix they use.

As Graybeard points out, battery researchers are struggling to come up with batteries that have 4% of the energy density of gasoline. (450 Wh/kg versus 12,000 Wh/kg.) And the “8 year” figure doesn’t include charging of the batteries. That is just the carbon cost of producing the battery.

This reminds me of the state of fusion power over the past few decades. Since before I graduated from college, fusion power has been “just around the corner.” And while the ITER (the current international attempt at fusion) might actually produce a reactor that generates more power than it consumes, no utility will ever build one. Imagining Fusion Power | Energy Matters

First off, fusion reactors based on the Tokamak design will produce large amounts of neutrons. These will turn all of the components of the Tokamak into radioactive waste. Large quantities of radioactive waste.

The Hirsch article tells you that worldwide fusion energy research is almost totally focused on a concept called the tokamak, a toroidal (donut) shaped system, which uses the deuterium-tritium (DT) fusion fuel cycle. You are reminded that the DT cycle is characterized by the copious emission of neutrons, which will result in the creation of large quantities of radioactivity, no matter what materials are used to build such a system. Opps! Managing large quantities of radioactive material raises a huge red flag with you, based on the experience with nuclear power plants. Not good!

So we would have EXACTLY the same problems with fusion reactors – storing radioactive waste – that makes the population hate fission reactors. Not a “clean technology.”

Then there is the likelihood of a regular explosion.

ITER-Tokamak reactors appear to be seriously wanting, in part because of the massive amount of radioactivity that will be produced and in part because its massive superconducting magnets could suddenly go normal, resulting in an explosion of the magnitude of a World War II blockbuster bomb.

So radioactive debris in the middle of something that could let go with the force of a VERY large conventional bomb. Yeah, sign me up for one of those!

While I’m not of the “let’s dump all fusion research” camp, I am aware of the fact that there are problems with the current design. And we’ve sort of put all of our eggs in one basket on that front.

On the electric vehicle front, I think that day will dawn, but it will take some serious developments in either battery or super capacitor research. I actually think some of the research being done in artificial photosynthesis to produce alcohol fuels has more promise. But that doesn’t get much press.