The need to develop Thorium based Nuclear Energy as the major electric energy supply. 2. Thorium already mined, ready to be extracted.

Thorium is a by-product of mining heavy metals and rare earth metals. The price is the cost of extracting and refining, which can be as low as $40/Kg. No extra mining is required for extracting the Thorium, and we all know that mining is a major source for pollution.

The first thing we must realize is that rare earth metals are not all that rare. They are a thousand times or more abundant than gold or platinum in the earth crust and easy to mine, but a little more difficult to refine. Thorium and Uranium will  be mined together with rare earth metals.

Related image

U.S. used to be the major supplier for rare earth metals, which was fine up to around 1984. Then the U.S. regulators determined that Uranium and Thorium contained in the ore made the ore radioactive, so they decided to make rare metal ore a “source material” with all what that meant for record keeping and control. This made mining in the U.S. unprofitable so in 2001 the last mine closed down. China had no such scruples, such as human and environmental concerns, so they took over the rare earth metals concession and in 2010 controlled over 95% of the world supply, which was according to their long term plan of controlling the world by 2025. Luckily this has now been rectified with U.S. and Australian mines reopened.

Rare Earth Element Production

So, why is this important? Just take a look at all the uses for rare earth metals. The most sought after pays all the cost of mining and refining, and the rest are readily available at nominal cost.

The Chinese almost got away with it, and that is but one reason the trade negotiations are so complicated and hard fought, but necessary. Donald Trump fights for reciprocity and fair competition.

The need to develop Thorium based Nuclear Energy as the major electric energy supply. 1. A million years supply at today’s consumption levels.

We live in challenging times with enormous environmental challenges. It takes a lot of energy to clean up the mess we have generated over the ages. It would be a shame to use up our remaining coal, oil and gas to produce the electricity needed to clean up. Oil coal and gas will eventually be depleted and we need to save some for our great grandchildren so they can enjoy flying like we have become accustomed to. Like the famous conservationist Sarah Palin once said: “for when it’s gone, it’s gone.”

The need to develop a Thorium based molten salt fast breeder nuclear reactor to develop our energy needs for the future can not be overstated. Lest anyone should be threatened by the words fast breeder, it simply means it uses fast neutrons instead of thermal neutrons, and breeder means it produces more fissible material than it consumes, in the case of Thorium the ratio is about 1.05.

 There is enough Thorium around to last for a million years at today’s worldwide electricity generation levels. Uranium is in short supply. The consumption exceeds production, and the worldwide major importer of Uranium is the U.S. (The fact that we sold 20% of  our uranium ore to the Russians did not help)

There are of course the sustainable energy sources such as wind, solar, hydroelectric, biomass, geothermal, tidal and wave energy, and they should be pursued where economically and environmentally appropriate. These are a separate but important subjects.

Penn State University Engineering Capstone Showcase, Spring 2019.

Thursday, two days before finals was the PSU Engineering Capstone showcase. Even though I have been a lecturer there for the last seven years I didn’t realize it is by far the largest Capstone showcase of this type in the world, and it is growing year by year. This year there were 126 Senior Design course teams from the traditional engineering disciplines, but also the Nuclear, Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering teams participated, as well as the freshmen Engineering Design class, nearly 200 entries, in all around 1000 participants.

 

The set-up began at 10:30 a. m. in the Bryce Jordan main Arena, with 126 senior Capstone projects displaying their results. The other projects were displayed in the Southern Annex training area.

The success of the showcase is in part because of a large number of corporate sponsors, some who sponsor multiple projects. Some of these projects are at the very cutting edge of  science and provide a real challenge for the students.

My role as an instructor is quite simple: To convert the engineering students from students to world class engineers in 16 short weeks. The engineering students are organized in teams of 4 or 5 persons. All of my teams this year consisted of engineers from at least 2 engineering majors, so the teams must get to know each other, work together as a functioning team, do the research, build a series of prototypes or a final product as a team, with deadlines to meet. This is quite different from cramming for an exam.

The projects are quite different: This spring I had the opportunity to coach 5 teams:

The first team tried to make sensor enabled athletic shoes, they took a shoe, put in a sensor that measured g-forces and temperature, added a transmitter to send the results to a computer for analysis. They also learned to 3D print a new sole for the shoe with the proper cavities for the sensors and battery. The challenge is to choose the best material for sole design. This project had three biomedical engineers and two computer engineers.

 

 

 

 

 

The next team made a contraption for taking muscle measurement during exercise. When exercise starts , blood flow increases and the muscles expand. As they dehydrate they slowly contracts again.  The team made a band to fit around the thigh muscle of the one exercising with two time-of-flight sensors to measure the expansion and contraction of the muscle, sending the results to a computer for data collection, analysis and evaluation.

 

 

 

 

 

This was so successful that they won third prize for best project!

 

They also won fist prize for best 3 min video of their project!

The third team, investigating wearable exercises in Industry 4.0. Industry 4.0 is a nickname for the fourth industrial revolution where robots take over and the people are taking on a more supervisory role overseeing robots and not doing the work themselves. There are few safety regulations developed to deal with this new complexity. One of the concerns is the stress it induces on the operators. A little stress is good, too much can be catastrophic. This became my emotional favorite, since at the same time my heart decided to be more and more blocked, ending up getting a stent put in the so-called widow-maker heart artery and I found myself hooked up with a portable BioPac for one day much like their research version. In addition, during the showcase one student passed out from stress and excitement! Anyhow, here is the team:

The fourth team was charged with making a Wireless Valve Position Indicator for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC). They were highly successful in their assigned task and functioned well as a team together. Here they are, all smiles, with their sponsor:

 

They won first prize for best poster!

Things do not always turn out as planned, and so was the case with team five.

They were charged with making an expensive piece of machinery, controlled by a Programmable Logic Controller work better. The PLC was from early 2000, Japanese proprietary, and the third-party vendor that had done the original coding was nowhere to be found anymore. The source code was finally delivered, but it took all the 16 weeks to secure a software license. The only contribution possible was making a better way of guiding sheet metal through the machine. However, they did what they could with the hand that was dealt them, and they learned a lot about how to deal with third-party vendors whose priority is to get another contract and not be helpful.

In all, a very successful Senior Design Showcase! As always, we are looking for more corporate sponsors to present challenges for the graduating class of future world-class engineers. This spring there were 88 sponsors, some with multiple projects.

Penn State University; making world class engineers out of students, the Capstone course Showcase April 25.

After retiring twice from a career in analytical chemistry instrumentation and some computer chip manufacturing, an opportunity presented itself to join the Penn State University department of engineering and teach just one course, the Capstone course, the course I always wanted to teach. The task is to take students from different engineering disciplines, make them form a team of 4 or 5 students, and through excellent teamwork produce something of value to a sponsor in 15 short weeks, and in so doing have them be transformed into world class engineers.

This year one of the teams made a short video of their efforts, enjoy!

This is cutting edge practical research and development and prepares the engineers for the challenges of a truly multi-discipline development environment.

They will contribute to a better world!

The exhibit is Thursday April 25 in the Bryce Jordan Center and is open to the public from 1:30 to 3 P.M. It is to my knowledge the largest in the world of this type with nearly 200 exhibits, and it shows today’s engineering students at their best!

Water vapor and CO2 – why nearly all climate models fail.

The candidate Beto O’Rourke

on Climate change is but a dork.

He does not understand

that the world will not end.

Fake News! – Only New Green Deal pork!

Quote from Beto O’Rourke:

“The scientists are unanimous on this. We have no more than 12 years to take incredibly bold action on this crisis, can we make it? I don’t know. It’s up to every one of us. Do you want to make it?”

I beg to differ.

We live in only one world. As a concerned citizen I realize we have immense environmental challenges before us, with water pollution; from plastics in the ocean, excess fertilizer in the rivers, poison from all kinds of chemicals, including antibiotics, birth control and other medicines flushed down the toilet after going through our bodies, animals fed antibiotics, pest control, weed control and so on. Increasing CO2 is not one of the problems, it will in fact help with erosion control, and allow us to feed more people on less agricultural land with proper management, and require less fertilizer and water to do so. In fact, proper water management is a larger problem, with some rivers no longer reaching the ocean. All water is already spoken for, especially in the 10 to 40 degrees latitude, where most people live.

Allow me to be somewhat technical and give the background to why I know we will never experience the thermal runaway they are so afraid of.

Many years ago I worked at Hewlett Packard on an Atomic Absorption Detector. It was a huge technical success but a commercial failure, as it was too expensive to use for routine applications. However it found a niche and became the detector of choice when dismantling the huge nerve gas stockpiles remaining from the cold war. I was charged with doing the spectrum analysis and produce the final data from the elements. One day two salesmen came and tried to sell us  a patented device that could identify up to 21 different elements with one analysis. They had a detector that divided the visual band into 21 parts, and bingo, with proper, not yet “fully developed” software you could now analyze up to 21 elements with one gas chromatic analysis. What could be better? We could only analyze correctly four or five elements simultaneously. It turns out the elements are absorbing in the same wavelength bands, scientifically speaking they are not orthogonal, so software massaging can only go so far. It turned out that the promised new detector was inferior to what we already had and could only quantify three or 4 elements at the most.

In the atmosphere the two most important greenhouse gases are water vapor and CO2 with methane a distant third. Water vapor is much more of a greenhouse gas everywhere except near the tropopause high above the high clouds and near the poles when the temperature is below 0 F, way below freezing. A chart shows the relationship between CO2 and water vapor:

Image result for h20 and co2 as greenhouse gases

Source: http://notrickszone.com/2017/07/31/new-paper-co2-has-negligible-influence-on-earths-temperature/

Even in Barrow, Alaska water vapor is the dominant greenhouse gas. Only at the South Pole (And North Pole) does CO2 dominate (in the long winter).

All Climate models take this into account, and that is why they all predict that the major temperature increase will occur in the polar regions with melting icecaps and other dire consequences. But they also predict a uniform temperature rise from the increased forcing from CO2 and the additional water vapor resulting from the increased temperature.

This is wrong on two accounts. First, CO2 and H2O gas are nor orthogonal, that means they both absorb in the same frequency bands. There is three bands where CO2 absorb much more than H2O in the far infrared band, but other than that H2O is the main absorber. If H2O is 80 times as common as CO2 as it is around the equator, water vapor is still the dominant absorber.

Secondly gases cannot absorb more than 100% of the energy available in any given energy wavelength! So if H2O did absorb 80% of the energy and CO2 absorbed 50% the sum is not 130%, only 90%. (0.8 + 0.5×0,2 or 0.5 + 0.8×0.5). In this example CO2 only added one quarter of what the models predicted.

How do I know this is true? Lucky for us we can measure what increasing CO2 in the atmosphere has already accomplished. For a model to have credibility it must be tested with measurements, and pass the test. There is important evidence suggesting the basic story is wrong. All greenhouse gases work by affecting the lapse rate in the tropics. They thus create a “hot spot” in the tropical troposphere. The theorized “hot spot” is shown in the early IPCC publications. (Fig A)

Fig. B shows observations. The hotspot is not there. If the hotspot is not there, the models must be wrong. So what is wrong with the models? This was reported in 2008 and the models still assume the additive nature of greenhouse gases, even to the point when more than 100% of the energy in a given band is absorbed.

How about Methane? Do not worry, it absorbs nearly exclusively in the same bands as water vapor and has no measurable influence on the climate.

But it will get warmer at the poles. That will cause melting of the ice-caps? Not so fast. When temperature rises the atmosphere can hold more water vapor, so it will snow more at higher latitudes. While winter temperatures will be higher with more snowfall, this will lower the summer temperatures until the extra snow has melted. And that is what is happening in the Arctics

https://i1.wp.com/ocean.dmi.dk/arctic/plots/meanTarchive/meanT_2017.png

As we can see from this picture, the winters were about 5 degrees warmer, but starting from May through August temperatures were lower. It takes time to melt all the extra snow.

These are my suggestions

  1. Do not worry about increasing CO2 levels. The major temperature stabilizer is clouds, and they will keep the earth from overheating by reflecting back into space a large amount of incoming solar radiation. Always did, and always will, even when the CO2 concentration was more than 10000 ppm millions of years ago. Ice ages will still come, and this is the next major climate change, maybe 10000 years from now.
  2. Clean up rivers, lakes and oceans from pollution. This is a priority.
  3. Limit Wind turbine electric energy to areas not populated by large birds to save the birds. Already over 1.3 million birds a year are killed by wind turbines, including the bald Eagles that likes to build their aeries on top of turbines.
  4. Do not build large solar concentration farms. They too kill birds.
  5. Solar panels are o.k. not in large farms, but distributed on roofs to provide backup power.
  6. Explore geothermal energy in geologically stable areas.
  7. Where ever possible add peak power generation and storage capacity to existing hydroelectric power plants
  8. Add peak power storage dams, even in wildlife preserves. The birds and animals don’t mind.
  9. Develop Thorium based Nuclear Power. Russia, China, Australia and India are ahead of us in this. Streamline permit processes. Prioritize research.
  10. Put fusion power as important for the future but do not rush it, let the research and development be scientifically determined.
  11. When Thorium power is built up and do  replace coal and gas fired plants, then is the time to switch to electric cars, not before.
  12. Standard Nuclear Power plants should be replaced by Thorium powered nuclear plants, since they have only 0,01% of the really bad long term nuclear waste.
  13. Start thinking about recovering CO2 directly from the air and produce aviation fuel. This should be done as Thorium power has replaced coal and gas fired power plants.
  14. This is but a start, but the future is not as bleak as all fearmongers state.

 

 

Long live the Amish! – Off the grid.

It is March 6 2019, a cold morning in Intercourse, Pa. The temperature is 19F and the snow is still deep. There it is! A recently built Amish homestead with the telltale clothesline, but also a small wind turbine and four solar panels to provide

electricity. Contrary to popular opinion the Amish do not shun electricity, they just want to be left unconnected to the “English”, in other words, live off the grid. Their desire to be independent force them to be resourceful and innovative, since they also follow the law of the land whenever possible. So it was, when the farms were mandated to refrigerate the milk before pickup they installed electric coolers. The electricity was generated by diesel generators, so bingo, they could get electricity for their workshops as well, and turn from primitive hand work to fully modern wood workshops, I know, they provided a first class kitchen for our home in Intercourse. They had a problem, federal law mandated headlights on their buggies to be street legal. The propane lights with gas stockings burned well, but were too fragile to last the bumpy buggy rides so they installed car headlights running on car batteries. They had to be charged often, and it became quite expensive, so the Amish in 2003 made the first commercially available LED headlights for their buggies, thereby extending battery life nine-fold for a marine deep-charge lead-acid battery, from six hours to 100 hours.

Even at 120 dollars a piece it made economic sense. How do you charge batteries? This is where the solar panels come in, they are used to charge the batteries. When the sun doesn’t shine the wind may blow, a reasonable backup. Now they have 12 volt electric power. The next step was to wire the house and install 12 V LED lights and provide 12 volt DC or 24 volt AC outlets for small appliances. The lights are done, the appliances are still run the hard way, diesel engines providing compressed air, which run their wells with jet-pumps and in their hand mixers they take out the motor and replace with a compressed air motor. The LED lights beat kerosene lamps any day for efficiency, and even a compressed air driven refrigerator is much more efficient than a kerosene driven refrigerator.

So if the grid goes down for an extended period of time, who is better off? The Amish are far ahead of us in preparation for catastrophes.

https://lenbilen.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/amishpanels.jpg

And the Amish do get together and fellowship for any reason, but mostly for their Sunday services, which are held in the upper room of their workshops, or in the kitchen for the women and the basement for the men. The horse-drawn pew-mobile is in the picture above, to the right. This is a tell-tale sign who has the service next time.

When will we be ready for electric cars?

Are we finally ready for the electric car?

Boy are we advancing in leaps and bounds:

Here is the Roberts electric car, built 1896.

It gets 40 miles to the charge.

Let us see, where does our electricity come from? In 2017 the sources were:

Coal, oil and gas 62%, Nuclear 20%, Hydroelectric 7%, Wind 6%, Solar 2% and all other sources, geothermal, wood and other biomass 3%.

Coal, and natural gas are the staples of electricity generation and will remain so for the foreseeable future until a suitable replacement has been developed.

Hydroelectric power is mostly built up and will not provide much more generation capacity. However, many dams can be augmented with peak storage capacity to even out the supply. Many of these improvements are highly profitable since they buy surplus power at low cost and sell back peak power at peak power price.

Wind power is at 7%, but there is a cost associated with that. The annual bird kill associated with wind turbines is about 1.3 million birds, the bald eagle and other large birds may again be threatened or endangered if we increase wind power substantially. Already some rare bats are endangered. The Audubon society has given it its blessing, after all, in their opinion climate change is more of a danger than the extinction of bird species.

Solar power shows some promise. The large solar concentrator power plants kill all birds that come near the hot spot, and have some other problems. Photovoltaic cells on the south facing roofs fulfill an important role. In a case of failure of the grid they can provide a limited emergency power and  they are already important for people living off the grid like the Amish and mountain dwellers. Putting up large solar farms in the desert seems like a good idea, but they need a good supply of water to be cleaned or they will be dirtied up, lowering their efficiency. Fully built up solar power can supply up to 10% of the electricity needs but that is about the practical limit.

Geothermal provides less than 1/2% of our power supply. Unfortunately geothermal energy is most abundant in geologically unstable regions.

Wood and biomass power is no real solution if you are concerned about CO2 emissions. It is better to build houses from wood, trapping the cellulose forever.

There is an old technology we can learn from the North Koreans. They enclose the cow dung and other compost and use the generated Methane for stove fuel. Recovering Methane from landfills can produce 0.1 to 0.4% of our energy.

Why am I down on electric cars? First, the energy to drive the car must have been produced somehow. As long as we use coal to produce electricity there will be more CO2 in the air with electric cars than with diesel powered cars. Second, electric cars are heavier than corresponding gasoline powered cars and have less room. Third, it takes an awful lot of mining to produce all the rare materials that goes into a modern battery. The energy used  to mine and refine all the raw materials that goes into an electec car is more than can be saved during the lifetime of the car. This too takes a lot of energy and leaves scars on the landscape. Finally, batteries last only so long and are expensive, leading to a much more expensive car to purchase and maintain.

The same arguments can be raised against solar and wind power. It takes more energy to mine and refine the materials than the equipment generate since they generate the electricity when they want, not when the need is there.

Are we doomed? Not at all. As oil and gas is becoming depleted, we should build up the nuclear power plants, not with old Uranium based nuclear plants with all their nuclear waste, but with small, distributed Thorium based plants.

Why Thorium?

We are a net importer of Uranium, even before we sold 20% of our Uranium ore to Russia. With Thorium there is a million years supply available, and it requires no extra mining since it is found in rare earth metal ores, which will bear the mining costs. They have 0.01% as much nuclear waste as uranium based plants and are earthquake safe and much less vulnerable to sabotage. They also respond much better to demand fluctuations. As the plants would be more distributed it would lessen the need for an expanded electric grid, which is unbelievably vulnerable to sabotage. The long and short of it: Go Thorium and when that is fully built up, then develop Electric cars!

In the mean time develop trucks with electric backup so they can accelerate faster in stop and go traffic and regenerate energy when braking rather than use jake brakes. In confined spaces they could then use only electric for maneuvering. . Other candidates: Buses, trolleys and delivery vehicles would also benefit from this technique.