Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dr. Richard Muller on Climate and Energy

This is a video that everyone wondering about climate change and energy options should watch. Note, Dr. Muller disagrees with my vision of hydrogen in our energy future. My vision is based on co-generation and off peak hydrogen production. Fuel cells also can run on natural gas. So hydrogen is still a part of the overall picture, how big a role depends on Economic and political decisions.

You may wish to visit Dr. Judith Curry's blog where she discusses the "Hide the Decline" issue.

UPDATE: This has resulted in a major cat fight! Instead of debating the issue, more allegations of misconduct are tossed about. Ignoring or down playing inconvenient evidence is a major problem in climate science. Another problem is lack of statistical oversight. While neither of these issues may change the results. They do impact the trust between the scientific community and the general population. Hopefully, the Berkley project will provide non-partisan results that bring things back to the right track. Don't count on the Berkley Project being well received by the consensus.

Monday, February 21, 2011

More on Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles

I drive a SVU. While I don't need to all that often, I have to tow a boat weighing up to 7 tons every now and again. That is hard to do with a bicycle or Mini Cooper. There are plenty of people that drive big SUV's because they can, not because they need to. Many parents want their kids driving bigger vehicles because they are safer than smaller vehicles. Whether for need, status or piece of mind, big vehicles make up a large portion on the vehicles on American roads. Hydrogen fuel cells are tailor made for these vehicles.

Hydrogen is the lightest element in the universe. That makes it hard to contain. There has been a lot of research to improve our ability to contain hydrogen well enough to make it a viable fuel. Pressurized hydrogen appears to be the best way to contain this fuel. Liquid hydrogen works great, but it has to be kept at a very low temperature which means refrigeration energy or super insulated containers. Under pressure, hydrogen is a lot less expensive to store.

One kilogram of hydrogen is equivalent to one gallon of gas, energy wise. The volume of one kilogram of liquid hydrogen to equal one gallon of gas is 4 time greater than gasoline. The U.S. Department of Energy has funded research and development of high pressure hydrogen storage tanks for vehicles. The carbon fiber tanks lined with high density polyethylene, can store 15 gasoline gallon equivalents in roughly 60 gallons of space at 10,000 PSI (700 bar). At 10,000 psi the energy density is close to that of liquid hydrogen. The weight of the filled hydrogen tank is less than the weight of the filled gasoline tank. At 3000 psi (200 bar)the volume of equivalent energy would be 3.5 times greater. It is the required volume that is the issue.

The reason I used 10,000 psi and 3000 psi has to do with the energy efficiency in delivering the hydrogen. High pressure hydrogen electrolysis produces hydrogen at roughly 3000 psi. No extra work has to be done to compress hydrogen if 3000 psi provides reasonable vehicle range for its tank size. While US natural gas pipelines are currently rated for only 1200 psi, compressing from 1200 psi to 3000 psi is a lot cheaper than to 10,000 psi. Looking into my crystal ball, I think I see nominal 3000 psi hydrogen pipelines in our future.

A compact car would be difficult to put a large hydrogen tank into. A SUV would handle a bigger tank(s) with greater ease. Even a big SUV has limits. 100 gallons of fuel space, about 14 cubic feet, or four - one foot diameter tanks eight feet long, would be a realistic maximum. That tank configuration would be equal to just over seven gallons of gas. Since the Fuel cell is more efficient (40 MPG) than an internal combustion engine (20 MPG), the range of the vehicle with a low pressure hydrogen fill would be about 285 miles. Should you want to make a long road trip you could pay the extra cost for a 10,000 psi full up and get a range 3.5 times greater, or 1000 miles. That is just an example. With only two tanks you would have about a 140 mile low pressure range and a 500 mile high pressure range. The actual low pressure range, since it would generally be for in city driving, would be higher with regenerative breaking.

I approximated a little, but these numbers are in the ballpark. For comparison the Chevy Equinox FCV gets 43 gasoline equivalent miles per gallon and a 200 mile range with about 4.5 kilogram tank. There are other considerations. Current fuel cells have a 50,000 mile life before overhaul. The overhaul is basically replacing the PEM, which is the Proton Exchange Membrane. So instead of ten $50, oil changes you would have one $1000 PEM change every 50,000 miles. I am guessing of course on the costs. PEM using a platinum catalyst are more expensive than non-precious metal catalyst membranes. At around $550 per square meter, the platinum PEM material is much cheaper than many think. So those numbers may not be too far off.

The biggest problem is the hydrogen infrastructure. Compressed natural gas proponents brag about their existing infrastructure. It is there, but you have to look to find it. The four tank system I am talking about may seem like over kill, but until the hydrogen infrastructure catches up, it is good choice for rural users more inclined to have home hydrogen refueling stations. More on that later, but there is a huge difference between 3000 psi and 10,000 psi home fueling systems.

A few links:

This first one shows a insulated liquid hydrogen prototype with a 650 mile range. Remember the 10,000 psi tanks are about the same size since they do not have the thick insulation. With the liquid hydrogen, the fuel boils off in about 6 days, not a good thing.

This one is a low volume home hydrogen fueling station designed in the UK. It is an older design that I list mainly to show the relative cost.

This is a Honda solar home refueling system that product 1/2 gasoline equivalent gallons (0.5 kilograms) per day. Standard home electric versions can produce more in even less space.

This is a US government estimate for a Home Hydrogen Refueling (HHR)appliance. The estimated cost per kilogram is around $4 per kilogram which with the added fuel efficiency of the fuel cell is similar to $2.00 a gallon gasoline.

Note: All estimates based on nominal 60% fuel cell efficiency.

It Made the Front Page! It has to be True!

The most frustrating thing about discussing our energy future is poor journalism. Journalists are rarely experts in any field other than journalism. So they rely on other sources like prestigious scientific journals for information about important new ground breaking discoveries. The problem with important new ground breaking discoveries is about 90% of the time they are wrong. Novel new approaches to solve previously unsolvable problems or predict previously unpredictable events should be viewed with skepticism.

Science progresses in baby steps. There are a few, very few, ground breaking papers that stand alone as "the" ultimate source of information on any subject. Normally a ground breaking paper is gradually picked apart, the good kept and the bad thrown away, eventually resulting in something that represents truth in science.

Most lay readers are aware that news should be verified. In science though, that verification is more difficult to find, it may take years. If you follow this blog you know I had a little rant a while back about Eric Steig and the Antarctic warming trend that may not exist. That was an extreme example of the press jumping on something that was not all it was meant to be. Now there is a new one that you can read about. On Storms, Warming, Caveats and the Front Page is an article by Andy Revkin which talks better about the subject than I can. Neither of these two papers are total garbage. Both offer interesting new ways to look at things, they just did not get it right the first time out of the chute. That's the way science works.

While this blog is about hydrogen in our energy future, climate change is one of the drivers that impacts our energy plans. Climate change is real enough to be a concern, though I doubt the high end predictions are correct. This may sound a little grim, but if the high end predictions are correct we are screwed anyway. So planning for climate change requires pragmatic actions for what we can impact, not crazy action that probably won't work anyway.

Hydrogen has the same kind of bad press. Many years ago Exxon had a ride at Epcot dedicated to energy options. As you might guess, Exxon was a touch biased toward fossil fuels. They really gave hydrogen a hard time. At that time, the 1980's, a good deal of what they said was true. Time changes and technology advances, so little of what they said is true now. Their words linger. So hydrogen has to overcome unrealistic criticism just like nuclear power. Rational thinking and pragmatism walk hand in hand. That is why I write stuff on this blog, to promote rational thinking. I don't have all the answers, I just have a bullshit detector that helps.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Why I am a Fan of Small Modular Light Water Reactors

The diagram above is from the Wikipedia article on Light Water Reactors.

I am one of those nuts you see in the grocery store reading labels. Manufacturers seem to be catching on to guys like me and are making the print smaller and smaller. For a few years I worked at a U.S. Navy Submarine Base being built for boomer submarines. I had to read a lot of stuff back then in the construction specifications to do my job as a civilian contractor. Because I was curious, I read a little more about the nuclear power plants that powered the subs and the warheads on the missiles they carried. I don't care much about the warheads, but it is nice to know how they work and why we should never need to work them. The power plants though were interesting.

The average age of a nuclear submarine's crew is about 24. So crew training and equipment complexity have to meet somewhere in the middle. The Navy reactors are about the simplest design there is, which makes it safe and simple to operate. Light Water Reactors are the Navy's choice.

Reactors need moderators to control the rate of the reaction. Regular water is both the moderator, coolant and energy transfer medium in a light water reactor. Because of the type of fuel used in the reactor, a moderator is needed for there to be a reaction. If there is a leak in the reactor vessel, the reaction slows as the water level drops. With no water there is no reaction so this is a simple safety shutoff system. If the reactor should get too hot, the water boils off which again slows the reaction down. This makes the reactor design have a negative temperature coefficient. In other words, it won't meltdown. Correction Boils off may be a poor choice of wording. If the water expands, it becomes less dense which slows the reaction. How the water expands depends upon the reactor design.

The drawing above shows the basic diagram of a pressurized water, light water reactor. The primary water loop is from reactor to heat exchanger. The water is heated by the nuclear reaction then moves to the secondary loop where the water is converted into steam which drives the turbine. The third water loop, used to cool the discharge from the turbine, is shown using water from a cooling tower, river or ocean for cooling. In most new power designs, that loop is replaced with another heat exchanger so the waste heat can be used for a useful purpose. That waste steam can also drive a low pressure steam turbine.

Turbines are designed for steam quality. High quality steam does not condense into water in the turbine, so the turbine can operate more efficiently. Secondary turbines can be designed to operate on low quality steam where the turbine discharge is a mixture of hot water and steam. Then very little cooling is needed before the discharge is just hot water ready to be pumped back through the secondary loop.

Navy reactors are what would be called Small Modular Reactors. The reactor vessel, heat exchanger and containment vessels are small in size and manufactured in secure facilities. This greatly reduces the cost of construction and improves security during construction. Complete reactors can be shipped by rail or barge to their installation site very securely because of their size and design.

While not cheap by any means, the small modular reactors have a long life and can produce electricity for about 5 to 10 cents per kilowatt hour. That is very competitive with other power plant designs.

Light water reactors designed for the U.S. Navy have an excellent safety record and proven performance. While I am all for new technology, there is something to be said for proven technology. This is why I am a fan of Light Water Reactors.

No design is perfect so I have to touch on things that are imperfect and how they are or need to be dealt with.

I am going to add one issue with LWR that I personally think is a non-issue. The LWR design is inefficient in its use of fuel. If there were no options, this inefficiency would lead to more nuclear waste that would need to be disposed of properly. Because of disposal issue, often irrational, spent fuel rod are stored on site. The spent fuel rods are not just useless, dangerous waste. Integral Fast Reactors (IFR), a type of breeder reactor, can use these spent fuel rods. Most of the interesting IFR designs are Generation IV. These Generation IV reactors would produce the highest thermal efficiency with the least nuclear waste. Civilian use breeder reactors and reactors that use the breeder reactor concept without being classified as breeder reactors are in use around the world. Canada's CANDU reactor design is an example of a more efficient reactor design where the principle of a breeder reactor is used but bred fuel is used making energy instead of making Plutonium. While CANDU has an exemplary safety record, the US has not embraced the design. The CANDU design has operated safely long enough that the US stance could and probably should change.

The CANDU and Generation IV designs can make use of spent LWR fuel rods reducing the amount of potential nuclear waste. Our current energy secretary has highlighted the need for a blend of Generation III and Generation IV technology. Though I am not sure this is a direct quote from the secretary, it is a good one: "Breeder reactors can “burn” some nuclear waste components (actinides: reactor-grade plutonium and minor actinides), which could turn a liability into an asset. Another major waste component, fission products, would stabilize at a lower level of radioactivity in a few centuries, rather than tens of thousands of years. The fact that 4th generation reactors are being designed to use the waste from 3rd generation plants could change the nuclear story fundamentally—potentially making the combination of 3rd and 4th generation plants a more attractive energy option than 3rd generation by itself would have been, both from the perspective of waste management and energy security." (From Wikipedia).

The advantages of Generation IV designs are obvious, but I am going to withhold recommending one over another until I do more research. The CANDU design though has a proven track record and offers many of the advantages of Generation IV.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

On Attribution of Extreme Weather Events

I wasn't going to post anything today, but a relative brought an article to my attention about how the Earth's magnetic field shifting was causing extreme weather like tropical cyclone Yasi and flooding in Australia. The article, Magnetic Polar Shifts Causing Massive Global Super Storms is pretty sensational. If it is true, I have been wasting time pondering Our Energy Future and should be getting my affairs in order for December 2012.

There are several discussions going on around the internet about what's the deal with the weather. Here is a good example, Attribution of Extreme Events: Part II on Dr. Judith Curry's Climate Etc. blog. The Earth's magnetic field shift does not get much mention on this site frequented by scientists, wanna be scientists and whack jobs like myself. No mention because it is impossible to attribute recent extreme weather to the drifting of the Earth's Magnetic field. In one of the links provided at the end of the article is this quote with my emphasis added:

"The fact that the Fluff is strongly magnetized means that other clouds in the galactic neighborhood could be, too. Eventually, the solar system will run into some of them, and their strong magnetic fields could compress the heliosphere even more than it is compressed now. Additional compression could allow more cosmic rays to reach the inner solar system, possibly affecting terrestrial climate and the ability of astronauts to travel safely through space. On the other hand, astronauts wouldn't have to travel so far because interstellar space would be closer than ever. These events would play out on time scales of tens to hundreds of thousands of years, which is how long it takes for the solar system to move from one cloud to the next." From NASA's Voyager Make Interstellar Discovery article.

In the Scientific American article link added I read this, "He cautions in a commentary accompanying the report that it remains too early to tell if the planet is in the early stage of a polarity reversal. "But the rapidly evolving reversed-flux patches suggest that an attempt at reversal may be under way,"

The author references this paper about Midday Magnetopause, but there is considerable difference between Magnetic storms and tropical storms. Without digging much further, it is pretty clear to me that the author has ventured into territory he should spend a little more time studying before publishing. Then, that is why I started this blog, to ferret out things that make sense from the noise of nonsense on the internet.

There was another article not too long ago about the Earth may have two suns for a while in 2012. That could happen any time from now to about a million years from now. Both of these articles are good examples of How to Hype.

Here is a well written conclusion about Terrance's Paper:


So what’s the takeaway from all this?

Well, the big one is that breathless doomsday articles are generally hugely misleading, if not outright wrong. This one is certainly wrong. Big claims with shaky evidence, exaggerated conclusions, an apparent misunderstanding of basic science, and lots of supposition stated as fact — all this points to the conclusion that this article distorts reality beyond recognition.

Sadly, it’s not the first, nor will it be the last. I already have at least two more such articles on my radar and I know there will never be an end to them.

Until doomsday really does come, of course. But don’t expect those guys to get it right if and when it does."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hydrogen Production as a Load Balancing Option

Despite my personal bias toward hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, hydrogen production has made a lot of sense to me even if it is not the transportation fuel of the future I think it is. As a matter of fact, the options hydrogen provide is the main reason I think is our future fuel.

Co-generation is a great way to improve efficiency of any kind of power plant. To get the maximum benefit of co-generation and some other power options, hydrogen is interesting.

Combination power and heat is a basic co-generation design. Waste heat, normally in the form of hot water or steam is used to heat something that needs heating. Northern Europe and to a lesser extent the US has hot water piping used to provide hot water for building heating and industrial applications. Most industrial applications are designed so that there is a pretty equal demand for both the power and the heat so the plant can operate at peak efficiency. Hot water demand varies widely in building heating applications which means some other use of the hot water is needed or the efficiency is greatly reduced. There are a lot of ways that the excess heat can be used, but often it is just sent to the cooling towers and is lost.

Sulphur-Iodine cycle thermolysis is an efficient process to produce hydrogen developed by General Atomics in the 1970's. It was developed as a co-generation process for nuclear power plants, but can be used with any heat process, fossil fuel, solar or geothermal for examples. Hydrogen itself is not an energy source it is just a storage state for energy, like a gas battery if you will. Hydrogen production using S-I cycle can be used in state of the art tri-cycle co-generation. An example would be electric from a super critical steam turbine with the high temperature steam out of the turbine powering the S-I cycle and the lower temperature condensate (hot water) being used for a heating purpose or pumped back into the boiler to save energy. The Hydrogen produced could be used to power a peak demand gas turbine for power or used for transportation fuel or enriching natural gas. So fuel cells do not have to make a big splash in transportation for the hydrogen to be useful.

A tri-cycle co-generation plant can operate at nearly 90% efficiency which is crazy efficient! A typical coal plant without co-gen is about 40% efficient and a normal co-gen plant could hit about 80% efficient, but 60% is more common. Hydrogen production does knock the efficiency of tri-cycle down in some cases to around 75%, but that is still pretty good use of fuel. The hydrogen part of the tri-cycle is not required, but it has advantages in a number of cases without transportation fuel needed as a product.

As I wrote before, there is a lot of money invested in coal power plants in the US. Some coal plants are being converted to natural gas, but natural gas infrastructure limits how many can be converted. Retrofitting a good number of coal plants to dual cycle and tri-cycle co-generation just makes too much sense economically not to happen.

Converting to natural gas reduces carbon dioxide emissions by half of what was produced by the coal, but doubling the efficiency of coal does the same thing. That means co-generation in natural gas powered plants is probably going to happen to maximize efficiency and minimize CO2 emissions. Another opportunity for hydrogen production.

Wind and solar power is intermittent which makes integration with the national grid a little more challenging. Electrolysis production of hydrogen is less efficient that S-I cycle, but using electricity at 40% efficiency in hydrogen production is better than wasting it entirely. So there are applications there depending on options in the area the power is produced.

Coal gasification, one of the "clean coal" options, decomposes coal into its basic elements carbon and hydrogen plus a few other elements. Then a variety of products can be made from the basic building blocks or the hydrogen burned to create energy. The creativity of chemical engineering minds will determined how well those building blocks are used. Anyway, another potential source of excess hydrogen.

The S-I process was developed for generation IV nuclear power plants, so there is yet another potential source of excess hydrogen.

Just looking at all this, I just cannot see a hydrogen energy economy not being in our future, but then I am not in charge. I have mentioned all of this before, but I put it together this way to look at the economic aspects of future energy production. I hate statistics, but they can be useful in the proper hands. So looking at existing investment in different areas of energy production and use, a more accurate estimate of which technologies, in which proportions and how much it is all going to cost may be made. I want to look at it in a US only perspective. While UN mandates sound like the plan for some, the UN's track record is not that impressive to me. It is more likely that one of the group of six, or the group of six, will start plotting their own course in the hopes that the rest of the world will follow.

So I will review this and once it is cleaned up try to start a discussion with people more experienced in the different areas.

Solar Cycle Stuff

I am posting this more to see how to post this kind of stuff than anything else. It is neat though. It is a magnetic image of the formation of some sun spots. Huge arches of magnetic fields form over the sun spots that look look pretty much like freckles on the sun. With the magnetic imagery and a little imagination you can see the amazing turmoil happening in each of those little freckles which are much bigger than the size of Earth.

Copied from www.Wattsupwiththat.com

For the past few years the sun has been pretty boring. Now that it is coming out of its quiet time, more activity will be visible, though this cycle is not expected to be very active. If you have a kid of your own or want to rent one, you can make a pin hole camera to view the sun spots the way they were viewed hundreds of years ago. Then bust out the computer to show the neat stuff we can see in today's world. Try not to act too nerdy though, it can freak the kids out.

Here one that uses a little graphics to help those with no imagination.

I will add some more links later if I get around to it.

The Glow in the Dark Option - Oh, my!

I have been meaning to write a little something about nuclear power plants for a long while. Radiation is one of those scary unseen things that horror movies and nightmares are made of. That means that a rational discussion is impossible because irrational perceptions defy logic. Way back when Three Mile Island hit the news there was so much sensational press that it scared the hell out of everyone. The news media was talking about how catastrophic the accident was and throwing out unfamiliar terms like picocurries and millirems. Real scary stuff for people that have no clue what either of those are. Back in the day, I tried to explain how much radiation living in a concrete block house exposed you to but that never sunk it. Then radon made the news because it can leak into your house and cause more nightmares. I actually made a little money off of radon testing and indoor air quality testing in general. BTW, mold due to water leaks and unwanted condensation is the number one cause of unhealthy indoor air quality in case you are wondering. In most cases, stopping the leaks and treating with bleach or vinegar with ease the problem.

My concrete block thing never caught on. It was perfect for me since I have been involved in construction most of my life. Anthony Watts made a post today that is a lot better, the banana dose. People, plants and animals are constantly exposed to nuclear radiation. How much, how fast and what type are the things that should be considered not if. Just about everything puts off some radiation, dirt, concrete blocks and food. Bananas are high in potassium which is a good health food ingredient if you want to live and live without cramps. BUT BANANAS ARE RADIOACTIVE!! Oh my (fill in your own higher power)we are all going to DIE!! Duh!

Using Watts' data, a banana dose is 520 picacurries, so over a year's time eating one banana a day, an annual banana dose is 3.6 millirems or 36 micro sieverts[1]. As with all analogies, the banana dose is less than perfect. The body gets rid of excess potassium-40, the main radioactive element in bananas, so that makes it less of a direct comparison. Remember how much, how fast and what type are important. So the US government in its code of federal regulations has a occupational dose regulation that tries to explain all that here.

Since we are bombarded by radiation everyday from all sorts of stuff, it is something we have to deal with. Rapid doses like big time nuclear accidents kill cells in the body fast, causing radiation sickness. Slow exposure causes cell damage and DNA mutation. If you got rid of everything you think cases cancer, there will still be cancer because of background radiation we can do nothing about. If you are a health freak, there are things you can do to reduce the effects of radiation on your body. Eat more foods high in potassium iodide like kelp, yogurt and 2% milk (woohoo, I like milk and sushi, can't stand baby burp much though). I am using Lance Armstrong's site for this information.

The US government and most countries in the developed world have done studies on the negative health impacts of nuclear power plants and declared them safe unless you trust communist quality control standards. There really aren't that many good government conspiracies yet, so the data is pretty accurate and the occupational dose limits are pretty conservative. Personally, I would rather live by a nuke plant than a coal plant or near high tension power lines.

The only good thing about mistakes is that you can learn things. Three mile island was nothing compared to Chernobyl. The first lesson is low bid is preferred to state controlled. Then if you dig into the design stuff you will find that there are "walk away" reactor designs. So even if Chuck's cousin Will, that was dropped on his head a few times in childhood, gets into the union, he would have to do things way beyond his grade level to cause a meltdown. The second thing is that a lot of these walk away designs can use lower grade fuel. There is a lot of talk about Thorium reactors right now. It is kind of a yawner subject to me since Depleted Uranium reactors are about the same thing, but without the sexy name. Sex sells though, so whatever floats your boat.

Small Modular Reactors (SMR) are a sexier subject to me since they are like cookie cutter power plants manufactured in large manufacturing facilities where security and quality control can be better maintained. There are a variety of SMR designs. Light Water Reactors are proven technology. Think US Navy nuke plants that have one kick butt safety record. Some others are a little more tricky, which is not all that good a thing to be jumping on out of the gate. SMR's average about 300 to 500 Megawatts each which is good for spreading power production to extend the life of the existing electrical distribution grid. Estimated cost per Kilowatt/hour is from 6 to 9 cents. Anything nuclear in the US pretty much means the high end of the estimate. Then that is the kinda things rational, technologically savvy geeks would think about. Maybe Brad Pitt, Susan Sarandon or some other Hollywood genius can set us straight on the technological aspects?

Anyway, if you read Popular Science as a kid you know most of their predictions for the future were totally wrong. So planning for the "real" future is a little harder than reading what some semi-retired whack job is spouting off about the future. You actually have to think for yourself since you will be voting for the guys planning our future. Nuclear reactors designed so 18 year old kids can operate them safely is not something you should disregard in favor of fancy new designs that are unproven. In time, those designs can prove themselves, but until then we have to make the best use of what we have. So after you do your research, a SMR-LWR power plant with walk away safety design is something you could have near your house without worrying about your cat having kittens with two or more heads. Submariners in the US Navy nearly sleep on top of that technology and still do normal procreating.

How much we can count on nuclear power in the future is up in the air. All it would take is one "Invasion of the Nuclear Bananas", horror flick to shut it all down.

A little more reading for the interested, Three Mile Island Accident Health Effects. This is really interesting reading if you go through the whole article in Wikipedia. The initial Government report determined that nothing much happened health wise. Either fear factor, class action law suit piling on or hyper awareness cause residents to report more heath problems which started another health study. That study showed an ~ 0.14 % +/- 0.07% increase in all cancer cases which is barely statistically significant. A study in 2008 found that thyroid cancer rates in the county of the reactor were 1/3 the rate of neighboring counties. Like the low level radiation dosages may have acted like a thyroid cancer vaccine. Pretty fascinating stuff but health statistics are not in my job description.

[1] 1 seivert (Sv) = 100 rem. 3.6x10^-3 rem = 36x10^-6 Sv. milli (10-3) and micro (10-6) is confusing to many reading technical stuff.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Climate Change Battle Ground

While by no means an expert, I spend a great deal of time studying how mankind is impacting climate and pragmatic action that can be taken to mitigate and/or adapt to climate change. Climate change has become a battle ground in the media and the blogosphere. The subject is difficult to understand and the rabid debate does little to improve understanding. Since I have insomnia tonight, I will type myself to sleep making a few points that I feel should be made.

1. CO2 is a trace gas in our atmosphere and many claim that a trace gas cannot impact climate. The fact is all of the so called greenhouse gases are trace gases, including water vapor which averages in the neighborhood of 3%(Correction: ~0.4% for the whole atmosphere, but water vapor is limited mainly to the lower atmosphere) and CO2 which is in the range of 0.04 percent. Four hundreds of a percent is small compared to 3% but the greenhouse impact of CO2 is larger than that of H2O. So before man started changing the CO2 concentration, water vapor contributed about 60% of warming and CO2 about 10% despite the differences in trace gas concentration.

2. How much a doubling of CO2 will warm the atmosphere is unknown. It will warm the atmosphere and reasonable estimates range from 1 degree C to 6 degrees C. Depending on your scientific source, 1.3 C to 4 C is a general range that seems to fit the imperfect temperature and model estimates.

3. Temperature records, temperature reconstructions and general climate models are imperfect. That does not mean useless. Independent work on all three show general agreement indicating they are useful though have some measure of uncertainty.

4. Current measurement of the sun's energy output indicates that solar variation has limited impact on climate (about 0.1 degree C). Scientific understanding of the sun's variation and that variation's impact on climate is far from complete. Solar scientists are often learning new things about the sun's complex behavior. There is no definitive proof that the sun drives climate more strongly than any other element that effects climate.

5. Natural internal variation of climate change exists and the total impact of natural internal variation on climate is unknown.

6. This one is currently a major battlefield. CO2 induce warming should be most noticeable in dry climates especially the north and south poles. So the impact of CO2 on climate should be evident in both the Arctic and Antarctic. Currently warming in the Antarctic is virtually immeasurable. This does not prove anything other than how difficult it is to measure climate change. It is very important to climate scientists that have differing estimates on the impact of a doubling of CO2 on climate that Antarctic warming be measurable.

Unfortunately, it is so important that some scientists are behaving very badly. There is name calling, misrepresentation of comments, abuse of statistical methodology and petty arguments that border on idiocy. That is not a mis-statement or understatement. It is a sad fact! Climate science has devolved into a political popularity contest. It is becoming impossible for a lay person to determine who to believe. There has to be a major overhaul of the climate science review process if any reasoned political measures are to be undertaken to mitigate climate change.

Before you start thinking I am a whack job, think about the poster child for climate science change, Dr. Eric Steig. First, the good doctor quoted Dr. Roger Pielki Jr. response to New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin, totally out of context. After cherry picking two sentences out of a two paragraph quote, Steig declared in a rant on the climate science blog realclimate that Pielki was "Wrong, Wrong, Wrong" when in fact he was not. Secondly, the good doctor Steig published a paper that made the cover of the prestigious Nature Magazine that was so full of math errors a normal scientist would die of embarrassment. Thirdly, after a group of [amateur] statisticians published a rebuttal to his paper showing appropriate math procedures that should have been used in his paper, he determined that statistical insignificance indicated by the rebuttal paper proved his original results were significant. What is extremely frightening is that a clique of climate scientists doggedly defend Steig's actions and dis-proven results. The clique is so intent on proving warming exists where none is measurable they have compromised their reputations.

There are knowledgeable climate scientists worthy of being heard that are overshadowed in the media by more vocal "advocates". There will be disagreements between scientists on the complex scientific challenge of climate change, but rational, ethical debate is much preferred to the nonsensical elitist name calling that dominates climate science currently.

Update: It should be obvious that I was hacked off when I wrote this. The reason deserves an explanation:

As an author, inadequate as I may be, I take copyright issues very seriously. I am not and I have not yet met anyone perfect. Should I make a mistake, I will readily admit it and make whatever corrections needed to straighten out any mess I may have made. Members of the clique I referred to have abused copyright laws through ignorance or intent, but tend to try to justify their mistakes rather than own up to them. Dr. Steig is mentioned specifically because I have written about his antics in the past and will continue to do so until he finds a clue, even though I do not know of any occasion he violated copyrights. Needless to say, I am not impressed with his statistical abilities nor his grasp of ethics and fair play.

Friday, February 11, 2011

High Speed Rail and the United States Conundrum

Actually, there are many more countries than just the United States that have problems developing an efficient high speed rail system, but America is a good example. Balancing the needs of a growing population spread over a huge area with responsible fiscal and environmental stewardship is one heck of a puzzle. Intra and near inter city mass transportation options improve with population density. That is a no brainer, so metro areas where the automobile traffic is so congested that personal vehicle use is impractical will receive most of the high and higher speed rail attention. It is just not cost effective in many other areas. The independent mentality of Americans is often blamed for our lack of high speed rail connecting the country. That is a part of the problem, but separating passenger rail from freight rail is the larger issue.

Because of the long distances between major metropolitan centers in the US, freight has a higher priority than passenger service. Goods do not mind taking a slow trip across the country, people do. Attempts to improve passenger rail utilizing existing rail infrastructures have met with very little success. The cost of separating passenger from freight over long distances is enormous and impractical since the estimated increase in passenger use of rail systems does not justify the cost. Heavy freight use deteriorates the rail system quickly. Passenger rail speeds are limited by track quality and traffic. So many proposed high speed passenger rail systems have been shelved because they make no economic sense.

Because of current economic and political situations, US high speed rail has been pushed into the spot light again. High unemployment and poor economic condition would seem to preclude high speed rail expansion. In reality, massive public works projects during poor economic times have stimulated economic growth. High speed rail would also impact the domestic airline industry which is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy daily it seems. So even in economic times when it is reasonable to take greater risk to improve infrastructure while stimulating the economy, it is still very difficult to justify high speed rail projects. There is no obvious solution that pops up. Thanks to my contrarian mentality, there may be a viable solution.

Game corridors to reestablish game migratory patterns disrupted by human encroachment have been proposed by environmental and conservationist groups. A reasonable start has been made in buying or leasing private land to expand game corridors. The Florida-Georgia wildlife corridor is an ongoing project. Elevated high speed rail along this corridor could be mutually beneficial to both efforts. Wildlife quickly grows accustom to the silly activities of humans when the activities do not rain death and destruction on their wildlife lives. High speed rail from Atlanta, GA to Orlando, FL could be cost effective if all things are properly considered. Politically, such a project may create strange bed fellows, but that is not a bad thing since nearly every situation requires political compromise.

Such a rail system would need to be designed to appeal to international tourists which would most likely be a large percentage of potential users. Many of these tourists are already accustomed to rail travel. Combined with a semi-wilderness experience, the trip itself may well attract ridership because of its educational and entertainment value.

Approached in this manner, longer distance high speed rail may actually prove to be viable even in a country full of people stubbornly clinging to the independence they enjoy with their personal vehicles. Just a thought.

UPDATE: Some people have read this and think the game corridor is like a hunter's Utopia kinda thing. The concept of the game corridor is to help reestablish the range of the Florida Panther and the southern black bear. One idea someone had was to use the corridor to extend the Appalachian Trail southward into Florida. I approve of that idea and most environmentalists and hunters approve as well. Strange bedfellows to say the least, but a worthy common goal.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For - You May Get it.

I have talked about taking pragmatic action very often. There are thousands of examples of how something seemed like a good idea only to result in a less than desired result. My marriage is one perfect example. Marriage in general is a good way to think about how critical choices can be. Half of all marriages end in divorce and the rest of the time somebody dies. Energy related choices are like that, there may be no right answer, only answers that allow us to die of old age or find a new mate. My energy choices boil down to things that will allow us to have fun longer.

Being broke, fighting, name calling and exchanging profane gestures are not my idea of fun. So my recommendations are intended to avoid such undesired outcomes. It requires considerable thought, intelligence, compassion and a little luck to make the right decisions.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFB)sounded like a great little idea to start the energy efficiency, save the planet ball rolling. That idea has problems because CFB cost more, don't last as long as advertised and cause serious pollution problems. States are passing laws to require CFB be used and older incandescent bulbs will become a thing of the past. In cold environments, that waste heat of incandescent bulbs is not actually wasted. So outright banning of regular old light bulbs makes no sense. I am getting ready to retro fit my fluorescent light fixtures with LEDs because I want to use less energy, have reliable light and not have to spend a fortune getting what I want. That solution works for me, but I would never demand that everyone use LEDs. People should think for themselves.

Ethanol from corn sounded like a good idea to reduce fossil fuel dependence and help save the planet. If you have been to the food store lately you may have noticed that turning food into fuel can cause undesired results. If you own an E85 vehicle and pay attention to your cost per mile, you may have noticed that that warm and fuzzy feeling you had when you bought the corn eater is not as warm any more.

Quick and easy fixes rarely work for very long. Putting all your eggs in one basket is risky. So a blend of technologies is probably the most rational choice. Each one of the technologies in the blender needs to be carefully considered.

Wind and solar technologies are intermittent and efficiency and cost to store their peak output for later use is a problem. So how large a role they have in the total energy picture is limited until some problems are worked out.

Hydroelectric, biomass and geothermal electric production is limited by our environment and how much we think we can get away with pushing our limits on our environment. There are areas where some environmental damage is worth the benefits they can provide.

Nuclear has security and waste storage issues. The benefit of some increase in nuclear energy production offsets some portion of those issues but not necessarily all.

Fossil fuels has pollution and security issues, but the investment in fossil fuel energy is too high to just stop. There is a benefit to continued use that decreases with time. Increase conversion efficiency can help mitigate the pollution issues and extend the time until other proven energy sources come online.

There are a variety of energy storage options each with its own advantages and disadvantages. No single one is a silver bullet to be used while the rest are abandoned.

There are a lot of warm and fuzzy thinkers out there that know they have the solution. Before you jump on their bandwagons, be careful what you wish for.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Greenhouse Gases and Climate Sensitivity - A Simple Analogy?

In the late 19th century Svante Arrhenius proposed a theory of global warming where carbon dioxide and water vapor increases in the atmosphere would warm the Earth like a "Greenhouse". The greenhouse analogy was a simple way to explain the molecular level interactions of radiant heat energy and atmospheric gases. Like most analogies, the Greenhouse Effect was less than perfect. In order to produce a better analogy, many have provided simple descriptions of how carbon dioxide, water vapor and trace gases interact with outgoing heat radiation to produce global scale warming, then relate that processes to other analogies like blankets and tanks. For some reason, improved analogies have done little to improve understanding of what happens in the atmosphere. Even well educated physicists are still challenging the concept of global warming by molecular interaction with heat radiation. The Book "Slaying the Sky Dragon - Death to the Greenhouse Theory" by Schreuder and O'Sullivan is a recent example of the complete misunderstanding of the relatively simple process of how Earth's atmosphere regulates temperature.

Since the space age there are plenty of examples of what happens to the surface temperatures of objects with no atmosphere when exposed to periodic sunlight. They warm with the light and cool when there is no light. The unregulated temperature swings are huge by Earth standards. The moon for example, has day temperatures as high as 123 degrees C and night temperatures as low as -233 degrees C. Even in the vacuum of space, heat flows from warm objects to cool objects. The heat flows via radiation. Electromagnetic radiation, some visible like sunlight and some invisible to the human eye. How quickly the heat flows for these bodies in space is well understood thanks to the work of many 19th century scientists.

There are two types of objects in space, those that produce electromagnetic radiation (heat) and those that do not. The Sun is an example of a radiation producer and the moon an example of one that does not. The Stefan-Boltzmann equation describes the rate that non heat producing bodies, called black bodies, emit heat energy to the cold reservoir of space.

The coldest temperature there is, called absolute zero, is -273.15 degrees C or zero degrees Kelvin (K). This is the theoretical temperature where all atomic motion stops. Motion is a form of energy and all energy can produce heat. The simplest atom is a positively charged nucleus (proton) orbited by negatively charged electron. Theoretically, at absolute zero, the electron stops orbiting the proton. Since no one knows what actually happens should that orbiting electron stop moving, absolute zero is a theory. We can save that discussion for another day and just admit that the theory of absolute zero is a good one.

During the day, the lunar surface is warmed by radiant heat from the sun. This is one point no one disagrees with. It is obvious that the sun warms people and things. When the sun is not present people and things cool which is also obvious. So sticking with the obvious, how do we keep from becoming too cool? By insulating ourselves to reduce the rate of cooling, cuddling up with something warm or generating heat to warm ourselves. The moon doesn't have any of those options so its surface just cools when not in sun light. It does not cool to absolute zero though. Since the moon is pretty big, it takes time to lose all its heat and the colder it gets the slower it loses heat. So the moon makes a good laboratory for us Earthlings to study to find out how much we would cool if there was no atmosphere.

The average temperature of the moon is about -23 degrees C. By looking at the difference in the thermal mass of the Earth and the thermal mass of the moon, it can be calculated that the Earth's average temperature would be about -18 degrees C if we had no atmosphere. We will leave that calculation for another day, but despite all the uncertainties involved, that is a pretty solid estimate. The actual average temperature of the Earth with atmosphere is about 33 degrees warmer than it would be without an atmosphere. There are all sorts of uncertainties involved with this determination as well, but it is a pretty solid estimate. So unless someone really wants to pic nits, the atmosphere reduces the rate of Earth's cooling and heating to maintain a temperature roughly 33 degrees C greater than it would be if we did not have an atmosphere.

In sunlight, the Earth does not warm as much as the moon because of really two things, reflectivity and thermal mass. Reflectivity, called albedo, is fairly simple to explain. If you walk barefoot on a black top road in the sun you will notice that the road is a lot warmer than the sand that may be beside the road. Darker surfaces absorb more heat than lighter colored surfaces. Black is less reflective of light than white. The Earth has white clouds, snow and other colored surfaces than black that absorb less light energy. The moon is also not black or we would not be able to see it so easily in the night sky.

Thermal mass is a little harder to explain, but certain objects take longer to heat and/or cool than others. Solid things like land masses warm more quickly than liquid things like oceans. Gaseous things like air warm much more quickly because air has very little thermal mass. Anything that has mass, has thermal mass. Thermal mass is how much heat something can hold. So in general the more mass something has, the more heat it can hold, the more heat something can hold, the longer it takes to transfer heat to it relative to objects that have less thermal mass. There is a difference between pure mass and thermal mass. Seventy percent of the Earth's surface is water which has a very high thermal mass. Land area has thermal mass that varies considerably, but is less than water as far as the Earth's surface is concerned. So the oceans heat and cool slower than the land. This is obvious to anyone that lives near an ocean or a large lake.

In the day, reflectivity and thermal mass regulate how quickly the Earth's surface warms. At night reflectivity is replaced by emissivity. Emissivity describes how quickly heat can flow through a gas mixture. This is harder for many to understand since we can't see radiant heat and for the most part, can't see the gases interacting with the heat flow. Luckily, clouds are easy to see and are part of what changes emissivity. Most people have noticed how a blanket of clouds at night tend to keep the temperatures warmer than on a clear night. The clouds slow down the flow of heat from the surface. They don't stop the flow of heat. They don't reverse the flow of heat. They just slow down the flow of heat, just like a blanket slows down how quickly we lose heat. So the blanket analogy is pretty good for a basic understanding of how atmospheric gases "blanket" the Earth to regulate temperatures.

Even on a clear night things are happening to regulate temperature that we can't see. Think of it as a very thin blanket if you must, but this is where the neat stuff is happening on a molecular scale. Some describe it as down welling heat or back radiation, but it is not. The direction of heat flow never changes, only the rate of flow. That is why the tub, dam or sink analogies were proposed. The heat flow is like a faucet or stream flowing into a basin with a drain or overflow. If the flow in is equal to the flow out, the water level remains the same. Carbon dioxide is like hair building up in the drain or a beaver sticking a log in the overflow. If nothing else changes, the water level will rise. Molecules made of different elements temporarily can capture a tiny packet of heat energy called a photon and release it quickly. The molecules release their energy captive in random directions. The molecules don't aim the packets back at Earth. The molecules don't fly back down to Earth to release their hostage. The molecules just momentarily impede the progress of the packets on their journey to space. The more they impede the flow the higher the water gets.

Added 2/10/11: In the atmosphere the water level is like the lapse rate. The lapse rate is the rate of decrease of temperature with height. I may expand on this later.

So probably the best analogy for many people would be a highway patrol car with its lights on parked beside the interstate. People slow down to avoid getting a ticket, traffic starts to get a little congested and there is no obvious reason why until you see the cop car.

All of these analogies are lacking in some form or the other, since they only look at a small part of the picture. They neglect the other things that happen because something else is happening. These are known as feedbacks. If you see the traffic congestion and get off the road to have lunch, you just provided negative feedback to the traffic situation. In other words you did not add to the problem. If you slow down because you see some traffic congestion or you are a lookie lou, you have a positive feedback to the traffic situation. If you keep honking your horn, you are positively a pain in the butt feedback to the traffic situation. (Sorry, I could not resist.)

Water vapor is a lookie lou. Warmer air can hold more water vapor and water vapor is a packet grabbing molecule. Water vapor can also be the driver opting for lunch since just because warmer air can hold more water vapor doesn't mean the water vapor wants to be held. And water vapor is a pain in the butt because it forms various kinds of clouds that may provide positive or negative feedback.

Thermal mass is a pretty good driver that goes with the flow most of the time. Like any other driver on "your" road, thermal mass can be a pain in the butt. The deep oceans are a huge thermal reservoir that can be a little bit irritable. As long as another driver does not aggravate them, they warm gradually and cool gradually. All good drivers know that some time, some one is going to do something stupid and hack you off. In climate terms this is called internal variability. Most of the time, good drivers regain their composure rather quickly and start doing the good driver thing again. This would be short term variability that averages out quickly and has little if any impact on long term climate.

Even good drivers can only put up with so much crap, so they may start messing with the stupid drivers for a while until they get whatever measure of satisfaction they need at the time. This would be like decadal or multi-decadal internal variability. They seem to have some impact on climate, but it looks like they may average out over all.

On rare occasion, a couple of the good drivers may go postal and start taking it out on everyone. This would be climate shifts that can last for decades. These climate shifts probably have an impact on climate, but we really are not sure because we don't have enough data to know for sure.

So to conclude:

Carbon dioxide is a traffic cop with lights on slowing the heat traffic down a little.

Water vapor is most of the time a lookie lou slowing things down more because of the traffic cop.

Thermal mass, aka ocean heat content, is a good driver staying out of trouble most of the time.

Those three things really should not be a matter of debate.

The question is how many cop cars are going to show up, will the guys behind the lookie lou start laying on their horns and will that drive the good driver postal?

Like pretty much everything I have on this blog I may be back to update things :)

Added 2/10/11

If you want to get a more detailed explanation of back radiation or downward long wave radiation you can go to the blog, Science of Doom. They have a multi-part post on The Amazing Case of "Back Radiation" It is very comprehensive, as in very long and somewhat technical, though not a bad read really. I have no arguments with anything in their post other, than I feel that the terms back radiation and downward longwave radiation and down welling, needlessly complicate the situation making some believe that the second law of thermodynamics is being violated. Their description kinda goes against the zeroth law of thermodynamics which was added so that temperature could be interchanged with heat flow to simplify understanding of the laws of thermodynamics.

KISS or Keep It Simple Stupid, it the first thing most thermodynamics professors teach, which is why I find the concept of reversed, cold to hot, heat flow needlessly over complicated when the direction of flow, other than on a very small atomic level, does not change.

Should you read their posts you will learn a lot of neat stuff. Hopefully, you will pick up on how your frame of reference changes what your perception will be. So an Earth bound observer with a neat tool called a pyrometer which measures temperature, would be lead to believe that infrared radiation is flowing back at him while in actuality he is just measuring changes in rate of traffic flow :)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Our Energy Future and Counter Productive Thinking

For every positive view of an energy option there is at least one negative view of that same option. Depending on the last report read, the opinion of the general public sways. Is our energy future about politics?

Pretty much. Warm and fuzzy ideas like corn to ethanol and compact fluorescent light bulbs are embraced while better efforts are ignored by most but the faithful. Hydrogen technologies take a political beating while battery technology makes the headlines. So what is a hydrogen fuel cell fan to do? Just keep the faith and continue the research.

While it is far from a perfect analogy, look at your cell phone. Lithium Ion batteries are the cat's ass of battery technology. When brand new your phone holds a charge that amazes. Within a year that phone is old tech to be discarded in favor of a new high tech phone to wow your friends. That is about the time that that amazing lithium Ion battery starts lasting about half as long as it did when you first got your new old phone. If you happen to fall in love with your old phone because it doesn't butt call your friends, or you haven't bought a SIM reader to back up your stock of phone numbers, you have to start looking for a replacement or spare battery to keep it operating the way it once did.

The cost of a new battery for your cell phone is a minor PITA compared replacing the batteries in your one to two year old electric vehicle (EV). So we should write off electric vehicles because the battery technology sucks? I don't think so, you plan for the obvious.

That is what make Hydrogen so attractive, it has all the options to go with the energy consumption flow. Ballard Power has a niche industry they use to test fuel cells at at profit. Industrial material moving or fork lifts powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Ballard make a fuel cell module that replaces the standard lead acid batteries of electric fork lifts. So the EV affectionado has the fuel cell option to keep his/her pet EV running. EV's are short range vehicles for the most part. Converting an EV to low pressure hydrogen fuel is a near term reality. All the components are available and home generation of lower pressure hydrogen dropping in price. Demand is the key in all matters energy.

Long range alternative fuel technology vehicles require an infrastructure that meets their needs. Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) fans point out that there is already a CGN infrastructure. They are right, but you really have to look around to find it on the interstate. In areas with natural gas piped to homes for cooking and heating, for a fee, CNG owners can install a compressor to refuel their vehicles. Sweet! There is the compact fluorescent equivalent idea for personal transportation. Drop a couple of grand to convert your Internal Combustion Engine to CNG, throw another couple grand at a home compressor and off you go. Oh, but that demand thing pops up again. The existing natural gas pipelines are fine for current demand, normally, but additional demand would require more money thrown at upgrading the infrastructure. So blow off CNG? I don't think so. CNG vehicle run fine on hydrogen or hydrogen enriched natural gas. CNG fuel cells are also an option for the fuel cell gang that would prefer a hydrogen infrastructure but can make do with CNG.

Current hydrogen production is based on converting fossil fuels to hydrogen. So, can the hydrogen because it currently is not as "clean" as you fill in the blank. I don't think so because hydrogen has options, electrolysis and thermoloysis of water to hydrogen.

It is all about the options. Hydrogen is not an alternate energy, it is an option to use alternate energy with existing and future energy conversion technologies. Hydrogen is in our energy future.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Matter of Semantics – Clean Coal

Clean coal technology is now perceived as a coal combustion cycle that includes carbon capture and sequestering. Clean coal technology is actually any combustion technology that reduces harmful emissions and/or significantly improves combustion efficiency.

A one percent increase in combustion efficiency produces a two percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. So if you double the efficiency of a coal fired power plant you halve the carbon dioxide emissions per unit power. That is a cleaner coal technology that does not involve carbon capture and sequestering. It is an imperfect solution as there are still carbon dioxide emissions.

Co-generation or combined cycle heat and power, is a method of increasing the thermal efficiency of power plants fueled by any form of fuel. Co-generation is the use of waste heat from the combustion process, which is over 60 percent of the energy conversion, to provide useful work. Less waste equals greater efficiency.

Waste heat use is common in industrial applications where both heat energy and electrical energy are needed in the processes. In public utility applications, waste heat is most often used as a means of providing steam or hot water for building heating. The overall efficiency of co-generation in public applications is limited by the means of delivering the heat energy to the consumer and the average need of the consumer for the heat energy or demand.

Demand varies with season which places limits on many co-generation designs. Electrical demand can be steady or inverse to heating demand and vice versa. Maximum efficiency in co-generation can only be obtained where the demands remain relatively equal. In new designs, co-generation can take many forms. Gas turbine power plants that use waste heat for low pressure steam turbines for example. This allows for balanced loading. Utilizing existing power plants with useful life requires more creative co-generation options.

Pairing public utility generation of either form of energy with industrial use that can vary as needed to maintain high efficiency, is an option for many co-generation projects. Since these pairings do not always exist, many clean coal applications include hydrogen production that can vary with the demands allowing excess heat or electrical energy to be stored in the form of fuel, hydrogen, that can be consumed as needed.

While hydrogen generation and storage has its own inefficiencies, it greatly increases the efficiency of the overall combustion cycle if the hydrogen can be used in a reasonable time frame. Hydrogen is not easily stored which precludes long term storage as an option. Hydrogen applications would be peak demand use or conversion to synthetic fuels which are more easily stored for longer time periods.
To optimize combustion efficiency, balanced demand for all forms of energy generated or stored would be needed.

Hydrogen enriched natural gas is a relatively simple means of balancing hydrogen demand. Hydrogen is added to natural gas that is piped for use by normal natural gas consumers. This application utilizes the existing natural gas infrastructure. Use of the enriched natural gas reduces the carbon dioxide produced by natural gas consumers depending on the percentage of hydrogen in the enrich product.

As hydrogen production increases, expansion of the gaseous fuel infrastructure would be needed to improve the overall efficiency of the energy co-generation system. Conversion of internal combustion engines from petroleum products to enriched natural gas will increase with the expansion of the gaseous infrastructure if the cost of gasoline equivalent gallons offset the cost of conversion. Fuel cell technology, which has a higher efficiency than internal combustion, would become more attractive as the gaseous infrastructure expands.

Since all forms of public energy generation have to adjust to varying consumer demand, generation forms that are not well suited to demand adjustment would benefit from using hydrogen production during off peak periods should the gaseous infrastructure be cost effectively accessed. Condition dependent energy sources, wind and solar primarily, would benefit despite the lower efficiency of hydrogen production via electrolysis. Nuclear and coal fired power plants would benefit by using sulphur-iodine thermolysis hydrogen production to improve co-generation efficiency in areas where more common co-generation applications do not exist. Wikipedia provides a long list of hydrogen production methods.

In a perfect world, non-fossil fuel based energy options would be abundant and easily matched to our current energy delivery infrastructure and energy lifestyle. Dealing with our past imperfect choices to move into a more environmentally friendly energy future will require compromises to avoid economic chaos. Utilizing existing infrastructure and generation sources in the transition to a sustainable, independent future will require increased thermal efficiency of existing components while alternate energy sources are improved and brought online. Clean coal, meaning high efficiency coal use, is unfortunately a part of the progression to an energy independent future.