Why Clean Coal is Bullshit

As a tiny bit of background, I have been working on the nuts and bolts of dealing with climate change for about 30 years, somewhat by accident. When I went to work as an environmental engineer back in the US, you couldn’t even get an environmental engineering degree precisely (I have a chemical engineering degree) as the subject area was confined to “can we make drinkable water?” and “Can we treat water with poo in it before discharge?”

When I started, we were only about 10 years past a Time article I read as a young lad wondering if we were going to go into another ice age, because of what was being discovered in relation to the elliptical motion of he earth and the slight wobble the planet has on its axis. [Fun fact: these factors are now used by climate change deniers as reasons why climate varies naturally and so we shouldn’t worry about it.] Anyway, I have worked on doing things that are called emissions inventories, and air emissions compliance testing, and computer automation of emissions logging and estimation based on mass balancing, and then how one might produce a scientifically verifiable emissions reduction certificate such a way that it could be traded in a market like any other commodity (think pig belly futures), and then finally developing and demonstrating the methods by which companies large and small could do their CO2-e accounting in a way that caused minimal extra effort through their normal expense reporting processes.

This was all done as a thread in my whole career behind the scenes of earning a crust doing whatever industry and industrial clients needed at the time in relation to HSE risk identification and management.

Now I have realised over the past few years that I have pretty much wasted my career working on something that we aren’t going to do, or do in time at least since the Abbott government got elected with their whole chain of lies about the carbon tax, and the fact that they won public opinion with their fear mongering. So, we aren’t going fix up the worst problems with climate change and really, I should have been concentrating on zombie plan research or something more likely to be useful. The basic problem is that people won’t listen to any argument that can’t be wedged into a 30 second sound byte and doesn’t come with a catchy slogan. But the truth is the truth, especially when that truth follows the scientific method. Whether or not we can translate scientific truth into peoples’ lived experience is another thing entirely, I have found, and that is why I am, at the end of the day, a failure professionally. I actually now do know a couple of ways to translate how a 2°C average temperature rise manifests itself in events people could experience (not any specific one, you understand but in a trend), but really its too late once I can show someone that. The key lies, I believe, in getting people to understand through lived experience the nature of entropy.

The problem with getting people to understand entropy is that its like dark matter right here on earth. Entropy is enthalpy’s weird cousin. Enthalpy is a type of energy we call heat, but entropy is essentially chaos. You cannot see, touch or sense entropy directly, but only in the effects it has around you. But understanding entropy is essential in understanding climate change, as well as bullshit like clean coal, which I promise you, I will get to eventually.

The guy that really did the seminal work on providing our understanding entropy in my opinion was J. Willard Gibbs, who is the father of modern thermodynamics and who won the Nobel Prize for it, before there was an it (he won for statistical mathematics). But why don’t we remember him? Probably because he was actually just a bit too far ahead of his time. Scientists joked at the time that the only person that could understand Gibbs’ work was Maxwell (that’s James C. Maxwell of electromagnetism Nobel Prize fame). Most people remember Einstein, however, and Einstein identified Gibbs as one of the scientists he most admired. And that makes Gibbs up there in importance with Newton, Einstein and Hawkings, in my book.

Anyway, there are 4 laws of thermodynamics, and Gibbs helped translate what the equations of state are when mass becomes energy, energy transfers between systems, as well as to put some boundaries on what happens to entropy (the state of chaos) during the interactions. So, it can be a little bit thinky and its easy to give up on trying to follow it. However, the understanding of thermodynamics is the basis for things like energy production in internal combustion engines, refrigeration and superconductors, so its very real and not some faith (or even fake news!). Thermodynamics is like translation of something in 2 dimensions (mathematics) into the third dimension where we need things like refrigerators. But with refrigerators comes Category 6 cyclones. See, now your saying, there aren’t any, since classification of cyclones only goes up to Category 5. Which is true . . . today. But by the time they have to add the Category 6 classification and we can prove to enough people that through their lived experience, they are seeing a manifestation of a massive rise in entropy in their atmosphere, its really is too late, and I mean in the second law of thermodynamics sense.

However, while I must accept that we as a species will fail to do anything substantive to stave all but the worst effects of climate change, I would like to stop the further huge waste of money along the way, as that is an issue that apparently does resonate with most Australians. And so we arrive at “clean coal” technology. The same laws of thermodynamics that hold true for the rest of our known world also specifically and directly apply to the combustion of solid fuel material to produce electricity, waste heat and waste gases materials.

Each and every “clean coal” technology ends up requiring supplemental inputs in energy and cash to make them viable even as demonstration projects. So, it was nice to see an industry insider finally admit as much this morning in the ABC news. But I will go further and state categorically that there is not and will not be in my lifetime a scientifically and economically viable “clean coal” combustion device of any sort that can satisfy the first and second laws of thermodynamics. The Chevron Gorgon carbon capture and storage (CCS) project is not an example of combustion to capture and storage, and there is no viable ‘clean coal” system in operation anywhere in the world. Notice how we never see one advertised as actually available for operation? They are all pilot projects or experimental demonstration installations that will never be scaled up by private investors (because private investors believe in mathematics). Which basically means money for ‘clean coal’ technology is just cash handouts in the millions for R&D in the fossil fuel industries to get them not to lobby against upcoming legislation (ala John Howard), or bullshit additional spending that Josh Frydenberg wants to allow the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to loan (waste) money on. They want to waste public money on this grift because they know people, once again, don’t understand thermodynamics, don’t want to, and want to believe in something like “clean coal”.

Under no circumstances is an apples for apples comparison of any hydrocarbon burning and CCS system competitive economically now or in the foreseeable future to any viable renewable energy production facility (PV solar, solar heat, hydro or wind) whether we look at the systems themselves or examine the whole of lifecycle mass and energy balance of them. There is simply no way that a combustion energy plant can produce enough energy for recapturing and liquefying all its gaseous emissions, then store them, while at the same time producing electricity for the grid. Its called a perpetual energy machine and its bullshit and has been known as such since Da Vinci’s time.

See, the best of “clean coal” technology is sold to you as a complicated engineering thing that is added to the front end and back end of a standard coal fired steam generator. The ‘best’ of it is a combination of fuel processing and combustion burner technology to maximise the amount of energy production of each molecule of hydrocarbon burned and minimise the amount of nasties produced while doing that (NOx, SOx, CO, CO2, etc). This technology does work, but it is very expensive and raises the cost of a coal fired plant a lot. And, it still doesn’t allow each molecule of coal burned to generate more energy than the first law of thermodynamics allows, meaning that about 2/3 of a molecule of coal becomes waste heat and only a third of it becomes electricity. Second, we have to capture all (or a significant part) of the waste CO2 that is produced in our coal plant as a result of the second law of thermodynamics and absorb or adsorb it into liquid or solid, then transport that liquid or solid material to long term storage, and that equipment is both costly and energy intensive. So what you get is a Rube Goldberg machine that costs more in materials and energy than it can produce. See a graphical representation of the mass and energy balance comparison between coal, clean coal and a couple of renewables below to simplify things a bit. Just skim the pictures and you tell me which is more expensive to build and operate.

To waste any more taxpayer money on this bullshit idea, that should be called as such at every opportunity, is criminal, especially while we also continue to subsidise the dirty fuel required to extract other dirty fuels, and build roads and railroads to service dirty fuel production, all the while hearing complaints about how wind and solar are getting “unfair” subsidies.

If we aren’t going to do anything about climate change, then lets at least be honest about it. We’re gonna live it up until your kids, or your grandkids start having to pay the piper. We simply don’t fucking care as a whole of society if there is even the slightest risk of it raising our electricity prices even perceptibly. But lets not buy any more of this snake oil like we are back in the days of the travelling salesman. I can move to America if I want that shit sold by their current orange carnival barker.

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Mr. Trump, can I have some more winning, please

OK, in the vein of, “We’re going to be winning so much, you’ll get tired of winning” (May 26, 2016); now that we are all in this together with you as my Pr*sident, Mr. Trump, I’m prepared to get on board.

I’m pretty happy with the wins so far, from my perspective with you driving the ship of state, that’s:

• Muslim ban 0-2 in its battle with the constitution. A clear win
• Repeal the Affordable Care Act 0-1 (which I for one will now START calling Obamacare, in homage to a guy who was competent enough to at least get half a shit sandwich passed)
• Expose Paul Ryan as not brilliant and also not competent at his job, a bonus win
• Expose Devin Nunan as complicit and incompetent, and shifting the situation closer to a special prosecutor appointment

So, can I have some more winning, please. Can I have a win in 100% of all Senate Democrats voting “no” to Gorsuch, and “no” to any other Supreme Court nominee, with the exception of M. Garland, who was duly selected by a President a year before leaving office. If there is no vote on Garland, then vote “no” until such time as the next Democratic President is elected to make another nomination. There is no rule that the Supreme Court is required to be filled by 9 justices, and I for one am happy to take the win as leaving it open for now. Now, the Republicans make threaten to go ‘nuclear’ on this and any other appointments going forward, I’m not cool with that. But hey, as indicated above, I’m very interested in seeing the rules applied, so I will be satisfied that the Democrats will carry on any tradition set by the Republican Senate with regard to rule changes.

We need some more wins more quickly, Mr. Trump, because we need the Big Win (your removal from office) to occur soon to prevent more of the serious losses that we are bit quiet about, but are real problems for the US, like:

• Repealing rules that required companies to report their bribery overseas
• Signing a bill that allows mining companies to once-again dump their waste into streams and rivers
• Your appointments across the board who will either waste money or destroy their departments
• Every day that R. Tillerson, S. Gorka, J. Sessions and S. Bannon spend in their positions doing damage to US credibility at home and abroad


An unfortunate constituent

The word you are looking for is ‘repulsive’

So, finally we may have reached the point where Trump will lose significant support and endorsements for using language that was so vulgar and mysogynistic that even stalwart supporters reacted negatively. I believe that there will be a significant number of wives and girlfriends of white supremacists that will secretly vote for Hillary. Plenty of his core white male support will also have wives, daughters or mothers that could be the target of behaviour like that displayed by Donald Trump, and will also be repulsed by it.

I actually reckon that his campaign had jumped the shark last week when people started leaving his event about half way through the 40 minute rant after he was 80 minutes late. But hopefully this latest revelation is the end of him in this election. The racism, sexism, and bigotry to virtually every constituency I can think of already displayed didn’t seem to do it. Nor has the documented evidence of his poor business skills or the proclivity he has displayed to defraud anyone he encounters in business.

But his final failure is clearly the fact that he is a pathological liar. That’s right, a liar so complete that he believes his own lies and is deluded enough to think that audio, video or written records will somehow disappear, or can be explained away as some conspiracy theory.

Spy magazine clearly nailed it when they dubbed him a short fingered vulgarian in the ’80s.

Precisely what is wrong in the world

I note from the ABC the recent closing of the article on the Pluto flyby:

Following its encounter with Pluto and its satellites, New Horizons will continue its one-way journey. . . . Its radioactive power supply will last into the 2030s; NASA wants to focus investigations on two more objects in the Kuiper Belt but will need to secure more funding to make that happen.

With all the stupid shit we fund in the world, we can’t even find a couple million bucks to continue examining the world around us. Truly doomed as a species at this rate.

Love Your Work Jen

This is exactly how it works here in Australia in relation to taxing mining, addressing climate change and other issues, and she says it more succinctly than a 3 page rant from yours truly.

Attribution: Jen Sorensen

Issue of the Day – Asylum Seekers

Some previous background on this issue can be found in an earlier post The Cruelty Index, and the associated video of the same title on YouTube.

This is a really tough issue, because we definitely want to be firm with lawbreakers, but not resort to cruelty, incredible amounts of monetary waste, or becoming international lawbreakers ourselves. Unfortunately this is exactly what we are doing with this government, or the last, for that matter. But there are solutions.

You can take it from me, or go to a more reputable source, like Mr. Julian Burnside QC, who published details of an approach that is fair, just, and not cruel or wasteful of money around the time I was last talking about this.

It’s personally an issue I have been trying to put forward solutions to since 2000 when the Howard government was throwing out “Babies Overboard”. I sent my ideas in writing in great detail at the time to a bloke named Mark Latham, who was trying to become the next Prime Minister at the time. But they were ignored, as the non-intelligent are prone to do with good ideas.

Actually, I am being unfair to Mark, as I don’t think the ideas even made it to the man himself, but I did get them into a brief exchange with the aide that operated his email account.

As an immigrant myself, I wanted to come up with a proposal that is:
• Firm on lawbreaking. In this case the people smugglers who operate boats for money to deliver asylum seekers to Australia;
• Humane and in-line with our international obligations;
• Fair from the perspective of the average Australian citizen; and,
• Fiscally sound, and even beneficial to the country in the medium term.

The first part of my solution is firm application of the law to people smugglers, who I believe can be classified as pirates under the law of the sea. The Australian Navy or Customs vessels that intercept asylum seeker boats shall take the vessel under control, capture and take all personnel on the vessel into custody and safety scuttle the vessel at sea. All passengers shall be taken to the nearest safe port where the government is a party to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees. In many cases this will be Christmas Island, as a lot of our SE Asian neighbours are still not signatories to the convention, and frankly ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Once all vessel passengers are onshore, they shall be processed to determine valid asylum claims, criminal records, and complete health screening. This will include interviews with all passengers to make every effort to identify the people smugglers.

People smugglers will go into mandatory detention and prosecution, regardless of their age and have all assets stripped. Children amongst this group will be returned to their family in their home country, where this can be established, and after full interrogation and processing. Adult people smugglers will get life without parole, or the harshest penalty allowed for pirates following successful trial.

All remaining vessel passengers will be classified as refugees and processed for relocation to an acceptable interior location until such time as their asylum claims have been fully processed and put on a basic allowance from Centrelink. Housing can either be purchased on the basis of the allowance, or provided from surplus accommodation available in a host location.

Any local government area can apply to host refugees up to a limit of a small percentage of their population, if they can demonstrate availability of work for a portion of refugees they want to take. Infrastructure upgrades from the federal government to local communities will be made available to ensure the refugees can be housed, provided basic health care and schooling (mandatory for all ages unless proficiency in English and a skill can be demonstrated) where they will be hosted.

Any refugees being hosted on a temporary basis that are found to break the law in a significant way, or are serial offenders in minor lawbreaking will be sent to mandatory detention and deportation/prosecution at the first opportunity available. In short, fit in or fuck off.

All refugees will be allowed to work, pay taxes and fund superannuation, in a manner similar to people on 457 visas. Refugees that have valid asylum claims assessed will be provided with residency visas that require them to stay in the original hosting community for a period of at least three years, prior to being free to move anywhere they choose. Businesses and states that want to sponsor temporarily hosted refugees may apply to do so as they would people on 457 visas and relocate them for work.

If conditions improve in the home country of refugees during the period of temporary hosting to the satisfaction of the Australian government, refugees may be returned to their home country at no cost to themselves. Any refugee that wants to voluntarily return to their home country in the period from initial processing but before the three year period of temporary hosting is up may be returned to their home country at no cost to themselves.

This is a fair, firm and economically beneficial system that meets our international commitments and is no picnic for refugees. It should be applied to all, regardless of their manner of arrival. It will also be economically beneficial to Australia in the medium to long term because it can be statistically demonstrated that immigrants (regardless of their reason for arrival) cost a country a small amount in the first several years they are here, but pay back into the system much more in the 5 to 10 years after that. Don’t trust me on that, look it up. Immigrants, especially refugees, are extremely grateful to have an opportunity to start fresh, and can be educated on our rule of law, the benefits of learning English, and often bring skills and capabilities with them that we need. How much would some small towns with seasonal harvest work benefit from a workforce that was available and interested? Often refugees are also doctors, tradies and intellectuals like artists. We can use all three of those in small towns, or at least all the ones I remember.

In summary, we need not be a pushover to resolve the issue of asylum seekers, and can absorb them in a manner that is organised and beneficial for both the host and the refugee, while dealing appropriately with criminals.

An Honest and Fair Mining Tax

Hey, today I want to talk to you about a serious issue that we have been mislead about and had ignored in serious examination by the media. I want to talk to you about how the public is regularly screwed out of taxes and fees the government ought to be collecting on big mineral extraction businesses. Because the mining industry spent $20 million on an ad campaign when we last spoke about the mining tax, the labor government wimped out, and let mining lobbyists write the legislation, so you know what that said. They all paid little or nothing on that in the first year it was in.

The miners ads said that if we put mining tax (actually called the minerals resource rent tax) up the economy would collapse, and Australian businesses would all go down, when the mining industry closed up all over the country. Real wrath of god type shit.

The truth is, the mining tax should more accurately be called the resource super profits tax (RSPT), and here is how it was supposed to work in its original form:
1. First up, it gives a fair rate of return for the mining company. They pay no resource super profits tax until
they get 6% return on capital back themselves as profit. You’d have to be Warren Buffet
2. After that, the Australian public, which owns the finite resource, is given a 40% share of the profits.
3. It eliminates a confusing bunch of confusing royalties and fees paid to the states at present, and all royalties
presently paid to the states would be rebated.

But let’s look at the main point of contention, the 40% rate. A RSPT would not “kill off mining and related small businesses” as claimed by the mining industry ads. How do I know this? Because it has happened before, and right here in Australia. Remember the wailing and gnashing of teeth when Australia set the tax rates on all the offshore gas we are now developing for shipment to eager customers.? . . . . . Yeah, I didn’t think so, but it happened, believe me. And guess what, the guys moving the LNG are paying a super profits tax very similar to what is proposed for land based mineral extraction under the RSPT.

So on April 5, vote the Australian Democrats, because the resource super profits tax is just part of what we call sustainable prosperity, and a fair return for all of Australia.

Spot On

I don’t actually comment on culture much, although I have my views. Sometimes though, you could comment, or you could just pass on those who you are surprised are residents of Dallas, TX but are appreciative that they are there.

You rock, Dale.

Woah there big fella!

OK, in an otherwise excellent post about the out of touchness of CEOs, Vyan goes way too far by saying:

“As a matter of fact most Investment people like Perkins, Zell or even Mitt Romney don’t actually do any real “work” at all, because their Money Does their Work For Them in the form of gaining interest and paying dividends.”

This is kinda bullshit. As a Director and company owner, I worked my way up from the bottom of a business I built myself with no outside investors gifting me anything, or inheriting the whole show. As a result of that, I also have a significant retirement investment account I manage myself and do quite well at, thank you. But if you think for a second that all the research, analysis and planning that I do to make sure I meet or exceed the markets I invest in isn’t work, then fuck you. If you think I shouldn’t use the advantage I have in intelligence, patience and opportunity to make the most of my time, money and ideas, then once again, fuck you. If I am smarter than you and as a result have a better job and am on the way to financial independence and you don’t like it, {ahem} well, you know the drill. It’s ok, I don’t need to be loved by all, but I bet I will be included in many people’s zombie plans, so I sleep OK.

What you should be focusing on is whether the whole package of labour, capital and ideas I am putting into a business and assess whether I am duly compensated for that. A good basis has always as a multiplier of the CEO salaries in comparison with the average worker salary. Way back after WWII it used to be in the 40s. When Ronnie the Raygun took office in the USA, it was 78. Its over 4000 today. Hmmmmmm, but what does the peak CEO do for the world? Isn’t he responsible for making the whole economy work, keeping liquidity maintained and other superhero type shit like that? well, fuck no obviously.

The same guys that inflate the big bubbles in the economy, overheat them with outright fraud and then watch as the fuckers explode while counting their fees based on the transaction, not the OUTCOME of the transaction, get 4000 times the average worker in their companies. And I understand that Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman’s actually spends the large amount of any given week wandering around the house in his undies eating chips, drinking beer and playing whatever Call of Duty is currently hot. And hey, I got no problem with that. You are basically describing my perfect weekend several times a year. But it ain’t worth 4000 times, is all I’m saying.

There’s a revolution coming, and things have gotten so out of balance in the balance between the return on money, ideas and labour in the world, that when it does occur, it’s going to be quite a shock to some, if the balance is corrected.

I Could Be Fucking Brilliant

Yeah, things I propose in detail one day can become the policy of nations a couple days later, completely unknown to me at the time I derived the concept.