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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