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Miriam's Dreamwidth blog
2015-05-03 10:04 am (UTC)
Very interesting about Foyson Resources. Thanks for the pointer. It's wonderful that someone is doing this, though I'm a little disappointed they are being secretive about their processes instead of doing what Elon Musk is with all his ventures now, where he opens them all up to other companies. That, I think, is the way of the future. I'm also a little disappointed they are concentrating primarily on producing fuel, mostly diesel, as far as I can see. I'd be happier if they were more interested in using the converted plastic as feedstock for plastics, pharmaceuticals, libricating oils, and so on. They seem stuck in the mindset of burning stuff. A pity, but at least a step in the right direction of recycling plastics much more effectively than we currently do, even if it does still add greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere.
:) Yeah, solar furnaces can reach incredible temperatures -- far higher than coal/coke furnaces. Interestingly, iron and steel were two of the functions I was thinking about recently. The process would have to be substantially redesigned, but it would be far cleaner and have no fuel costs so it should be much more efficient. The drawback of only receiving sunlight during the day can be worked around using heat storage and insulation, though it is inconvenient. Much better would be to move such plants off Earth entirely and into the L1 Lagrangian point between Earth and the Sun, which isn't as impractical as it might at first sound (NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory Satellite SOHO is currently sitting there). We are only just starting to understand the mind-bending wealth available in the asteroid belt just sitting there for the taking (Elon Musk has his eye on this bounty). The
recent tantalising development of an EM drive
that doesn't use propellent holds out the possibility of cheap, regular journeys there taking just months. If we could move most mining and refining (and possibly some manufacturing) off Earth we would eliminate some of our planet's worst burdens. From orbit gliders can deliver the product easily to anywhere on Earth. The final link (though not initially necessary) will be the Space Elevator, which might finally be made possible by great cables constructed of carbon nanotubes -- the only material that might have the required strength.
I read an article by an Indian guy a little while ago who was annoyed at the poor being the justification of coal use. He was saying they actually don't tend to see the benefits, but cop most of the pollution. The electricity goes to the wealthier members of those societies, not the poor, he was saying.
A couple friends came back from Africa recently. One, Suzanna, grew up in Zambia and returns periodically, the other, Damien, visited for the first time I think last year. Both independently told me how well people in Africa are doing at leapfrogging us here in the West. We rely upon copper wires for power and communications and coal for electricity and we pay through the nose for both. They use very cheap extremely easy-to-use mobile phones and solar panels. Suzanna is a bit of a technophobe and she found their phones ridiculously easy to use. A couple of years ago Suzanna brought back a gift for me of a wonderful solar LED lamp shaped like nothing I've ever seen before. During the day I leave it on the kitchen windowsill. It can give about 4 hours of very bright light and its simple swivel stand means it can easily be hung from a shelf or hook, or stood on a table. These things are cheap and readily available there, but I've never seen anything like it here.
China is closing down its coal-powered generators in Beijing and coal demand generally has fallen by about 10% recently, I believe. When the government tried to expand a coal-fired power plant recently in Haimen they had to abandon the plans when there were massive protests. This seems to be becoming common in China as people are getting fed up with the pollution. And their coal gasification plants, which burn cleaner, are producing mountains of melamine waste that they can't do anything with. China has begun an aggressive alternative energy program that makes Australia look like a backward Third World nation. I'm betting they'll drop coal pretty soon.
I was reading an article by Amory Lovins, the head scientist at the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) who was talking about when the nearby town was heavily snowed in and without electricity all the emergency workers came to RMI to charge their phones and computers because with their large independent solar systems they were the only ones who still had power. One of the biggest drawbacks of grid-tied solar panels is that during a blackout (as we had recently) you still lose your power in spite of having all those solar panels. Julie, who owns this house, has said that as soon as the electricity rebate drops to a level where it isn't worthwhile anymore she will buy batteries and sever from the grid. I suspect a lot of people will do the same and the dopey power companies will suddenly find they killed the goose that laid golden eggs.
Julie is very interested in the Tesla PowerWall battery. I see it as an interim solution. I'm waiting for supercapacitors to become more usable. Then we will have energy storage that has infinite charge/discharge cycles. You need never throw it away. And if built on the very promising graphene technology uses non-toxic carbon. You have to mine lithium. You can mine graphite, but you can also make it from carbon dioxide. Kinda nice to imagine making the next big storage system out of thin air. :)
Underground building can manage high population density. You simply build down instead of up. It does mean it is more difficult to use passive lighting, but "normal" houses all require electrically powered lighting, even during daytime, already, so that isn't a great change.
Yeah, I'd love an underground house too. However, unless I make an unexpected windfall on one of my books or manage to find a job again in VR I doubt I'll get to build one. I'm starting to run out of time. I'm 62 and women in my family have a bad habit of developing Alzheimers as they age. :(
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