Thorium

Postby Earendil » Sat Aug 15, 2009 10:00 pm

Thorium is, I think, truly one of the undiscovered wonders of our time, and I will give it a long-deserved mention here.

The short version: Thorium, if we use it, will give us basically unlimited supplies of low-cost power anywhere in the world with minimal environmental harm, and has been thoroughly tested both for economy and feasibility and has come out with flying colors.

An ordinary nuclear reactor uses uranium as a fuel, fissioning atoms of U-235 to create energy. However, naturally-occurring uranium is a mixture of two isotopes, U-235 and U-238. When a neutron hits a U-235 atom, the atom fissions, producing both additional neutrons and lots of energy. However, when a neutron hits a U-238 atom, it gets absorbed, becoming U-239 and eventually Pu-239 (plutonium).

This is a big problem, because a). the concentration of U-235 isn't normally high enough, so the uranium has to be enriched, and b). you get lots of plutonium. Plutonium isn't as bad as it's sometimes made out to be (it is not, for instance, the most toxic substance in the world), but it's genuinely pretty nasty stuff. It can be used to make nuclear bombs, for one thing. And when you hit it with more neutrons, like in a power reactor, you get what are called actinides, which are by far the most problematic portion of nuclear waste to handle.

Thorium, however, only comes in one isotope, Th-232, as all the other isotopes are too short-lived to still be around after billions of years. If you hit thorium with a neutron, it will absorb it, becoming Th-233 and eventually U-233. And if you hit U-233 with a neutron, it will fission like U-235, generating lots of energy and more neutrons to continue the cycle.

Hence, if you fuel a reactor with thorium, there's no plutonium anywhere in the process. The only waste is fission products, which come in very small quantities (on the order of one kilogram per seven million kilowatt hours of electricity produced), and most of which are either too short-lived or too long-lived to pose a serious threat. And there's no possibility of bombs, because all you have to do is mix some depleted uranium (mostly U-238) into the U-233, and it's rendered forever useless for bomb-making. Thorium is also pretty abundant; there's roughly four times as much thorium as uranium in the world.
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Re: Thorium

Postby Volair » Sat Aug 15, 2009 10:36 pm

Thorium reactors are an excellent project which was killed in the Clinton administration, I think, due in no small part to mistrust of anything labeled "nuclear," which admittedly after the cold war insanity was partially justified.

Nuclear fission, particularly in Thorium reactors and other reactors designed for power and not for weapons has tremendous promise. The reason the last generation of reactors generate so much waste is because THAT WAS THEIR PURPOSE, originally: these were bomb factories that doubled as power plants, not power plants that doubled as bomb factories.

Fission reactors, properly cared for and designed as power sources only, just might save humanity from the carbon trap. We'll almost certainly have fusion and high-efficiency solar worked out by the time we run out.

And then, well, end credits, you Got the Happy Ending, and all that.
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Re: Thorium

Postby Jennifer Diane Reitz » Sun Aug 16, 2009 1:03 am

Earendil wrote: or too long-lived to pose a serious threat.


The most serious threat I see with nuclear power is waste storage, specifically storage of waste for tens of thousands of years or longer; it cannot be done. It will out, and poison the future whatever we might do - nothing Man can build can withstand entropy for even as long as a thousand years; the Sphinx itself is eroded and porous, the Wall of China perforated and in many places crumbled, and Stonehenge broken in places. Anything we put inside of anything in Nature will escape within the timescale that nuclear waste remains dangerous to the biosphere.

You say "too long-lived to pose a serious threat"; I do not know what you mean.

Long-term radioactive materials are perfect for making truly 'dirty' bombs with, nuclear or conventional explosive weapons designed to permanently poison a location so that reconstruction is forever impossible. Dirty material is used to line the bomb so that it is disbursed over the widest possible area, causing the maximum horror and permanent despoilment.

Small scale dirty bombs are the favorite scenario for terrorists to use in highly populated cities, cheap and perpetually effective. Large scale dirty bombs make up approximately 20% of America's nuclear arsenal, and are capable of rendering entire cities and countrysides uninhabitable essentially forever. They still exist. Supposedly Russia has an even higher percentage of them; their military doctrine supported even more fully the concept of 'permanent denial'.

I love nuclear power - in space, or on rocks devoid of any biosphere. But just what is the long lived waste product of thorium, and just how poisonous would it be if, for example, it were found to have been accidentally, through natural means, released into the drinking water of the city in which you live?

If you can tell me you would not mind thorium reactor waste accidentally seeping into the water you drink or the food you eat -an absolute inevitability, in time, if not for you, then for your descendants , then I would be very happy to hear more about the incredible solution thorium reactors offer.

Please enlighten me.
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Re: Thorium

Postby Shackler » Sun Aug 16, 2009 1:31 am

Much of these problems can be generally mitigated through the use of breeder reactors. Further, radioactive waste, thanks to the glories of radioactive decay, is one of very few issues that literally solves itself, given enough time.
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Re: Thorium

Postby Earendil » Sun Aug 16, 2009 2:50 am

The most serious threat I see with nuclear power is waste storage, specifically storage of waste for tens of thousands of years or longer; it cannot be done.


We can't store it for thousands of years in a warehouse or anything; eventually there would be a political shift or someone would steal it or something. But we can encase it in lots of concrete and bury it in deep holes, which works well enough. If, by some miracle, there was an earthquake or something and the concrete broke, it would still be, well, at the bottom of a hole, and unable to do any damage to anything. But we might as well add the concrete, it's pretty cheap.

Rock (which is what concrete basically is), below ground, without the forces of erosion acting on it, is incredibly durable. Most of the oil in use today has been trapped, within rock, for not just hundreds of years, but hundreds of millions of years, a time period that I do not think humans can truly comprehend. Nobody even planned it, which is why we are currently paying three dollars a gallon for gasoline, but it happened anyway.

You say "too long-lived to pose a serious threat"; I do not know what you mean.


Half-life and level of radioactivity are inversely proportional. Suppose I have a kilogram of uranium. It contains 2.5 * 10^24 uranium atoms, which is quite a lot. The uranium is radioactive because some of these atoms occasionally decay into other atoms, releasing alpha particles and such at high speeds.

If I happen to be holding a kilo of uranium-235, this process happens very slowly; it takes an average of seven hundred million years for one atom to decay. Hence, at any one time, there are very few decays happening, and so this chunk of uranium is not dangerous at all. I can hold it in my hand all day, I can put it right next to my bed and sleep with it all night, it's not going to hurt me. (Uranium is, like lead, a heavy metal and therefore chemically poisonous, but this is an unrelated phenomenon). However, the uranium will last a very long time, and has indeed already lasted four and a half billion years since the formation of the Earth.

If I happen to be holding a kilo of uranium-232, I should, if I know what is good for me, immediately drop it and run away, because the process happens very quickly and so a lot of dangerous energy is being released. However, because it happens so quickly, the uranium-232 won't be around for very long. U-232 has a half life of seventy years, so after only a thousand years, only one in 20,000 of the original atoms will remain. And the U-232 won't be dangerous anymore, because all but a tiny part of it will have decayed into non-radioactive elements.

There's only a certain amount of energy in there, waiting to be released. It can either happen slowly, in which case not very much of it will be released at any one time. Or it can happen quickly, in which case you'll run out fairly soon. As this handy graph shows:

Image

After about seven hundred years of decay, a chunk of fission product material will not only be safe to pick up, but will be less radioactive than the uranium it came from, which is to say not very. The short-lived elements will all be gone. The long-lived elements will still be there, but these are not dangerous; you can walk around in the New Mexico desert and have a lot of fun picking up naturally-occurring rocks that are 'hotter' than the long-lived waste.

Long-term radioactive materials are perfect for making truly 'dirty' bombs with, nuclear or conventional explosive weapons designed to permanently poison a location so that reconstruction is forever impossible.


It's very, very hard to make a location uninhabitable for even a hundred years, let alone 'forever'; if you just dump a whole bunch of radioactive stuff on it, most of the stuff will get washed away soon, and the rest will decay pretty rapidly. Hiroshima was hit with, not just a dirty bomb, but a full-scale nuclear weapon, which is far worse. Today, Hiroshima is a thriving city of over a million people, and the nuclear strike sixty years ago is little but an interesting story that very old people tell to their grandchildren. Entropy, as you noted earlier, is pretty good at washing things away.

But just what is the long lived waste product of thorium, and just how poisonous would it be if, for example, it were found to have been accidentally, through natural means, released into the drinking water of the city in which you live?


Many deep mineral springs come from a granite source, and granite has a high enough concentration of uranium to lace the water with some of these byproducts. When this was discovered in 1900, many people noted that these springs were associated with health and long life, and assumed that it was the radioactivity that made them healthy. A few people then started adding radium to their drinking water, in such high concentrations that it became actively dangerous instead of just therapeutically useless. This practice was mostly stopped when noted industrialist Eben Byers dropped dead after drinking more than fourteen hundred bottles.

If you can tell me you would not mind thorium reactor waste accidentally seeping into the water you drink or the food you eat -an absolute inevitability, in time, if not for you, then for your descendants , then I would be very happy to hear more about the incredible solution thorium reactors offer.


Low levels of radioactive stuff- and sometimes not-so-low levels- creep into our food and water all the time. Potassium, in particular, is an egregious offender; natural potassium contains low levels of K-40, an isotope which has higher levels of radioactivity than uranium. A bottle of potassium chloride from the supermarket is actually more radioactive than some equally-sized chunks of uranium ore. And, of course, that's not including the radioactive green glass which is available everywhere, or any old red Fiestaware you might have seen (glazed with uranium oxides), or the americium chip in your smoke detector (americium is an actinide, actually one of the most dangerous radioactives), or the tritium in glowing EXIT signs....

Nuclear waste is actually at the bottom of the list of possible radioactive things in our daily lives, because we go through a lot of effort to keep it contained, unlike, say, old watches that have been painted glowing radium green and are floating around on eBay for anyone who wants one. It is, not just unlikely, but a chemical impossibility, that nuclear waste could just "seep into" the drinking water, because we can store it in the form of oxides that have no solubility. Iron oxide, for instance, is so insoluble that there are still large deposits of it sitting right next to the water, all over the world, from the time when photosynthetic bacteria first filled the atmosphere with oxygen more than two billion years ago.

Is there zero risk? No. However, there is never zero risk in any endeavour of any sort. The risks of powering an industrial civilization the way we currently do- with coal- are, not only nonzero, but much larger. Every day, you breathe in sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emitted out of coal-fired plants, and you drink water with small quantities of mercury that were released into the environment from massive coal mining operations. Many chemicals, mercury in particular, are not just dangerous for a few hundred years- they're dangerous forever, from the day the Earth was formed to the day it gets consumed by the Sun. And they're produced in much larger quantities; sometimes thousands of tons a day instead of just a few kilograms.

In addition, unlike nuclear, the persistent problem caused by coal pollution is, not a theoretical possibility, but an actuality- hundreds of people die in coal mines, of lung diseases, of coal-induced mercury poisoning, and so forth every day, and this has been documented in excruciatingly hideous detail for anyone who cares to look. I'll stick with the small chance of a minute, barely-detectable-with-sensitive-instruments level of radioactivity getting released into the desert a hundred miles away.
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Re: Thorium

Postby Monocheres » Sun Aug 16, 2009 7:36 am

Its funny how the tendency to override sensible reasoning with superstitious fear keeps rearing its ugly head, even in the most unlikely of places.
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Re: Thorium

Postby Volair » Sun Aug 16, 2009 9:42 am

Monocheres wrote:Its funny how the tendency to override sensible reasoning with superstitious fear keeps rearing its ugly head, even in the most unlikely of places.


The fears most people these days have concerning nuclear power come from an entirely justified distrust of the blithering lunatics who created the US nuclear system: these were people who felt that every power plant should be a bomb factory first, and a power plant second.

These were people who wanted us to believe it was safe to use power plants to weaponize uranium, and to transmute it into truly dangerous stuff: plutonium. And further that it was perfectly reasonable to stockpile these weaponized isotopes and elements in bombs and reactor cores. And to cover their tracks as the war-mongering fools they were, they played along with the public's perception that this was as good as nuclear power could get and that every power plant HAD to produce weapon-atoms.

The notion of a long-lived isotope is intrinsically frightening to anyone who has been paying attention to the human condition: we wander around the globe and leave things laying around and completely forget about them in decades, forget centuries. We can't be trusted to hold a facility pristine and perfect for the millenia it'd take for the uranium inside a site to decay completely into (thorium was it?) and become something that isn't radioactive.

Thing is, the stuff that's already in the ground is radioactive.

That is what's really been missed here. Just as mercury is naturally occurring in many places, so is uranium, of the very same sort that one gets out of any responsibly run nuclear power plant. And just as mercury needs to be carefully observed and not allowed to concentrate or be flushed with any great gusto into the air (say, from a coal power plant), so must large concentrations of uranium be prevented from dumping into ground water.

Also, radioactivity isn't something most people understand very well. It's a mysterious phlebontinum killer to most people, and just as I am scared of my gas heating because I don't know how it works and how the containment systems operate (presumably they're safe, but try telling that to my subconscious), most people are just worried, in a way which is generally fairly justified, that what they don't know can hurt them.

To me, radiation is no big deal. My father is a nuclear engineer, and he's shown me diagrams and explained how transmutation is happening and how radioactivity is a source of microenergy, and just as you could cook yourself with an unsheilded magatron (there's a sheilded one in your microwave) you could cook your own cells with a gamma ray source. Gamma rays, alpha particles, beta particles, to me they're hard light, hydrogen and helium. Having these things pump energy into your body, especially in large quantities, is dangerous and/or lethal. But for me knowing that every once in a while, a certain uranium slug will spit out a gamma photon isn't scary. It's kind of interesting.

And I wouldn't mind having that gamma photon fired at me, because odds are the worst it'd do is make one particular cell have to start over making that ribosome it'd been working on. I do WAY worse to it when I eat a corn dog, believe me.
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Re: Thorium

Postby Jennifer Diane Reitz » Sun Aug 16, 2009 11:02 am

Earendil's explanation is satisfying; now I am angry we haven't been using thorium reactors all along.
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Re: Thorium

Postby Volair » Sun Aug 16, 2009 11:29 am

Jennifer Diane Reitz wrote:Earendil's explanation is satisfying; now I am angry we haven't been using thorium reactors all along.


Yay! Another thoughtful mind comes over to the side of non-military nuclear power!

On a related note concerning nuclear policy, another smart nuclear policy recently recommended is the "uranium bank" system, where countries share the production and use of nuclear fuel, which incentivizes the production of civilian-usable fuel and reduces the viability of dual-use technologies in favor of pure-civilian systems.

I think we can do this: fission provides a huge number of joules at a low cost, and with fusion remaining stalled for a while longer yet and solar's ramping towards replacing our existing systems at a painfully slow (but positive!) rate, it might be very necessary.

Incidentially, fission is still a stopgap like oil; instead of living off stored energy from our star we'd be living off stored energy from recent stellar explosions. The real money is in fusion energy, which runs our current star and all the other ones too. Fusion makes the universe go 'round, as they say. But uranium and thorium, those forms of atomic stellar ash, make surprisingly good atomic charcoal. :mrgreen:
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Re: Thorium

Postby Monocheres » Sun Aug 16, 2009 9:56 pm

Volair wrote:
Monocheres wrote:Its funny how the tendency to override sensible reasoning with superstitious fear keeps rearing its ugly head, even in the most unlikely of places.


The fears most people these days have concerning nuclear power come from an entirely justified distrust...


You do have a point, but I sincerely doubt that all of the anti-nuclear animus out there is based on this particular charge you've leveled (that fusion [EDIT: oops, meant fission] power reactors were designed to support weaponization). I think a lot of it is just pure superstitious and Luddite dread of the unknown or the unfamiliar. Too many members of the public simply hear the word "nuclear" and immediately think "voodoo evil". And that's due to the general lack of scientific education. Your point of course is that there is nothing intrinsically evil or terrible about "nuclear energy", it just depends on the details (e.g. what fission processes you actually use, evolving from what starting isotopes , the actual radioactive half-lives of the reaction products, etc.). But that requires a careful examination of the scientific facts in order to make a reasoned judgment -- which is too much work for the average schmo. Knee-jerk reactions are so much easier.
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Re: Thorium

Postby Volair » Sun Aug 16, 2009 10:30 pm

That's ~fission~ power, and while you're right that easy reactions are common, you might ask yourself, WHY is that the easy reaction?

It's the easy reaction because the conditions I've described are the ones which made the easy, gut-feelable answer be the one that puts fission plant advocates in a black hat. Our "easy answers" and gut feels on things have sources, and I think we all do one another a great service, both in helping to uncover one another's unconscious biases, AND in recognizing our own failings.

That said, it is kind of a shameful state of affairs that more people don't know more about the way things work.
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Re: Thorium

Postby Skatche » Tue Aug 18, 2009 9:39 pm

No way. Terrible idea. If you want to use this to tide over our energy needs, you need to mine a hell of a lot of Thorium. And that, like any other large-scale mining operation, does absolutely unspeakable things to the environment and to the miners, not to mention the marginalized peoples unfortunate enough to live downstream.

The best that can be said about Thorium over Uranium is it's only fucking you one way, instead of both ways; nuclear waste from our current reactors is potentially as catastrophic as waste from the mines. Here's a cheery factoid: no nuclear waste, anywhere, has actually been put in permanent storage, because we haven't developed the technology yet. It's all sitting in temporary containment sites, and leaks are not uncommon. Sure, long-term storage is possible in principle, but when's the last time we built a container that is guaranteed to last thousands of years without leaking? In short, we're running our reactors on a hope that eventually, maybe, we'll figure out how to deal with the consequences.

Even leaving aside other serious problems, nuclear power as a solution to the energy crisis is simply not worth the social and environmental costs. In the long term we might figure out how to do it properly, but by then we'll probably have fusion reactors anyway.
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Re: Thorium

Postby Jennifer Diane Reitz » Wed Aug 19, 2009 1:12 am

Skatche wrote:No way. Terrible idea. If you want to use this to tide over our energy needs, you need to mine a hell of a lot of Thorium. And that, like any other large-scale mining operation, does absolutely unspeakable things to the environment and to the miners, not to mention the marginalized peoples unfortunate enough to live downstream.


Crap! That is an incredibly good point, Skatche. I feel dumb -and First-World Arrogant for overlooking it. Metals like thorium have to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is usually very impoverished parts of the world where labor is slave-cheap, conservation and health-safety laws are loose or entirely nonexistant, and there is no question that the people who will suffer are the poor and vulnerable; either digging the metals, or being poisoned by everything when the ground is dug up and their environment raped.

As has happened always, ever, and everywhere, without any exception in the entire history of Man.

Duh. Sorry I am stupid.

I retract my support of thorium reactors; nuclear power is dangerous not just because of storage issues and the minor concern of nuclear weapons, but perhaps primarily because the only way to have them is raping the third world, both in land, and in people. As it has always been, and is today - and absolutely will be tomorrow.

I have to go back to my basic stance; the only truly renewable, rational power source is solar, the power from our nearest star. There is more than enough; it is only a matter of collecting it, something that is proceeding rapidly and well.

The problem is that the established corporate-political structure does not want to go that direction, because it does not serve their immediate greed, and this is perhaps the second greatest problem of our age, the first being overpopulation (which nobody wants to face or address). I'd put the third at generally unsustainable industry and consumerism. The fourth would then be war and conflict from all sources. In my estimation.

Thanks Skatche, for waking me up, back to realizing that stuff has to come from somewhere, and that means people have to get it, and that almost always means horrific resource exploitation, VERY especially with regard to metals, minerals, and chemicals.
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Re: Thorium

Postby Relee » Wed Aug 19, 2009 7:21 am

There's also limited resources on the planet. Thorium, fuel uranium, coal and oil, there is only so much of that stuff on the planet. To extract it in the first place requires energy, though in general you get more energy than you put into the effort.

The best thing we can do is harness the natural sources of energy, most of which comes one way or the other from our sun. Solar Cells are generally considered inefficient, and I've heard that manufacturing them creates toxic waste. Some solar farms use reflected light to super-heat a central boiler and run a steam turbine instead. Wind turbines also draw power from the sun; the constant bombardment of light causes weather effects that the turbines collect. Tidal harnesses of course harness lunar gravity. Most power here in Canada, or so I'm told, comes from hydroelectric dams, which tap the sun's energy by collecting rainfall raised by the evaporating effect of light. Hydro is synonnymous with electrical power here. It's true that even the sun's power is limited, but the planet will be uninhabitable long before the sun runs out. There's also the biofuel option, nature's solar power collectors. Plants absorb sunlight and create their bodies with it, making fuel for animals. We can use that for other things as well, though it has the unfortunate effect of turning food crops into energy crops. Wood counts for that too, if you burn it.

There's lots of renewable options.
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Re: Thorium

Postby Monocheres » Wed Aug 19, 2009 8:37 am

Turning food crops into biofuels is a stupid idea. Generally food crops are rather high-maintenance life-forms. To produce adequate yields, they tend to require a lot of coddling, in the form of energy-intensive cultivation, fertilizers, and pesticides. Arable land for growing food is in limited supply. Plus there's on-going debate over whether such food-derived biofuels actually provide more energy than it takes to produce them! Meanwhile, pulling that much produce out of the international market causes food prices to rise, with devastating effects for poor countries with populations near the edge of starvation. Frankly this whole effort for "corn ethanol" is little more than a political gimme for the Farm Belt and an opportunity for politicians to pay lip-service to the Green lobby without actually solving the energy problem.

The ideal biofuel would be some hardy, fast-growing, non-edible, easily-harvested, naturally-disease-resistant plant capable of growing on otherwise non-arable land with minimal cultivation. Basically something that turns sunlight into cellulose as fast as possible. Probably some member of the grass family but not a grain crop. Then you need to couple it with a suitable bacterial culture that can efficiently ferment the cellulose down into sugars, and then into methanol or ethanol. A termite's gut would be a good place to look. I think these are active areas of research, and hopefully the right organisms will be discovered (or engineered) within our lifetime.
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Re: Thorium

Postby Coda » Wed Aug 19, 2009 9:12 am

Solar, wind, and hydroelectric are all great solutions, but all suffer from being geographically sensitive -- wind is only feasible in areas that have wind, hydroelectric requires large bodies of running water, and solar won't help in smog-ridden areas.

To be honest, thorium sounds like a good stop-gap, especially if it doesn't require too much work to retrofit existing reactors to use it. I don't think it's a good long-term solution due to the long-term costs of harvesting the fuel.

Biofuels I don't think are feasible as energy PRODUCTION in the long run. I always considered liquid fuels to be a form of energy STORAGE. Hydrogen is the same way -- the energy necessary to gather hydrogen doesn't add up, but you can store it efficiently and use it cleanly.
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Re: Thorium

Postby draque » Wed Aug 19, 2009 10:51 am

Monocheres wrote:The ideal biofuel would be some hardy, fast-growing, non-edible, easily-harvested, naturally-disease-resistant plant capable of growing on otherwise non-arable land with minimal cultivation. Basically something that turns sunlight into cellulose as fast as possible. Probably some member of the grass family but not a grain crop. Then you need to couple it with a suitable bacterial culture that can efficiently ferment the cellulose down into sugars, and then into methanol or ethanol. A termite's gut would be a good place to look. I think these are active areas of research, and hopefully the right organisms will be discovered (or engineered) within our lifetime.


Honestly, if biofuel ever takes off, I foresee it being in the form of some sort of modified algae that can be grown on the surface of the ocean, or something like that.
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Re: Thorium

Postby Tychomonger » Wed Aug 19, 2009 8:11 pm

draque wrote:
Monocheres wrote:The ideal biofuel would be some hardy, fast-growing, non-edible, easily-harvested, naturally-disease-resistant plant capable of growing on otherwise non-arable land with minimal cultivation. Basically something that turns sunlight into cellulose as fast as possible. Probably some member of the grass family but not a grain crop. Then you need to couple it with a suitable bacterial culture that can efficiently ferment the cellulose down into sugars, and then into methanol or ethanol. A termite's gut would be a good place to look. I think these are active areas of research, and hopefully the right organisms will be discovered (or engineered) within our lifetime.


Honestly, if biofuel ever takes off, I foresee it being in the form of some sort of modified algae that can be grown on the surface of the ocean, or something like that.

I read that cat tails are promising. They can soak up and filter waste water while turning sunlight into sugar.
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Re: Thorium

Postby Volair » Wed Aug 19, 2009 8:25 pm

Thorium is actually fairly abundant here in the states, so thankfully we'd have the option of screwing up our *own* people and environment in the mining process, but I concede the point of mining being something to be avoided where possible. But I'd rather mine thorium than coal for emissions reasons.

The big energy is fusion. And I'm not just talking about tokamaks, I'm also talking about Solar, which is also Fusion power.

Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe. And it's a huge source of energy. In the end, it is what we should be switching to completely.

As soon as is even remotely possible.

Jury's still out on how long that'll take...
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Re: Thorium

Postby RaharuAharu » Thu Aug 20, 2009 2:29 am

If you would like to learn about sustainable bio-fuels I suggest the book "Alcohol can be a gas."

There are so many plants that can be used, that can be grown in so many regions of this country. Most on land that is considered fallow, and unusable for food crops. Corn, corn is actually one of the worst things to grow to make alcohol with. Tychomonger is right, Cattails are fantastic and can be grown to help treat sewage and harvested almost weekly for their statches, Kelp is great, as it grows feet a day, mesquite seed pods are fantastic... Hell many plants people consider WEEDs make fantastic alcohol sources.

Alcohol is clean, cheap, and renewable. It can be produced on the home, town, regional and nation levels. There is just about nothing new technology wise for humans and alcohol production, you have all been doing it forever. Converting cars is cheap and easy, and safe. All the byproducts of alcohol production can be turned into something useful like fish food or food for cattle and other livestock. It creates jobs nationwide, from farming the crops to managing the infrastructure.

Sorry to Rant, but I really believe that Alcohol derived energy is the way of the future, but also not the only source, a diversified energy economy is what America, and indeed the world need. Oil has its place, but you can lesses its used drastically. Wind, Solar, Alcohol, and even oil.

http://www.permaculture.com/

http://www.permaculture.com/


1. Almost every country can become energy independent. Anywhere that has sunlight and land can produce alcohol from plants. Brazil, the fifth largest country in the world imports no oil, since half its cars run on alcohol fuel made from sugarcane, grown on 1% of its land.

2. We can reverse global warming. Since alcohol is made from plants, its production takes carbon dioxide out of the air, sequestering it, with the result that it reverses the greenhouse effect (while potentially vastly improving the soil). Recent studies show that in a permaculturally designed mixed-crop alcohol fuel production system, the amount of greenhouse gases removed from the atmosphere by plants—and then exuded by plant roots into the soil as sugar—can be 13 times what is emitted by processing the crops and burning the alcohol in our cars.

3. We can revitalize the economy instead of suffering through Peak Oil. Oil is running out, and what we replace it with will make a big difference in our environment and economy. Alcohol fuel production and use is clean and environmentally sustainable, and will revitalize families, farms, towns, cities, industries, as well as the environment. A national switch to alcohol fuel would provide many millions of new permanent jobs.

4. No new technological breakthroughs are needed. We can make alcohol fuel out of what we have, where we are. Alcohol fuel can efficiently be made out of many things, from waste products like stale donuts, grass clippings, food processing waste-even ocean kelp. Many crops produce many times more alcohol per acre than corn, using arid, marshy, or even marginal land in addition to farmland. Just our lawn clippings could replace a third of the autofuel we get from the Mideast.

5. Unlike hydrogen fuel cells, we can easily use alcohol fuel in the vehicles we already own. Unmodified cars can run on 50% alcohol, and converting to 100% alcohol or flexible fueling (both alcohol and gas) costs only a few hundred dollars. Most auto companies already sell new dual-fuel vehicles.

6. Alcohol is a superior fuel to gasoline! It’s 105 octane, burns much cooler with less vibration, is less flammable in case of accident, is 98% pollution-free, has lower evaporative emissions, and deposits no carbon in the engine or oil, resulting in a tripling of engine life. Specialized alcohol engines can get at least 22% better mileage than gasoline or diesel.

7. It’s not just for gasoline cars. We can also easily use alcohol fuel to power diesel engines, trains, aircraft, small utility engines, generators to make electricity, heaters for our homes—and it can even be used to cook our food.

8. Alcohol has a proud history. Gasoline is a refinery’s toxic waste; alcohol fuel is liquid sunshine. Henry Ford’s early cars were all flex-fuel. It wasn’t until gasoline magnate John D. Rockefeller funded Prohibition that alcohol fuel companies were driven out of business.

9. The byproducts of alcohol production are clean, instead of being oil refinery waste, and are worth more than the alcohol itself. In fact, they can make petrochemical fertilizers and herbicides obsolete. The alcohol production process concentrates and makes more digestible all protein and non-starch nutrients in the crop. It’s so nutritious that when used as animal feed, it produces more meat or milk than the corn it comes from. That’s right, fermentation of corn increases the food supply and lowers the cost of food.

10. Locally produced ethanol supercharges regional economies. Instead of fuel expenditures draining capital away to foreign bank accounts, each gallon of alcohol produces local income that gets recirculated many times. Every dollar of tax credit for alcohol generates up to $6 in new tax revenues from the increased local business.

11. Alcohol production brings many new small-scale business opportunities. There is huge potential for profitable local, integrated, small-scale businesses that produce alcohol and related byproducts, whereas when gas was cheap, alcohol plants had to be huge to make a profit.

12. Scale matters—most of the widely publicized potential problems with ethanol are a function of scale. Once production plants get beyond a certain size and are too far away from the crops that supply them, closing the ecological loop becomes problematic. Smaller-scale operations can more efficiently use a wide variety of crops than huge specialized one-crop plants, and diversification of crops would largely eliminate the problems of monoculture.

13. The byproducts of small-scale alcohol plants can be used in profitable, energy-efficient, and environmentally positive ways. For instance, spent mash (the liquid left over after distillation) contains all the nutrients the next fuel crop needs and can return it back to the soil if the fields are close to the operation. Big-scale plants, because they bring in crops from up to 45 miles away, can’t do this, so they have to evaporate all the water and sell the resulting byproduct as low-price animal feed,which accounts for half the energy used in the plant.
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