Monday, August 31, 2009

Global Warming and Zero Wind

Unseasonal frost alerts and warnings were, and are, being issued by the National Weather Service in August of 2009. The northern states of Wisconsin, Michigan, upstate New York, Maine, and other New England states all have had such frost warnings in the past few days, as shown above in the bright blue areas in those states.

Is it a coincidence that masses of high pressure air, bearing no wind, settle over these areas? Is it coincidence that the humidity is lower than usual in the high pressure air? The cold temperatures are due, we are told, to heat radiating away from earth through the still, dry air and into the almost perfect blackness of outer space. Yet, we must understand that the CO2 concentration in the air remains the same.

One must suspect, as I certainly do, that winds or the lack thereof, play little to zero role in the vast GCMs, global climate models or general circulation models, so much favored by the AGW crowd who insist that Carbon is Going to Kill Us All -- sometime next week, likely on Tuesday. Yet it is quite apparent that the cold temperatures are due, at least in large part, to dry air masses that remain in a locale with little or no wind. It seems that the U.K. (England etc.) had a few days or weeks this past winter in which a high pressure cell remained fixed over the country, leading to very cold temperatures and no wind. The complaint was that the windmills produced no power during that period, and were useless.

It is also quite apparent that the IPCC's predicted increase in humidity, caused entirely by too much CO2 in the atmosphere that radiates heat downward and into the ocean, is not occurring. The dry air masses that are causing the early frost warnings in the northern U.S. states have, by definition, very low humidity. Yet, the CO2 continues to increase as measured by the station in Hawaii at Mauna Loa. Is there a disconnect here?

This leads to several questions.

1) Is global warming real?

2) Does CO2 actually increase air humidity?

3) Where is the humidity increasing?

4) If the CO2 is already at alarmingly high levels, shouldn't the humidity already be increasing, and these dry air masses that lead to frost warnings be a thing of the past?

5) If, as the IPCC claims, the tropics will have increased humidity, how will they know? Have any IPCC scientists ever been to the tropics? Did they notice that humidity is already very high, and not much increase can occur?

Many of us, myself included, are not trained as climate scientists. Yet, we are trained (as I am) in chemistry, physics, analytical thinking, statistical methods, and quite a few more in my particular case. I must add engineering principles, process control principles, legal principles of causation, production and introduction of evidence, material evidence and hearsay, expert witnesses, forensics, and rhetoric.

Just how long must we, as a country in the U.S., and other countries around the world, be expected to believe the IPCC when the evidence so clearly in front of us belies their deepest held and professed theories? To paraphrase an old but good one, Who are you going to believe, the IPCC or your lying eyes?

Crop-endangering frost in August in the Northern Hemisphere. In a global warming world, per the IPCC. Next they will be telling us all that snow last winter that blanketed Canada from coast to coast (for weeks on end) was really just white powder, likely due to China's power plants pumping out their aerosols. No telling what they will fabricate (or is it prevaricate?) to explain away the vast amounts of snow and cold weather this next winter will bring.

It is an ill wind that blows...nope, not this time. No wind. No humidity. But lots of frost. And CO2 continues to rise.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Money Well Spent for CNG Vehicles

The DOE awarded almost $300 million in grants this week to promote non-petroleum fuels in transportation. There were 25 grants to 24 different entities nationwide, because South Coast Air Management District received two separate grants. SCAQMD is the air pollution control district in Southern California with jurisdiction including Los Angeles. The combined effect of the program is to eliminate 38 million gallons per year of petroleum products consumption, in favor of more consumption of natural gas and bio-fuels. However, some of the vehicles will burn propane, which is produced both from petroleum and as a co-product of natural gas.

The savings of 38 million gallons per year sounds impressive, but place in context of total petroleum demand, it is barely a drop in the ocean. 38 million gallons per year is the same as 2,523 barrels per day. The U.S. consumes approximately 11 million barrels per day. Still, this is a move in the right direction.

As T. Boone Pickens advocates, more wind power frees up natural gas that would have been burned to produce that power. The natural gas is then available for vehicle consumption. Furthermore, every barrel of gasoline replaced by natural gas means that we import two fewer barrels of oil. When diesel fuel is replaced by natural gas, we import three fewer barrels of oil. This is somewhat simplified, but is not far off the mark.

The interesting thing is the cost effectiveness of these programs. The money will be spent on creating refueling infrastructure, plus purchasing trucks and other vehicles that will consume the alternative fuels. The DOE money represents approximately $7 .70 per gallon, one-time cost. Looked at another way, that is $118,000 per barrel per day. A new refinery costs approximately $28,000 per barrel per day, so DOE is spending roughly 4 times what a new refinery would cost on a per-barrel basis.

It could be worse. The federal government is known to spend money on some ridiculously frivolous things; at least this time the money is spent on reducing oil imports, and reducing transportation fuel costs by consuming natural gas. The bio-fuel and electric hybrid portion, though, will increase transportation fuel costs.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bio-Diesel from Municipal Waste

The day has arrived, almost. Synthetic diesel fuel made from municipal solid waste and sewage sludge will be used by ground service equipment at Los Angeles International airport, LAX. Rentech announced this week it has contracts for 1.5 million gallons per year of its bio-diesel that several airlines will purchase.

The bio-fuel will be made in a plant near Los Angeles (where there is abundant trash and sewage sludge). Startup is expected in late 2012, but this presumes there will be a break in the impasse over environmental permits.

For some perspective, diesel sales in California typically are approximately 400,000 barrels per day, or 16.5 million gallons per day. Thus, the bit sold by Rentech will not make much of a dent in refineries' production.

But, with all the green energy credits available for converting waste to bio-fuel, the plant may be a money-maker. As an added bonus, the plant produces and sells electricity.

What is not known, yet, is the delivered price of the fuel to the airlines. Will it cost more than petroleum-based diesel? Will the state tax this fuel in the same amount as conventional diesel?

This is but one small part of the green revolution. Presumably there will be some green jobs in designing, building, operating, and maintaining the plant. California could use some more jobs, with unemployment at 11.9 percent based on the numbers announced today.

What is interesting about this process is that it should be immaterial how much CO2 is emitted, because it is all from biological origin. This CO2 will simply recycle through the cycle, from air to plants to useful materials to the trash and back into the plant. The part burned by the diesel engines will also create CO2, and this will join the cycle. Thus, the EIR will not have a very long section in discussing the harmful effects of CO2 from this plant. What a concept.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Earth Cloudiness 1969 and 2009

What a difference four decades makes! Below is a August 2009 photo of the Earth from space, showing almost no clouds. Below that is a famous photo from July 1969 taken from the Apollo 11 spacecraft, showing the Earth almost covered in clouds.

View of Earth from Apollo 11, July 1969, showing clouds covering much of the surface. Such cloudiness increases the Earth's albedo and leads to reduced air temperatures.

Natural Gas Pipelines in the US

Natural gas pipelines, as shown in the map below, cross much of the U.S. and have done so for many decades. This map shows only the major pipelines, and there are far more pipelines operating at low pressure that distribute the natural gas into businesses and homes. This map provides an excellent visual reminder that natural gas is safe and flows reliably and cheaply into almost every business and home in the U.S.

Farewell Mr. FatBigot

With some surprise I saw today that one of my favorite blogs, The Fat Bigot Opines, is no longer posting or accepting comments. I write this in the hopes that Mr. Fat Bigot himself reads this, or in the alternative, someone else sends the word to him.

Mr. Fat Bigot wrote a wonderful blog at, with a witty, pithy, sometimes scathing point of view on many topics, typically from his British perspective and flavored with his attorney background.

I read almost every blog entry over the past several months, always with great interest and sometimes amusement.

Mr. FB, I wish you all the best in your new endeavours. (British spelling there, in your honour).

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Cogeneration Reduces Grid Purchases

In the steel-making plant of Essar Steel Algoma, a new gas-fired cogeneration plant is reducing the load on the grid to the tune of 70 MW and at a cost of only $135 million. This is just one example of a theme I hit from time to time, that as power prices increase, industries will build their own power plants, or self-generate and reduce their purchases from the utility-supplied electrical grid. This happens at much smaller levels, also.

Here is an 8.5 megawatt cogeneration plant in a Las Vegas hotel, which could easily be duplicated at 1000 hotels or more across the country. Hotels have a need for electricity and hot water for their guests and restaurants, and are ideal for cogeneration from natural gas.

Another project is a tri-fecta, with a 12 MW gas-fired cogeneration plant installed in a tomato-growing greenhouse. The greenhouse utilizes the heat and CO2 from the engine exhaust, and electric power is sold to the grid.

With all this cogeneration activity today, with low electric prices, one can only imagine the flurry of activity when (or if) nuclear power plants are built again and severely raise power rates, and the costs of Global Warming legislation such as California's AB 32 are realized. Self-generation is not a fad, not a toy, and not a pipe dream as those in the nuclear power industry insist. Engineers have worked diligently and creatively for decades to provide robust, safe, clean, and economic alternatives to high power prices caused by poorly-considered nuclear power plants with their $20-plus billion price tags and decade or longer construction times. Imagine the surprise on the utility executives' faces when the new nuclear power plant is finally started up after 10 to 12 years, at a cost over-run of 200 or even 400 percent, and their customers say "No thanks, I have all the electric power I need at one-fourth the cost of yours."

There is no need for them to act surprised. This is exactly what happened in Louisiana just a couple of decades ago. It is known as the Nuclear Death Spiral.

Natural Gas Power Plants Booming

It is always a pleasure to watch the market work, especially when unrestricted by overly-burdensome government regulations. When natural gas was regulated in the 60's and 70's, a shortage of natural gas occurred and then-President Carter announced we had an energy crisis, a shortage. There was a crisis, allright, but it was a crisis of over-regulation and stifling the creative energy of oil and gas men. When those regulations were relaxed, amazingly, the energy crisis disappeared. Natural gas today is far more abundant, and less expensive as a result. Based on the huge reserves of natural gas, and the confident prospect of even more being placed into production for the foreseeable future, power companies are building combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) plants all around. First, a 350 MW combined-cycle natural gas power facility in Brockton, Mass, then TVA is moving ahead with plans for an $820 million, gas-fired power plant instead of a nuclear plant, finally (to name just three), CPV wants to construct a 1,200-megawatt, high-efficiency gas [fired power] plant that can help supply electricity demand in southern Ontario, Canada, instead of a nuclear plant.

Meanwhile, in the forlorn and gloomy world of new nuclear power, nothing is being built in the U.S., and those who planned to build nuclear power plants are scuttling those plans in favor of, what else, natural gas power plants (see above for two examples). Utilities do have some sense, after all. They also have shareholders who have the right and the power to sue the corporation in a shareholder derivative suit. The corporation could, of course, claim the business judgement rule defense, as their company loses money and the stock price plummets - all because they built a nuclear power plant that cost tens of billions of dollars, took a decade or more to complete, and then found their customers reducing their power demand by self-generation. With apologies to Field of Dreams writers, "If you build it, we won't buy."

Some pundits write that the natural gas industry is behaving irrationally with prices low, and production continuing as storage volumes are filled. That analysis shows a failure to grasp the fundamentals of business: buy low, and sell high. This is not complicated stuff, here. With natural gas prices at or near historic lows, yet the almost certainty that prices in the coming winter will be higher due to increased demand caused by cold weather and a (hopefully) increased economy, it makes all the sense in the world to produce gas now, store it, and sell it later for a nice profit. This cycle of produce and store in summer, and sell in winter has been with us for a couple of years at least. With global warming on the wane, indeed, winters are growing more severe, thus the demand for natural gas to heat buildings and homes is assured.

There is no conspiracy, no market manipulation, no chicanery, just common business sense by people who know what they are doing. Buy low. Sell high. A winning formula.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

More Cooling from LNG Flowing

"Sempra LNG, a subsidiary of San Diego-based Sempra Energy, said on July 31 that its second North American LNG terminal, this one near Lake Charles, La., has begun commercial operations." And with that, LNG importing into the U.S. Gulf Coast now has 4 terminals operating, plus two under construction. The only LNG terminal on the West Coast is just south of San Diego, as Mexico has fewer qualms about operating an LNG facility than squeamish Californians. But, much of the re-vaporized natural gas is sent to California, where it is burned as fuel in low-emission power plants and used as transportation fuel.

The advent of numerous LNG receiving and vaporization terminals is great news for everyone, as this ensures a low price for natural gas for decades to come, plus ample supplies of clean-burning, reliable, safe, and versatile fuel. No other fuel can match the versatility of natural gas, as it is used for power plants that are base loaded, also load following, also peak load service, for heating in homes, cooking in homes, process heating in industry, and as a chemical raw material for indispensible products such as ammonia for fertilizers, and industrial hydrogen. Natural gas is also used directly as a transportation fuel in cars, trucks, and buses. Natural gas is so abundant and so cheap that there are plants that convert it into synthetic diesel.

Even though the US has discovered and is exploiting huge deposits of natural gas from shale formations, it continues to be economic to import LNG from overseas. Some is from the Middle East, but other areas also have vast deposits of natural gas and convert the gas to LNG for export. Trinidad and Tobago have LNG plants, and so does Australia.

The re-gasification process requires heat input, or, stated another way, the environment cools somewhat around LNG re-gasification.

Natural gas: a safe, clean, non-toxic, abundant, low-cost, fuel that is welcome around the world, and serves as a political buffer to those European nations that suffered last winter from threats and actual shut-offs of natural gas from Russia. Plus, no one has ever been irradiated from natural gas, unlike toxic nuclear fission power plants. No natural gas furnace or gas turbine needs de-contamination after its useful life is over, as do nuclear power plants. When a natural gas power plant reaches the end of its useful life, workers in normal safety attire take the plant apart, bolt by bolt, and send the parts and pieces off to recycling. Production of natural gas does not forever poison the production site, unlike yellow cake for uranium that is used as nuclear fission fuel.

And, no plutonium is created by natural gas combustion.

Why would anyone want to build any other kind of power plant than natural gas? Especially one of the nuclear fission variety that costs 6 times as much, takes 3 or 4 times as long to build, and must charge triple or quadruple the price for the power produced? Nuclear power plants easily cost $10,000 per kW, while natural gas plants cost $1500 per kW. Also, new nuclear power plants under construction attract opposition group lawsuits the way bees are drawn to honey.

The kicker in modern times, though, may be the lower water consumption from a natural gas fired power plant, compared to the vast quantities of water required by a nuclear power plant. On an equal power output basis, a nuclear power plant will require twice as much water due to the inherently inefficient use of heat in the nuclear power plant.

Natural gas. The only logical choice.