Energy for Civilisation

Human progress has been by making use of increasingly dense forms of energy.

Let’s Burn Rocks to Produce Energy for Civilization has been moved to a sub-page.

Green Energy

In his article Economic growth: it’s not dead yet, Colin McInness writes:

In contrast, in a recent article in the Guardian, Life after the end of economic growth, Richard Heinberg claims that it’s all over. Millennia of growth has now apparently come to a crashing end, from the slow burning Neolithic revolution which re-arranged nature to our liking through agriculture, to the great expansion of the industrial revolution which eventually freed us from the land itself. However, growth sceptics such as Heinberg need to ask why economic growth should end right now, in the early 21st century when we are more prosperous and resourceful than at any time in the past. …

The key point to Heinberg’s argument against growth is that it is constrained by the availability of energy. In this he is correct. Physics tells us that we can put order into disordered matter using high-grade energy, generating low-grade waste heat in the process. …

However, Heinberg argues that high-grade energy is becoming scarce, that we have eaten the low hanging fruit. Consequently growth must end as we lack sufficient energy to rearrange matter into more useful forms, whether smart phones, tractors or vaccines. In reality, high-grade energy is anything but scarce.

The real worry of Heinberg’s vision of a post-growth world is his straight-faced assertion that “there should be [an] increasing requirement for local production and manual labour”. This chilling claim is more Year Zero than zero growth. A return to carbohydrate fuelled manual labour may be appealing to Heinberg and others as a means of powering down our lives, and reconnecting with the land. But we shouldn’t expect a long queue of volunteers.

Imposing the burden, hazards and tedium of manual labour on people, when there are viable alternatives is de-civilisation.

5 Responses to Energy for Civilisation

  1. Michael says:

    A molten salt reactor is running at temperatures like 700 C so the water going to have been highly pressurised (if its even possible that’s probably far too high) to be still liquid basically reducing the advantages of a LFTR by having not having to have a non-pressure vessel reactor. You could have hydrogen instead with a continous control valve to keep the pressure low but that would give variable moderation and a gas isn’t much good anyway.

    [berfel: The graphite in this case would be colloidal in salt of similar composition to the other two salts, not water.]

  2. Michael says:

    Shouldn’t you express what the graphite is a colloid then?
    Its also going to be less effective as a moderator if it all on the outside of the fissile fluid. Many fast neutron interations in the fissile fluid.

  3. Michael,

    Please take the time to read carefully what has been written.

  4. Schmoe says:

    I had an inkling of this third (moderating) fluid idea, myself. It’s nice to know that an actual engineer had the same idea (we laymen like to flatter ourselves). It seems to me (and you sort of hint at it), that one particular problem (i.e. controlling moderator concentration in the solution, or slurry, or whathaveyou) could also be a very useful solution to another problem. By changing the moderator concentration, a “breeder” reactor could easily be converted to a “burner” reactor (and back again) on the fly. This would give unprecedented flexibility, as far as fuel sourcing goes. Though, once again, you seem to hint at this possible feature, I think it deserves greater emphasis, both here, and on other fora where this is being discussed.

    Thanks, and have a nice day.

    • Thanks for the comment Schmoe.

      IAs for the features of a liquid moderator; I listed some which came to mind. More study broadens the possibilities. I honestly had not considered burner/breeder switching.

      Award yourself a warm glow of satisfaction. While I consider the possibilities.

      Meanwhile, I’m trying to find alternative liquid moderators for the high temperatures. Heavy water is out because it need a great deal of pressurisation. Carbon is the essence of the graphite moderator in a colloid, but its density may not be easy to keep uniform. It’s a steep learning curve for me… and there’s very little physical data available on molten salts; especially their ability to produce a colloid based on e.g. pyrolytic carbon.

      I’m far away from where the research on the subject is taking place; in the Czech Republic. Kicking myself for not having warmed to this idea a year earlier; before my holiday in Europe this year.

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