By MURRAY WALSH
We have developed most of the features needed for creating and distributing electricity with no emissions and we have one form of emission free transportation fuel in hydrogen. Electric vehicles (yeah, we’ll call’em EVs from here on) are well into development and are probably going to be cheaper and safer than hydrogen-fueled vehicles.
I’m not much of a motorhead but the rap against EVs for being boring is just not true for all of them. Yes, the Nissan Leaf is pretty much a snore, sport-wise, but the Tesla? That’s a whole different story. They accelerate as fast as any performance car and faster than most.
There is more to the EV phenomenon than just zero emissions. They are quiet. We are seeing larger EVs too, like buses. Soon there will be trucks too. Imagine a city street scene where there is lots of traffic but the only sound you hear is wheels on pavement, wand when traffic is slow, you won’t even hear the tire noise.
When EVs started becoming a thing, I worried that a city street full of them would have an ozone smell or that it would smell like a toy electric train set but that has not been the case. There’s no sound and no smell. That sounds cool to me. I hope it does to you too. Just to round out the transportation side, there are at least five small electric airplanes in development, some flying cars and even zero-emission ocean-going cargo ships.
We have talked about one method of carbon-based non-emitting power generation and there are more under study. The NETPower company, the inventor and marketer of their oxy-combustion power system, has five plants in development around North America in addition to the previously-mentioned 50-megawatt demonstration plant in Texas. Their system can be used in an existing power plant with modifications and does not require any external water.
We have been talking about the four carbon-based fuel sources: the three called fossil fuels (because they are old carbon found underground) and fourth, traditional biomass, all of which give up their energy via combustion. There is, thanks to modern society, a fifth source of fuel and that is emissions from landfills and the high methane content found those emissions.
There is all manner of useful products and materials that could be had if landfills were mined and processed. In Scandinavia, solid waste is incinerated which generates heat that is used to make electricity and the waste ash, a metallic stuff called “clinkers” have industrial use. At the moment, this incineration process does generate some emissions but there is every reason to expect that newer plants will not.
A couple of caveats before we finish:
- I don’t see commercial or military airplanes as running on hydrogen in the near future. There are too many complications and risks so let’s just take that off the table.
- The previously mentioned traditional biomass is the only source of energy for space heat and cooking in many parts of the world. We can’t expect people who depend on biomass to do something else. Eventually, if they are willing, third world countries will be electrified as modern technology expands.
A good offset for jet fuel and traditional biomass would be to finally get a handle on wildfires and there are ideas out there for doing so and I would be glad to explore them in a future column but for now, let’s stick to the big picture.
So how do we get to this glorious whisper quiet emission free future? Well, the first step is to stop yelling at each other over climate change. Hear me, climate activists: it is not necessary that climate skeptics believe you. Skeptics: you don’t have to require that activists see the light before sitting down with them to solve problems. What all parties need to do is agree on reducing carbon emissions, for whatever reason, noble or practical, that suits them.
What is also required of all parties is acceptance of the need for carbon-based fuels for the next couple of generations. Fusion-based electrical generation might become practical in the next 20 years but it will take a lot longer than that to implement it around the world.
What else does our “strategy” need to go forward? A stated goal would be useful. I would offer something like this:
A world-wide conversion to emission-free electrical generation and transportation.
I invite the reader to suggest variations but the general theme should be to set this as a goal. Note that I am proposing that the goal be expressed as a positive aspiration that nobody is likely to oppose. This leaves some carbon-emitting activities out of the issue. I will not propose a ban on the use of barbeque charcoal nor a ban on campfires. Doing so makes enemies and invites ridicule. To be successful, the goal has to be a positive expression of will.
This goal has to be understood and accepted by society. An expression of will by governments is the typical way such acceptance is demonstrated. The OPEC oil embargo in the early 1970s led to creation of the U.S. Department of Energy and the national goal of U.S. energy independence. It seemed like we did every thing possible to interfere with achieving that goal but we finally did, just a few years ago.
We can ask our cities and states to adopt this goal as well as national governments around the world. I would pray that this goal does not become a “thing” that is associated with liberals or conservatives. Yes, the first publication of this series was offered and accepted by Must Read Alaska and there are some media-based reasons for that but I hope it will be re-published in other media and adopted by all elements of society.
Finally, we need a name for this undertaking. Again, I would welcome suggestions from others.
If there are lots of adherents to this approach, we might end up just calling it “The Plan!” I hope you are intrigued enough to get on board but whatever your reaction, thank you for reading.
Murray Walsh is part of the extended MRAK writing staff in Juneau.