back to article US looks to old Herr Kohle for energy security

By now we all know the United States has no energy policy for the future. Rather, it does and it's a humiliating one: Global warming is a conspiracy by other countries trying to squelch the American dream and the right to buy elephantine SUVs. As one journalist covering autos for the Los Angeles Times put it in late December: "[ …

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Be careful what you wish for.

Because the environmentalists of the 1970s were so succesful in generating paronia over nuclear and tying up projects with endless litigation, if you give the average person today the choice between a coal plant and a nuclear plant, they choose coal.

Despite estimates by the U.S. EPA (off the top of my head) that air pollution from coal prematurely claims the lives of 25,000 Americans a year. A figure deaths attributed to nuclear power in the west...even under the most cynical of accountings, over the last 50 years does not approach.

Changing our energy systems is really a win / win / win economically, geopolitically, and environmentally. But it takes a willingness to address problems rationally and move forward with aggressive engineering solutions -- building the nuclear plants in the interim while geothermal technology is developed.

Solar and Wind power can't produce the volume those two do, and Coal even if you address the pollution concerns with schemes like sequestration does nothing for the scares on the landscape from mountain top removal and strip mines.

The goals of carbon reduction set by Kyoto or any other mainstream proposal are ridiculously low compared to what could be achieved if we really wanted to -- by building the nuclear plants, by building the geothermal plants, and eliminating carbon use for electricity, heating, air conditioning, train transport, and short trip automobiles (under, oh, 40 -- 80 miles per day), and accomplish that within 20 years.

That keeping money within the U.S. immediately helps with the trade deficit and starts to strengthen the dollar, while the money spent is also providing good jobs in the U.S. and building important engineering and construction experience. Money kept in the U.S. also means it circulates internally that much longer and is taxed at that many more transactions helping to reduce federal deficits. I suspect many other nations would do well to reduce their imports of energy.

However, rest assured we need not worry about such bold visions -- rational thought has long left mainstream environmentalism, and business interests hate the risk of leaving what they know to try something new. So we'll putz around with half-hearted measures and tax breaks for very, very unbold things like ethanol and windmills built in the middle of nowhere that actually needs power. You could elect Al Gore in November and give him a veto proof Congress, and based on what he's said over the years...we wouldn't achieve 1/4th of what we could in carbon reductions because of irrationality and people pissing in each other's cheerios.

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Unhappy

Lying?

One can only hope that the democrats are basically lying so that they can get into power. It is what politicians do best, after all. Probably not in this case though.

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Anonymous Coward

What about Sasol?

The main (if not only) current implementation of this process is in South Africa, run successfuly by the Sasol company and developed in the apartheid era to combat international fuel sanctions. Why the fuss in the US? All they need to do is talk to Sasol, pay some royalties and borrow a few people... Polution control costs more and needs proper attention.

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Look West young man

The future of coal isn't in the Appalacians, its the mountain states of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. These coalfields have been powering the US electricity industry ever since Nixon did one good thing and inaugurated the Clean Air Act.

But the real gold rush is likely to get started if the mining companies start turning the 120 billion tonnes of coal (that's 40% of all the reserves in the US) under Montana into oil. Brian Schweitzer, the current (Democrat) governor is a big fan of synthetic petroleum and got a lot of votes on plans to turn the state into America's gas tank. It's a poor state with few well-paid jobs; open-cast coal mining pays well and doesn't have the health risks of deep mining in the East, so the mining industry has a lot of sway.

Whether Montana's environment can take the strain is another question. The region has been suffering a drought for a long time now, and hydrogenation is a prodigious water user. But I'm sure that problem can be overcome - after all, no one's dammed the Yellowstone yet. :(

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Anonymous Coward

Coal gasification in North Dakota

There is a current coal gasification plant operating in North Dakota. I don't believe it uses the FT method however. It however does use CO2 sequestration to oil field in Canada.

Also, modern strip mining returns the land back to the state it was before it was mined. They measure out the number of inches of top soil and return back all of the hills and contours. For better or for worse, it is returned back to the state in which it was before mining.

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COAL LIQUID/GAS

Ari Geertsema, Professor Center for Applied Energy Research, University of Kentucky spoke about "Barriers and Opportunities Relating to Production of Coal Liquids and Environmental Issues"at the Richard G. Lugar-Purdue Summit on Energy Security on 29th Aug 2006 and the delightful Amy Myers Jaffe touched on the subject.

Sasoil USA is no slam dunk. Cost are horrendous to build and run - OK on a war footing, maybe.

The energy required to run the plants is high , so that ESKOM , who are running out of coal to generate electricity and running rolling blackouts throughout SA won't supply SASOIL and they (like a lot of deep mines for minerals) are currently stopped - with a massive national economic effect.

The bottom line iseems to be , that if we want to meet the demand curve we need (globally) to burn more coal - and it will be a brave politicians who say we will cut off your electricity rather than allow coal burn plants.

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Flame

George Smith, like other idiots,

offers no practical solutions or alternatives. He and many others simply slam attempts to wean ourselves off oil with current technologies. There are no viable alternatives to oil right now except plant or coal based fuels.

Nuclear power is a clean alternative for electricity generation but would take decades to fully implement to replace fossil-fuel based generation and so in the meantime we are forced to use what we have to survive and grow.

We also need to consider the billions of internal combustion engines around the world. They cannot be simply scrapped and replaced by sunshine-powered units.

The global economy was built on coal and oil power and it can't be turned around overnight even with the fevered rantings of George and his ilk.

And equating US researchers to nazis is something the researchers might take issue with. I wonder if George is one of those who equate global warming skeptics to holocaust deniers?

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Happy

@Coal gasification in North Dakota

If they return the land to the state it was in before then there is no problem with strip mining.

There's plenty of seawater to wash the coal with, some of it is clean seawater which hasn't had lots of chemical waste and raw sewage pumped into it.

Also, if nuclear power is clean and safe then there is no problem there.

See? No need to be so depressed; the future is looking good.

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IT Angle

;) well, what about

water? seems to work here pretty well, there are energy companies that manage to deliver 100% energy from either reservoir power station or river power plants...

aren't there any rivers?

weird.

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@Tony

“There are no viable alternatives to oil right now except plant or coal based fuels.”

So your proposed solution to oil is to use a process which generates just as much carbon from a different fossil fuel?

Any you’re calling the *author* an idiot?

No he hasn’t managed to solve the worlds carbon problem in 2 pages (wot a bastard), but I think he highlights the pointless posturing of American politicians perfectly, and Americas continued ‘couldn’t really give a fuck’ attitude at senior levels quite well

I consider this to also be important – this ridiculous idea needs to be crossed off the list ASAP so other more serious solutions can be looked at

And finally no ones equating American scientists to Nazis. The scientists are simply using a system which was developed by Nazis in the 2nd World War, that’s a fact, but no ones saying they are Nazis, in the same way no one accuses NASA of being Nazis for similarly adopting their rocket technologies – get it?

What people *are* saying is that the conditions which forced Nazi Germany# to adopt this process; no easy access to oil fields, fighting a war on several fronts, massive disruption to shipping etc etc. Might not apply to the worlds only remaining superpower which has its own oil fields, control of most of the rest and is supposed to be reducing its carbon emissions

This is going over your head isn’t it? – ah nevermind

#Incidentally that’s just what Germany at that time in History is referred to as before you get your back up again, I’m not directly comparing America to Nazi Germany (I can if you want but that’s a completely different rant) ;0)

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