back to article The fracking oil price drop whacked Panasas – who's next in energy IT?

NAS appliance maker Panasas was forced to restructure after falling oil prices caused its customers in the energy sector to spend less on its technology. That's why executives fled the building, and why other staff have been let go. CEO Faye Pairman said Panasas has a long-standing strategy of diversifying into vertical …

  1. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

    The turmoil in the other markets certainly does help anyone. I would expect to see other verticals experience some (or quite a bit of) uncertainty.

  2. ecofeco Silver badge

    Who's next?

    All of them are at risk. Oil prices are predicted to stay soft at least until of this year, at best.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Who's next?

      "Until end of this year"

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Who's next?

      And even then there's a risk of what I call an "aluminum moment" when some breakthrough turns petroleum from precious to common overnight (like the Navy's synthetic fuel research).

      1. xenny

        Re: Who's next?

        Even with synthetic fuel, there's a lot of energy tied up in fossil fuels that would need to come from somewhere in a synthesis process, so it wouldn't/couldn't be an easy fix.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Who's next?

          Not if we break the taboo on nuclear reactors. The reasons the Navy's funding the research is because it reduces the logistics for aircraft carriers (who both have a portable fuel need AND an onboard nuclear reactor that could stand for some idle-time usage).

          1. xenny

            Re: Who's next?

            If we're wishing for the moon, I'll wish for a direct environmentalist->energy converter.

            That taboo is going to be insanely hard to break.

            1. Charles 9 Silver badge

              Re: Who's next?

              "That taboo is going to be insanely hard to break."

              They said the same thing about same-sex couples, too, I recall.

              Price at the pump could help to sweeten the deal.

          2. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Who's next?

            Naval reactors have vastly different safety and operational requirements to civil ones.

            Steam generating PWR works fine at small scales and there's plenty of cooling water around any ship when things go wrong.

            The single biggest risk with current technology nuclear power plants is that they're water-moderated and vastly oversized versions of the original Nautilus reactor.

            Water under high pressure (up to 20 atmospheres) and at high temperature (up to 400C) is both corrosive and wants to flash to steam at the slightest opportunity. Couple that with the native temperature of nuclear reactions being over 1200C (that's the temperature at the centre of a fuel rod) and things get nasty if the water goes away. Zirconium fuel rod cladding has a melting point of about 1850C but mixed with borated water it gets broken down to zirconium hyroxide and hydrogen pretty quickly long before the temperatures reach that high (which is what happened at Fukushima to drive those explosions). The end result is that no matter how careful you are, water used for reactor moderation has small amounts of nasty contaminants under normal conditions and is utterly loaded with them when things go pear shaped.

            (That residual heat when a reactor scrams? Most of it is because oxide pellets are shitty thermal conductors and it takes a _long_ time for the heat energy in the centre of a rod to make its way to the outside)

            The single largest safety improvement which could be made to civil reactors is to separate water from the radioactive stuff (and no, using molten sodium as moderator/coolant isn't a particularly bright idea) and get rid of any form of pressurisation of the reactor core - as you increase the size and pressure of your containment vessel engineering stresses increase exponentially. The best way to do that is with Molten Salts (even if not using molten salt fuel or thorium - there's a UK consultancy which has designed more-or-less conventional fuel-rod-based systems with salt moderators.)

            That said, even including all the military reactor incidents along with the big 3 civilian ones, nuclear power is statistically hundreds of thousands of times safer than burning coal in terms of deaths per TW/h (coal fire steam boilers go boom occasionally, it's not news) even for all those plants built before all the new safety rules went into place post Three-Mile-Island (many of which need applying to conventional plants)

            Fukushima can be summed up thus: "Tepco listened to consultant advice over safe positioning of backup generators and other anciliary equipment outside the actual reactors, then completely ignored that advice, putting things where they'd already been told was a risky location." - and yet noone died, even considering the number of other fuck ups that happened to allow a meltdown to take place on a plant that was more than a decade past its designed shutdown date, had been hit with an earthquake substantially larger than it was designed to endure AND hit with a tsunami larger than anticipated" - even with all that, the meltdowns could have been averted if Tepco management hadn't been so criminally inept at handling the disaster as it unfolded (including refusing offers of external assistance and generator provision). The only reason things didn't get worse is because the chief engineer onsite told management to fuck off and started doing what was actually required to save things.

            1. Charles 9 Silver badge

              Re: Who's next?

              "That said, even including all the military reactor incidents along with the big 3 civilian ones, nuclear power is statistically hundreds of thousands of times safer than burning coal in terms of deaths per TW/h (coal fire steam boilers go boom occasionally, it's not news) even for all those plants built before all the new safety rules went into place post Three-Mile-Island (many of which need applying to conventional plants)"

              I'm actually for increased use of reactors because, in practical terms, it's our only option in terms of meeting electrical demands long-term barring a paradigm shift like a net-positive fusion reactor. Part of the research into Generation IV is to find safer ways to do reactors. However, we're stymied by an extreme green "hairshirt" sect who can tap into all those disasters and the inherent uncertainty of atomic energy (Have we tested for ALL possibilities? Just ONE and it'll be TMI or Chernobyl all over again) to both raise NIMBY issues and raise regulatory costs. There's also the matter of handling the waste long-term because, IINM, one of the other problems is that waste fuel has a "sour spot" where it can be repurposed by a determined state into weapons-grade material for a fission bomb. In order to REALLY use up the fuel, you have to cross that sour spot, which is why reprocessing waste has been such a taboo.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Who's next?

        My company is developing the technology to extract sunshine from cucumbers. We're very close to a breakthrough actually.

        1. ToddR

          Re: Who's next?

          Well said Sir

      3. Tom 13

        Re: turns petroleum from precious to common overnight

        It's already common. Like diamonds the only thing that kept prices high was the cartel. For diamonds it was de Beers, for oil it was OPEC. Fracking broke the stranglehold OPEC had on oil. Saudi Arabia can try as hard as they want to put the genie back in the bottle but it won't work. There will of course be a lot of collateral damage before it ends. First up Russia which even now is scrambling to fill huge gaps in it's government budget.

      4. ToddR

        Re: Who's next?

        I assume synthetic fuel isn't created from Hygrogen and carbon, but using something like methane, or even a heavier hydocarbon such as ethane, propane, etc...........octane is petrol!

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Who's next?

          "I assume synthetic fuel isn't created from Hygrogen and carbon"

          Actually, it is. The current process extracts both CO2 and H2 from seawater and through an electrochemical process turns them into hydrocarbon fuel (specifically, JP5 jet fuel). Since the process extracts and uses CO2, it offsets practically any negative aspects of the fuel's use (pretty much what it puts into the environment was drawn from it when it was made).

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