Baseload renewable energy is cleaner, greener and cheaper than the undependable intermittents like solar and wind.
Some of the poorest countries on the planet are rushing to develop geothermal power while America concentrates on sometime power and various storage dreams that guarantees a continuing and probably increasing use of fossil fuels.
Makes no sense to me.
"Unlike wood grass biomass like Giant King Grass, Micanthus, Switchgrass and other C4 grasses can prove more economically viable."
Which one of the energy crops will help prevent forest fires like burning the kindling in California and Florida?
Gathering waste whether in municipal dumps or wood waste or even gathering weeds like kudzu can increase costs but does not use scarce resources like agriculture and actually improves the environment.
South Korea's largest oil company is converting manure to sugar as a sideline. Think maybe that might be better than polluting streams and eventually the like of Chesapeake Bay as Americans do?
"On the subject of ethanol and other liquid fuels, please could we have a comment on prospects for feedstocks with a high lignin content."
Significant resources are now going into building plant and equipment to convert such biomass to ethanol and other liquid fuels but my feeling even better is progress in replacing coal and natural gas-burning power plants with biomass pellets and briquets. The briquets, in particular, might make fossil fuel -burning power plants obsolete.
"wood fired power plants are mostly reworked coal facilities"
And your evidence for a rather meaningless claim is?
I had the pleasure years ago of making a trip to a green oasis of Burlington, VT, where Bernie Sanders - not exactly a favorite of polluters - was once mayor. The venerable McNeil Generating Station was converted to a wood burning power plant from natural gas, which may be the worst of all fossil fuels despite denials. Residents are invited to supplement other waste wood with yard debris by leaving it in a fenced yard. The technology is now old and particulate matter is not what one would desire but adjoining residential areas are light-years ahead of any I have seen in other industrial urban zones. Improvements are commonplace in new construction.
Gasification is no panacea.
Regardless of all that, replacing coal with wood - the McNeil Generating Station is surely rare, if not unique, in conversion of a natural gas power plant - is an undiluted blessing. Mining coal and adding to the pollution of the surface and atmosphere is much worse than recycling above ground carbon.
Firewood is always scrap and waste. Logging of forests and clearing of land is never motivated by desire for firewood in advanced economies.
Low temperature geothermal power is one exciting development missing from your fine article.
Alaska, with the greatest and most obvious geothermal assets of any state, has long had its only geothermal generation of power at Chena Spa. Oddly the Chena Ice Museum is kept from melting in the summer using electricity generated from waters about as hot as a cup of tea.
In the Valhalla of geothermal power, the isolated hamlet of Husavik, Iceland, has used a trash burner to add heat to tepid geothermal brines.
And so it goes.
Geothermal power is far more adversely affected by hefty start-up costs, time to production and bad publicity than the expensive intermittent weaklings.
The very first geothermal power production in Larderello, Italy, has remained in production without any diminution of power and little maintenance aside from a two or three-year after being bombed during WWII. The vampire management of America's Geyser field did enormous harm but it remains the world's largest generator of geothermal power and is increasing its power production today with continuing remediation. Primary beneficiaries in the greater San Francisco area are mostly unaware of its existence.
Why go to the expense and effort of converting a minor fraction of biomass to a dirty low-value methane when dried and compacted biomass is a fine fuel by itself without the pollution. There have been efforts to use finely powdered biomass in an internal combustion engine but external combustion engines will probably remain a far better choice.
As far as power plants, biomass pellets, and better briquetts, can easily replace coal or other fossil fuel.
"I watched the piles of feces go up the conveyer belt and drop into a large bin. They made their way through the machine, getting boiled and treated. A few minutes later I took a long taste of the end result: a glass of delicious drinking water.
The occasion was a tour of a facility that burns human waste and produces water and electricity (plus a little ash). I have visited lots of similar sites, like power plants and paper mills, so when I heard about this one—it’s part of the Gates Foundation’s effort to improve sanitation in poor countries—I was eager to check it out.
The water tasted as good as any I’ve had out of a bottle."
Seems like Bill Gates might possibly have tasted better but who knows?
The fiction that the ancient arts of anaerobic digestion and pyrolysis are all that are available is bunk.
It is such backward thinking that is a terrible drag on conversion from fossil fuels.
This is somewhat reminiscent of a 19th Century quest to determine finally if our own planet was short and fat or thin and tall.
All the leading scientific minds from all corners of the globe that could be available were to study on the matter and determined the planet was tall and thin.
They got it wrong.
Instead of being tall and thin, our planet is short and fat.
- Anybody who cares about our planet and even our own human survival cares about such matters but it is always a small proportion of the population.
- Being wrong, as in this case, is far less important than being willing to set aside prejudice and parochial concerns as seemed to be true. Today we only want cheap final answers and care little about the science and mathematics.
Today we know far more about our planet and threats to it and how to deal with them than we would have without the scientific curiosity that led to phenomenal progress.
But we still know so little in a sea of ignorance.
Thanks to all the truth seekers, no matter how few the number. It is the questions rather than the answers that are most important.
IMNSVHO it is an unscientific pomposity to declare CO2 the main culprit in global warming instead of a handy index. Scientific truth is always ephemeral while theological truth is eternal and always wrong.
I very much appreciate this blog and mean no criticism of the author for a very important subject.
Possibly I am wrong about some things. :-)
Superb. Now if the author could only lose the focus on undependable super expensive energy like solar and turn to superabundant, cheap baseload energy he would be entering prophet status. :-)
The math presented claiming China has 1/6th of the world's geothermal resources is most unlikely IMHO but in any case such surveys are based on the flimsiest of evidence. Current prospecting technology for geothermal resources is little advanced from the time oil prospecting amounted to looking for oil leaking on the ground.
One company prospecting for geothermal resources for development in the U.S. looked for isotopes from the mantle in warm water supplied by springs. That is a sophistication quite distinct from the usual large area heat surveys but only in beginning stages.
Japan on the other hand would appear to be aggressively developing its geothermal resources but little could be further from the truth. The northern islands where scalding hot water springs need to cool substantially before being used for baths as the Romans did in a long ago era have been banned in the past from using the cooling for power for fear the spirits would be offended. The superstition may be breaking down since the latest nuclear holocaust but only reluctantly much like that in Hawaii, where native Hawaiians have worried about offending Pele, the Goddess of Fire.