Wednesday, December 3, 2014

“The whole Revolution turned upon, asserted, and, in theory, established, the right of each and every man, at his discretion, to release himself from the support of the government under which he had lived. And this principle was asserted, not as a right peculiar to themselves, or to that time, or as applicable only to the government then existing; but as a universal right of all men, at all times, and under all circumstances.

What was true of our ancestors, is true of revolutionists in general. The monarchs and governments, from whom they choose to separate, attempt to stigmatize them as traitors. But they are not traitors in fact; inasmuch as they betray, and break faith with, no one. Having pledged no faith, they break none. They are simply men, who, for reasons of their own—whether good or bad, wise or unwise, is immaterial—choose to exercise their natural right of dissolving their connexion with the governments under which they have lived. In doing this, they no more commit the crime of treason—which necessarily implies treachery, deceit, breach of faith—than a man commits treason when he chooses to leave a church, or any other voluntary association, with which he has been connected.

This principle was a true one in 1776. It is a true one now. It is the only one on which any rightful government can rest. It is the one on which the Constitution itself professes to rest. If it does not really rest on that basis, it has no right to exist; and it is the duty of every man to raise his hand against it.”

— Lysander Spooner, No Treason No. 1

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

“Anarchism swept us away completely because it both demanded everything of us and offered us everything. There was no remotest corner of life that it failed to illumine; at least so it seemed to us. A man could be a Catholic, a Protestant, a Liberal, a Radical, a Socialist, even a syndicalist, without in any way changing his own life, and therefore life in general. It was enough for him, after all, to read the appropriate newspaper; or, if he was strict, to frequent the café associated with whatever tendency claimed his allegiance. Shot through with contradictions, fragmented into varieties and sub-varieties, anarchism demanded, before anything else, harmony between deeds and words (which, in truth, is demanded by all forms of idealism, but which they all forget as they become complacent). That is why we adopted what was (at that moment) the extremest variety, which by vigorous dialectic had succeeded, through the logic of its revolutionism, in discarding the necessity of revolution. To a certain extent we were impelled in that direction by our disgust with a certain type of rather mellow, academic anarchism, whose Pope was Jean Grave in Temps Nouveaux. Individualism had just been affirmed by our hero Albert Libertad. No one knew his real name, or anything of him before he started preaching. Crippled in both legs, walking on crutches which he plied vigorously in fights (he was a great one for fighting, despite his handicap), he bore, on a powerful body, a bearded head whose face was finely proportioned. Destitute, having come as a tramp from the south, he began preaching in Montmarte, among libertarian circles and the queues of poor devils waiting for their dole of soup not far from the site of Sacré Coeur. Violent, magnetically attractive, he became the heart and soul of a movement of such exceptional dynamism that it is not entirely dead even at this day. Libertad loved streets, crowds, fights, ideas, and women. One two occasions he set up house with a pair of sisters, the Mahés and then the Morands. He had children whom he refused to register with the State. ‘The State? Don’t know it. The name? I don’t give a damn; they’ll pick one that suits them. The law? To hell with it.’ He died in hospital in 1908 as the result of a fight, bequeathing his body (‘That carcass of mine,’ he called it) for dissection in the cause of science.

His teaching, which we adopted almost wholesale, was: ‘Don’t wait for the revolution. Those who promise revolution are frauds just like the others. Make your own revolution, by being free men and living in comradeship.’ Obviously I am simplifying, but the idea itself had a beautiful simplicity. Its absolute commandment and rule of life was: ‘Let the old world go to blazes.’ From this position there were naturally many deviations. Some inferred that one should ‘live according to Reason and Science,’ and their impoverished worship of science, which invoked the mechanistic biology of Félix le Dantec, led them on to all sorts of tomfoolery, such as saltless, vegetarian diet and fruitarianism and also, in certain cases, to tragic ends. We saw young vegetarians involved in pointless struggles against the whole of society. Others decided ‘Let’s be outsiders. The only place for us is the fringe of society.’ They did not stop to think that society has no fringe, that no one is ever outside it, even in the depth of dungeons, and that their ‘conscious egoism,’ sharing the life of the defeated, linked up from below with the most brutal bourgeois individualism.

Finally, others, including myself, sought to harness together personal transformation and revolutionary action, in accordance with the motto of Élisée Reclus: ‘As long as social injustice lasts we shall remain in a state of permanent revolution.’ (I am quoting this from memory.) Libertarian individualism gave us a hold over the most intense reality: ourselves. Be yourself.”

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

“Man is here to affirm himself in the universe, that is his first business, but also to evolve and finally to exceed himself: he has to enlarge his partial being into a complete being, his partial consciousness into an integral consciousness; he has to achieve mastery of his environment but also world-union and world-harmony; he has to realise his individuality but also to enlarge it into a cosmic self and a universal and spiritual delight of existence. A transformation, a chastening and correction of all that is obscure, erroneous and ignorant in his mentality, an ultimate arrival at a free and wide harmony and luminousness of knowledge and will and feeling and action and character, is the evident intention of his nature; it is the ideal which the creative Energy has imposed on his intelligence, a need implanted by her in his mental and vital substance. But this can only be accomplished by his growing into a larger being and a larger consciousness: self-enlargement, self-fulfilment, self-evolution from what he partially and temporarily is in his actual and apparent nature to what he completely is in his secret self and spirit and therefore can become even in his manifest existence, is the object of his creation. This hope is the justification of his life upon earth amidst the phenomena of the cosmos. The outer apparent man, an ephemeral being subject to the constraints of his material embodiment and imprisoned in a limited mentality, has to become the inner real Man, master of himself and his environment and universal in his being. In a more vivid and less metaphysical language, the natural man has to evolve himself into the divine Man; the sons of Death have to know themselves as the children of Immortality. It is on this account that the human birth can be described as the turning-point in the evolution, the critical stage in earth-nature.

It follows at once that the knowledge we have to arrive at is not truth of the intellect; it is not right belief, right opinions, right information about oneself and things—that is only the surface mind’s idea of knowledge. To arrive at some mental conception about God and ourselves and the world is an object good for the intellect but not large enough for the Spirit; it will not make us the conscious sons of Infinity. Ancient Indian thought meant by knowledge a consciousness which possesses the highest Truth in a direct perception and in self-experience.”
“We’re going into the labyrinth. She had proposed that we start a business together, and in fact that happened. The business is called Pharmacophilia. And so instead of talking about psychopharmacological engineering, and theorizing, we’re going to start doing it. With whatever we can do now, undercapitalized without a lot of resources. And our first product will be Pharmahuasca. Those who are familiar with The Entheogen Review and other publications surely know that it’s more or less a code-word for an ayahuasca analogue made with pure compounds, as opposed to plant extracts or teas or infusions. And there are possibilities of making them legally. The MAOI—the ayahuasca alkaloids—ß-carbolines, are not controlled anywhere to my knowledge except in Japan. As for the tryptamines, in Europe DMT is the only one that’s controlled, unless you classify LSD and ibogaine as tryptamines, which certainly they are. But of the simple, what I call the short-acting tryptamines, DMT is the only one that is controlled. And so that gives you quite a lot of latitude for different tryptamines that can be added. So we’re going to make this as two separate pills, one of which is the Natural Herbal Relaxant, which is a minimal MAOI dose of ß-carboline, and the other one is the Natural Herbal Tonic, which is a minimal psychotropic dose of a short-acting tryptamine which is legal. And so one tablet of the one, plus one to three tablets of the other will give a three- to four-hour pharmahuasca experience.” 

Spiritual and Mystical Experiences

“For many, perhaps most, people the main reason to partake of Ayahuasca is spiritual. In all traditional and institutionalized contexts of Ayahuasca the consumption of the brew is a sacrament, a sacred ritual. It is not for nothing that psychoactive plants have been called ‘plants of the gods’ (Schultes and Hoffman, 1979) and that for many the term ‘entheogen’ (i.e. that generating the god within) is currently replacing the older and, to some, pejorative, terms ‘hallucinogen’ and ‘psychedelic.’  Personally, if I were to pick one single effect of Ayahuasca that had the most important impact on my life (there were many and the choice of one is not all that easy), I would say that before my encounter with the brew I was an atheist (I used to define myself as a nineteenth-century-middle-European-like intellectual who is a devout atheist with a strong affinity to Jewish history and its scholarly tradition) and when I returned back home after my long journey in South America, I no longer was one. Likewise, a significant number of informants I have interviewed indicated that the main lesson they received from Ayahuasca was religious or spiritual. ‘Ayahuasca showed me that God exists,’ ‘I have come to appreciate the place of the sacred in human life,’ ‘I have encountered the Divine,’ are all statements I have heard more than one person say. There are many individuals who, in direct consequence of their experience with Ayahuasca, underwent a radical religious or spiritual conversion. Towards the end of sessions, it is very common for members to tell the group of the great impact that the encounter with the ‘tea’ has had on their lives. Many times in such testimonies I have heard people proclaim that this encounter was the single most important event in their lives, that it had totally changed them, that with it they found healing and new meaning to their human existence. For some, the transformative impact of Ayahuasca is long-lasting and its effects remain throughout the course of the person’s entire life.  The consideration of the spiritual and mystical experiences associated with Ayahuasca extends beyond the cognitive-psychological domain proper. A serious theoretical examination of these experiences should include analyses pertaining to personality theory, clinical psychology, metaphysics, and theology. This discussion is bound to involve observations and reflections of a personal and speculative nature, ones calling for a style of discourse very different from that I have adopted here. Hence, the topic is outside of the present framework. Here I would only like to make several brief phenomenological remarks and to relate the experiences encountered with Ayahuasca to those reported in the literature on mysticism; for pertinent general discussions the reader is referred to Bucke (1901), James (1902), Underhill (1911), Stace (1960), Maslow (1970), and Scharfstein (1974), as well as Masters and Houston (1966), and Wainwright (1981) who specifically discuss substance-induced mystical and religious experiences.”

Encountering the Divine

“Earlier I examined visions in which God, deities, and divine beings are encountered. The emphasis there was on the visual aspects of the visions; here I would like to focus on their spiritual aspects and on the experience people characterize as encountering the Divine.

Not surprisingly, it is not easy to describe experiences of this kind. Here, indeed, we reach the realm of the ineffable. There is no question in my mind that when people say that they have had ‘an encounter with the Divine’ they are referring to a genuine experience that they have had. I have had such experiences too. Explaining what this experience consists of, however, is less clear. Nor is it clear that all people employ the phrase with the same facility. I have asked several of my informants to explain what they meant by this term. Their answers included references to ‘a presence which is full,’ ‘the ground of all that exists,’ ‘the source of all life,’ ‘the fountain of all wisdom,’ ‘the utmost perfection,’ and ‘sublime happiness.’

An experience that for me was very powerful occurred at a Daime session:

‘I was sitting in front of a white wall on which a golden star of David (the seal of Solomon) was inscribed [this was real—this symbol is central in the Santo Daime Church]. The star-shaped figure was shining and I felt a presence very strongly. The expression ‘behind the Veil’ (traditionally employed in Judaism to characterize indirect encounters with the Divine) came to my mind and I engaged in a silent communication with whatever power was there.’

Subsequently, in a letter to a friend I wrote that I was washed by grace and that I understood that all Existence is infused with the Divine, with sacredness.”

Mystical Experiences

“As noted, various aspects of the Ayahuasca experience are reminiscent of patterns found in reports of mystical experiences encountered in many religious traditions. In particular, I would like to point out that all the classical characteristics of mystical experiences defined by Stace (1960) are encountered with Ayahuasca (see also Bucke, 1901; James, 1902; Forman, 1990; Wade, 1996; and Merkur, 1999). Stace distinguishes between two types of mystical experience which he labels the ‘extrovertive’ and ‘introvertive.’ Each of these is defined by a series of seven characteristics. However, out of the seven only the first characteristic significantly differs for the two types.

Stace further claims that only the introvertive type can be induced by external means. I disagree: all the experiences he associates with the extrovertive are also encountered with Ayahuasca. In the light of this disagreement, and since with respect to most features the two types are the same, I have opted to combine the two aspects in one paragraph and present just one list of characteristics, not two, as Stace does.

With Ayahuasca all the patterns associated with both types can be encountered. Following is a list of these patterns along with commentary on the comparable phenomena encountered with Ayahuasca.

1. Unity. In the extrovertive case, unity pertains to the mystic’s perception of the world; in the introvertive case, unity pertains to the mystic’s state of consciousness. Consequently, in the former case the mystic directly feels that behind the multiplicity in the world there is oneness that is apprehended as unitary consciousness devoid of sensual form and conceptual content. In the latter, the mystic feels that the boundaries of the self dissipate and that he or she becomes one with an existence larger than him- or herself. Both patterns are encountered with Ayahuasca.

2. Transcendence of time and space. The mystic feels that time and space are no longer relevant.

3. Noesis. The mystic regards what he or she experiences as illumination or true knowledge. In particular, visions and ideations are taken to pertain to an objective, independent reality. The assessment that this is the case is grounded in a direct, intuitive feeling.

4. Positive feelings of blessedness, joy, peace, happiness. All these feelings are very marked with Ayahuasca. Harmony is yet another pillar of this experience.

5. A sense of sacredness. This is manifested in whatever is being apprehended is taken to be holy and divine. This is the general atmosphere that Ayahuasca induces.

6. Paradoxicality. Mystical experiences seem to defy the standard cannons of logic. The medieval philosopher and mystic Nicholas de Cusa said explicitly that in order to reach the higher realms of the Divine one has to leave rationality behind:

‘The abode wherein You [God] dwell unveiledly—an abode surrounded by the coincidences of contradictories. And this coincidence is the wall of Paradise, wherein You dwell. The gate of this wall is guarded by a most lofty rational spirit; unless the spirit is vanquished the entrance will not be accessible. Therefore, on the other side of the coincidence of contradictories You can be seen—but not at all on this side.’

7. Ineffability. Many facets of the Ayahuasca experience are described by drinkers as being beyond any verbal description. I reckon that the most fitting thing is not to say anything further here; for general philosophical discussion on this matter, see Stace (1960) and S. Katz (1992).

Lastly in the literature it is also pointed out that mystical experiences often have concrete, pragmatic effects. Indeed, some have taken the transformative impact to be a defining property of these experiences (see Pahnke and Richards, 1966; Pahnke, 1972). This impact may manifest in religious conversion, changes in world-views and belief systems, and in new definitions of one’s personal and ethical values. As indicated in the introductory comments to this section, with Ayahuasca such manifestations are common, and often they are quite radical. For general discussion of the long-term psychological and psychotherapeutic impact of psychotropic substances the reader is refered to Masters and Houston (1966) and Grof (1980, 1994, 2009).

In sum, all the paradigmatic characteristics of the mystical experience are encountered with Ayahuasca.

By way of conclusion, let me point out that the foregoing comparative statements also bear on the more general question regarding the status, meaning, and value of religious and spiritual experiences induced by the ingestion of psychoactive agents. Are these comparable to the experiences of mystics attained without external agents? Are they as valuable? With respect to the first facet of the question, the phenomenological, my empirical study of Ayahuasca leads me to answer with a categorical ‘yes.’ The second facet, that of value judgement, is to be discussed elsewhere.”
“Religion, leaving constantly its little shining core of spiritual experience, has lost itself in the obscure mass of its ever extending ambiguous compromises with life: in attempting to satisfy the thinking mind, it more often succeeded in oppressing or fettering it with a mass of theological dogmas; while seeking to net the human heart, it fell itself into pits of pietistic emotionalism and sensationalism; in the act of annexing the vital nature of man to dominate it, it grew itself vitiated and fell a prey to all the fanaticism, homicidal fury, savage or harsh turn for oppression, pullulating falsehood, obstinate attachment to ignorance to which that vital nature is prone; its desire to draw the physical in man towards God betrayed it into chaining itself to ecclesiastic mechanism, hollow ceremony and lifeless ritual.”

Saturday, January 4, 2014


“When seen from the most fundamental physical point of view, all processes—natural or social, geological or historical, gradual or sudden—are just conversions of energy that must conform to the laws of thermodynamics as such conversions increase the overall entropy (a measure of the dispersal of energy) in the universe. This perspective would make the possession and mastery of energy resources and their ingenious use the critical factor shaping human affairs. Also, given the progressively higher use of energy in major civilizations, this perspective would lead logically to a notion of linear advances with history reduced to a quest for increased complexity that is made possible by higher energy flows. People who could command—and societies and civilizations which could use large and high-quality energy resources with superior intensities and efficiencies—would be obvious thermodynamic winners; those converting less with lower efficiencies would be fundamentally disadvantaged.

Such a deterministic interpretation of energy’s role in world history may be a flawless proposition in terms of fundamental physics, but it amounts to a historically untenable reductionism (explanation of complex life-science processes and phenomena in terms of the laws of physics and chemistry) of vastly more complex realities. Energy sources and their conversions do not determine a society’s aspirations, its ethos (distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs) and cohesion, its fundamental cultural accomplishments, or its long-term resilience or fragility.

Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, a pioneer of thermodynamic studies of economy and the environment, made a similar point in 1980 by emphasizing that such physical fundamentals are akin to geometric constraints on the size of the diagonal in a square—but they do not determine its color and tell us nothing whatsoever about how that color came about. Analogically, all societies have their overall scope of action, their technical and economic capacities, and their social achievements constrained by the kinds of energy sources and by the varieties and efficiencies of the prime movers they rely on—but these constraints cannot explain such critical cultural factors as creative brilliance or religious fervor, and they offer little predictive guidance regarding a society’s form and efficiency of governance or its dedication to the welfare of its citizens. The best explanation of energy’s role in history thus calls for the difficult task of balancing these two realities, of striving for explanations that take into account both polarities.

I strongly believe that the key to managing future global energy needs is to break with the current expectation of unrestrained energy use in affluent societies. Of course, Ethiopia or China need more energy services and hence an efficiently expanded supply. But most of the world’s low-entropy flux is used by nations that could derive great benefits from seriously examining their longstanding pursuit of higher energy inputs. At the beginning of the twentieth century Ostwald tied the availability of energy, substitution of labor by mechanical prime moves, and increased efficiency of energy conversions to cultural progress. And the extension of Lotka’s principle of maximized energy flows to human affairs would mean that the most competitive societies would strive for the highest possible energy fluxes.

Historical perspectives cast doubts on the validity of the maximized power stratagem in civilization. Expansions of empires may be seen as perfect examples of the striving for maximized power flows, but societies commanding prodigious energy flows—be it late imperial Rome or the early-twenty-first-century United States—are limited by their very reach and complexity. They depend on energy and material imports, are vulnerable to internal malaise, and display social drift and the loss of direction that is incompatible with the resources at their command. And even at the peak of their physical powers these high-energy societies may not be able to deal with assailants (be they Germanic tribes, Vietnamese peasants, or Islamic terrorists) whose determination more than makes up for their low-energy status.

Higher energy use does not guarantee anything except greater environmental burdens. Higher energy use does not make a country more secure. The Soviet case, with nearly doubled post-WW II per capita use but with a crippling share channeled into armaments, was perhaps the most striking example during the latter half of the twentieth century. Enormous energy use could not prevent economic prostration, a fundamental reappraisal of the Soviet strategic posture, and Mikhail Gorbachev’s initiation of long-overdue changes. All of this was too little too late, and by 1991 the Soviet empire, at that time the world’s largest energy producer, disintegrated.

Ever higher energy use is not the precondition for greater economic prosperity. Higher energy use in farming does not guarantee prosperous agriculture. Increased energy subsidies may be used with very poor efficiency in irrigation and fertilization, may support unhealthy diets leading to obesity, or may be responsible for severe environmental degradation incompatible with permanent farming (higher soil erosion, irrigation-induced salinization, pesticide residues). Higher energy use in industry does not lead automatically to modernization in poor nations. Stalinist USSR and Maoist China are examples of misallocation of energies into inefficient, militarized economies.

Higher energy use does not bring greater cultural flowering. If this self-evident fact needs illustrating, it is enough to juxtapose the Greek urban civilization of 450 B.C.E. with today’s Athens, or Florence of the late fifteenth century with Los Angeles of the early twenty-first century. In both comparisons there is a difference of an entire order of magnitude in per capita energy use of primary energy and an immeasurably large inverse disparity in terms of respective cultural legacies. Higher energy use beyond the desirable annual energy consumption minima does not create a superior quality of life. Higher energy flows actually erode quality of life, first for populations that are immediately affected by the extraction or conversion of energies, eventually for everyone through worrisome global environmental changes.

Higher energy use does not promote social stability. Just the reverse is true: it tends to be accompanied by greater social disintegration, demoralization, and malaise. None of the social dysfunctions—the abuse of children and women, violent crime, widespread alcohol and drug use—has ebbed in affluent societies, and many of them have only grown worse. Higher energy use does not bring necessarily high system efficiencies. Some impressive efficiency increases of individual prime movers and fuel and electricity converters of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries brought about rapid technical advances. But as a large part of the total primary energy supply (TPES) goes into short-lived disposable junk and into dubious pleasures and thrills promoted by mindless advertising, the overall ecological efficiency of high-energy modern societies is hardly an improvement over the earlier state of human development.

Higher energy use also does not bring any meaningful increase in civilization’s diversity. In natural ecosystems the link between useful energy throughputs and species diversity is clear. But it would be misleading to interpret an overwhelming choice of consumer goods and the expanding availability of services as signs of admirable diversity in modern high-energy societies. Rather, with rampant (and often crass materialism), increasing numbers of functionally illiterate and innumerate people, and mass media that promotes the lowest common denominator of taste, human intellectual diversity may be at an historically unrivaled low point. Finally, there is no obvious link between satisfaction with life, individual happiness, and per capita energy use.

The gains that elevate humanity, that make us more secure and more hopeful about the future, cannot be brought solely by rising energy use. National security is not primarily a matter of energy-intensive weaponry. It is unattainable without social cohesion, without purposeful striving for a more fulfilling future, and without a sound economy. Economic security comes when nations do not live beyond their means. True quality of life arises from awareness of history, from strong cultural values, and from preservation of nature’s irreplaceable services rather than from profligate extraction of its goods and accumulation of ephemeral acquisitions. Social stability rests above all else on the cohesiveness of family, on a sense of belonging, and shared moral values. Satisfactory performance in agriculture comes from farming without excess. Wise investment of energy in a nation’s modernization requires diversification, flexibility, and avoidance of shameful disparities. And true human diversity and satisfaction with life is impossible without elevating human efforts above absent-minded consumerism.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century a purposeful society could guarantee a decent level of physical well-being and longevity, varied nutrition, basic educational opportunities, and respect for individual freedoms with annual TPES of 50-70 gigajoules (GJ) per capita. Remarkably, the global mean of per capita energy consumption at the beginning of the twenty-first century, 58 GJ per year, is almost exactly in the middle of this range. Equitable sharing would thus provide the world’s entire population with enough energy to lead healthy, long, active lives enriched by more than a basic level of education and the exercise of individual liberties. We could do much better within a single generation. The global economy has been lowering its energy intensity by about 1% per year, and a continuation of this trend would mean that by 2025 the mean 2000 TPES of 58 GJ per capita would be able to energize the production of goods and services for which we now need about 75 GJ. Conversely, energy services provided by 58 GJ in 2000 required about 70 GJ per capita of initial inputs during the early 1970s, and that rate was the French mean of the 1960s and the Japanese mean of the late 1960s.

This simple comparison demonstrates that an impressively high worldwide standard of living could be achieved with virtually unchanged global energy consumption. Billions of today’s poor people would be happy to experience by 2025 the quality of life that was enjoyed by people in Lyon or Kyoto during the 1960s. It would be an immense improvement, a gain that would elevate them from barely adequate subsistence to incipient affluence. But lowering the rich world’s average TPES (as well as that of a few hundred million rich urbanites in the poor world) seems to be an utterly unrealistic proposition. Leaving aside the accumulation of ephemeral junk, what is so precious about our gains through high energy use that we seem unwilling even to contemplate a return to lower, but still (by any reasonable standard) generous, levels of fuel and electricity consumption?

There is no benefit in pushing food supply above 13 megajoules/day; waste and spreading obesity are the only ‘rewards.’ And the activity that has been shown to be most beneficial in preventing the foremost cause of death in Western populations is a brisk 30-60 minute walk most days, not living in a virtual electronic universe. As unrealistic as reductions of more than 50% of average per capita TPES appear to be, the comparison should be on our minds as we think about future energy consumption, bridging the gap between the rich and poor worlds, and establishing a more secure global civilization. After all, North America’s levels of consumption cannot become global means. Extending the pattern of 5% of the world’s population consuming 25% of global TPES would call for a quintupling of global energy use. And perpetuation of existing inequalities only aggravates endless global strife.

We must realize that the quest for maximization of energy flows that has marked the ascent of fossil-fueled civilization is not an inevitable evolutionary trend. We must hope that during the twenty-first century humanity will work out a new balance between adequate energy use to sustain a decent quality of life and the imperative of not affecting the biosphere in ways inimical to human survival. Achieving this grand compromise is not inevitable or certain. Possibilities of other futures easily come to mind, and there is no shortage of dark visions. Our best hope is that we will find the determination to make choices that would confirm the Linnaean designation of our species—sapiens.”
Vaclav Smil 

With that as a basis established, what would a comprehensive energy policy look like?

Provide an accurate, level-headed assessment of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions

◊ Supply some skepticism which should be an inherent characteristic of a scientific mind

◊ Deploy several new small modular reactor designs

» “The path that might free up nuclear fission energy’s true potential involves the recognition that nuclear energy is not limited to massive central station power plants. I like to point to the developmental path of computers as an example of the path I advocate for nuclear energy. In the very earliest days of both computing and nuclear, discoveries were made on a modest scale and the technology was developed by individuals and small teams.

Both technologies, however, were influenced by war and corporate power to develop massive scale machines surrounded by security barriers and a desire to limit access to the chosen few—including corporations that used government functionaries to help protect their monopoly profits.

In computing, a few brave, independent thinkers broke down the barriers that made scale so important to companies like IBM, Control Data, Honeywell, UNIVAC, NCR and their corporate customers. Computing pioneers invented ways to shift computing power to ever smaller scale machines, moving through miniature computers to desktop personal computers to laptops to handheld smartphones, tablets and ultra portable laptops. Those innovators were joined by the rest of us as we purchased their inventions, cheered their successes, and excitedly contributed to a technological development that has resulted in billions of people having instant access to the world’s accumulated knowledge through devices they can carry in their pockets.

Unfortunately, nuclear fission, which has some of the same potential for ‘Moore’s Law’ paced innovation as microprocessor based computing, remains tied up in trivial threads that have kept it almost entirely locked up in enormous scale machines owned and operated by corporations and governments that can only move lethargically. The owners and operators of current nuclear machines have a huge reluctance to do anything that would dramatically change the status quo because they are current beneficiaries of the way things are today.

The recent acceptance in the United States that nuclear energy might be better if we allow smaller machines is encouraging. Successful deployment of smaller instances of nuclear energy just might help convince people that the basic technology, like most technologies, can be used on a community scale. Smaller instances of nuclear energy have the potential to allow a far greater number of people to share the experience of getting to know nuclear in the same intimate way that submarine engineers get to know their source of power and propulsion.

I’d like to encourage more people who think locally to think about how much impact it could have on all of the things that they really care about if they could live in communities that were powered by smaller nuclear energy systems. Those systems could be distributed, locally operated, emission free, and reliable. The used materials could be gathered into regional storage areas until such time as there was a sufficient inventory to develop effective recycling programs.

Land, water and air resources would be less stressed. Transportation requirements for new fuel would be substantially reduced. Concentrated wealth and power in the hands of the fossil fuel pushers would be dispersed. Perhaps I am a utopian, but I also think of myself as an atomic optimist who is capable of doing the math and recognizing the difference between a realistic goal and an unreachable mirage.

Additional resources:
NuScale Power (
Flibe Energy (
Generation mPower (
Gen4 Energy (
Westinghouse SMR (
Holtec SMR LLC (”
— Rod Adams (

◊ Give high priority to high temperature gas-cooled reactors

» “There are currently two major types of high-temperature gas reactor designs under consideration: the pebble bed and the prismatic designs. Early versions of these reactor designs were demonstrated in the 1970s and 1980s. Test reactors for the pebble bed and prismatic designs are presently operating in China and Japan respectively. Both of these reactor designs are graphite-moderated and helium-cooled, and both use coated particle fuel kernels embedded in a graphitic matrix material. The primary differences between these designs are the shape of the fuel-bearing graphitic matrix and the distribution of fuel in the reactor core.

The pebble bed design uses hundreds of thousands of tennis ball-sized spherical fuel elements called pebbles. The pebbles are stacked together in contact with each other like gumballs in a vending machine. The pebbles are added at the top, circulate through the reactor core, and are removed from the bottom. Fuel replacement in a pebble bed design is continuous and allows for online refueling.

The prismatic design uses cylindrical fuel elements that are pressed into channels drilled into graphite blocks. These fuel-bearing blocks are stacked in columns in fixed locations in the reactor core. Refueling is accomplished by shutting down the reactor, removing the fuel-bearing blocks, and replacing the oldest ones with new blocks.”

» “Although the fuel configurations differ, both reactor types start with the same kind of fuel particles, and it is these tiny particles that will revolutionize electricity generation and industry throughout the world. Developed and improved over the past 50 years, these ceramic-coated nuclear fuel particles, three-hundredths of an inch in diameter (0.75 millimeters), make possible a high-temperature reactor that cannot melt down.

This fourth-generation reactors uses the fission reaction to produce heat, but instead of boiling water, the heat is used to heat helium, an inert gas, which then directly turns a turbine, which is connected to a generator to produce electricity. By eliminating the steam cycle, these HTRs increase the reactor efficiency by 50%, thus reducing the cost of power production.

At the center of each fuel particle is a kernel of fissile fuel, such as uranium oxycarbide. This is coated with a graphite buffer, and then surrounded by three or more successive containment layers, two layers of pyrolytic carbon and one layer of silicon carbide. The nuclear reaction at the center is contained inside the particle, along with any products of the fission reaction. The ceramic layers that encapsulate the fuel will stay intact up to 2,000°C (3,632°F), which is well above the highest possible temperature of the reactor core, 1,600°C (2,912°F), even if there is a failure of the coolant.

The Chinese tested this in the HTR-10 in September 2004, turning off the helium coolant. The reactor shut down automatically, the fuel temperature remained under 1,600°C, and there was no failure of the fuel containment. This demonstrates both the inherent safety of the reactor design, and the integrity of the fuel particles.

How does the fission chain reaction occur if all the fission products are contained inside the fuel particles? The key is the neutron.

When the atomic nucleus of uranium splits apart, it produces heat in the form of fast-moving neutral particles (neutrons) and two or more lighter elements. To sustain a controlled fission chain reaction, every nucleus that fissions has to produce at least one neutron that will be captured by another uranium nucleus, causing it to split. The fission process is very fast; ejected neutrons stay free for about 1/10,000 of a second. Then they are either captured by fissionable uranium, or they escape without causing fissioning, to be captured by other elements or by nonfissionable uranium. Free neutrons can travel only about three feet.

In the HTR, each tiny fuel particle contains the fission products produced by its uranium fuel kernel; only the neutrons leave the fuel particles.

The beauty of the high-temperature reactor, and the reason that it can attain such a high temperature (1,562°F, or 850°C, compared with the 600°F of conventional nuclear plants) lies in the choice of helium, the inert gas that carries the heat produced by the reactor. Helium has three key advantages:

1. Helium remains as a gas, and thus the hot helium can directly turn a gas turbine, enabling conversion to electricity without a steam cycle.

2. Helium can be heated to a higher temperature than water, so that the outlet temperature of the HTR can be higher than in conventional water-cooled nuclear reactors.

3. Helium is inert and does not react chemically with the fuel or the reactor components, so there is no corrosion problem.

The helium circulates through the nuclear core, conveying the heat from the reactor through a connecting duct to the turbine. Then it passes through a compressor system, where it is cooled to 915°F (490°C), and reenters the nuclear core. The use of helium as both the coolant and the gas that turns the turbine simplifies the reactor by eliminating much of the equipment (and expense) of conventional reactors. The high heat that is produced can be coupled with many industrial processes, such as desalination of seawater, hydrogen production, and coal liquefaction. These reactors are also small enough to be located on site for some industries, producing both electricity and process heat.

The modular HTRs are inherently safe, because they are designed to shut down on their own, without any human intervention. Even in the unlikely event that all the cooling systems failed, the reactor would shut down safely, dissipating the heat from the core without any release of radioactivity.

The built-in safety systems include the unique fuel particle containment: the fission products stay inside these ‘containment’ walls.

Another safety feature is the reactor’s ‘negative temperature coefficient’ operating principle: if the operating temperature of the reactor goes up above normal, the neutron speed goes up, which means that more neutrons get captured without fissioning. In effect, this shuts down the chain reaction. Additionally, there are certain amounts of ‘poisons’ present in the reactor core (the element erbium, for example), which will help the process of capturing neutrons without fissioning, if the operating temperature goes up.

The first line of safety in regulating the fission reactor is, of course, the control rods, which are used to slow down or speed up the fissioning process. But if the control rods were to fail, the reactor is designed to automatically drop spheres of boron into the core; boron absorbs neutrons without fissioning, and thus would stop the reaction.

Additionally, there are two external cooling systems, a primary coolant system and a shutdown coolant system. If both of these should fail, there are cooling panels on the inside of the reactor walls, which use natural convection to remove the core heat to the ground. Because the reactor is located below ground, the natural conduction of heat will ensure that the reactor core temperature stays below 1,600°C, well below the temperature at which the fuel particles will break apart.

The graphite moderator also helps dissipate heat in a shutdown.

In addition to the successful Chinese HTR-10 test shutdown, a similar test was carried out on the AVR, the German prototype for the pebble bed, at Jülich. In one test, reactor staff shut down the cooling systems while the reactor was operating. The AVR shut itself down in just a few minutes, with no damage to the nuclear fuel. In other words, no meltdown was possible.

The Department of Energy’s Next Generation Nuclear Plant program plans to put a commercial-size HTR on line . . . by the year 2030. So far, two industry groups have received a small amount of funding for design studies, and there is a target date of 2021 for a demonstration reactor of a type (pebble bed or prismatic) to be determined. But even that slow timetable is not sure, given the budget limits and lack of political priority. This HTR project, called the Very High Temperature Reactor, is based at Idaho National Laboratory, and is planned for coupling with a hydrogen production plant. At the slow rate it is going, the United States, a former nuclear pioneer, may find itself importing this next-generation technology from a faster advancing nation.

It would make sense under the Next-Gen program for the United States to build a prototype gas turbine modular helium reactor, because the South Africans are building a pebble bed modular reactor, and this would give the world working models of each type. But at the present pace and budget, and without a major commitment, a US demonstration reactor is barely on the horizon.

The ability to revolutionize nuclear power is now within our grasp, here in the United States, in South Africa, in China, in the aftermath of the accident in Japan, and even in Europe. The cost of developing the HTR is minuscule, in comparison with the trillions of dollars being sunk into the unproductive and losing gamblers on Wall Street. The cost of not developing these fourth-generation reactors will be measured in lives, and perhaps civilizations, lost.”

» “Abundant high quality, high temperature process heat from nuclear power will allow for a vastly expanded supply of high value added chemicals, fuels, polymers, lubricants, and other materials. These valuable products will be produced from natural gas, gas hydrates, kerogens, bitumen, coal, and biomass. They will be produced centrally, regionally, and locally, as high temperature gas cooled reactors become more scalable and transportable.

It is not just about nuclear power. It is also about the incredible number of abundances that clean, safe, scalable and widely disseminated nuclear power will facilitate.

Entrenched, short-sighted fossil fuel interests and faux environmentalists of the green persuasion will continue to block such forms of reliable energy—wherever they can. It is up to the rest of us to make sure that the human future has an abundance of reliable power and energy, despite the obstructionists.”

◊ Develop liquid fluoride thorium reactors

◊ Address waste concerns, and elaborate on ways they could be alleviated or even eliminated[6].pdf

» And as a last resort “all analyses to date indicate that sub-seabed disposal would be a safe and economical method of high level waste disposal and that predictions could be made with a high degree of confidence.”

◊ Determine definitively if low energy nuclear reactions are real, reproducible and able to be controlled

» “Under special circumstances, electromagnetic and weak interactions can induce low-energy nuclear reactions to occur with observable rates for a variety of processes. A common element in all these applications is that the electromagnetic energy stored in many relatively slow-moving electrons can – under appropriate circumstances – be collectively transferred into fewer, much faster electrons with energies sufficient for the latter to combine with protons (or deuterons, if present) to produce neutrons via weak interactions. The produced neutrons can then initiate low-energy nuclear reactions through further nuclear transmutations.

Our analysis leads us to conclude that realistic possibilities exist for designing LENR devices capable of producing ‘green energy,’ that is, production of excess heat at low cost without dangerous nuclear waste, lethal gamma rays or unwanted neutrons. The necessary tools and the essential theoretical know-how to manufacture such devices appear to be well within the reach of the technology available now. Vigorous efforts must now be made to develop such devices whose functionality requires all three interactions of the Standard Model acting in concert.”

» “We are still far from the theoretical limits of the weak interaction physics for LENR performance and are in fact inventing (in real time) the requisite engineering, along with verifying the physics. When we concentrated upon nuclear engineering beginning in the 1940s we ‘jumped’ to the strong force/particle physics and leapt over the weak force/condensed matter nuclear physics. We are going ‘back’ now to study and hopefully develop this arena.

The ‘precautionary principle’ demands that we core down and determine realism for this arena, given the truly massive-to-mind boggling benefits – solutions to climate, energy and the limitations that restrict all areas of NASA missions. The key to space exploration is energetics. The key to supersonic transports and neighbor-friendly personal fly/drive air vehicles is energetics, as simple examples of the potential applications of this area of research.

There are estimates using just the performance of some of the devices under study that 1% of the nickel mined on the planet each year could produce the world’s energy requirements at the order of 25% the cost of coal.

No promises, but some seriously ‘strange’ things are going on, which we may be closer to understanding and if we can optimize/engineer them as such, the world changes. Worldwide, it is worth far more resources than are currently being devoted to this research arena. There is a need to core down and determine ‘truth’ and if useful, the need to engineer and apply.”

» “If the remaining secrets of Nature can be unlocked, the likelihood of LENRs becoming a viable source of clean energy is strong. LENR does not represent a mere incremental increase in either energy production or energy efficiency; it represents an exponentially larger potential increase in energy-generation capacity than all fossil fuel solutions combined.

LENR has the potential to provide unlimited production of electricity for homes, businesses and industry. Most importantly, portable LENR devices could replace liquid fuels for transportation. LENR devices would not have the reliability limitations that exist with wind and solar and would not require the intermediate step of converting wind or solar into stored electrical power.”

◊ Pursue plasmonics for photovoltaic applications

» “There is no doubt that photovoltaic research will benefit immensely from plasmonics, enabling use of low quality/low cost materials and delivering cells with high performance and low cost.”

◊ Enhance geothermal systems

» “Geothermal energy from enhanced geothermal systems represents a large, indigenous resource that can provide base-load electric power and heat at a level that can have a major impact on the United States, while incurring minimal environmental impacts. With a reasonable investment in research and development (R&D), enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) could provide 100 gigawatt electrical (GWe) or more of cost-competitive generating capacity in the next 50 years. Further, EGS provides a secure source of power for the long term that would help protect America against economic instabilities resulting from fuel price fluctuations or supply disruptions. Most of the key technical requirements to make EGS work economically over a wide area of the country are in effect, with remaining goals easily within reach. This achievement could provide performance verification at a commercial scale within a 10- to 15-year period nationwide.

In spite of its enormous potential, the geothermal option for the United States has been largely ignored. In the short term, R&D funding levels and government policies and incentives have not favored growth of US geothermal capacity from conventional, high-grade hydrothermal resources. Because of limited R&D support of EGS in the United States, field testing and supporting applied geoscience and engineering research has been lacking for more than a decade. Because of this lack of support, EGS technology development and demonstration recently has advanced only outside the United States with accompanying limited technology transfer. This has led to the perception that insurmountable technical problems or limitations exist for EGS. However, in our detailed review of international field-testing data so far, we did not uncover any major barriers or limitations to the technology.

EGS is one of the few renewable energy resources that can provide continuous base-load power with minimal visual and other environmental impacts. Geothermal systems have a small footprint and virtually no emissions, including carbon dioxide. Geothermal energy has significant base-load potential, requires no storage, and, thus, it complements other renewables – solar (concentrated solar power and photovoltaic), wind, hydropower – in a lower-carbon energy future. In the shorter term, having a significant portion of our base load supplied by geothermal sources would provide a buffer against the instabilities of gas price fluctuations and supply disruptions, as well as nuclear plant retirements.

To a great extent, energy markets and government policies will influence the private sector’s interest in developing EGS technology. In today’s economic climate, there is reluctance for private industry to invest its funds without strong guarantees. Thus, initially, it is likely that government will have to fully support EGS fieldwork and supporting R&D. Later, as field sites are established and proven, the private sector will assume a greater role in cofunding projects – especially with government incentives accelerating the transition to independently financed EGS projects in the private sector. Our analysis indicates that, after a few EGS plants at several sites are built and operating, the technology will improve to a point where development costs and risks would diminish significantly, allowing the levelized cost of producing EGS electricity in the United States to be at or below market prices.

Given these issues and growing concerns over long-term energy security, the federal government will need to provide funds directly or introduce other incentives in support of EGS as a long-term ‘public good,’ similar to early federal investments in large hydropower dam projects and nuclear power reactors. Based on growing markets in the United States for clean, base-load capacity, with a combined public/private investment of about $800 million to $1 billion over a 15-year period, EGS technology could be deployed commercially on a timescale that would produce more than 100,000 MWe or 100 GWe of new capacity by 2050. This amount is approximately equivalent to the total R&D investment made in the past 30 years to EGS internationally, which is still less than the cost of a single, new-generation, coal power plant.

Making such an investment now is appropriate and prudent, given the enormous potential of EGS and the technical progress that has been achieved so far in the field. Having EGS as an option will strengthen America’s energy security for the long term in a manner that complements other renewables, cleaner fossil fuels, and next-generation nuclear.”

◊ Present the main problem with renewables at this point, and suggest solutions

» “There are many different technologies for heat or electrical storage at different stages of maturity and with a wide range of characteristics. It is unlikely that a single solution will emerge in the future given the wide variations in possible applications. Pumped storage and compressed air energy storage are both commercial technologies for long-term large-scale storage and may be joined by flow batteries, hydrogen and cryogenic energy storage in the longer term. For fast response, flywheels are currently commercial, but supercapacitors also offer interesting prospects. In decentralized applications, a wide variety of battery technologies are relevant, with lead-acid and nickel and sodium-sulphur the most likely near term choices, and metal-air holding longer-term promise. The use of second-life lithium-ion batteries could be an interesting option. A variety of heat storage technologies, including those using novel materials, are also worth investigating further.”

» “Cryogenic energy storage may prove to be the best of the current crop of contenders for now, until flow batteries are perfected.”

◊ Find out if some form of fission/fusion hybrid is a more viable option in the medium-term than fully realized fusion

» “Without fission or fusion breeding, not only will we be unable to lift poor countries up the curve, prosperous countries will begin to slide back down.

*This is the real threat to civilization.*”

◊ Make mention of methanol, dimethyl ether and various drop-in replacement fuels

» “Methanol is the simplest alcohol and one of the world’s most widely used commodity chemicals. Global capacity of methanol is similar to that of ethanol at 24 billion gallons. Most of the world’s methanol is produced from natural gas, but it can be produced from other materials, such as coal or biomass.

Methanol’s strength is that it is cheap to produce relative to both gasoline and ethanol. It is not unusual for methanol to trade at a 20% or greater discount to ethanol and gasoline per equivalent unit of energy.

Methanol’s disadvantages are similar to the disadvantages of ethanol relative to gasoline. Methanol has a lower energy density than gasoline (about 2 gallons of methanol are equal to the energy content of a gallon of gasoline), and it is more corrosive than ethanol (which is more corrosive than gasoline).

Methanol is also much more toxic than ethanol. Despite the toxicity, methanol is commonly sold in the US as a windshield washer solution. Further, methanol degrades much more quickly than gasoline (which is not only toxic but also contains carcinogenic compounds) in the environment as it is quickly consumed by microorganisms.

Like ethanol, methanol has a much higher octane rating than gasoline and could benefit from running in engines with higher compression ratios. Methanol has been used in high-performance race cars in the US for many years, and was tested extensively in California from 1980 to 2005 as a part of the California Methanol Program.

In response to the oil crisis of 1979, the state of California began to investigate gasoline alternatives. After considering ethanol, methanol, natural gas, electricity, hydrogen, and propane, the California Energy Commission (CEC) determined that ‘methanol stood out clearly as having the best potential for replacing petroleum on a widespread basis.’

That state partnered with automakers to build a fleet of flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) that could operate on M85 (a blend of 85% methanol and 15% gasoline). Major fuel retailers participated in the program to provide a limited fuel infrastructure for the vehicles.

By 1997 there we over 21,000 M85 FFVs in the US, most of which were in California. At that time, the state had over 100 methanol refueling stations providing fuel for light-duty vehicles as well as hundreds of methanol-fueled transit and school buses.

While drivers were reportedly satisfied with the performance of the methanol FFVs, the limited fueling infrastructure proved frustrating for drivers attempting to keep their vehicles fueled. After 25 years and 200,000,000 miles of operation, California terminated the methanol program in 2005. This was also the year that the Renewable Fuel Standard was passed in the US, which shifted the advantage strongly to corn ethanol with a national mandate than methanol has never enjoyed in the US. Methanol is used as an automotive fuel in China, but in the US it has never had the widespread political support of corn ethanol. Thus, some of the issues—such as the compatibility with automobiles and fuel infrastructure—have not been addressed adequately for methanol as they have been for ethanol. Still, with sufficient political support, methanol could make a major contribution as a long-term substitute for gasoline.”

» “An additional advantage of methanol is that it can be used to produce dimethyl ether (DME), which can substitute for gasoline or diesel. DME is a gas that is classified as nontoxic and non-carcinogenic. It is a common propellant in many consumer products. DME can be used in a diesel engine, as a mixture with liquid petroleum gas (LPG) in a gasoline engine, as a propane substitute for cooking, and even as a refrigerant.

DME is a simple compound. DME can be thought of as two methane molecules with an oxygen atom separating them. Two hydrocarbon groups separated by an oxygen atom is an ether; in fact, DME is the simplest ether. Each methane group is missing one hydrogen, which allows it to form the bond with oxygen. But when DME is burned, the products are still carbon dioxide and water, just as when methane is burned.

DME is normally produced from natural gas or coal, in a process that first makes methanol and then dehydrates the methanol. As a transportation fuel, DME has some advantages over methanol, the biggest of which are that it is nontoxic and noncorrosive. DME is a gas at room temperature, but it is easily compressed to a liquid at modest pressure.

Most of the world’s DME production is in China. The Chinese have been using DME for many years, and continue to increase their DME capacity. DME allows them to convert their coal reserves into something much more desirable for them—an LPG replacement for cooking fuel and transportation fuel.

The Swedes are also at the forefront of rolling out DME as automotive fuel. The BioDME project is a partnership between the Swedish companies Chemrec and Volvo, the French company Total, and the Danish company Haldor Topsøe that is converting pulp mills into biorefineries that produce DME from waste black liquor. Volvo has announced that it is conducting studies on the performance of DME in 14 of its heavy trucks, and that it is developing an engine optimized for DME.

While DME is a promising alternative to petroleum, it suffers from the same issue as many other options: there is no distribution network, and therefore vehicles aren’t being built that are optimized for DME.”

» “The final catagory of petroleum gasoline substitutes consists of drop-in replacements for gasoline. In this case, all the infrastructure in existence would be compatible, because the fuel is still gasoline; it is just derived from different feedstock.

There are several methods for producing gasoline from biomass, but most are still in the development phase. Here I will discuss some of the more widely known approaches.

One route is via flash pyrolysis of biomass and subsequent upgrading of the pyrolysis oil that is produced. With flash pyrolysis, biomass is rapidly heated to over 900°F (500°C), and the products are pyrolysis oil (also called bio-oil) and char. The pyrolysis oil is then reacted with hydrogen to produce about 30% gasoline (by weight) and nearly 10% diesel. The other products of the reaction are light gases that can be used as fuel, as well as carbon dioxide and water.

Another route is being commercialized by Virent Energy Systems, whose technique involves breaking down biomass into sugars and then utilizing an aqueous-phase reforming process to convert those sugars ultimately into hydrocarbons that are appropriate for use as gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel.

Gasoline can also be produced from methanol in a process developed by Mobil (now ExxonMobil) in the early 1970s. The process involves production of methanol, which is first converted to DME, and then converted over a catalyst to gasoline-type hydrocarbons.

This process has been practiced commercially in New Zealand, and additional projects are underway based on underway based on the methanol-to-gasoline (MTG) technology. The Jincheng Anthracite Mining Group in China started up a plant based on ExxonMobil’s MTG technology in 2009. In the US, DKRW Advanced Fuels is developing a project based on this technology in Wyoming.

Other companies are utilizing a biological approach to produce gasoline from biomass. In most cases, genetically modified microorganisms or algae consume sugars and then convert them into long-chain hydrocarbons in the gasoline and diesel range. Most of the companies working on this approach are still in an early development stage.

A major method of making a drop-in diesel replacement involves gasification and then conversion of the gas into fuel. Gasification may be thought of as a partial combustion reaction. Whereas a complete combustion reaction of biomass results in carbon dioxide and water as products, the gasification reaction stops the reaction at an intermediate stage to produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide as the major end products.

This combination of hydrogen and carbon monoxide is commonly known as synthesis gas (syngas). Syngas can be used as a foundation for producing a wide variety of chemicals, including synthetic hydrocarbons, methanol, ethanol, mixed alcohols, and DME. Syngas may also be combusted directly for power, in either stationary power or transportation applications.

Gasification is carried out on materials containing carbon and hydrogen, such as coal, natural gas, or biomass. These processes are referred to as, respectively, coal-to-liquids (CTL), gas-to-liquids (GTL), and biomass-to-liquids (BTL), and the resulting product is called ‘synthetic fuels’ or ‘XTL fuels.’ Of the XTL processes, BTL produces the only renewable fuel (green diesel).

Gasification has been used to commercially produce liquid fuels for decades. CTL was used during World War II by the Germans, when they had limited access to petroleum but desperately needed fuel for their military. At peak production, the Germans were producing over 5 million gallons of synthetic fuels a day.

South Africa during Apartheid had a similar experience. With sanctions restricting its petroleum supplies, South Africa followed Germany’s example and turned to CTL, using its large coal reserves to produce liquid fuel. Sasol (South African Coal, Oil and Gas Corporation) operates a number of gasification facilities, including the 160,000 barrels per day (bpd) Secunda CTL facility in South Africa. In total, about 25% of South Africa’s liquid fuel is produced synthetically from coal.

Shell is also a major developer of GTL technology. Shell has operated a GTL plant in Bintulu, Malaysia, since 1993, with a current capacity of nearly 15,000 bpd. In 2011, Shell commissioned the 140,000 bpd Pearl GTL plant is Ras Laffan, Qatar—by far the largest GTL plant in the world.

Capital costs are an economic challenge for all of the XTL technologies. According to the US Energy Information Administration’s *Annual Energy Outlook 2006*, capital costs per daily barrel of production were estimated to be $30,000 for GTL, $60,000 for CTL, and $120,000 to $140,000 for BTL (more than five times the capital costs for a conventional oil refinery).

Capital costs for BTL are higher than for GTL and CTL because biomass requires more processing than coal or natural gas prior to gasification. Nevertheless, work is being done to commercialize BTL technology. Rentech, a US company, completed its 10 bpd BTL demonstration unit in 2011, and has several more projects in the pipeline. Honeywell’s UOP is providing the upgrading technology for the project.

There are numerous substitutes—both renewable and fossil-based—for gasoline. These fall into the categories of drop-in replacements and substitutes. The biggest challenge for most of the drop-in fuels is that many are higher-cost options or are still early in development.

The biggest challenge for most of the substitutes is that much of the infrastructure for transporting, dispensing, and using the fuel may be incompatible with specific alternatives. This creates a chicken or the egg dilemma in which vehicles won’t be built without infrastructure for delivering the fuel, and the fueling infrastructure won’t be developed unless there is a market for the fuel.

One final word about scalability. While some of these options are capable of operating on a fairly large scale—as some of the CTL and GTL plants demonstrate—the scale of global oil consumption is far too great for most of the alternatives touted in the media to make a major contribution toward displacing oil consumption. Thus, what is needed to close the supply–demand gap as petroleum depletes is an approach that combines some level of petroleum replacements with some non-petroleum transportation alternatives and a healthy dose of conservation and increased energy efficiency.”
— Robert Rapier (

◊ Improve engine efficiencies

» “Internal combustion engines (ICEs) are not mules or horses: they can be made still much more efficient even after more than a century of advances.

The three most notable recent innovations are variable compression engines (VCE), homogeneous charge compression ignition (HCCI) and direct gasoline injection. While today’s automotive gasoline-fuelled ICEs have their compression ratios fixed at around 9:1, in VCEs it can be changed continuously between 8:1 for heavy loads and as high as 14:1 for light duty. VCEs should reduce gasoline use by about 30% compared with equally powerful naturally aspirated machines. HCCI may eventually combine diesel efficiency (i.e. about 40% efficiency gain) with very low nitrogen oxide and particulate emissions. And direct gasoline injection can save about 20% of fuel while significantly reducing carbon dioxide emissions. And to commercialize these advances will need no new infrastructures, no multibillion dollar governmental subsidies, just persistent and relatively low-cost tinkering with the machine whose operation we understand better than that of any other mass-produced artifact.

Perhaps the easiest way to underscore the message is in terms of familiar miles per gallon (mpg). Today’s passenger cars (but not SUVs classified as light trucks) must fit into CAFE’s minimum of 27.5 mpg. Better ICEs combined with lighter (but safer) and more aerodynamic car bodies and smarter roads (computerized flow management, peak-traffic pricing) could, quite realistically, double that mean to 55 mpg within a decade—with all of the attendant environmental gains. No new dramatic discoveries are needed to do that, no new infrastructures, no waiting for many years of cumulative performance of untried new techniques to pronounce them effective.”

◊ Compare the consequences of Chernobyl with other industrial disasters, and cover why it cannot happen here

» “The observed health effects currently attributable to radiation exposure are as follows:

― 134 plant staff and emergency workers received high doses of radiation that resulted in acute radiation syndrome (ARS), many of whom also incurred skin injuries due to beta irradiation;

― The high radiation doses proved fatal for 28 of these people;

― While 19 ARS survivors have died up to 2006, their deaths have been for various reasons, and usually not associated with radiation exposure;

― Skin injuries and radiation-induced cataracts are major impacts for the ARS survivors;

― Other than this group of emergency workers, several hundred thousand people were involved in recovery operations, but to date, apart from indications of an increase in the incidence of leukemia and cataracts among those who received higher doses, there is no evidence of health effects that can be attributed to radiation exposure;

― The contamination of milk with iodine-131, for which prompt countermeasures were lacking, resulted in large doses to the thyroids of members of the general public; this led to a substantial fraction of the more than 6,000 thyroid cancers observed to date among people who were children or adolescents at the time of the accident (as of 2005, 15 cases had proved fatal);

― To date, there has been no persuasive evidence of any other health effect in the general population that can be attributed to radiation exposure.

It can be concluded that although those exposed to radioiodine as children or adolescents and the emergency and recovery worker operation workers who received high doses are at increased risk of radiation-induced effects, the vast majority of the population need not live in fear of serious health consequences from the Chernobyl accident. Most of the workers and members of the public were exposed to low level radiation comparable to or, at most, a few times higher than the annual natural background levels, and exposures will continue to decrease as the deposited radionuclides decay or are further dispersed in the environment. This is true for the population of the three countries most affected by the Chernobyl accident, Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine, and all the more so, for populations of other European countries. Lives have been disrupted by the Chernobyl accident, but from the radiological point of view, generally positive prospects for future health of most individuals involved should prevail.”

» “While the media may wish to emphasize that the final death toll attributable to radiation ‘could reach several thousand,’ in fact they *should* be emphasizing that it is highly unlikely to be very much more than the ‘fewer than 50 deaths that have been directly attributed to radiation released in the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident.’”

» “In a cohort of 110,645 cleanup workers from 1986 through 2006, about 19 cases of all leukemia were attributable to radiation exposure.”

» “There is essentially no chance that the accident could happen again.”

» “The Bhopal disaster, also referred to as the Bhopal gas tragedy, was a gas leak incident in India, considered one of the world's worst industrial disasters. It occurred on the night of 2–3 December 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Over 500,000 people were exposed to methyl isocyanate gas and other chemicals. The toxic substance made its way in and around the shantytowns located near the plant. Estimates vary on the death toll. The official immediate death toll was 2,259. The government of Madhya Pradesh confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release. Others estimate 8,000 died within two weeks and another 8,000 or more have since died from gas-related diseases. A government affidavit in 2006 stated the leak caused 558,125 injuries including 38,478 temporary partial and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries.”

» “The world’s deadliest energy accident was not Chernobyl; it was the collapse of a cascade of Chinese dams during a flood in 1975. In a single night, the failing dams killed over 26,000 people, and another 145,000 died due to subsequent epidemics and famine. The Banqiao Reservoir Dam and Shimantan Reservoir Dam were among the 62 dams in the Zhumadian Prefecture of China’s Henan Province that failed catastrophically or were intentionally destroyed during Typhoon Nina.

The dam failures killed an estimated 171,000 people; 11 million more people lost their homes. It also caused the sudden loss of 18 GW of power, the equivalent of roughly 9 very large modern coal-fired power stations or about 20 nuclear reactors, equaling about a third of the peak demand on Great Britain’s national grid.”