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In the longer term (and we are talking last quarter of the century), the best  option would seem to be plasma fusion reactors. These have already experimentally produced more power than inputted, if only for a very very short period. INTER will provide the last ecperimental proving of the technology before the first prototype is started sometime around 2040.

Clearly then what we are looking for is a solution that balnces Co2 emission with continuing and increased demand in the interim. Fission nuclear will not provide the answer but it may form part of the answer and it is only right that it should be considered as such. Arguments about the long term storage of waste to a certain extent are moot. If we were starting down the track of using nuclear, these considerations would probably mitigate against our ever using it however we are not in that position. We have nuclear waste that requires safe storage. That could be by current methods or the more exotic solutions like glassification to fix the waste in a glass before it is put in long-term underground storage. Accepting this backlog, would an increase in power generation add to it significantly? Is it a risk worth taking if it means the long-term survival of the more robust eco-systems? Bear in mind the damage already set in train will take until at least the middle of this millenium to correct. We will lose many species as their ranges change too much for them to survive or move sufficiently quickly.

IF the planet is to get back to some form of balance we need to stop runaway warming before the middle of this century, if not one of the species to be lost or decimated is going to be homo sapiens.

Nuclear as I said should be considered in the light of this and as part of the solution. There are renewables that can provide a constant back-up. People have mentioned wind, wave and solar power in this context but there are also biofuels that are renewable. Some of these are novel like converting seed oils into petroleum or using green biomass in digesters. Others are among the oldest land management methods. Tree pollarding for example has been practiced for many hundreds of years. In this, trees are cropped and cut down to a base every three or four years. This results in a mass of small branches growing from a low thick trunk. Using this wood and that from fast growing young trees is highly CO2 efficient as more is absorbed in early year's growth. The wood can either be burnt directly or converted to paper and then burnt as part of general waste in local incenerators. Secondary recycling of paper is superficially attractive but can be highly CO2 inefficient if waste paper has to be transported long distances for recycling.

In principle, no solid farm animal waste should be left unused in generating heat by recyling in digesters. Burning the methane gas produced is not only a source of renewable energy, it is far better for the environment as methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas (by a factor of about 10) than CO2. Human waste should be put to the same use.

If those are large-scale solutions, we should also be using individual or generation like using photo-electric cells, geothermal heat equalisation (heating in winter, cooling in summer using the deep constant temperatures), high energy efficient buildings using such things as triple glazed windows, secondary insulation of walls and loft spaces etc.

In short, there is no one solution, what is needed is to consider the full spectrum of generation and conservation and utilising the least damaging in terms of the whole environment.

by Londonbear on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 09:59:49 PM EST
Great post. I've been meaning to get 'round to adding biofuels, especially methane in to the mix, but haven't had the time.

My only major quibble with your post is that I disagree with the prospect of burning animal waste. My disagreement fits here into a much broader, related issue of needing to totally re-think how we go about agriculture. We're still losing so many feet of topsoil a year, monocultures have sucked every last nutrient and mineral out of the soils to the point that the food produced has little other than caloric value, and after a couple of hundred years of this in some places, we are now facing massive productivity collapse (Australia, with its incredibly fragile soils is the canary in the mine here). Add to that the massive amounts of fossil fuels required for modern farming techniques and fertiliser, and how the energy we are extracting is an order of magnitude less than the energy we put in, and we have a very serious problem.

the solutions are going to vary from place to place, but the general principle of going to small, intensive mixed cropping and farming, massively reducing meat consumption (we really can't afford to feed the majority of cereal crops to cows in feedlots), and using organic matter - ie poop and bulk matter -  to start to rebuild soils.

So in short, I think we might need that animal waste for another essential transition if we are to survive on anything like the scale we currently operate at.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 11:35:29 PM EST
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I agree burning the solid animal waste is a huge misuse of recourcs but I was suggesting that it be put into a digester to produce methane. The waste from the digester can be used to enhance soils. This technology s being used in villages where previously dried dung was used directly as a fuel and   very low tech collectors and burners use the gas that is piped round the village. Collective sanitation provides a source of human waste to add to the mix. Developing world countries are not the only ones that can benefit from the process as it can be scaled up given appropriate safety precautions (little known is that the large digester on the Windsor farm owned by the Queen blew up because of technical problems!)
by Londonbear on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 12:31:52 PM EST
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