Renewable energy and electricity demands

Torstai 21.10.2021 klo 13:52 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Bitcoins, electric cars and other vehicles, green hydrogen production, household appliances, heating and cooling of apartments with electricity etc. The list of places/appliances where electricity is needed is increasing almost daily. Because of this, it is estimated that the use of fossil fuels will increase for several years to produce enough energy for electricity generation.

A climate change-conscious person buys an electric car thinking that doing it will decrease carbon dioxide emissions. However, it only does that, if electricity production is fossil-free, and because of the increasing electricity needs and simultaneous decrease of energy production using nuclear power plants, a large portion of electricity is produced using fossil fuels. In most countries with high energy consumption, most electricity is still produced using fossil fuels. Although this situation is concerning, there is one silver lining: about three quarters of new electricity is produced using renewable sources. But because electricity needs increase all the time, the production from renewable sources cannot keep up with consumption increase.

Thus, the major way to both prevent energy crisis and decrease the use of fossil fuels in electricity production is to decrease electricity consumption. The first, very simple solution would be to ban bitcoins altogether. Who needs them? Bitcoin mining uses as much electricity per year as Finland and Denmark together. The second, also easily implemented solution would be to decrease lighting, when it is not needed. Technological advancements such as automatic movement and light sensors make this much easier than 50 years ago, when most streetlights were shut down because of oil crisis. With regard to neon lights, they could be automatically shut down, e.g., between 23 and 5. Third, the car use should be decreased; most of work traffic could be done with collective traffic, which could increasingly use the same principle as school taxis in Finland, i.e., have a set group of employees picked up near their homes. The cost could be partly covered by the employer, partly by the state/community and partly by the employee. The cost would probably not be higher than for driving to work today. Fourth, do we really need all the electric appliances we are using? The manufacturers have actually done a good job in decreasing the energy consumption of household machines, but we are having more and more of them. Fifth, presently the dream of using green hydrogen as fuel is problematic, since it requires a large amount of electricity. Current research is trying to overcome this problem by splitting water to hydrogen and oxygen directly with the use of sunlight.

There are thus multiple ways to decrease the consumption of electricity, and many could be implemented immediately so that fossil fuel use could be diminished faster than planned. Ultimately, renewable energy must fulfill the electricity production completely. One almost infinite energy source is almost always forgotten: tidal energy. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on that it becomes a major energy source within the next twenty years.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, tidal energy, bitcoin mining, fossil fuels

Steel Production without Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Sunnuntai 29.8.2021 klo 20:22 - Mikko Nikinmaa

One of the forgotten players in carbon emissions is steel production. It accounts for nearly 10 % of the total global emissions. Thus, steel production is 4-5 times greater emitter than air traffic, which has received a lot of attention. Further, current steel production is still largely based on iron extracted from mined ore, and not on effective recycling of used steel products.

The technology for carbon-free steel production is available. However, as with making all environmentally friendly products, making steel without carbon dioxide emissions is currently more expensive than the traditional steel production. Traditionally, steel is made from iron ore using coal as reductant. As a result, carbon dioxide emissions are high. The environmentally friendly way of producing steel would first make directly reduced iron (DRI) from iron ore using green hydrogen (hydrogen extracted from water with energy from renewable sources). The DRI and recycled steel scrap is then melted in Electric Arc Furnace (again with energy from renewable sources) and steel is produced.

As I said above, steel produced without carbon dioxide emissions is currently much more expensive than traditional coal-using production. The cost is, however, dependent on the proportion of production without carbon need. This is illustrated by the change in paper production. In 1970’s paper industry said that it would never be economically plausible to produce paper without chlorine-based bleaching. Yet, today all paper is chlorine-free and none of the paper mills have gone bankrupt because of that. Thus, once the carbon-free steel production is mainstream, the methods for such production certainly become more economical. Also, since the increased cost of steel production is directly associated with environmental actions, shouldn’t we accept it without reservations, if we say that we want sustainable economy.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, recycling, mining

Recycle

Maanantai 21.8.2017 klo 14:00 - Mikko Nikinmaa

When I was a child all the cloth, paper and glass were recycled. From then on one changed from reuse culture to culture wasting materials. As a result, we are using in half a year what the earth can tolerate for one year. Environmentally thinking, our wasteful ways should be over.

Wasting materials has been the cheap alternative largely because the long-term damage to and costs incurred by the environment have not been part of any economic calculations. For example, the gross national product does not take into account, e.g., the water pollution caused by industrial production. For this reason, paper and pulp mill directors said in 1970s that: "One cannot build effective wastewater treatment plants, since our products will then become so expensive that they cannot be sold". If environmental damage had been part of economic calculations, that would not have been the case.

But from wasting to recycling. There are already examples, which show that recycling can function. In Finland we have returnable bottles and aluminum cans. As the result, at least 95 % of drinking bottles are returned. Glass bottles can then be washed and refilled. Aluminum cans are pressed, and new cans can be produced. Plastic bottles can also be washed and refilled. Most paper is reused. One is paying recycling fee when buying tyres - the old tyres are then used, e.g. on road surfaces.

For some reason the recycling of cloth has been all but forgotten. This is surprising, as the treatment of cloth so that fibres could be reused is not more expensive than making cloth from native cotton plants, and would be more environmentally friendly. It would just require a change of attitude. Also, reusing all the metals would markedly diminish the need for mining and associated activities. Again, it would not be more expensive, but would need new way of thinking.

All in all, in much of advocating recycling, we are not talking about things becoming more expensive, but about a change in attitude. Recycling needs to be done not because we are poor but because it helps to give our children a habitable planet.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: mining, gross national product, environmental pollution, waste