Sunday, December 31, 2023

Sunday, December 24, 2023

China grinch stops rare earth tech transfer in time for Christmas

Just in time for Christmas, China expanded its already tight restrictions on export of technology related to refining rare earth minerals. The most recent restrictions involve technology for making rare earth magnets which are used in electric motors and generators. These minerals are also used extensively in the automotive industry and in consumer electronics such as cellphones.

I have previously written that the clean energy economy is a metals energy economy, and rare earths constitute a substantial and key part of that metals energy economy.

Export of rare earth extraction and separation technology had already been banned by China. The most recent and previous restrictions are part of a broader trade war between the United States and China over exchange of technology.  In late 2022 the United States banned exports of advanced microchips. China responded with a ban on the export germanium and gallium, two metals crucial to the manufacture of advanced chips. The United States imports half of its germanium needs and all of the gallium it uses.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Self-driving cars are driving right into their own grave

One of the favorite shibboleths of the world's tech overlords is "Move fast and break things." It seems that one of the things that is now breaking is the dream of driverless cars. The Guardian has a piece out that says that after the billions spent on trying to bring so-called autonomous vehicles to public roadways, the industry behind them is retreating rapidly. (I say so-called because it turns out that many of the vehicles have remote drivers making regular adjustments to each vehicle's movements because the software doesn't work properly.)

I have written previously that such vehicles will only work on closed courses where all vehicles are operating as part of a single system and where the possible actions of all those vehicles are known in advance so that there are no surprises—at least from other vehicles.

It would have been very difficult to predict the incident that has sent General Motors' entry into the autonomous vehicle race, Cruise, into a death spiral. A pedestrian in San Francisco was hit by a car driven by a human driver and then bounced in front of an autonomous taxi operated by Cruise. Instead of stopping, the taxi drove over the person since, by one analysis, the taxi's code tells it to pull off to the right when it encounters an unfamiliar situation. Believe it or not, the poor pedestrian survived and will likely be collecting a very hefty settlement from GM. The state of California suspended permission for Cruise to operate its taxi service—but this came just three months after the state allowed expanded operations by Cruise.

And this was just one of a series of problems that continue to befall the robotaxi industry: "The cars have driven into firefighting scenes, caused construction delays, impeded ambulances and even meandered into an active crime scene."

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Doubling down on fusion

The United States will propose a new emphasis on fusion energy at the UN climate summit known as COP 28. The summit began on November 30 and runs through December 12. Fusion is what powers the Sun and fuses hydrogen atoms to make helium plus a lot of energy. So, it seems like a perfect solution to power human societies without creating the dangerous radioactive waste products from fission reactors nor the carbon emissions from fossil fuel plants.

The reality of fusion―at least the way we humans are pursuing it—is much more complicated and messy than most people realize. The path we are on now suggests lots of radioactive waste will still have to be disposed of on a regular basis and that commercial fusion power is still decades away if it ever becomes feasible.

So, it turns out that fusion is part of the fantasy of a painless energy transition to a society powered by clean, renewable fuels that not only replace the energy currently generated by fossil fuels, but also grow continuously to feed our growing economy.

Sunday, December 03, 2023

Watch what people do, not what they say about renewable energy

In a Pew Research Center poll early last year 69 percent of American adults said that they "prioritize developing alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar, over expanding the production of oil, coal and natural gas." Some 72 percent believe the federal government "should encourage the production of wind and solar power."

So why are there no working wind farms in the waters of Great Lakes, one of the best wind resources in the country? You don't have to take my word for it that this area is a prime location for wind turbines. Here's what the National Renewable Energy Laboratory said in a June 2023 news release about its latest report on offshore Great Lakes wind resources:

Wind resource assessments estimate that the Great Lakes’ potential power capacity is 160 gigawatts for fixed-bottom wind turbines and about 415 gigawatts for floating wind energy systems. That wind energy resource potential exceeds the annual electricity consumption in five out of eight of the U.S. states bordering the Great Lakes.