Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

The U.S has large reserves of phosphate, and potassium is available en-masse from Canada. So that is the "P" and "K" in the N-P-K part of fertilizer coding (where, for example, pure ammonia would be 82-0-0, since it is 82 wt% nitrogen, or Potassium Nitrate would be 14-0-39.

There are probably also lots of places where P and K can be obtained, though not in such concentrated forms, but sufficient to use.

The real kicker in fixed nitrogen. But, when in doubt, copy what the Norwegians and Icelanders did, or what was done in Niagara Falls from the mid 1920's through WW2, or what they did in trail, British Columbia from WW2 until they discovered natural gas in a big way in Alberta. Use electricity to make H2 from water, then react that H2 with N2 to make ammonia. No need for coal or Ngas to make ammonia, whatsoever. And since those are pricey and getting pricier, and CO2 burial is also not going to be cheap, well, the electrically derived ammonia gets around that problem (CO2 garbage disposal) just fine. And there may be some ways to make NH3 directly from electricity, water and N2 in high temperature electrolytic cells, with the promise of slightly better energy efficiency.

With lots of electricity, lots of H2 can be made - about 22 to 25 kw-hr/lb of H2, or about 44 to 50 MW-hr/ton (2000 lbs, not the 2200 lbs in a metric tonne), depending on how hard the cells are run. This also eliminates the largest part of conventional (coal or Ngas based) ammonia plants, which is the purification of the H2 from the water-shift reaction. the H2 coming from electrolysis, once dried of any water, tends to be very pure, simplifies downstream operations, too.

Anyway, this NH3 made from renewable energy won't be cheap, but it will be less expensive than NH3 made from Ngas at current prices (which do not include CO2 trash disposal). And since those prices will rise, as will imported NH3 prices (due to the devaluation of the dollar and rising world prices of Ngas), the renewable approach has the added effect of stabilizing prices, potentially, of this valuable farm input. Plus, it helps take more of the hydrocarbon inputs out of the farm cost equation.


by nb41 on Fri Jul 18th, 2008 at 05:41:46 PM EST
If we can fertilize and transport food, we can eat. If we can make a lot of electricity, we can fertilize. If we can make a lot lot lot of electricity, we can transport food -- and maybe even occasionally drive private vehicles.

So the big question seems to be, How much electricity can Al Gore make?

by Ralph on Sun Jul 20th, 2008 at 04:36:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is, given the political will to establish a level playing field between unsustainable, non-renewable power and sustainable, renewable power, ample electricity.

Indeed, given the roughly 10:1 advantage of electric freight rail over diesel trucks in terms of enegry efficiency for long distance freight transport, we don't even need "lots" of electricity to transport food.

Its that political will that is the binding constraint.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Jul 20th, 2008 at 04:28:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Lack of political will restrains every possible change in the current pattern of doing business. Those of us who realize that significant changes are inevitable still have to choose targets for advocacy. Gore's renewable electricity plan sounds great if its promise turns out to be realistically achievable.

As for cheaper freight rail, there's no question that huge efficiency gains can be achieved by replacing trucks with rail. But we are still talking about a lot of electricity.

by Ralph on Sun Jul 20th, 2008 at 06:17:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... anything done on a national scale is 'a lot'. Scaling it to present electricity generation, Alan Drake's write-up of the proposal arrives at:
Transferring 100% of inter-city truck traffic (impractical) to electrified railroads, plus electrifying all (not 80%) of the existing rail traffic, would take about 100 TWh/year or 2.3% of total US electrical demand. Electrifying 80% of railroad ton-miles and transferring half of current truck freight to rail would take about 1% of US electricity. 1% is an amount that could be easily conserved, or, with less ease, provided by new renewable generation and/or new nuclear plants.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Jul 20th, 2008 at 08:23:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This confuses me a lot, at least if inter-city truck traffic is a significant part of traffic.

I recently read, that only about 1/6th of prime energy use in Germany is for electricity generation. 2/3rds of all oil use would be traffic. Sure there is some other prime energy use for heating and industry and so on, but oil is still double digit in heating. So overall I would guess that more energy is used for traffic than for all electricity generation together, and in the US even a higher share of energy consumption is traffic. Putting a significant part of traffic on the railway making only 1% more electricity need.
Any big think mistakes? Maybe inter-city traffic is not a significant part of overall traffic? Maybe railway is incredibly more energy efficient for goods than trucks?

Der Amerikaner ist die Orchidee unter den Menschen
Volker Pispers

by Martin (weiser.mensch(at)googlemail.com) on Sun Jul 20th, 2008 at 08:46:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As I noted, the energy ratio is about 10:1 ... rail freight is, of course, far more energy efficient than truck freight, and electric rail more efficient than diesel rail, so you get to multiply two efficiency factors together.

I guess if trucks are taken for granted as the norm, cutting energy consumption per ton mile by in excess of 90% counts as "incredibly efficient". More accurate would be that truck freight is incredibly energy inefficient, and we only rely on it to the extent that we do because of the now fading age of dirt cheap energy.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Jul 20th, 2008 at 10:07:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah. I thought it would be "a lot more" than that. Your scenario sounds good. Getting rid of a significant fraction of inter-city trucks (along with gains in efficiency) would surely be a great help to the atmosphere and to our oil tab.

What about the capital investment necessary to electrify railroads and (presumably) add extra tracks and rolling stock? Is that within reach?

Meanwhile, the airlines keep flying. The more I think about this, the more it seems to me that grounding most of those jets will turn out to be the key to calming down the atmospheric changes which are now so scarily evident.

Right after 9/11/01, when all US air traffic was banned for a few days, the skies in our area underwent a drastic change, back to the puffy clouds we used to see when I was a child, and which I had almost forgotten.

Injecting all that exhaust right into the stratosphere is, upon serious reflection, clearly Not A Good Idea. I think people would be surprised by the changes we would see without all these jets.

Still, I have to admit that our fossil-fueled civilization was fun while it lasted. I was born in 1951. When I was six, my family traveled to Europe by passenger liner and then returned on a prop plane. The experience of those forms of transportation left me with a vivid perspective on the magic of the passenger jet. Flying around the planet like some gigantic insect on five mile high stilts will never be routine for me. It is sorcery, pure and simple.

On the other side entirely, I also have to admit that I feel more and more impatient for the next phase of our planet's existence. I am sick to death of watching us wreck the place.

Aside from any ideology or purity, I just want to see that stop, and soon.

by Ralph on Sun Jul 20th, 2008 at 09:04:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... is the binding constraint means:
  1. that political victories will translate into successes, which is the raw material for more political clout; and
  2. that its a more straightforward case to advocate.

There are lots of potential steps ahead that need more than just the political will. But there are some ready for prime time steps that can be taken immediately:

  1. major roll out of wind turbine generation

  2. major roll out of a national electric freight rail grid

Those don't need anything except the right policy framework, to start immediately.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jul 21st, 2008 at 10:05:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
nb41, check This out.  Yours truly is there.

Prof. Wm E. Heronemus was the first i know of to have proposed that we could get all our H2, including derivatives like ammonia substitutes.  From floating offshore wind, and ocean thermal.  1970's.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Sun Jul 20th, 2008 at 01:37:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Thanks for the reference. I do harp on that issue a bit, and I know I'm not the first to do so, but the point keeps getting lost on a lot of normally really smart people. They just buy into the line that we need natural gas to make ammonia, and what we really need is H2, and we don't NEED CH4 to make H2. Or coal. Or, nukes...and another excuse to fill up Yucky Mountain even faster....

For example, see http://www.strandedwind.org/node/199

Anyway, tomorrow I go to make a pitch to a local investor with respect to a wind and water to ammonia project. My first business proposal....It's a bit of a long shot, but then who would have thought that ammonia would be quoted at $1200/ton for delivery in the fall of 2008, both in NY and Iowa?


So, here's to good luck

by nb41 on Sun Jul 20th, 2008 at 04:48:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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