Bike Bus a Big Hit at Republican and Democratic Conventions
Posted: 11 Sep 2012 11:19 AM PDT
Getting to and from the Republican and Democratic Conventions was a little greener this time around, thanks to Freewheelin, the pedal-powered bike bus program provided by well-being company Humana Inc.
The Freewheelin pedal bus was provided to both host cities, first for the Republican National Convention (RNC), held in Tampa from Aug. 27-30; and then for the Democratic National Convention (DNC), held in Charlotte from Sept. 3-6. Each bus accommodated up to 8 people and was furnished with it’s own driver thanks to Freewheelin.
Over the two weeks of the conventions, Freewheelin participants from across the nation:
§ Took 2,583 rides
§ Pedaled 1,849 miles
§ Participated in 667 blood pressure and health screenings
§ Consumed more than 6,800 eight-ounce servings of water
§ Ate nearly 2,100 pieces of fruit
To continue the Freewheelin legacy, Humana donated five pedal buses and one fruit cart each to the Tampa Downtown Partnership (RNC) and Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation (DNC) in Charlotte.
“While the RNC and DNC may have come to an end, we hope that all the delegates, media and visitors return home with the notion that taking small steps to improve their health can lead toward lifelong well-being,” said Mike McCallister, Humana’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. “Humana is thrilled with how Freewheelin was embraced at each of the respective cities and is delighted to leave behind pedal buses for both cities.”
Chinese Government Orders Utilities to Buy 5-15% Wind Power
Posted: 11 Sep 2012 11:16 AM PDT
Mulan Wind Farm, located approximately 170km north east of Harbin City in Heilongiang, China’s northenmost province.
The Chinese government is forcing the hand of utilities companies to support wind energy while also improving and expanding the electricity grid. China has announced that, by the end of the year, utilities have to buy between five and fifteen percent of their energy from wind farms. Percentages of wind power companies will be required to purchase vary depending on each power company’s location.
And as we well know, China has a lot of wind to harness.
Business Green reports that experts aren’t totally convinced this will launch wind power to the forefront of Chinese energy: “Analysts also warned utilities will remain disinclined to build transmission lines while China’s energy pricing policy makes producing electricity from solar panels and wind turbines unprofitable.”
Source: Business Green
Image Source: Land Rover Our Planet
Honda Unveils New 2014 Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid Sedan
Posted: 11 Sep 2012 11:15 AM PDT
Honda recently announced the new 2014 Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid Sedan, saying that it “will provide the athleticism and craftsmanship of the all-new Accord platform, charged with a remarkable dose of hybrid efficiency and electric torque,” which I’m sure is a good thing if you know anything about cars.
Set to go on sale in early 2013 — which never made much sense to me considering it’s a 2014 model — the 2014 Accord Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) Sedan is set to be filled with all sorts of luxurious goodies.
There are a lot of stats for this new hybrid, which you can see in full here, but there are a few things which Honda has publicized that is worth looking at in full.
The new vehicle will be powered by Honda’s first two-motor hybrid system, which is using one of the new Earth Dreams 2.0-litre i-VTEC 4-cylinder engine, producing 137 horsepower, running in conjunction with a 124-kilowatt electric motor. Electric driving is supported by a 6.7 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery, which will alow drivers to run in an “all-electric mode” for 10 to 15 miles.
All tallied, the total driving range for the new Accord is over 500 miles.
Honda added that, “beyond its function as a full-electric vehicle, owners of the 2014 Accord PHEV will be able to choose two additional driving modes to manage battery capacity and tailor the capabilities of the plug-in Accord to their own commute.”
In its default upon start-up, the Accord PHEV acts as a pure electric vehicle and will continue on in full-electric mode until battery capacity necessitates the automatic switch to gas/electric hybrid operation. At higher speeds or under high demand for acceleration, the gasoline engine can kick in to provide additional power.
In “HV” mode, the plug-in Accord acts as a conventional hybrid, blending motor power between gasoline and electric to maximize fuel efficiency while maintaining the battery charge level. In “HV Charge” mode, the Accord PHEV blends gasoline and electric power while also augmenting the battery charge level.
On top of their movement into the hybrid-vehicle space, the new Honda Accord also comes fitted with a full range of high-end technologies to make driving even easier. The 2014 Accord PHEV will come fitted with a rearview camera, an expanded-view driver’s mirror, Honda’s new LaneWatch blind-spot display, LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, and LED mirror-mounted turn indicators.
Click on over to the second page for a full listing of the new 2014 Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid Sedan’s features.
20MW Solar Power Plant for Canberra (Will Be Australia’s Largest)
Posted: 11 Sep 2012 10:30 AM PDT
This article was originally published on Renew Economy. It has been reposted with full permission.
Spanish renewables firm Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV) is to build a 20MW solar PV farm near Canberra after winning the ground breaking reverse auction held by the ACT Government – the first in Australia. It’s a result that should cause people to reassess the price of solar PV and which could likely pave the way for a significant solar industry in the country.
The 20MW solar PV farm at Royalla, 23kms south of the Canberra CBD, will be the largest in Australia when it is completed in 2014 – twice the size of the 10MW plant currently being built by First Solar near Geraldton. And it will also set a new benchmark for prices.
FRV won the auction with a bid of $186/MWh, edging out nine other proposals from five competing consortia. Solar insiders say that because the ACT government chose to award a flat tariff over 20 years (such contracts are usually indexed), the effective rate for the purchase agreement is around $150/MWh in year one – assuming a 3 per cent price escalator.
The cost to the ACT government could have been reduced because it will take possession of the renewable energy certificates produced from the project – which are currently worth around $45/MWh, although the ACT has decided to retain the certificates to further offset its emissions, and to ensure that the emissions abatement is additional to national caps.
The ACT government will pay the difference between the wholesale cost and the agreed tariff with FRV. It expects this to fall over time as wholesale electricity costs rise. It says this will amount to 25c/week, or $13 a year, for each household for this project. It expects this cost to fall to $9.50 a year by 2020 as the gap between wholesale prices and the fixed contract narrows.
The tender was the first to be held by the ACT Government as part of its “Big Solar” plan to initially allocate 40MW of capacity to solar projects, and then lift this to a total of 210MW, including other technologies, by 2016. A second tender of 20MW of solar will occur early next year.
The ACT Government has argued that such reverse auctions – which rewards tenderers for bidding the lowest price – are the most effective means of rolling out new technologies, and at the most effective price. They have been used widely in the US, China, India, South Africa, and in South America.
“The quality and price of FRV’s winning bid shows how successful this auction process can be in delivering renewable energy investment,” ACT Energy Minister Simon Corbell said.
Indeed, the result of this auction compares favourably with those in South Africa, which elicited an average price of $199/MWh in its latest round of auctions in May. It is also at the bottom end of the recent assessment of solar PV technology costs released by the Bureau of Resource and Energy Economics. That assessment suggested that solar PV would offer the cheapest form of new-build energy in Australia by the end of the decade. If the experience in South Africa and other countries repeats itself here, then the results of the next tender might be even lower.
An artist’s impression of the Royalla solar farm.
The auction win is also a coup for FRV, which was a key member of the Moree Solar consortium that won the Solar Flagships tender but could not make financial closure on the 150MW solar farm. That bid was eventually lost to a consortium comprising AGL Energy and First Solar, which will build a 159MW acility spread between Broken Hill and Nyngan – although construction will not start till 2014 and will not be complete before late 2015.
But FRV appears to have gotten some revenge, because among the final shortlist was a proposal by the local utility, Actew AGL, which is jointly owned by the ACT Government and AGL Energy, and which was heavily favoured to win. The solar industry will be heartened by the ability of an independent developer to compete against an incumbent utility.
FRV says it has participated in the development of 1.5 gigawatts of solar energy across the globe, and has completed more than 360MW of solar PV and solar thermal plants. “We believe that this program will make a strong contribution to accelerating Australia’s transition to a lower carbon emitting economy,” country manager Andrea Fontana said in a statement. It did not release the name of the supplier of the modules.
Electric Cadillac Spotted Testing
Posted: 11 Sep 2012 10:00 AM PDT
Yep, the electric, Volt-like Cadillac ELR we posted about just a few days ago has been spotted testing. Gas2 has more, plus spy pictures:
Spy Pics: Cadillac ELR Caught Camouflaged In The Wild (via Gas 2.0)
The Chevy Volt finally seems to be hitting its stride, setting a record sales month in August with over 2,800 units sold. That is good news for GM, which is working on a luxury version of the Volt called the Cadillac ELR. So far all we’ve had are a few concept drawings to go off of, but now we’…
Lithium-Ion Battery that Charges 120 Times Faster than Normal Developed
Posted: 11 Sep 2012 09:55 AM PDT
A super fast-charging lithium-ion battery capable of being recharged 30 to 120 times faster than conventional li-ion batteries has been developed by researchers.
The researchers think that they can use this technology to create a battery pack for electric vehicles that will fully charge in less than a minute.
The primary issue with rechargeable batteries is the increased charging time that results as their volume grows. Since batteries charge from the outside towards the inside, the thicker the battery becomes the longer it will takes to charge. This is solvable to a degree by breaking the larger battery into smaller individual cells, but there are limits to that.
“The Korean method takes the cathode material — standard lithium manganese oxide (LMO) in this case — and soaks it in a solution containing graphite. Then, by carbonizing the graphite-soaked LMO, the graphite turns into a dense network of conductive traces that run throughout the cathode. This new cathode is then packaged normally, with an electrolyte and graphite anode, to create the fast-charging li-ion battery. Other factors, such as the battery’s energy density and cycle life seem to remain unchanged.”
The networks of carbonized graphite created by this process essentially function as blood vessels. They allow nearly the whole of the battery to recharge at the same time, speeding the recharge up by 30 to 120 times.
“Now, for all intents and purposes, this is a standard lithium-ion battery that could be used in smartphones and laptops — but the network of conductive traces does increase the overall size of the battery, so it’s probably better suited for use in electric vehicles (EVs). Obviously, an EV that can be recharged in under a minute is pretty crazy — though it still only brings them in-line with their gas-guzzling cousins. Being able to charge quickly is convenient, but it doesn’t get around the fact that li-ion battery packs are incredibly expensive — and the Korean carbonized LMO battery certainly won’t be cheap.”
Fast-charging batteries for phones and computers sound very appealing, though, so I can’t imagine that this technology won’t end up being applied that way eventually. The researchers also mention potential applications in wireless mice and keyboards, and other small electronics.
Imagine being able to charge an electric car in a minute; cheap, fast, no gasoline fumes, and no CO2 emissions.
Source: Extreme Tech
Image Credits: VARTA
Renewable Energy Investment Attractiveness: China Continues at #1, US Suffers from Policy Slump, Germany Climbs to #2
Posted: 11 Sep 2012 09:51 AM PDT
According to the recent Global Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Indices Report (CAI) released by Ernst & Young, China continues to dominate the global renewable energy sector. The survey grades 40 nations based on their renewable energy markets, renewable energy infrastructure, and their suitability for individual technologies.
Even though dropping by 0.2 points from the last index in May, China manages to be on the first spot of All Renewable Index (ARI) by scoring 70.2 points. Chinese government has very attractive policies for the deployment of renewable energy infrastructure. It aims to add 100 GW of wind energy capacity and 21 GW of solar power capacity by 2015.
Growing uncertainty over the long-term renewable energy goals of the US government to tackle climate change pushed the US to second place. The US shares the position with Germany, with each scoring 66 points. Huge investments in the German offshore wind energy sector and solar sector has helped Germany to reach the second spot. Until recently, the US was marginally leading Germany in the second spot in the renewable energy investment attractiveness index.
Gil Forer, Ernst & Young’s Global Cleantech Leader says, “While the US and German markets are level within the ARI, the contrast between these two markets is evident. The upcoming elections have led to an understandable slowdown in the decision making process in the US, while Germany is pushing ahead with its ambitious renewable energy agenda including the introduction of a new solar PV tariff and compensation for offshore grid connection delays.”
“Having made positive progress, the challenge now facing Germany is making sure that the necessary infrastructure is in place to ensure the renewable power generated in the north of the country can be shipped to customers in the south. It is important for any country not only to focus on policies that support supply, but also on those that will encourage and simulate demand.”
India came fourth in the ARI, scoring 64.1 points, UK fifth with 55.3 points, followed by France, Italy, Canada, Japan, and Brazil. India lost one point from the last index due to recent severe blackouts causing speculation that the country has not attracted private investments to modernize its power infrastructure.
Image: Leaflet | Wikimedia Commons
The views presented in the above article are author’s personal views only
+1,100 Jobs & Millions of Dollars for Local Economy from 1 Typical Wind Farm
Posted: 11 Sep 2012 08:42 AM PDT
Congressional Inaction on Wind Power Production Tax Credit Threatens to Stop Major Jobs & Economic Boost for U.S. Communities
Image Credit: U.S. Air Force/Lance Cheun
WASHINGTON, D.C. (September 11, 2012) – Each major wind farm in America creates nearly 1,100 jobs and can add tens of millions of dollars in new taxes and other benefits to the communities where they’re located, according to two new reports from the Natural Resources Defense Council.
A new 250-megawatt wind farm will create 1,079 jobs throughout the many steps of building that wind farm, according to the NRDC report “American Wind Farms: Breaking Down the Benefits from Planning to Production.” These are positions in manufacturing, construction engineering and management, among other areas.
But the benefits don’t end there, a separate NRDC study on the secondary impacts of the wind energy industry shows.
Wind farms also are helping revitalize communities across the country by generating new taxes, lease payments to landowners and economic development revenues, in addition to creating new job opportunities, the NRDC report “At Wind Speed: How the U.S. Wind Industry is Rapidly Growing Our Local Economies,” shows. The report profiles four communities from Ohio to Oregon that have benefitted from the wind industry.
Today, wind farms generate about 50,000 megawatts of clean, renewable energy – the equivalent of the energy produced by 12 Hoover Dams – and the wind industry employs about 75,000 Americans. Wind energy production has increased by more than 170 percent in the past four years alone.
Yet the industry’s growth and promise is now facing potential disaster, because Congress has not renewed the 2.2-cent per kilowatt hour Production Tax Credit (PTC) that’s set to expire at the end of the year. The Senate is expected to take up the PTC as early as this week.
NRDC policy advocate Cai Steger, co-author of the report, said: “Every time a wind farm gets built, American jobs are created. These reports show what the PTC has done for the wind industry – and why it’s essential that it is extended.”
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, who is leading efforts in the Senate to extend the PTC, said: “The case is clear. The wind energy industry supports jobs and drives economic development. It’s time for Congress to make extending the bi-partisan wind PTC a top priority.
“In Colorado and across the country, workers are already paying the price for Congressional inaction on the PTC,” Sen. Bennet said. “Those jobs losses are only a glimpse of what could happen if we let the tax credit expire.”
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, who also is leading efforts in the Senate to extend the PTC said: “As the Natural Resources Defense Council’s report demonstrates, wind energy has the potential to bring thousands of new manufacturing jobs to Ohio and the United States.
“Ohio and the United States are poised to lead the world in wind turbine manufacturing and use”, Sen. Brown said. “We can’t trade a dependence on foreign oil for a dependence on foreign-made clean energy components, which is why supporting American manufacturers of wind turbines and parts is more important than ever.”
According to the NRDC supply chain report, the 1,079 jobs created by a typical 250 MW wind farm are created at 14 different steps along the way of building the wind farm.
Non-construction businesses account for an estimated 557 jobs. They include 432 workers in manufacturing, 80 in planning and development, 18 in sales and distribution and 27 in operations and maintenance.
Construction jobs add another 522 jobs to a typical wind farm. These workers are spread between three categories, with 273 working on on-site civil works, such as roads, and foundations; 202 working on the installation of the wind turbines and 47 working on on-site electrical work, such as grid connection.
Additionally, the report profiles American companies that could participate at every one of the 14 steps of the wind farm.
The reports can be found here: http://www.nrdc.org/energy/american-wind-farms.asp and here: http://www.nrdc.org/energy/wind-powered-communities/
Largest Solar PV Project in World, Agua Caliente Solar Project, Turns up the Heat on Congress
Posted: 11 Sep 2012 08:29 AM PDT
Anti–solar power leadership in Congress is all set to put the kibosh on the Department of Energy’s loan program in an upcoming vote, but there will be a 290-megawatt gorilla at roll call: Arizona’s massive Agua Caliente photovoltaic power plant, which is a standout example of the loan program’s overall success.
Agua Caliente is still under construction, but the plant’s operators have just ramped it up to 250 megawatts, which already makes it the largest operating photovoltaic power plant in the world.
No More Solyndras, No More Jobs
Our friends over at The Hill report that Congress will vote later this week on the “No More Solyndras Act,” a Republican-sponsored bill that would severely curtail the Department of Energy’s Loan Guarantee program.
Though the GOP is apparently milking the effort to undercut President Obama’s odds for re-election (The Hill notes that “House lawmakers will hold an array of hearings and votes this week that will provide fresh chances to cast President Obama’s green agenda as an affront to the economy”), the Loan Guarantee Program is not a creation of the President’s administration.
The program was established under the Bush administration in 2005, and its success has been well documented in the growth of the U.S. alternative energy sector since then.
As for the notorious Solyndra bankruptcy, from its inception the loan program had risk built into its DNA, and it was designed to absorb those risks. An independent report earlier this year suggested some tweaks but confirmed the overall integrity of the program.
The Agua Caliente project alone has been credited with creating about 400 jobs, which would not exist today, along with thousands of others, if not for the loan guarantee program.
Global Solar Leadership for the U.S.A.
It’s an open secret that today’s Republican Party makes no bones about killing off job-creating federal initiatives for political gain, even ones that enjoyed bipartisan support just a few years ago.
Adding insult to injury, this scorched-earth strategy could have long-lasting consequences for America’s ability to become a global leader in exporting new energy technologies.
Growing the domestic alternative energy sector is only part of the aim of the Loan Guarantee Program. The program also seeks to carve out a leadership post for the U.S. in the white-hot global alternative energy market.
Agua Caliente, for example, incorporates two innovations that have enabled the project to come online in stages, with the first 30 megawatts turned on just seven months after construction started in the fall of 2010.
Republican leadership should be reminded of the long history of scorched-earth operations, in which military campaigns are often won, but at great cost to civilian life and livelihood.
Image: Agua caliente (hot water). Some rights reserved by Velo Steve.
Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.
Mitsubishi i Reviews
Posted: 11 Sep 2012 07:30 AM PDT
The little Mitsubishi i Charis is testing out. Image Credit: Charis
As our regular readers will remember, one of our writers had the chance to test drive the Mitsubishi i (an electric vehicle) back in July. He called it a 200-mile date with the car. Another one of our writers, Charis Michelsen, has also received the vehicle for a week, just this month, for review on sister site Planetsave. She’s wrapping up her time with it right now. She absolutely loves it, and has written several posts on Planetsave over the past week about it. In my opinion, the posts are hilarious and super interesting. Here’s what’s up so far (think she’s got one more on the way):
§ Liveblogging the Practical Aspects of a Mitsubishi i-MiEV
§ Liveblogging the Practical Aspects of a Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Day Two
§ The Practical Aspects of a Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Days Three + Four
§ The Practical Aspects of a Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Days Five + Six
In addition to reviews from Charis, Chris DeMorro of sister site Gas2 also got some time with the little EV beauty recently. He’s written up a more concise review in a totally different style. Here’s his post:
§ Mitsubishi i EV: The One Sentence Review
I think we might have some more reviews from around the network coming in the next few months. I’ll keep you updated.
It’s very interesting to see how different people approach the car, and review it — gives a broader perspective of what the car is like.
Of course, if you’ve driven (or own!) an i-MiEV, drop us a note telling us what you think!
Government Turns Key on £13m Electric Vehicle Battery Hub
Posted: 11 Sep 2012 07:00 AM PDT
A new British research and development centre at Warwick University aims to take advantage of the emerging BEV (battery electric vehicle) and HEV (hybrid electric vehicle) battery market by building what may be called an “electric vehicle battery hub.”
The government announced that it plans to build the £13 million research centre at the University of Warwick, and it aims to boost the development of car batteries.
Section of RDECOM Advanced Chemistry Laboratory.
The Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) supplied £9 million of the £13 million of capital for the new “UK energy storage R&D centre,” which is designed to prop up the UK expertise in electrochemistry.
Countries in which research and development are actively encouraged and well supported, such as the United States and Japan, tend to produce many educated people, hence increasing the size of the domestic electrochemistry employee market so that fewer people need to be hired from overseas to fill UK positions.
Another £4 million was provided by “industry,” but the businesses that provided this capital money were not stated by BIS.
The research centre will focus on developing batteries for low- and ultra-low-carbon vehicles, but in the future may expand its development to large commercial and off-road vehicles such as ships and trains.
Battery alternatives such as fuel cells can also be researched at the centre.
The lab will be situated in the High Value Manufacturing Catapult at the University of Warwick. The High Value Manufacturing Catapult was opened last year to boost the commercialization of new manufacturing technologies.
According to the business minister, Michael Fallon, ”This £13m facility will help accelerate the development of battery cells for the next generation of vehicles, and is a vital investment in the future of the automotive sector.”
“It complements over £5.5bn that global vehicle manufacturers have committed to UK projects in the last 18 months.”
Photo Credit: RDECOM
Saab EV Deal Complete
Posted: 11 Sep 2012 06:00 AM PDT
Yep, Saab has now been sold to an electric vehicle company, National Electric Vehicle Sweden. That is, everything but the griffin logo. Details from Gas2:
Saab Deal Completed, EV Models Coming In 18 Months (via Gas 2.0)
Back in June I reported that Saab was in the process of being sold to National Electric Vehicle Sweden, a company that has strong ties to Hong Kong. Well that deal is completed, and amazingly the Saab brand will indeed live on as a maker of electric vehicles. I might have been wrong on this one. FrankenSaab…
McLaren Hybrid Supercar Spoiler
Posted: 11 Sep 2012 05:00 AM PDT
Well, it’s not a full-on spolier, but here are some details on a McLaren hybrid supercar that is supposed to be unveiled at a Paris auto show later this month:
Spoilers: 1000 hp McLaren Hybrid Supercar Outed Ahead of Paris Debut! (via Gas 2.0)
It’s been a busy week for McLaren, having announced that they’re hard at work with Formula E and with putting the finishing touches on a successor to their legendary, 90s-defining F1 supercar. It’s no secret that the end result will be a cost-no-object world-beater, but they haven’t been building…
Why Thorium Nuclear Isn’t Featured on CleanTechnica
Posted: 11 Sep 2012 04:26 AM PDT
I had a reader email me recently asking why we don’t feature thorium nuclear technology on CleanTechnica. To many good-intentioned folks, thorium is an energy panacea that seems perfect. People I respect have asked me the same thing in the past year or so. But thorium is far from perfect. In fact, it’s pretty darn lame, as I think you will see below (if you read this with an open mind).
Thorium image via Shutterstock
Now, before I get into the details of why thorium is anything but awesome, I want to say a few things about the culture that surrounds the “thorium will solve all our problems!” idea. Thorium enthusiasts are often willing to make claims like, “if it weren’t for the government, we would have switched to thorium nuclear energy decades ago.” Or, “thorium nuclear will solve all our problems, but it’s been suppressed by big government for decades.”
I have to admit that I’ve gotten into far too many discussions with conspiracy theorists in the past several years (mostly regarding the topic of global warming). Two things I’ve learned are that 1) they think nearly everything wrong in the world is due to governmental conspiracy; 2) you cannot expect to have a logical conversation with them — presenting facts does not matter at all.
Believe me, I understand that most if not all governments have a lot of corrupt politicians and leaders in them, that rich, entrenched energy industries have far too much control, and do suppress new technologies that could threaten their livelihood. That said, everything is not a conspiracy, and there are legitimate reasons why wind and solar energy are blowing up in use and popularity but thorium is not. There’s a good reason (or many good reasons) why wind turbines and solar panels are in place all over the world, but there isn’t a single commercial thorium reactor in operation. It’s not because every government in the world is suppressing thorium. It’s most likely because thorium simply isn’t what its proponents say it is.
Now, many or most of the commenters and bloggers who are into thorium come into the discussion in a very conspiratorial way, from my experience, which immediately throws up a yellow flag (note: not a red flag, but a yellow one). As I said, I’ve spent way too much time unsuccessfully trying to bring science and logic into discussions with conspiracy theorists.
Conspiracy theorists aren’t the only ones getting behind thorium, though. I know some very intelligent people not obsessed with conspiracy who think it could be awesome. But the thing is, nuclear technology and science is very technical. While hearing a handful of nice things about thorium in what sounds like technical or scientific language might get some people excited, it really shouldn’t. Unless you have a ton of time on your hands to very scientifically study the matter (not read blogs about the topic), you should probably defer to independent experts who have studied the matter, and have carefully studied the claims of the thorium fan club.
You might also consider that some governments (i.e. India) have been trying to get thorium off the ground for decades, with apparently no success, and many others have researched it (including world-leading countries such as Germany, Japan, the UK, Russia, and the US). Do you really think that every government that looks into the matter doesn’t want cheap, safe energy?
Now, that’s all just a preface, but here’s a nice, concise (3-page) rebuttal to the biggest claims regarding thorium (in particular, claims regarding safety, waste, technological advantage, and cost), from the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and Physicians for Social Responsibility (full repost of the PDF that is linked in the title):
Thorium Fuel: No Panacea for Nuclear Power
By Arjun Makhijani and Michele Boyd
A Fact Sheet Produced by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and Physicians for Social Responsibility
Thorium “fuel” has been proposed as an alternative to uranium fuel in nuclear reactors. There are not “thorium reactors,” but rather proposals to use thorium as a “fuel” in different types of reactors, including existing light-water reactors and various fast breeder reactor designs.
Thorium, which refers to thorium-232, is a radioactive metal that is about three times more abundant than uranium in the natural environment. Large known deposits are in Australia, India, and Norway. Some of the largest reserves are found in Idaho in the U.S. The primary U.S. company advocating for thorium fuel is Thorium Power (www.thoriumpower.com). Contrary to the claims made or implied by thorium proponents, however, thorium doesn’t solve the proliferation, waste, safety, or cost problems of nuclear power, and it still faces major technical hurdles for commercialization.
Not a Proliferation Solution
Thorium is not actually a “fuel” because it is not fissile and therefore cannot be used to start or sustain a nuclear chain reaction. A fissile material, such as uranium-235 (U-235) or plutonium-239 (which is made in reactors from uranium-238), is required to kick-start the reaction. The enriched uranium fuel or plutonium fuel also maintains the chain reaction until enough of the thorium target material has been converted into fissile uranium-233 (U-
233) to take over much or most of the job. An advantage of thorium is that it absorbs slow neutrons relatively efficiently (compared to uranium-238) to produce fissile uranium-233.
The use of enriched uranium or plutonium in thorium fuel has proliferation implications. Although U-235 is found in nature, it is only 0.7 percent of natural uranium, so the proportion of U-235 must be industrially increased to make “enriched uranium” for use in reactors. Highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium are nuclear weapons materials.
In addition, U-233 is as effective as plutonium-239 for making nuclear bombs. In most proposed thorium fuel cycles, reprocessing is required to separate out the U-233 for use in fresh fuel. This means that, like uranium fuel with reprocessing, bomb-making material is separated out, making it vulnerable to theft or diversion. Some proposed thorium fuel cycles even require 20% enriched uranium in order to get the chain reaction started in
existing reactors using thorium fuel. It takes 90% enrichment to make weapons-usable uranium, but very little additional work is needed to move from 20% enrichment to 90% enrichment. Most of the separative work is needed to go from natural uranium, which has 0.7% uranium-235, to 20% U-235.
It has been claimed that thorium fuel cycles with reprocessing would be much less of a proliferation risk because the thorium can be mixed with uranium-238. In this case, fissile uranium-233 is also mixed with non-fissile uranium-238. The claim is that if the uranium-238 content is high enough, the mixture cannot be used to make bombs without a complex uranium enrichment plant. This is misleading. More uranium-238 does dilute the uranium-233, but it also results in the production of more plutonium-239 as the reactor operates. So the proliferation problem remains – either bomb-usable uranium-233 or bomb-useable plutonium is created and can be separated out by reprocessing.
Further, while an enrichment plant is needed to separate U-233 from U-238, it would take less separative work to do so than enriching natural uranium. This is because U-233 is five atomic weight units lighter than U-238, compared to only three for U-235. It is true that such enrichment would not be a straightforward matter because the U-233 is contaminated with U-232, which is highly radioactive and has very radioactive radionuclides in its decay chain. The radiation-dose-related problems associated with separating U-233 from U-238 and then handling the U-233 would be considerable and more complex than enriching natural uranium for the purpose of bomb making. But in principle, the separation can be done, especially if worker safety is not a primary concern; the resulting U-233 can be used to make bombs. There is just no way to avoid proliferation problems associated with thorium fuel cycles that involve reprocessing. Thorium fuel cycles without reprocessing would offer the same temptation to reprocess as today’s once-through uranium fuel cycles.
Not a Waste Solution
Proponents claim that thorium fuel significantly reduces the volume, weight, and long-term radiotoxicity of spent fuel. Using thorium in a nuclear reactor creates radioactive waste that proponents claim would only have to be isolated from the environment for 500 years, as opposed to the irradiated uranium-only fuel that remains dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years. This claim is wrong. The fission of thorium creates long-lived fission products like technetium-99 (half-life over 200,000 years). While the mix of fission products is somewhat different than with uranium fuel, the same range of fission products is created. With or without reprocessing, these fission products have to be disposed of in a geologic repository.
If the spent fuel is not reprocessed, thorium-232 is very-long lived (half-life:14 billion years) and its decay products will build up over time in the spent fuel. This will make the spent fuel quite radiotoxic, in addition to all the fission products in it. It should also be noted that inhalation of a unit of radioactivity of thorium-232 or thorium-228 (which is also present as a decay product of thorium-232) produces a far higher dose, especially to certain organs, than the inhalation of uranium containing the same amount of radioactivity. For instance, the bone surface dose from breathing an amount (mass) of insoluble thorium is about 200 times that of breathing the same mass of uranium.
Finally, the use of thorium also creates waste at the front end of the fuel cycle. The radioactivity associated with these is expected to be considerably less than that associated with a comparable amount of uranium milling. However, mine wastes will pose long-term hazards, as in the case of uranium mining. There are also often hazardous non-radioactive metals in both thorium and uranium mill tailings.
Ongoing Technical Problems
Research and development of thorium fuel has been undertaken in Germany, India, Japan, Russia, the UK, and the U.S. for more than half a century. Besides remote fuel fabrication and issues at the front end of the fuel cycle, thorium-U-233 breeder reactors produce fuel (“breed”) much more slowly than uranium-plutonium-239 breeders. This leads to technical complications. India is sometimes cited as the country that has successfully developed thorium fuel. In fact, India has been trying to develop a thorium breeder fuel cycle for decades but has not yet done so commercially.
One reason reprocessing thorium fuel cycles haven’t been successful is that uranium-232 (U-232) is created along with uranium-233. U-232, which has a half-life of about 70 years, is extremely radioactive and is therefore very dangerous in small quantities: a single small particle in a lung would exceed legal radiation standards for the general public. U-232 also has highly radioactive decay products. Therefore, fabricating fuel with U-233 is very
expensive and difficult.
Not an Economic Solution
Thorium may be abundant and possess certain technical advantages, but it does not mean that it is economical. Compared to uranium, the thorium fuel cycle is likely to be even more costly. In a once-through mode, it will need both uranium enrichment (or plutonium separation) and thorium target rod production. In a breeder configuration, it will need reprocessing, which is costly. In addition, as noted, inhalation of thorium-232 produces a higher dose than the same amount of uranium-238 (either by radioactivity or by weight).
Reprocessed thorium creates even more risks due to the highly radioactive U-232 created in the reactor. This makes worker protection more difficult and expensive for a given level of annual dose.
Fact sheet completed in January 2009
Updated July 2009
Interrupting Your Normal Cleantech Programming for…
Posted: 11 Sep 2012 04:00 AM PDT
Most of you probably don’t know David Anderson, but he’s actually the founder of CleanTechnica, and the founder of the media network we’re a part of — Important Media, previously known as Green Options (GO) Media.
While this project isn’t exactly cleantech-related, it’s a hugely important project that David is working his butt off on. It deserves as many eyes (and as much support) as it can get, I think. For more on what I’m talking about, here’s my post on the matter (which includes links and widgets to the Kickstarter page where you can pitch in and help to save a wonderful, super unique hot springs):
Help Fund This Project! (Seriously)
The founder of our whole Important Media network (yep, our network of 19 progressive blogs) has actually had to step away from his role at the helm of Important Media recently. He’s had to do so for a couple of reasons, but most notably at the moment, to work his butt off in an effort to save some precious, unique (truly unique), and healing natural waters in Utah – Pah Tempe Mineral Hot Springs.
There’s a lot to learn about these unique hot springs. I’m sure even more than I’ve learned. But for an intro, you can check out the Kickstarter link above and the video below. And while you’re at it, pledge some friggin’ money to help save the place!
As more of a taster, here are some excerpts from the Kickstarter page:
“This place, this sacred and pristine mineral spring tucked into the same desert river canyon that runs through Zion National Park, this refuge which so many people have valued, enjoyed and loved over many centuries, needs to be properly championed as the priceless wonder it is, and made available to as many people as possible, while preserving its peaceful atmosphere….
“Pah Tempe’s mineral water, which everyone else recognizes as sacred and healing, is referred to by the local country water district as, incredibly, a *pollutant* which they feel needs to be captured and ‘disposed of’ somewhere out in the desert. For them, this requires condemning and closing the property on which these precious hot springs sit. This outcome has been their consistent goal for many years, despite a worldwide (and local) fan base, and clear scientific consensus on the amazing biological uniqueness and diversity of fish in that exact section of the river, now made endangered by the diversion of water in the name of development.”
For more, just go ahead and check out the Kickstarter page. (And chip in! Even if only $1 — it really does help.)