204 Comments
Sep 14, 2022·edited Sep 14, 2022

When used as a baseload to phase out coal, natural gas causes a reduction in CO2 footprint of 50%+, but only assuming that natural gas is being used for base load.

The thing that the environmentalist movement seems not to understand is that gas-fired peakers are the only technology which let us roll out intermittent renewables as fast as we can build them right now. We are waiting for completely green energy storage technologies to catch up; in the mean time, a peaker plant is functionally identical in terms of how it interacts with the grid. So we can leverage gas to make renewables cover maybe 60-70% of our energy needs with present-day technology, if we implement the necessary permitting reforms to make grid updates. With existing nuclear and hydro baseload, that puts us in shouting distance of decarbonizing the grid already.

To transition fully, all that will be left is to replace peaking power plants with storage facilities as they become economical, and that's a plug-and-play task vastly easier than trying to overhaul the whole system on the fly.

The environmentalist opposition to gas basically boils down to the movement consisting of a bunch of people with little or no real-world expertise who have no idea what is actually necessary to accomplish their goals, and having alienated *everyone* who has that expertise, no matter how environmentally-minded those folks may be.

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This gas turbine inspector concurs with this comment.

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Lol, there will come a day when you're inspecting geothermal turbines, or at least the kids getting into the profession now are doing that, while you enjoy a nice retirement cabin somewhere.

But for the moment, let's just get as much solar and wind installed as possible even if it means building some gas peaking plants now and again.

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Ah... but the new turbines are hydrogen compatible.... so there is hope!

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Meh.

This is one prediction I'm comfortable making: 90% chance hydrogen never becomes a widespread means of energy storage. It will only ever be synthesized as an industrial feedstock.

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I'll take that 10%. It will have niche uses though.

And there are benefits to hydrogen natgas blends. You don't need 100% hydrogen. Mixes work tremendously to bring down emissions, but mixed gases make it easier to transport.

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Where does long haul trucking fit in there? My theory is that the primary use of hydrogen will be in transportation of especially heavy products where the lack of energy density in batteries becomes a major drawback

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Those niche uses will not culminate in it being burned in a turbine. :p

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Might be an attractive airline fuel at one point, no? I'm reading mixed reviews on the timeline for battery-powered jets.

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I think it overwhelmingly likely that the answer there will be to synthesize aviation fuel from CO2 to achieve a closed-cycle loop, definitionally carbon-neutral.

Storing hydrogen is very nearly as challenging as a battery in aviation applications.

We're talking about very, very thick fiber-reinforced epoxy composite pressure vessels pressurized to extreme levels to hold a meaningful amount of hydrogen, and it's still vastly less *dense* than kerosene. On a per-weight basis, including the storage system, it likely will hold up fine, but on a per volume basis the energy density including storage is probably around a sixth that of aviation fuel.

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Sep 14, 2022·edited Sep 14, 2022

I don't think battery-powered jets will ever happen. Batteries are just way too heavy for something that requires aerodynamic lift. And they definitely won't happen if sodium or iron-oxide batteries become commonplace, because both sodium and iron are much heavier than lithium.

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If we bring back zeppelins, you get fuel and flotation at the same time!

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Agreed, I think long term H2 for power will be for situations where “it’s better than burning the furniture” and that will only be available if there is a big industrial user base that pays for the storage most of the time. Probably has to be salt dome storage to make sense at that.

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Hydro is also great at load balancing...but here in Washington State the environmentalists are all focused on getting the dams torn down.

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I'm not sure of all the specifics of the dams they're focusing on, but hydro dams do have a lifespan and need to be phased out at some point.

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The environmental case against the dams in the PNW is their impact on salmon spawning, and by extension, ecosystems that depend on them, including charismatic megafauna like orcas.

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That's not why they want them torn down, it's to help the salmon.

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They're critical for flood control even if you didn't want to use them for power generation, which you absolutely should.

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So far, I think the dams getting torn down are carefully chosen to be the ones that have a big impact on salmon, but provide very little electricity.

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My theory is that that the real problem too many people in the environmental movement watch too much YouTube. They learn about some fancy new energy storage technology which just got prototyped, or about some rich billionaire building a zero-carbon house, and ask themselves "why do we need gas anymore, when we have this?".

The problem is, scaling up renewables and battery storage takes a long time, and without new technological breakthroughs, is likely to be constrained by availability of raw materials. People need something to keep the lights on in the meantime, and if that something isn't gas from Manchin's pipeline, the alternative is not going to be people simply waiting in the dark until the clean technology is scaled up and ready. Rather, the alternative is going to be either gas from some other source, or if that's not available, some other (dirtier) fossil fuel such as oil or coal.

Eventually, the time will come when gas pipelines are indeed obsolete. But, we're simply not there yet.

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Yes, changing energy sources takes time. And this is why I made the comment about what energy sources will power electric cars.

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On which topic, I would again like to remind you, CA is *already* getting less than 50% of its electricity from fossil fuels.

And, I would like again to remind you that per my other reply to you, even in a state with significant amounts of *coal* powering its grid, EVs are just so much more efficient at converting energy into locomotion that they're *STILL* better environmentally than similarly-sized ICEVs. This is true even in West Virginia, for Christ's sake.

Also, I saw your edit. Quick tip, it goes better around here to just admit when you're wrong and be done with it.

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Peace brother. We will see won't we. I guess I have been reading different stuff than you have--about the whole energy picture. Have a nice day.

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You've not been reading "different stuff", you've been reading "unfactual stuff".

But have fun.

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David, I am truly sorry if I offended you when my original comment seemed to imply you agreed with it. I liked your comment. I edited my comment so it would be clear that my comment was my own and not related to your original comment. Peace.

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Lol I saw a particularly stupid example of this the other day; the article made it sound as if we’ve finally figured out how to use tire rubble as a structural concrete aggregate in practical applications… which was among the topics I worked on as a graduate student.

It don’t work, let me tell you right off the bat.

This research group’s solution? Cast it in a pressurized vessel and cure it there for at least two days.

And the title featured words like “solve”.

Sigh.

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Sep 14, 2022·edited Sep 14, 2022

Exactly David (and Matt in your post). On another note, I am willing to bet money that when (if) California goes through with banning the sale of gasoline powered cars by 2035, some of the electricity used to power electric vehicles will come from burning fossil fuels. Let's get real!

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All trends indicate that you are incorrect.

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I also think some other energy dense energy source(s) could be involved. What do you think will be powering our grid in 13 years?

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Sep 14, 2022·edited Sep 14, 2022

Regional renewables, plus batteries and some reliance on a national grid to move renewable-generated electricity to it from out of region.

California's reliance on renewables is increasing quickly and is projected to be at least 60% by 2030 (the state is considering raising the target to 80%). file:///C:/Users/robbins/Downloads/TN239588_20210903T090510_2021%20SB%20100%20Joint%20Agency%20Report%20Summary%20Achieving%20100%25%20Clean%20Electricity%20in.pdf

At this moment I'm looking at the CAISO website and note that renewables are currently accounting for 54% of electricity demand (though obviously that will drop at nighttime).

http://www.caiso.com/todaysoutlook/pages/supply.aspx

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Not at all what I said, and likely wrong, but thank you for playing.

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Sorry for the confusion. I said I agreed with your comment and Matt's post. The second statement was totally my own.

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As others have noted, it's already incorrect as of this year.

By 2035, if current rates of renewables expansion hold and they keep Diablo Canyon open, CA's grid will be at around 70-80% carbon-neutral.

Secondly, let's game this out for a moment:

Gasoline creates 1.27 times as much CO2 per unit energy as natural gas when burnt, and an additional 30% to be refined and transported to a gas tank in the first place. Call it 1.5X, all told, as natural gas also has some transportation footprint. The typical engine and powertrain converts 25% of the energy to locomotive energy. So for a given ICE car it takes 6 units of CO2 to move a unit of distance.

Combined-cycle power plants convert 60% of the energy in natural gas, then 95% makes it through transmission lines to a car battery, and 80% of that makes it to the wheels. So for an ICE powered solely by natural gas-fired powerplans, it takes 2.19 units of CO2 to move that distance assuming equal weight and drag.

So that's already vastly (40% of the impact) better. And in most states, it's better still as most have a good chunk of either nuclear, hydro, solar, wind, or some combination. I live in SE PA, and my electrical utility is 55% nuclear, 10% hydro/wind/solar, and 35% gas. My EV therefore has 13% of the footprint per mile of a similarly-sized new ICEV. And it's a compact hatchback, so it's probably more like 8-9% of the typical ICEV, lol.

But moreover, in the same way that we'll one day be swapping out gas peaking plants for batteries easily, once I own an EV, my job is done. As the economics of carbon-neutral power generation, particularly solar, make the grid greener, my car comes along for the ride naturally.

So even if CA were to generate 60% of its power from natural gas, EVs would still be a good environmental policy decision.

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That would be quite a retrograde move: In 2021 52% of California’s electricity came from non-fossil fuel sources:

https://www.energy.ca.gov/data-reports/energy-almanac/california-electricity-data/2021-total-system-electric-generation

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Yep, agree with this one (though May quibble with the %s). There are already massive lead times for new grid-scale lithium battery systems, and new pumped hydro resources aren’t exact speedy to build.

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Curious as to percentages if you have any better numbers. These are cribbed from some half-remembered reading a while ago, lol.

My understanding is that overbuilding by a factor of 2X on renewables and building a decent amount of long-distance transmission between areas with inversely-correlated weather and renewable types should let us get by with storage capacity of a few days nationally.

The magic sauce I have no idea how to parse is how that translates to peaking capacity, given the different limitations. A peaking plant can only deliver a fixed output, but can do so for a more prolonged time, whereas current storage solutions can deliver variable output but with less endurance.

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I think your rule of thumb seems ok, with 1 MW of baseload needing to be replaced about 2 MW of variable gen + 1 MW of storage to maintain a decent level of reliability to get to 80% - 90%. Depends on how much hydro with deep storage you have access to, how much existing pealing gas capacity you have, how interconnected your system is, etc, etc.

The question really then comes down to time frames, how fast can you build this out.

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So that's just it, what does "1 MW of storage" mean?

Batteries have variable outputs within a certain range.

I could, conceivably, design a storage installation that sustains 1 MW of power for twenty minutes. Hell, someone probably has, that has useful applications in jumpstarting larger installations.

But grid stabilization isn't one of them, because it'll often need to be able to sustain a few days where local variable sources are only covering 50% of requirements and long-distance transmission lines another 30%. 20 minutes is useless in context.

And that's the difference between storage and peaking plants; the latter can be run for prolonged periods, so the output is the only thing that matters. Storage has both output and energy limitations.

I suspect that, in order to ensure grid reliability, we're going to have some publicly-owned natural gas peaking plants for a century or more. They'll just almost never come online.

But... I can also envision a future where every EV and charger are built for bi-directional charging/discharging, and utilities simply pay people for access to their (very large, relative to consumption) batteries to smooth loads.

That's one of the things that leads me to suspect that the storage issue will be less challenging than we all think; there are a ton of people with predictable patterns of car use who could "rent out" at least one household vehicle's battery for the purpose a lot of the time.

And, speaking from experience, my Leaf's battery can run the rest of my house for 2 full days of summer usage.

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There are a lot of good qs here, and I think we are going to find the answer out the hard way!

Agree on the gas peaking point, while they may only contribute 10% of energy over a year, it’s like that the capacity of gas peaking plant required will be well in excess of 10% of total installed capacity.

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Yep.

The absolutely wonderful thing about the "we build a fuckton of PV and windmills, filling the gaps with gas peakers to start" approach is that by the time we are really in a position to economically replace the peaking plants with storage, we'll likely have a decade or two of accumulated data as to *what we actually need* to do it.

Rather than guessing blindly and missing badly.

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But wait, if we restrict gas, won't that increase the pressure to develop cheap battery storage??? \S

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Sep 14, 2022·edited Sep 14, 2022

Wanted to put in my two cents about why climate activists have adopted the strategies they have. I buy everything that was already written, but I feel like we should add in that there is genuine animosity amongst these groups toward fossil fuel companies, and that animosity is well-earned. Fossil fuel companies have behaved in demonstrably heinous ways throughout the living memory of everyone involved in politics today. I think a lot of the energy on blocking pipelines and that sort of thing is about a genuine desire to screw these companies for the pure joy of sticking it to ruthless villains.

I’m not saying that constitutes good politics; I think it is bad politics. But it is a totally predictable and understandable way for humans to behave. Lots of people are willing to forego a benefit or even harm themselves for the joy of harming a villain.

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Yep. I'm in the O&G industry, and it's quite frustrating.

The animosity is palpable, as you say. It's difficult to be an outspoken Democrat or defend progressive policies under such conditions.

More importantly, it has resulted in a bad lack of expertise among Democratic policymakers and administrators. As Matt chronicles, we end up with the leftist equivalent of boneheaded and naive libertarian blanket solutions, in part because we don't know what we're doing well enough to formulate granular ones.

There are better and worse ways to do this stuff - regs that are effective or not, incentive structures that will yield the behavior you want vs being a giveaway that changes no behavior, etc.

Democrats have essentially ceded the field. So, we're not coming up with better policy or administrative approaches, to yield the outcomes and changes we want. And, a huge proportion of the folks we appoint, especially to senior jobs, are downright horrible and awful at them.

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I feel like this is one of those really hard political polarization situations where a big part of the problem is that it goes both ways. At a certain point on the Exxon project the Exxon people started just treating the history team badly. Like, straight up harassment for the sake of harassment. It was stuff like, “yes, we signed a contract giving you access to our records room, and yes, you can quote documents, but the contract does not mention mechanical reproduction, so you will need to write out anything you want by hand even though last year you were allowed to use the Xerox machine sitting right there in the room.“

And the guy who wrote the book, Joe Pratt, was not some kind of hard-core lefty environmentalist. You can read not just the Exxon book, but the books on other oil industry players that he wrote, and they are pretty even handed. He acknowledges mistakes that were made and problems with environmental degradation, but he also, as a business historian, was very interested in the effective corporate practices and successes of companies. But Exxon had this clear political orientation which hardened further over time, and we were academics, so we were automatically on the “wrong“ team and had to be treated as such. Conservatives vociferously argue that you see the exact same thing (with reversed players) in higher education.

I think this is a general problem with political polarization in American society and elsewhere. As industries take on alignments, both the individual players and the policies they produce just straight up get worse because of the decrease on all sides in information, viewpoint, and cognitive diversity. It’s groupthink on steroids.

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This is well stated. I'd be interested in discussing this further and learning more about your experience

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I was just a graduate student with a pretty small role in the project, but it was very interesting. We did a ton of oral histories with Exxon employees, up to and including some CEOs, and many of those interviews were really, really interesting. Not so much the company execs as the field guys. They had some great stories.

One of the ones that I think about often is a guy who worked on an experimental design for an offshore platform that I want to say was a monopod off the coast of Alaska, where the water gets really rough. And it had these crazy and hilarious problems like exploding toilets and people getting nauseated by sway on the platform. So a lot of those interviews were a hoot.

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This is a really poor defense of the leftwing activists. They are either doing destructive politics because they don't know better or because they're letting emotions overcome reason. Either way, they should be defunded and ignored in favor of people actually doing good things.

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Sep 14, 2022·edited Sep 14, 2022

People with better ideas will have to win the arguments by making the more compelling appeal to donors and voters, but it’s frustrating and messy.

EDIT: should say that it’s not really intended as a defense. Like I said, I think this is bad politics. I just also think that it is very understandable politics, and if you don’t understand the causes of someone’s behavior, you’re not going to be able to fix it.

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Well, the Republicans are having no trouble using these problems to their advantage with the voters. But yes, donors need to think more carefully and strategically about what they're doing.

I get your point that it is understandable, but one thing Yglesias brings up from time to time is that the conservative movement mostly doesn't have this problem. Their activists are mostly aligned with the project of getting Republicans elected and work constructively towards that goal. They have other problems though and their movement has different motivations. I'm not sure how applicable that lesson is to the left, but it is something to think about. I think the first step is just to identify that it is bad politics and, as you say, try to persuade donors to fund people doing the right things.

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So, funny thing that I’m curious what you think about: I sort of agree with the take in my heart, but on second consideration, it seems wrong. I mean, if you look at the candidates in this year‘s election, a lot of Senate Republican candidates are in danger of losing winnable elections precisely because activists got what they wanted and beat out the establishment Republicans. And this is not the first election where that happened; it definitely happened during the Obama years.

Thinking about it that way makes me wonder if perhaps this is kind of a seeing your own team’s flaws while overrating your opponent’s strengths thing. I’m genuinely not sure. I live in Pennsylvania, and the Republican candidates for governor and Senate are just genuinely bad. And this is a state where those races are pretty consequential, both for control of the senate and because of the electoral math in presidential years.

I don’t know. Like I said, this is a place where I find my analysis of head and gut instinct in opposition. What do you think? Is this may be a place where we should draw a line between activists versus Trump? And where do you pro-life activists fit into this? Because it seems to me like they are a really interesting example where they had very unpopular positions, but they sort of weren’t operating with live ammunition prior to this year. (I say sort of because they were passing restrictions.)

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I think the pro-life movement is actually a really good example of Matt's point that their activists always cared most about electing the right side, even in the absence of near time results or even fealty to their position.

To say that their positions are unpopular is somewhat inchoate. Nationally, they're a minority, but I'm not sure that's true in red states. The Kansas referendum was interesting, but I don't think any legislator in Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa, or even Texas is really outside the majority view point in their state.

More importantly, no one ever seriously threatened to primary Susan Collins, and in fact the pro life vote in Maine consistently shows/showed up for her simply because she was an R --- and they were eventually rewarded, despite her own professed pro-choice beliefs.

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I had this in mind when I mentioned that the conservative movement has other problems. The non-politician activists in the Republican party do a good job of keeping the unpopular parts of their agenda (like tax cuts for the wealthy, or nominating judges to overturn Roe v Wade) quiet and generally don't cause problems for candidates running for office. And the way they talk about their agenda, they emphasize the parts and use phrasing that will sound good to swing voters.

But they definitely have a candidate selection problem, which I consider to be a different issue.

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It seems Republican activists have lost the plot in ways that are probably going to have serious consequences for their cause(s), no? I agree with the take that Republican activists were scarily-well organized from approximately the 80’s through about 2016. But since then, I’m not so sure.

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I replied to JCW above, but I think you are right that things may be spinning out of control for them. So far it manifests as a candidate selection problem mainly (which I consider a different problem), but you can see a message discipline problem emerging on abortion now. It may be a generalized problem for their movement moving forward.

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It’s not really a defense so much as an excuse. I can excuse a 3 year old for throwing a tantrum even if it’s not acceptable. And I don’t have higher behavioral standards for climate activists than 3 year olds.

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Indeed, this is how the toxic cycle of advocating stupid stuff for the sake of "organizing" ends: the insiders conclude that they are a bunch of unserious, untrustworthy idiots who are unworthy of a seat at the table. They get walled out and all their "organizing" was for nothing.

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Good point, and I'm going to keep this in mind in the future by echoing a point Matt made in here that sums up to "If all you do is stop this fossil fuel company, even worse fossil fuel companies will fill the void.".

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Sep 14, 2022·edited Sep 14, 2022

Yeah. I worked on a history project for/about Exxon in the past, with access to their actual records (a choice they came to regret), and I came away from that with a very complicated set of feelings about that company and these issues more generally. Because in some ways Exxon was the most ruthless of operators, including actual political advocacy work to muddle the climate change issue in ways that we’re still dealing with. Like, they were clearly villains.

On the other hand, Shell was supporting death squads. And you can’t escape the more general reality that energy infrastructure is critical to the creation of a world where lives are longer and better almost universally.

There’s just no one righteous. It’s kind of a basic feature of the industry, but it is also a basic feature of “humans.”

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I think you make a very good points here and elsewhere, but I also want to point out the historical evolution which has led to a bit of a culture clash. Almost all work has historically been really brutal and caused much suffering. People working in warehouses, docks, factories, farms, construction, etc. got their bodies beaten and broken by the work, the machines they used, and the environment where they worked and lived. Twenty one thousand people worked to build Hoover dam and 100+ died in its construction. That would be unconscionably bad today, but was not surprising at the time. Through a lot of technological advances and regulation, much of that has been made better, but there is a still a culture around a lot of blue collar work where risk is accepted to get things done. I think many of the businesses and industries that we think are "villainous" have many bad actors, but also they have a culture that originates from this historical mindset.

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Presumably the way that everybody behaves is predictable and understandable, if you know enough about their beliefs and experiences. Right?

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I don’t know. Is that your experience? I feel like that is definitely not my experience, but I’m open to being wrong.

I am extremely compelled by then quantum theory approach to human behavior, which basically says that a lot of behavior is predictable and understandable, but there are long tails containing really surprising stuff. So it’s a bell curve with really large margins that contain some bonkers outcomes.

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Yeah, that's fair, people do really insane stuff sometimes. But in large groups, that is usually because they are emulating somebody they trust (which is understandable, though not justifiable).

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Sep 14, 2022·edited Sep 14, 2022

Yeah. I do tend to think that if a lot of people are doing something that seems totally silly or weird, there is a nonzero chance that you were missing some aspect of motivation that would make the behavior look less bizarre. On the other hand, there is also a nonzero chance that the behavior actually is bizarre or misguided. And there’s a lot of edge cases.

You can totally explain, for example, cult suicide pacts in terms of things like social group acceptance, but that doesn’t make it not part of the long tail of “weird” or “extreme” behavior. And obviously you need to have space for mistakes in there, too, since those subvert the concept of “good judgment.”

I came to thinking this way in a totally different context, as a historian of technology. There’s a whole bunch of really interesting stuff about trying to predict human thought specifically in the nuclear weapons space. And famously, the core metaphor in that space is game theory, with decision makers as players and the process as having discrete outcomes that can be seen as wins and losses.

And the metaphor mostly works. but then sometimes people do this totally bonkers, counterintuitive stuff, which is why some thinkers started trying to apply quantitative models, instead. And boy, does that start to scare you fast. An example I think of is the Iranian nuclear program, which apparently for a while had this idea that they were going to build a bomb but not test it, and essentially keep it in the basement as a surprise last ditch option.

AND YOU SHOULD NOT DO THAT. THAT IS THE ABSOLUTE WORST WAY TO DO A NUCLEAR WEAPONS PROGRAM. It denies you deterrence to protect your ability to do the thing you theoretically wanted to NOT do. The Cuban missile crisis was far closer to being a true apocalypse then we realized at the time for similar reasons. The Russians actually already had undeclared nuclear warheads in place on the island at a relatively low level of control, which meant that plans to bomb the under-construction sites by the US Air Force were much, much more dangerous than we realized at the time, since the Cubans could plausibly have decided to launch a retaliatory nuclear strike on their own, even against the wishes of the Russians.

All of which is to say just that I think of choices as predictable, but only to a point, since they are the outcome of a process with potentially counterintuitive outcomes produced by some combination of hidden information and straight-up contingency / chaos. Because humans.

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That was one of the points in Dr. Strangelove; there's no point in building a doomsday bomb if you don't tell everyone you have a doomsday bomb.

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In defense of the Soviet chairman from that movie, he was planning to tell everyone; it was just that he wanted to wait until the big day (the next Party Congress? honestly not sure because it has been years since I saw that movie). You know he loves to have a surprise!

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The best thing about being an activist is feeling and being seen as righteous. Confronting villains is the archetypal form of righteousness. Civil rights activists understood this. They had the guile to bait villains into attacking them with dogs and bombing churches and killing kids. This shifted northern opinion materially and worked because the psychological needs of the activists aligned with a good PR strategy.

Todays climate activists aren’t taking many physical risks. They are playing a rather decadent intra-left status game. The most prominent activists get salaries from liberal donors and/or get laid by fawning co-eds. In any event, the audience for these performances is far left of the median voter, so there’s nothing to impose political discipline on activists’ tactics.

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Sep 14, 2022·edited Sep 14, 2022

I think in the rush to caricatures about imagined sex parties with undergraduate women you are underrating the degree to which the successes on issues like Keystone XL reflect the actual and, I would argue, accurate perception of villainy amongst fossil fuel companies felt in the general populace.

I think it would be more accurate to say that the sharp limits to this policy are that it gets you nothing on the larger climate issue. People are pretty happy to F over Keystone XL if they think they’re sticking it to some villain, but that energy doesn’t translate at all to something like a carbon tax or grid modernization or whatever wonky, yawn-inducing policy would actually be helpful. And of course a lot of the people who get F’ed over are not actually the villains. They just work for the villains because they need a paycheck.

It’s a set of really perverse incentives that yield bad policy outcomes. Not sure what you do about it, although it would help if the industry had behaved differently. But that ship has sailed.

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Even this is a bit charitable.

I absolutely look forward to the day when I can turn on the TV, see that Saudi Arabia is in flames, and not need to give even a tenth of a shit, and the supermajors are atrophied shadows of their former selves.

But the way to that level of consequence is to make them obsolete, which the current environmental movement seems bound and determined to screw up at every turn.

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Why are American producers villains? I mean the Saudis are, but American energy companies create great blue and white collar jobs, give consumers an essential product and help us pursue energy independence.

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Surely you're aware of the degree to which the supermajors have spent vast sums of money and immense effort to hide a firm scientific consensus on climate change?

George *HW* Bush tried to springboard off the Montreal Protocol to get a push to address climate change in place starting with a great amount of nuclear construction at some point in the early 90's (I think), and after that near-miss the extractive industries set out to completely subvert the GOP, which had been broadly supportive of the Montreal negotiations.

And then there's the ongoing battle to avoid even the most rudimentary safety expenditures in actual extraction; under-designing well caps, injecting cheap-but-toxic fracking compounds in areas where the water table is close to fracked rock...

These people are useful but as with every other potentially dangerous industry they find it cheaper to hire lobbyists to justify cutting corners rather than just investing money in safety.

Fine, that's how everyone operates. But recognize reality. They're, in the main, self-interested and short-sighted people running profit-making enterprises, who frequently tip across the line from business-savvy frugality into outright villainy.

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I’m willing to break omelets to make eggs. I do t think being a rough neck is any more dangerous than working in forestry or driving a cab or bring a cop. Coal mining is sn order of magnitude safer than it was a generation ago

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Sep 14, 2022·edited Sep 14, 2022

If I run someone over driving a really safe car, I’m still culpable for the harm I caused. We’re not talking here about the accidental hazards of extremely dangerous industries. We’re talking about intentional choices made to prioritize profit over human health.

If I make a choice that profits me and hurts you, most people in our society will describe that as bad behavior. And if I say, “well that’s why we have a court system. You can sue me and try to extract the cost from me, so it’s OK that I made this choice which hurt you and profited me,” most people in this country would describe that as villainous. This is a pretty straightforward claim, and I frankly think it is weird that this is the thing you want to defend, in much the same way that I thought it was strange for this thread to start out with salivating over imagined undergrad sex parties.

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Sep 14, 2022·edited Sep 14, 2022

Just say, "Yes, it's a legitimate and moral business strategy to lobby for light-touch regulation that kills people both in and outside the business because it's marginally cheaper to pay lobbyists than implement safety improvements" and be done with it, already.

Obviously we can't avoid all death, no shit. Some accidents really are accidents, and some are down to causes we only understand after the fact.

But there's plenty of entirely avoidable tragedy occurring today even in the US, let alone when multinationals operate abroad... and to deal with that, companies should absolutely be incentivized to spend more money than is currently spent avoiding those tragedies. Corporate penalties for lawbreaking, willful negligence, malfeasance, and safety noncompliance should start at 10X the estimated impact to the bottom line and go up from there. No more slaps on the wrist and sealed judgments.

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95% of covid deaths were “avoidable” if we all has been good and quarantined. I reject a world view that exalts bare existence over flourishing

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Just to take one example, they also poison people, and I mean that literally, by poisoning groundwater supplies. And we have lots of lawsuits that establish that kind of behavior in court; it’s a non-controversial statement in the sense of there being an actual evidentiary record and judgements paid out.

Another example would be operation of unsafe coal mines. There is pretty clear evidence that coal mining companies repeatedly made a choice to operate lower quality mines where workers died because the upgrades were considered too expensive.

Back when I wanted to be a lawyer, my undergraduate job was working as a file clerk for a law firm. We mostly did insurance defense cases, so we were the “bad guys” defending trucking companies or insurance companies. Which I say to establish that this was no lefty climate shop. But I was involved in a case against Conoco which was eventually sealed through a settlement on the courthouse steps, and that really opened my eyes to some things (as someone who at the time was very conservative, very supportive of the industry, and had dreams of growing up to become what Paul Ryan actually became).

The company was operating some wells in the midst of a community that were incredibly dangerous. They had a small failure that almost killed this guy, damaging his lungs irreparably through acid release. But it quickly came out that they hadn’t serviced these pumps in years, and they were operating them next to, for example, a school. And they just didn’t care. The wells were profitable but not profitable enough to do the necessary work.

So, yes, as someone who, full disclosure, suffered benzene exposure through groundwater contamination as a child and now has to pay extra attention to cancer risk, I feel comfortable saying that fossil fuel companies have done a lot of unseemly things over the years. And I should be clear that we thought Exxon was great! I grew up in a poor rural community where those jobs were really appreciated. But my dad is also the last surviving member of the staff at the church where I had exposure. Every one of his coworkers died of cancer.

The bottom line is that fossil fuels are a highly competitive industry, and you pretty much always get this kind of behavior in highly competitive industries. People cut corners because that’s how you drive the price down a little or increase your profit a little.

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Per our earlier exchange, "indie/hipster politics".

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Activists are not very numerous though, so the sorts of things which love activists are different than the things which move voters.

Many college men probably feign concern for environmental and wild causes out of coital urges. That’s slightly different than what activists, who devote much more energy to politics, do.

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The podcast king is dead! Long live the podcast king!

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Sep 14, 2022·edited Sep 14, 2022

The Pod That Was Promised

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The Pods Must Flow

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A song of icy takes and fiery takes?

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Sep 14, 2022·edited Sep 14, 2022

When I read that first paragraph, I became curious as to whether we'd have more comments on that than the substance of the article itself.

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Also, I just double checked when Matt's last podcast on The Weeds was: September 17, 2021.

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Could be coincidental or could be a one-year non-compete depending on when that last Weeds episode was actually recorded.

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I like Matt's Soviet-style naming of his products. "Here is recorded voice sounds of podcaster."

He should name his occasional book club "TL;DR."

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Reading this article about pipeline blocking reminds me of similar things like obsession over pandemic masks, canceling student loans, among many others. Big problems usually require long, complex solutions that are not as easily seen. But what activists want are quick, simple, highly visible actions so that they can proclaim that we're Doing Something, even if that something is minimal or even counterproductive.

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The crazy thing is that activists tend to succeed when they think strategically and set goals that will actually have an impact. It’s often more difficult than getting a quick, simple and visible victory so I get that it may be less emotionally satisfying but I always thought that the purpose of activism was to change the world rather than meet people’s emotional needs

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It is definitely true that activists are against permitting reform because of the need of organizing chum. But I think there is something more here, in that many people of the activist Left are against technological progress in general. They are really neo-primitivists and neo-barbarians. They want society to largely abandon technological progress and go back to subsistence farming and hunter-gathering ways, all with a much lower population. Except for them of course. They get to keep the fancy technology because they are righteous.

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I am trying to pride myself on explaining just how horrible things were before pre-industrial technology, and even early industrial technology.

One of my favorites that I unleashed over the weekend is how the automobile was an environmental savior of its time, as it displaced the horse, and all the diseased carcasses and literal horseshit it produced.

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I like saying that John D. Rockefeller saved more whales than anyone else ever has. Because hydrocarbon fuels replaced whale oil.

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It's the Hegelian dialectic all the way down.

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Yes, we don't talk enough about how conservative the new generation of leftists are. The far right want to send us back to 1950 and the far left wants to send us back to 5000 BC.

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The new Leftists take the idea of the noble savage literally.

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So true. They despise technology but won't give it up themselves. They despise materialism but their houses are packed with stuff. They want their government to build solar panels but most won't put them on their own houses or buy an electric car. And why is it that they protest the oil trains and ships yet I have never once seen them protest at a gas pump? I guess it would be too embarrassing after the protest when they filled up their cars to drive home.

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There's a lot more going on here, and I look forward to listening to the episode of Bad Takes.

When an organization or movement is behaving so unstrategically, it's worth figuring out why.

The main environmental groups, the Big Green like LCV or Sierra Club or NRDA, have been dealing with the impacts of the Great Awokening for some time. Even smaller but prestigious groups like Audubon have to address the legacies of their founder, not a woke dude. John Muir, problematic. Lots of early conservationists also embraced ideas associated with colonialism and eugenics. And on top of that, historically these groups were very, very white.

Environmental justice groups, focused on the activism of people of color, are newer groups coming out of the Great Awokening and they came in very hot against the IRA. They were opposed not only to Mountain Valley Pipeline, but to all permitting reform, and even criticized the IRA itself with insane arguments that the deal wasn't a big climate win.

Big Green was too smart to embrace this take, but the pressure and criticism from woke Twitter activists, environmental justice groups, and the like have made them feel bad for celebrating IRA, leading them to doubling down on opposition to the permitting bill.

The EJ groups are running the show on opposition to the permitting bill. There are lies about the origins of the proposal, lies about how bad it is, extremist rhetoric, and no strategy on finding ways to support a package that can pass.

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I live in Virginia and have been to a couple of environmental group meetings just to see what all the fuss is about. At both meetings, the Mountain Valley Pipeline was a big boogie man who's mere mention would chorus boos from all in attendance.

I was skeptical the project was really that bad, but did try to understand from why they were so opposed to it. Your average attendee seemed very animated by the fact that the pipeline's construction was disrupting the natural environment it was flowing through. "Clear-cutting trees" and "dumping mud into streams" were the most common crimes committed by the pipeline. I think a lot of this comes down to the difference between the old environmental movement which is focused on preservation and the newer environmental movement that is focused on climate change. A lot of attendees looked retired.

When I talked to speakers at the events, the "smart" steelmanned case against the pipeline seems to be that access to more natural gas in Virginia would encourage Dominion Energy - the government monopolized energy provider in Virginia - to build a whole bunch more gas power plants. This of course would reduce Virginia's reliance on coal (good) but would also come at the expense of investments in off-shore wind and solar that the group thinks Dominion would make in absence of the MV pipeline. Both of these projects represent big fixed investments in capital with low marginal costs after the initial investment. The decision on MV pipeline would likely bias the state's energy profile towards one power-source or the other for decades.

Complicating this discussion is that because Dominion is a government sanctioned monopoly they are payed a fixed % profit above the cost of providing some unit of energy. This creates a misaligned incentives between Dominion and the public as Dominion can increase their operating profits by choosing more expensive forms of power production.

I found this somewhat compelling. Paired with the energy source chart Matt referenced in his post, it does appear that between existing Gas and Nuclear sources in VA a lot of the base-load capacity already exists here in a way that renewables might be able to supplement even without more advanced battery tech.

I personally don't really feel that strongly one way or the other. Energy abundance is good. And demand in VA and nearby states might rise as EVs gain popularity. And it sounds like we have the means to transport this gas to other states/countries as well. Manchin came through for us with IRA and if he wants the MV Pipeline I say give it to him. Even if it does mean the streams get a little muddier.

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I'm with you here. That was the most persuasive arguments against and most persuasive rebuttals to them.

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Also, I was very frustrated by David Roberts subtweeting Matt not so subtly regarding the permitting reform discussion. He had podcast episodes in which he addressed climate activist claims that the leases in IRA were a drop in the bucket relative to the overall package, but then seems to be pretending those groups don't exist when he starts his thread with "everyone agrees we need permitting reform!" No David, the point is these groups reject that premise!

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Dr. Volts is very smart about climate change science, reasonably smart about climate change policy, and unfortunately a replacement level activist moron regarding climate change politics.

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Yglesias, you are doing the lord's work here fighting against the leftwing advocacy/funding blob. Keep it up. It's a tragedy so much money and effort is being poured into politically destructive activity.

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I am not up on the whole story of protesting Keystone and how it became the main climate issue for a while, but it seems like a lot of indigenous activists did not like it one bit, more for sovereignty and ecological reasons than for climate, and this was why this issue got such a surprising amount of support from the left.

Of course like any set of activists, indigenous activists don't always speak for their groups as a whole, but it seems like there was opposition from a pretty wide spectrum of actual leaders, not just self-appointed spokespeople or non-indigenous environmentalists.

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It really is a shame that the idea of a carbon tax has essentially become a joke and I'd be curious to read a history explaining how we got here. Obviously, part of the story is public support for climate change prevention is tepid, which has made pursuing the policy through state level initiatives (see WA state's I-732 and I-1631) nonviable. And another part is that the left-wing activist class loathe it as a potential solution, for a host of reasons. But at the same time, we've been able to apply market reforms to curb pollution before. The Clean Air Act amendments of 1990 were able to create a market in NOx and SOx, in the form of the Acid Rain Program, that received near unanimous bipartisan support in congress and was also very effective. Is it really so impossible to imagine something like that happening again?

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People don't like having their taxes raised.

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Or their thermostats lowered.

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Matt has written before about the demographics of Congressional staffers influencing policy and I wonder if the educational background of activists impacts the behavior of their orgs. Specifically, my anecdotal experience with activists shows a noticeable tilt away from educational backgrounds in all the fields need to build a carbon free economy (all types of engineering, hard science needed for R&D, Community college trained electricians, etc) and towards the fields that enable or encourage political and social organizing. That may be typical of activist groups, but given that moving to clean energy requires lots of inventing/building stuff, that educational mix does not seem optimal.

But maybe my anecdotal numbers are wrong. I have no idea where to find stats to support or dispel my impression of their backgrounds.

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Yes the ethos seems to be one of making people change their behavior. A more engineering focused approach would be more about fixing the problem with the least disruption. I get the sneaking suspicion a lot of are more about changing behavior than they are about fixing the problem.

If someone is charging their giant super fast Hummer EV pickup from their home’s PV setup that still an affront to them.

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If we really wanted to solve climate change and the greenhouse effect, we would develop and build out carbon capture and sequestration as fast and as widespread as we possibly can. But along with nuclear energy, CCUS seems to be the most disliked of policies among leftist climate activists. And I think thus does have to do a lot with changing behavior than with solving problems.

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The behavior focus is certainly there, which I kinda understand given the history of environmentalism. Yes, some of that can get over the top. But there are also some behavior modifications that make sense, like changes that would come from time of use pricing, that do not get much love from them.

But mostly I'm pointing to the focus on law and policy as if they are the solution in the same way anti-abortion advocates focus on changing laws.

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Is this really about organizing chum? Seems to me like the truth is blocking keystone was at a convergence of different ‘left’ goals and ‘climate’ activists were excited to be pursuing these non climate goals. Now that people are in the habit of chasing Twitter clout you even see this ‘don’t let a crisis go to waste’ reasoning directly articulated quite regularly.

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Sep 14, 2022·edited Sep 14, 2022

The thing about Keystone XL is the objectors got a ton of sympathy - including from me - for their whole "This runs through a sacred lake of the native people" thing which frankly seemed kinda bad.

I don't have a problem with pipelines per-se; so really they just need to run them alongside highways or the service entrances to abandoned K-Marts or whatever, and not as many people will raise sympathetic sounding objections.

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Sep 14, 2022·edited Sep 14, 2022

Yeah I think Keystone captured people's imaginations because it involved the intersection of both climate policy and traditional Captain Planet-style "stop the pollution source" environmentalism. It also tapped into the "Noble Savage fights against environmental destruction" story you see in pop culture (the "Crying Indian", Ferngully, Avatar, etc.) The environmental movement has often struggled to transition from the micro-level "Captain Planet" environmentalism to the macro-level climate movement, as those two movements can come into direct conflict at times.

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It wasn’t their land. You were duped.

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Matt I want to make a pointless technical quibble with the podcast that dropped this morning. When you said blue hydrogen is the lowest carbon steel, that's not technically true. EAR steel with 100% scrap and pure renewable power is lower carbon. What you can say is that the lowest carbon ironmaking is done with DRI and blue hydrogen pathway based on current grid conditions.

I'm in a grad course on this very topic as we speak, and I'll drop my profs paper on this: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11663-022-02463-z

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They found a way to generate the necessary high ... temperatures? with electricity?

I was under the impression that it needed more than pure electricity (and burning hydrogen directly was one way to do this)

The article is $40 for me - can you explain more?

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Happy to. So steel is (basically) ~99% iron, ~1-.05% Carbon, and the rest is random other junk or application specific additives. To make steel from iron ore, you have to melt it, burn away everything that isn't iron, and add some carbon. You accomplish this by combining iron ore, limestone, and coke, a processed form of coal. These ingredients provide the iron, the carbon necessary for the redox reaction, process heat. Additionally, the coke also provides an impressive amount of strength even in the >1000 C temps as it's being consumed. You burn this combo in a blast furnace and jet oxygen into it and you separate the the slag and you've got a product which you can then refine into whatever kind of steel you want.

There are some unavoidable emissions here: the redox reaction means you're making c02. This process is called the Basic Oxygen Furnace (BOF) or integrated steelmaking process. There is an alternative pathway called the electric arc reactor (EAR). It uses an electric arc to melt scrap steel back into raw steel which you can then refine. If you have scrap and use renewable energy, the carbon emissions can be really low; a figure in the paper I linked has them at ~200 kg CO2/tn of steel, compared to 1500 for the BOF path. This is great but there's one issue: you need scrap to recycle and if demand outpaces scrap supply, circular supply chains can't fill that gap.

There is a feedstock you can use that isn't scrap in an EAR foundry called direct reduced iron (DRI). This is where the technical frontier is, what is the most carbon efficient pathway to make DRI, you can make it with natural gas, you can make it with hydrogen you make from natural gas, you can make it from green hydrogen. With current technology, EAF steel with only DRI as a feedstock and using all renewable energy emits about 750kg CO2/ton of steel.

Some key takeaways: there are some unavoidable emissions in the steelmaking process due to the chemistry, you have to add carbon to the iron and to do that you have to make some CO2 due to the redox. The majority of the emissions in steelmaking come from the usage of coke (refined coal) in a basic oxygen furnace. There is an electric alternative to the basic oxygen furnace, with the associated emissions reductions of electrification. This electric process currently uses ~75% scrap as a feedstock, but can also use direct reduced iron. We're currently trying to figure out the way to make direct reduced iron which will be best for the climate. Even with the current mediocre DRI production process, with renewable energy a pure dri electric arc furnace cuts the emissions of steelmaking by half. Hope that was helpful

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What are the current barriers to scaling this up?

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Price and quantity of hydrogen, availability of low carbon hydrogen, and incompatibility with capital stock for the BOF process

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Is it really fair to compare recycled scrap to making primary iron? Yes the recycle process is lower energy and CO2 but it is a fundamentally different cycle. In that version with 75% scrap, what is the CO2 released per ton of net primary iron? Is it a signify to reduction over BOF or DRI? Is the scrap effectively a flux for the primary iron?

The steel industry is one I don’t know enough about yet but is highly relevant.

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So EAR makes a functionally equivalent product for BOF steel. The steel guys will quibble, they have to deal with more trace impurities but you end up with the same 99% iron, little bit of carbon, vitamins mixture. Your underlying point about circularity in supply chains is a good one, but given that scrap metal does exist, recycled steel EAF with renewables produces small amounts of marginal carbon. Those primary emissions are already in the atmosphere, but that's true whether we recycle the steel or not. The CO2 emissions of EAF steel with the industry conventional 75% scrap 25% dri or pig iron mix is ~250 kg of CO2 per ton of final product steel, so a real bargain compared to the BOF baseline.

The problem is the obvious "we currently consume more steel than we recycle, and likely will for some time" and that's where the DRI comes in. But the EAF process is technically mature, globally it accounts for about 30% of production, but in the US it's about 70%. We have lots of scrap as well as high labor costs and EAF is a higher productivity process from a tons of hot metal/labor hour perspective.

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I was getting at does it give a real benefit to have that mixed approach? 250kg/ton with 75% scrap implies about 1000kg/ton of net new steel, so it seems inline with the numbers you gave above for DRI source.

The way I view it is we have two fundamentally different procceses that make the 'same' product. Recycle from scrap is great and we should obviously maximize it, but it is also not new, and it does not increase the total available quantity.

The new / interesting part is on making new steel to cover losses in the system and expansion of the total install base. My frustration is when there is a big project to convert a primary steeln plant to a recycle plant, and it is announced as a big savings, but no, it is really changing it to a different part of the ecosystem, not making it have the same roll as the original plant.

For my curiosity, how.much H2 is required for a ton of DRI? How far from stoichiometric is it?

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Sep 15, 2022·edited Sep 15, 2022

So I don't think this source is paywalled

https://www.energypolicy.columbia.edu/research/article/low-carbon-production-iron-steel-technology-options-economic-assessment-and-policy

if you want to know more read the whole thing but if you just want the narrow question answered, a breakdown of decarb potential for green hydrogen renewables based DRI is given in the "Hydrogen + Zero Carb" subsection., table 13. TLDR: with zero carbon electricity and green hydrogen based RDI you can reduce 78% of emissions from current gas based all DRI eaf, and 86% compared to integrated steel

On your last Q, I don't trust my chemistry enough to do the stoich myself, but I found a recent paper in Journal of cleaner production which said for a pure DRI EAF production process "Without considering hydrogen losses, 51 kg of hydrogen is needed per tonne of steel output."

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652618326301

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What about sintered steel?

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Hmm? What about it?

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Very helpful, thank you!

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"Electric arc furnace" is the search term you want to start with if you want to learn more. I know my dad ran some of those in some research-scale (several tons) production runs, but I don't remember the specifics--I wasn't scientifically conversant enough at that age to retain them.

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