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My Last Long-Distance Car Trip

At least I hope it is my last one. I have made a few long-distance trips by car in my life. The first few were a lot of fun. I was seeing the country for the first time. But after crisscrossing Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma a few times, I would honestly rather have a root canal than have to do it again – especially when it means 25 hours on the road with three impatient kids in the car.

Things have changed quite a bit since my last trip, though. When I was in college, my first long distance road trip took me from College Station, Texas to Gaspé, Quebec (2,600 miles) and back. My most recent long-distance trip, in 2005, had taken me 1,150 miles from Northern Oklahoma to Montana (twice). This time, I drove from Montana to North Texas (1430 miles). For reference, New York to Los Angeles is about 2,800 miles. Here are my observations.

When we left Montana, I noticed that traffic was very light. That is unusual for Montana in the summer, because a lot of traffic passes through Billings on I-90 headed to Yellowstone National Park. The road is usually packed with RVs, but I was well into Wyoming before I saw the first RV. In fact, in the first 300 miles of driving, I saw only one RV on the road. This theme was consistent throughout the trip: Light traffic, and very few RVs. My wife commented that high gas prices had really done a number on the traffic. I told her that I thought an era had passed and that going forward we would start looking at personal mobility in a different manner.

I was towing a packed 4′ x 8′ U-Haul Cargo Trailer behind a Ford Escape, and I was pretty concerned about the impact on fuel efficiency. So I started out driving about 60 miles an hour, both to conserve fuel and because the trailer behind me was fairly heavy. I maintained my discipline throughout the first day, and I kept track of my gas mileage. With the trailer, and driving up and down some fairly steep hills, I managed about 22 mpg on that first day. According to the EPA, that particular model should get about 24 mpg on the highway. So, I figured that wasn’t too bad, considering there were five people in the car, and a heavy trailer behind me. I don’t know what fuel efficiency the vehicle normally gets, as this was my first time to drive it. This is my wife’s car. (As for me, since I will be in Europe half of the time, I don’t intend to get a car.)

I couldn’t help but reflect upon how desolate most of Wyoming is. We drove down a very empty I-25, which runs well east of the Rocky Mountains. It is scenic, but towns are few and far between. The soil is thin, and there isn’t a lot of water. Life there is probably going to become very hard as energy prices continue to escalate. In fact, a recent story in the New York Times identified rural Wyoming as one of the areas hardest hit by high gasoline prices. It made me think of Jim Kunstler’s prediction that areas like this are likely to be abandoned in a peak oil world.

I noticed as I made my way down Wyoming that my fuel efficiency was dropping. I wasn’t quite sure why, unless my elevation was changing and that was having an impact. I had started out at about 23 mpg, but then by the time I got into southern Wyoming, it had dropped to 21 mpg. It would drop further to 20 mpg as we turned east and traveled across Nebraska. It struck me that I could be getting some ethanol, but I tried to avoid the pumps that indicated that there was ethanol in the gasoline.

As I entered Nebraska, my thoughts turned to corn and ethanol. You enter Ogallala country right away when you enter Nebraska on I-80 from the west, and of course the depletion of the Ogallala aquifer has long been cited as a threat to agriculture in large parts of the Midwest. As I passed acre upon acre of corn being irrigated by drawing down the aquifer – now being spurred by misguided ethanol mandates – I couldn’t help but think about what the future holds for the area if the aquifer continues to deplete. I talked to my daughter a little bit about this, explaining to her the role of the aquifer in making corn production possible in that part of Nebraska. This would be one of those normally unaddressed negative externalities we talk about when discussing ethanol production from corn.

Regardless of your opinion on ethanol, Nebraska is one of the most energy intensive states in which to produce ethanol due to the irrigation requirements. In fact, in the USDA’s various analyses of corn ethanol energy inputs, Nebraska has consistently had the highest energy inputs of the nine Midwest states they examined. For a relative comparison, see The Energy Balance of Corn Ethanol; Table 4. (Note that while the energy inputs themselves may have declined over time, Nebraska will remain as the high energy producer).

Further, the USDA averaged all of the energy inputs across the nine states when they reported the energy balance. So the next time someone tells you about the energy balance of corn ethanol, remember – Nebraska is worse. From that report, the energy inputs for Nebraska corn were 54% higher than those of Wisconsin. It is certainly not out of the question that the net energy from ethanol produced in a typical Nebraska ethanol plant and shipped to Texas or California may be negative.

We finally got to our stopping point for the night in Lexington, Nebraska. We were staying at a hotel right off of I-80, and there were few cars in the parking lot. We had smelled the hog farms for quite a while, and we could smell them from there as well. If you have never smelled a large hog operation, let’s just say it isn’t pleasant. In fact, I doubt you could get away with building a factory anywhere with that kind of smell coming out of it.

Day 2, we were up early and off. I made a strategic decision on this day that is contrary to my typical obsessive desire to conserve energy. We had spent 13 hours in the car the previous day. Google Maps had indicated 10 hours and 39 minutes. While my wife and I can deal with that OK, that’s cruel and unusual punishment for three kids. So I decided to bump the speed up to 70 mph for the drive today. I estimated that this would get us to our new home in Texas in 11 hours. After driving for the day, I calculated that it also had the impact of dropping our fuel efficiency down to 18 mpg.

The second strategic decision was to take a shortcut. We did not have a map, but at the hotel I had calculated that I could save about 20 miles by leaving I-80 at its most southerly point in Nebraska and cutting across to Kansas on U.S. 183. At first this seemed like a great decision. Traffic was very light, and the road was pretty straight. However, after entering Kansas, we suddenly encountered a construction worker standing in the road with a stop sign.

Twenty minutes later, my short cut wasn’t looking like such a good idea. We were just parked in the middle of nowhere – no traffic in sight. I told the family that maybe some joker was pulling a prank to see how long he could hold up traffic. But after 20 minutes, we were allowed to go. And the part that I could never understand is that we drove 4 miles before coming up on any signs whatsoever of construction – and then it was a spot of less than 100 feet. Why they had to back up traffic four miles away from that spot was lost on me.

But that wasn’t the end of our delays on the shortcut. I remembered the town of Phillipsburg, Kansas from one of my previous trips. It stood out in my mind for three reasons. First, when I was driving from Oklahoma, it had the first gas station I had encountered for many miles. I was in danger of running out of gas when I finally pulled in there. Second, there is a train track that crosses Highway 183, and my previous time through the train had blocked traffic for 15 minutes. Third, there is a rusting refinery on the north end of town that had been owned by a farmer’s co-op until it was shut down in the 80’s.

So, as we pulled into town, there were the rusting remnants of the refinery. And up ahead, I could see the crossing barrier on the train tracks descending. So we pulled up, parked, and watched car after car of (ADM) ethanol go past. And just as the train was about to clear the tracks, it reversed direction. We went through this routine several times. The train would pull up, almost clear the tracks, and reverse direction. I kidded that the ethanol producers must have known I was coming. Finally, after another 20 minutes of delays, the tracks were cleared and we proceeded toward I-70. I had always heard that a train could only delay traffic for five minutes in case there was a medical emergency and an ambulance had to get through. Given our 20 minute delay, this may be just urban legend. But I won’t voluntarily travel through Phillipsburg, Kansas again.

Finally, we got to I-70 in Kansas. Wouldn’t you know it? The interstate was down to one lane, and traffic was creeping along at 40 mph. This ended up costing us another 15 minutes or so, and my shortcut ultimately ended up costing us almost an hour.

Traveling along I-70 toward Salina, Kansas, I started to see a lot of wind turbines. I mean a lot. There may have been more wind turbines concentrated together than I have ever seen before. I looked it up when I got a chance, and it turns out that this was the Smoky Hills Wind Farm, which is ultimately a 250 megawatt project. You can see a map of the various wind projects in Kansas here; there are a lot.

At Salina, we finally turned south toward Wichita. I had chosen our route to avoid cities, and the only ones we would pass through were Wichita and Oklahoma City. Wichita was actually a breeze, although we did encounter our only road tolls of the trip south of Wichita. The trip across the rest of Kansas and Oklahoma down I-35 was uneventful, although I did have one close call in traffic outside of Oklahoma City when a semi tried to move over on top of us. One thing I did note in Oklahoma is that I saw fields that had been planted in nothing but wheat as far back as I can remember, but they were now planted in corn as far as the eye could see.

We arrived pretty late – about 9:30 p.m. – at our new home in North Texas. It had taken us 12 hours on the second day (thanks to my “shortcut”) for a total of 25 hours in two days. It was a long grind, and I hope to never have to repeat it. Despite traveling without a map or a navigation system, we never got lost, nor took any wrong turns.

Gas prices had varied during the trip. The most we paid for gasoline was $4.08/gal at a truck stop in Nebraska. Montana, Wyoming, and Nebraska tended to all have gasoline above $4.00. Gasoline in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas was generally below $4. The cheapest price we paid for gas was $3.78 at a Flying J station in Ardmore, Oklahoma.

Reflecting back on the trip, I firmly believe that we are undergoing a permanent shift in traffic patterns. Those summer RV trips are going to become increasingly reserved for the wealthy, and people are going to think twice about taking long road trips to vacation destinations. The roads are going to be less crowded, and the cars on them will be smaller. The world is going to seem a little bit bigger to future generations.

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June 29, 2008 - Posted by | ethanol, fuel efficiency, Nebraska, wind power

36 Comments

  1. Robert,

    I just made a trip from Madison, WI to NYC and back across Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Fourth time I’ve done that in the last three years while my daughter went to school at NYU.

    This time it was obvious there was a reduction in traffic on the Interstate and that most people were following the speed limit. (Except for in NYC. Traffic on Manhattan was worse this time than I’ve ever seen it.)

    I’ve read that some trucking companies have recently limited their drivers to no more than 60 mph. Due to the way wind drag works, reducing from 70 to 60 offers a big savings in fuel and not much actual loss of time.

    I lived in Wyoming in the late 1970’s. At that time over 50% of the population lived in just three cities — Cheyenne, Casper, and Laramie. Wyoming has always been a empty state.

    Regards,

    Gary Dikkers

    Comment by Gary Dikkers | June 29, 2008

  2. RR-
    I had some similar driving experiences — in 1980.
    Gasoline had broken $1 a gallon. The law said drive 55 mph.
    Maybe that experience has blinded me to the realities this go ’round. They say we always fight the last war.
    But, except for our dunderheaded “leadership” in DC, our market system should work pretty well.
    Cross-county travel? That is one problem the EV cannot solve. I suppose if cars carried exchangeable batteries we could have cross-country travel, but that would not be practical in general.
    On the other hand, if batteries improve, I suppose a traveling famiy could charge up at night, at lunchtime, and drive a high mpg car in general. If a car could get 50 effective mpg, that would cut costs in half compared to your drive. Call that $2 a gallon equivalent. There were lots of cars on the road when gasoline cost $2 a gallon.
    I wouldn’t say we are seeing the end of an era yet. But the day of the 10-20 mpg behemoths logging 500 miles a day for a vacation may be over.

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | June 29, 2008

  3. I’m wondering about the condition of the roads. It’s now easy to find media stories telling how local governments are lamenting that high costs for asphalt, concrete, and fuel are eating into their road maintenance budgets, leaving them unable to do all the necessary maintenance. How about major roads like the Interstate system? Have higher maintenance costs begun to show up yet?

    Comment by Rice Farmer | June 30, 2008

  4. “How about major roads like the Interstate system? Have higher maintenance costs begun to show up yet?”

    Rice Farmer,

    On my recent trip to NYC and back, I traveled just over 1,000 miles on I-80 through Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

    I-80 in those three states is in good shape. Surprisingly good I thought. (I-80 through Indiana and Ohio is a tollroad, so I assume most of the tolls go for maintenance. I know, that may be a bad assumption considering how politicians play games with income.)

    The worst I saw were the streets in lower Manhattan and I-278 through Brooklyn and Queens. Lots of potholes to avoid, and way too much traffic.

    Comment by Gary Dikkers | June 30, 2008

  5. Robert:

    Good stuff – I am a Marine Officer who will soon be making the long trip from Camp Pendleton, CA to State College, PA. I will be studying supply chain managment at Penn State for a year – It’s been quite a while since I last attended college. I’m hoping that the study of logistics is now beginning and ending with the challenges of energy.

    My trek will take me initially on I-10 to Phoenix – I’ll be wondering why more homes are not taking advantage of solar power. And then I’ll bust up to I-40 and hope to see some wind farms in western texas. All together – about 2700 miles and some change. Add the friction of a wife, a 20-month old boy, and a dog – it will be interesting. Thankfully, Uncle Sam will take care of me when it’s travel claim time.

    I just recently completed a 7-month tour on amphibious ship to the Arabian Gulf. Additionally, I am now a regular visitor to theoildrum.com. I appreciate your insight and also the fact that you’re not a ‘gloom and doomer.’

    The rise in fuel prices will be a good thing – Although there will be plenty of pain ahead, I think that we’ll soon come to a consensus that our enemy is in the mirror – not OPEC, the oil companies or speculators. Our habits will change accordingly.

    I wouldn’t trade our country’s problems or long-term challenges with any on the face of earth. I am a frequent visitor to the gulf (in fact, I met my wife in Dubai). Even the countries with the most wealth (UAE, Qatar) have some interesting problems ahead.

    Comment by JohnK | June 30, 2008

  6. Off topic, but in this post
    http://i-r-squared.blogspot.com/2008/01/futuregen-project-stopped.html
    you mentioned the high cost of carbon sequestration. Here is a June 30 article on this topic.
    http://www.planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/49079/story.htm
    If up to 20% of a power plant’s output is needed for sequestration, that puts a severe crimp in economic viability.

    Comment by Rice Farmer | June 30, 2008

  7. I just drove from AZ to SD and back and I couldn’t believe the traffic in Colorado and Wyoming from the oil boom. Every motel in Wyoming was sold out and the parking lots were filled with heavy duty pick ups and all the bars were full of rough necks spending a lot of cash.

    Did we travel through the same state?

    Comment by want to cash in | June 30, 2008

  8. …I firmly believe that we are undergoing a permanent shift in traffic patterns.

    Yep, Robert, that’s what they all say. What they’ve been saying for several decades now. When will they learn that nothing is permanent? These things go in cycles.

    Did you know that Paul Ehrlich’s embarrassing doomer book “The Population Bomb” was published 40 years ago yesterday?

    Besides a shortage of skilled manpower, the greatest shortage in the world is a shortage of human imagination and ingenuity. Large bureaucracies increasingly seem to chew up and destroy what little intelligence exists.

    Comment by al fin | June 30, 2008

  9. I couldn’t believe the traffic in Colorado and Wyoming from the oil boom.

    Probably just depends on where you are. I drove from Montana down to Cheyenne and cut across to Nebraska. Traffic may be different between Denver and Cheyenne, but it was certainly light coming down I25 to Cheyenne.

    Cheers, RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | June 30, 2008

  10. johnk – thank you for your service to our country and best of luck on your new assignment.

    If you take I-20 through Abilene you will indeed see some large wind farms including Horse Hollow Energy Center , the largest in the world.

    There are nearly 500 wind turbines just south of I-20 between Sweetwater and Abilene. The nearest turbine to I-20 is about 2.5 miles just as you leave Sweetwater. The greatest concentration of wind turbines is in the hills about 20 miles SW of Abilene.

    This little triangular shape area has some class 4 wind sites. Very good, but not the best. The best resources in the state are in the Panhandle. The Pampa wind farm will be 4 times larger than Horse Hollow. I live in Houston and see wind turbines on trucks headed to West Texas at least once a week.

    Comment by KingofKaty | June 30, 2008

  11. Robert – welcome to Texas. One of the first things you will need to do is choose an electric service provider. Be prepared for sticker shock coming from Montana.

    Go to Power to Choose and enter your zip code: 75078 . You are in the Oncor service area. You can either pick a monthly plan, which are currently running about 14.4 cents/kWh or you can lock in a price for between 15 and 16 cents.

    Natural gas sets the marginal price for electric power in Texas. Since natural gas prices have been over $10 / mmBTU the price of electricity has been pretty high. That is one reason wind power is expanding rapidly in Texas.

    Be careful who you pick for a provider. In the past 2 months, four retail providers have gone out of business, throwing their customers to the POLR (provider of last resort). The POLR charges 20-30 cents/kWh. If you get thrown to the POLR even one month’s bill can wipe out any savings from a long term commitment.

    We are currently with Amigo energy, our 5th provider in the last 5 years. We shop around to get the best deals. I do everything through the internet and never see a paper bill.

    Prices are definately going up. I have been retraining the kids and wife to use less electricity.

    Comment by KingofKaty | June 30, 2008

  12. kingofkaty-
    I cut my City of Los Angeles electric bills by 25 percent y-o-y.
    I live in an Airstream trailer. In summer ran the a/c. Built a corrugated roof over the trailer, cut a/c back to 500 watts from 1500watts. Put in a cfc for lone incan. bulb. Still have lots of the 12-volt bulbs, but I use them only briefly.
    The point of this: Really, think about some tarps or corrugated tin to keep sun off your house, then cut back a/c in summer. You can angle the tin to let sun in winterm but block summer, or sjust take it down in summer. (Build frames around the tin).
    Of course, decidious trees are classy, bt they take a few years.

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | June 30, 2008

  13. Robert,

    This post was fascinating, especially considering that I’m about to leave on a road trip from Chicago to Montana, down to Denver, and then back home to Chicago. I’ve been debating with my road trip partner whether or not we’ll see a difference in traffic patterns this year (we are extreme road trippers and this is our annual summer trip). $3 gas did not seem to affect anything last year, but $4 seems to be making people take notice.

    I don’t know that I agree with your assessment about permanent changes. I agree that RVs are going to be increasingly reserved for the wealthy, but I don’t think long road trips are going to go away, at least not until gas hits maybe $7 or $8/gal. Driving is still cheaper than flying, and Americans, in general, do not easily give up lifestyles that they have always led. Summer vacations are a ritual, one that most people have long needed to save money for, and I think the summer road trip is going to remain — something that will need to be saved up for, but taken nonetheless. But at least maybe they’ll be taken in more fuel-efficient cars.

    Comment by Robin | June 30, 2008

  14. The point of this: Really, think about some tarps or corrugated tin to keep sun off your house, then cut back a/c in summer.

    Obviously you haven’t met my homeowner’s association! I have been putting up radiant barrier. on the underside of the attic rafters. That helps. I am also looking at solar screens for the south and west sides of the house. That is sort of like putting up shade, but something the HOA won’t have a cow over.

    Comment by KingofKaty | June 30, 2008

  15. Anybody who lives in a trailer or mobile home should put a sunscreen over their trailer. A simple setup of pipes and corrugated plastic, corrugated metal, or even canvas stretched tightly will help lower the A/C bill tremendously.

    For those who live in the southwest where humidity is low, you may not even need A/c if you put a sun shelter over the trailer. Even 100^F is bearable in the shade with low humidity.

    Comment by Clifford "Red" Aase | June 30, 2008

  16. Robert,
    Yes, welcome to Texas. KingofKaty’s advice is good, unless you moved to a place were you’re locked into an electric co-op (like me).

    King, are you installing the barrier yourself? I’m looking into the spray-on type. Solar screens are also a big help. And I can’t wait to get my HOA to change the C&Cs to allow solar thermal and PV and backyard clothes line. A good part of North Texas is letting a huge solar resource go to waste.

    Comment by Bryan | June 30, 2008

  17. rice farmer – A lot of the claims about CCS are being made by people that DON’T support CCS as a long term solution, primarily Greenpeace and Sierra Club. I think they have figured out that energy companies are uniquely positioned to do this and may be able to make a lot of money off CCS and enhanced oil recovery – it doesn’t play well with their idea that energy companies need to be “punished”.

    The higher end estimates of power costs come from using chilled absorbers for capturing CO2 from flue gas. There are cheaper and better ways to do it. Compression costs are highly dependent on the depth of the formation you want to inject Co2 into.

    You really need to look at a project-by-project basis to see if it works. We aren’t seeing numbers anywhere near this high.

    Mine-mouth IGCC plants in IL could compress and store CO2 for $10-15 per ton.

    Comment by KingofKaty | June 30, 2008

  18. OT but big section in today’s Wall Street Journal about nuke power and other topics…I think it misses here and there, and never discusses the new pebble-bed nukes….but worth a gander…

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | June 30, 2008

  19. Here is the wikipedia entry on pebble bed reactors:

    Pebble Bed Reactors

    They sound promising. I suppose there is a “not invented here problem” with their gaining acceptance in the U.S.

    I especially like this aspect: “The core generates less power as its temperature rises, and therefore cannot have a criticality excursion when the machinery fails.”

    Says China has firm plans to build 30 of them. It wouldn’t be good to let China get ahead of us on this.

    Comment by Gary Dikkers | June 30, 2008

  20. Yo, an awful lot of long road trips goin’ on here. Ain’t you boys heard about $4 gasoline, $142 oil and Peak Oil!!!

    Comment by Anonymous | July 1, 2008

  21. The WSJ section said DuPont is going ahead wih biobutanol,,,supposedly better than ethanol…but Shell says they are going ahead with a process that converts bio straight into gasoline…

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | July 1, 2008

  22. RR,

    Ever read “Lonesome Dove”? Sounds like your trip in reverse.

    Good read.

    Comment by BBM | July 1, 2008

  23. bryan – Yes, my son and I are installing the barrier. If you are at all handy it isn’t hard. Just don’t step through the ceiling. The spray on type is about 75% effective vs. 97% for the foil type. We’ve finished about 1/2 the attic.

    benny & Gary – I really like PBRs. The only problem is mechanical breakdowns in the nuclear ball handling systems. As Gary said, PBRs are incredibly safe. The more you cool them down the more power they put out. If the cooling fails the reaction slows down. The higher operating temps could allow for super critical steam production, raising efficiency.

    I can’t think of a reason, technically, we should build these type of reactors.

    Comment by KingofKaty | July 1, 2008

  24. Look you people with your big theories about change in traffic patterns al full of ****. I get paid 60-80 k a year out of that I can afford to drive my 3/4 ton Ford pick up for well up to 7 or 8 dollars a gallon. Right now on my trip back to South Dakota I was spending 20-30 cents a mile depending on what type of blend and the terrain the only constant was my speed (70-80 mph). That’s still cheap try to find plane tickets for three people going 1000miles for that 20-30 cents a mile. My point is that AMERICANS (I stress that because the writer isn’t American is he?) will live where they want and drive where they want no matter how expensive it gets. I might get tired of paying 5 and up for a gallon of gas so then I convert to cheaper LPG. In the 30’s I’m sure they thought Oklahoma would be inhabitable forever, but last I checked there are still people there.

    The Amercan spirit will not give up to high energy cost.

    Comment by want to cash in said | July 1, 2008

  25. I’m definately not a doomer, but this really gave me pause to reconsider my stand:

    Overconsumption threatens precious natural resource

    As a parent of a teenage girl, I do worry about society reduced to roving hoards trying to find their last remnants of this once great national treasure. Oh the humanity.

    Comment by KingofKaty | July 1, 2008

  26. over cunsumption maybe you should put your daughter in a chastity belt so the roving hoardes of bad guy won’t take her virtue.

    Comment by want to cash in | July 1, 2008

  27. As for my family, we are conserving our Cyrus resource. I have banned a certain TV show at our house. Just wanted to leave more for the rest of you. I’ve found that I can use the “V” chip to lock out certain channels, thus conserving this precious resource for others. RR’s kids are a bit younger than mine. He can certainly have my share.

    Comment by KingofKaty | July 1, 2008

  28. King of Katy — The article did say “as much as 20%,” implying that was the high-end estimate.

    Nevertheless, the cost of CCS will be the least of the problems that coal-fired power plant operators face in the future. Their really big headache will be the price of their fuel.

    Comment by Rice Farmer | July 1, 2008

  29. I really like PBRs. The only problem is mechanical breakdowns in the nuclear ball handling systems.

    Also it only takes one crack in one of the 400,000 pebbles to leave you vulnerable to a bad chain of events. The volume of pebble waste is relatively large and pebbles are not amenable to reprocessing, which is where we need to go long term.

    Liquid metal fast reactors are also passively safe. Like PBMRs they’ve been around for 50 years with a few producing commercial power, but have never been deployed on a mass scale. Unlike PBMRs they’re designed for reprocessing and efficient burnup. Cooling is more complex, though, with a secondary loop and a nitrogen atmosphere around the core. There are always tradeoffs.

    Comment by doggydogworld | July 1, 2008

  30. rice farmer – the price of coal is very regional owing to its difficulty to transport out in the large quantities you need.

    Asian markets have bid up the current price of water bourne coal but there is still a lot of cheap stuff available. The state of Illinois has more carbon atoms lying beneath it than Saudi Arabia and Kuwait combined. The US is the Saudi Arabia of coal.

    Illinois basin coal is selling for around $45 / ton. But Powder River basin (Wyoming) is still $15-20. Appalachian coal is $90 and up. Texas has a lot of crappy lignite coal that is really cheap.

    If current coal prices are sustained, new mines will open. Most people are waiting to see what the US does about CO2 pricing before making huge commitments to more coal power and coal mines.

    But then Harry Reid tells us all that coal makes us sick, oil makes us sick. If that is true Harry, then how about supporting Yucca Mountain?

    Comment by KingofKaty | July 1, 2008

  31. I was reading about the Audi A4 TDI efficiency competition. The winner got 70.85 mpg but averaged 46.34 mph to do it. It reminded me of what you said about subjecting the kids to such a long ride.

    Comment by clee | July 1, 2008

  32. RR:

    I drove by your former site of employment both ways last week (the Exxon refinery has many more lights at night than that unnamed one across the river ;-)). Just to see what it would do I drove a steady 60 mph on cruise control unless rolling downhill, rpm under ~1750 uphill (made for some slow hill climbs even on I-90), slow steady acceleration and followed refers and the like when possible. The result was 19 mpg in an F150 4×4 with the big V8. Sure can see more at 60 than the usual 80. But, as my brother-in-law pointed out, the opportunity cost for my time was low and, judging from most folks’ speed, one of the few in lucky situation. Otherwise, by my crude calculations if my opportunity cost was forgoing a $30/hr salary, I’d be at breakeven for driving at 80 rather than 60.

    Increased number of no-name tankers on the road with a long main tank and shorter pup – hauling crude out of the orphan fields? Missing were the mid-size “cheap” RV’s; the really big ones pulling Lexus class cars were still there.

    Comment by Anonymous | July 1, 2008

  33. I especially like this aspect [of pebble bed reactors]: “The core generates less power as its temperature rises, and therefore cannot have a criticality excursion when the machinery fails.”

    Pretty much every reactor in use currently has the behavior. It is called negative temperature coefficient, and every western reactor had to have that behavior.

    The RMBK reactors (the type in use in Chernobyl) are unusual in that that their graphite moderator means that in some circumstances of operation that behavior was reversed. Triggering just such situation was the immediate cause of whole accident.

    All western reactors and most eastern reactors do have the negative coeffcient in all situations. The RMBK is special because its original design was not civilian. It is really just a upscaled military reactor with a generator added, giving it several undesirale qualities.

    Comment by Anonymous | July 2, 2008

  34. I noticed that anti-ethanol guys like yourself always use outdated links like your link to The Energy Balance of Corn Ethanol. That study was published in 2002! Do you have any idea how much technology has changed since then? I know you do, but you’re an oil guy and don’t want ethanol to cut into your profits, so you will continue to use studies that back up what you want everyone else to believe. That is why you use the “corn ethanol” red herring (just like the rest in your camp) and use outdated studies on energy and corn production and your inability to recognise cellulosic ethanol breakthroughs (seriously, have you ever heard of Coskata?). It was people like you who killed the electric car in the 80s. The technology to make it work was right around the corner, but people like you couldn’t get over the fact that lead acid batteries just weren’t quite good enough. As a result it took some 20 years before anyone was willing to take another look at the idea even though the technology has been around for a long time. You’d like to trash ethanol as quickly as you can before enough cellulosic ethanol plants come on line and expose your arguments for what they are.

    Comment by thiazole | July 26, 2008

  35. That study was published in 2002! Do you have any idea how much technology has changed since then?

    I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt and presume you just didn’t read for comprehension. As indicated in the story, I know improvements have been made. The point of that study was to show Nebraska relative to the other states. Or has Nebraska suddenly figured out a way not to irrigate their corn?

    I know you do, but you’re an oil guy and don’t want ethanol to cut into your profits,

    That’s the last of my worries. If you haven’t noticed, oil company profits are still quite healthy. Ethanol is not making a dent. But that has nothing to do with the issue. My opposition has nothing to do with an economic threat.

    your inability to recognise cellulosic ethanol breakthroughs (seriously, have you ever heard of Coskata?)

    Save yourself from looking the fool by doing a simple search of Coskata in this blog. I have written plenty about them, and in fact have had an opportunity to work for them. Their technology is promising, but they have yet to build their plant. When they produce commercial quantities of ethanol and make a profit let me know. Have you ever heard of thermal depolymerization?

    It was people like you who killed the electric car in the 80s.

    Actually, it was people who didn’t buy the car that killed it.

    You’d like to trash ethanol as quickly as you can before enough cellulosic ethanol plants come on line and expose your arguments for what they are.

    You again expose your ignorance. As most here know, I am working hard on a commercial cellulosic ethanol process. You might note that this essay was not about cellulosic ethanol, so you might do yourself a favor and learn a bit more before you bury your foot in your mouth. Just my $0.02.

    RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 26, 2008

  36. Well, if you aren’t anti-ethanol, you are being quoted by some seriously anti-ethanol writers:
    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/15635751/ethanol_scam_ethanol_hurts_the_environment_and_is_one_of_americas_biggest_political_boondoggles/print
    As a result of all these people who are obsessed with corn ethanol and too short sighted to see past that are having a real impact on the politics around ethanol and are convincing a lot of people that ethanol has no promise. Another thing that I forget to mention as well is the promise of algae based biofuels: http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/earth/4213775.html

    Again, all this negative focus on corn ethanol is distracting the public away form real solutions.

    Comment by thiazole | July 30, 2008


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