What the Fracking Hell?

2012, Feb 28, 01:40 pm

Some good intentioned people get some funny ideas when it comes to energy. I hope to dispel some of them here.

Funny Idea #1

With the drop in price of natural gas we should use natural gas to replace coal electricity generation.

I hate coal. From excavation to release into the atmosphere, it's trouble. But that doesn't mean that electricity is our best use for natural gas. For one, natural gas extraction has serious environmental impacts. But more importantly, there are much better uses.

Better use #1 - To power cars.

Gasoline not only puts out more CO2 than natural gas, it also puts out more toxins. As a city biker I can testify to the noxiousness of the fumes. It simply does not make sense to burn gasoline right where we all live and breath. It's comparable to defecating in the drinking water. Now some of you might be saying, "we need to make cars electric". OK, never mind battery acid production and disposal. Electric cars are expensive. It is very cheap to modify a gasoline vehicle run on CNG (Compressed Natural Gas). When that electricity is coming from natural gas anyways... why use electric cars? I think it is very important to make our cities livable. If natural gas can power our cars why would we instead use it for electricity? It comes in a limited supply.

Better use #2 - For cooking and heating

Directly burning a fuel for heat is generally more efficient than using it to make electricity and then using electricity for heat. A good power station doesn't turn more than 40% of the energy into electricity. Why when so many people have electric stoves and furnaces are we discussing making electricity from natural gas.


We need to prioritize our use of our limited natural gas supply. There are other alternative for electricity generation. Excavating and burning coal ruins the country side but so does fracking. I suggest people see the documentary Gas Lands to really see what natural gas extraction can do.

Funny Idea #2

We need a hydrogen economy

Sounds fun but it has some issues.

Issue #1    Hydrogen is too small to store

H2 molecules are so small they will permeate metal over time forming pockets which expand and contract causing the metal to become brittle and break.

Issue #2    Hydrogen is too big to store

The density of hydrogen gas is so low that even under high pressure a massive tank is required to store a practical quantity. Liquid Hydrogen is acceptably dense but it needs to be kept below -423°F or 20°K. Thats 20 degrees above absolute zero. How much energy are we planning on using on refrigeration?

Issue #3    Production

Hydrogen economy advocates suggest we make hydrogen from electrolysis of H2O and use that H2 for all our energy applications. But we already produce large quantities of hydrogen for production of fertilizer and all sorts of chemicals. And what is this hydrogen made from? From... Natural Gas! They separate the H2 from CH4. The reason we make it from natural gas is because it is cheaper. H2O electrolysis isn't sufficiently efficient. When we consider the source of this electricity, namely gas power plants, we might as well shoot our other foot.


Hydrogen economy is a sufficiently long term goal that we may as well put it in a time capsule.

For an excellent site on renewable energy see dotyenergy.com. It has clear explanations for layman and rigorous explanations with lots of sources for scientists.


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