Fusion Message Board

In this space, visitors are invited to post any comments, questions, or skeptical observations about Philo T. Farnsworth's contributions to the field of Nuclear Fusion research.

Subject: Economics
Date: Aug 13, 10:35 am
Poster: Richard Hull

On Aug 13, 10:35 am, Richard Hull wrote:


Some of you may be familiar with Don Lancaster's column in a number of publications on electronics.
He is acerbic, actinic, and fulminates on a number of hot button issues. For all this, he is a cold, honest, realist, regardless of one's indivdual impression of him. He often covers the new energy scene and takes particular delight in deflating "new" energy neophyte's balloons and in general raining on their parades. Sweeping aside his demeanor, he makes a lot of sense.

In the real world, to get energy out to you or me, whether it be gasoline, natural gas, or simple electricity, There are a whole stream of middle men with their hands out. Whatever the energy source, it has to supply a lot of energy per unit middle man at the application.

Most energy sources have huge installed infrastructures, self interest watchdogs, etc. Any competing new energy source must so completely overwhelm all the infrastructure, create a new middle man network, and still be as cheap or cheaper than all current methods of getting that particular energy form to a particular end user.

Much could be said here about the theory of this or that form of fusion energy, cold fusion, water electrolyizing, etc., but it would be useless until whatever we champion can compete with what is already out there.

Take for example gasoline. Trace it from the ground to the car. 1 gallon much be pumped from underground as crude oil to the surface from hundreds if not thousands of feet below the surface. Figure, at 100% efficiency, what joule energy is required to lift that mass to that height. Figure the electrical cost to power the motor which pumped it. Now it is on the surface. Put it in a tanker or train car and drive it hundreds of miles- thousands if from the middle east- (consuming gas or kerosene) to the refinery! Figure that energy at 100% efficiency. Now the oil must be cracked and refined in a huge facility which really uses a load of pumps, heaters, evaporators distilling towers, etc. Now amortize that equipment per gallon over say 30 years. Figure again the energy of the entire refining process per gallon at 100% efficiency. Now we have out of that one gallon of crude oil maybe 0.4 gallons of regular gas. Additives must now be manufactured purchased and added to the gas to make it burn correctly and pass emmissions standards. The gas is now transported, yet again, hundreds of miles to distributors. It is placed in giant holding tanks in the city of distribution. Finally it is loaded back in a tanker and taken to your gas station. All the way, at every step, hundreds of people who had jobs at the drillers, tankers, refineries, storage depots, and all the drivers, etc., were needed to get the crude to your tank as burnable gas. All the way, profits were asked, and taken, well in excess of the asked price of all the preceeding steps. (do you really think folks lose money at this!!!?) All of this took other energy sources, manual labor, and profit skimming.

You paid about a buck for a gollon of delivered finished liquid energy which your car will burn to move a 2500 pound vehicle on good roller bearings against air resistance, gravitational and inertial resistant forces for about 30 miles.

It is amazing how cheap that energy was. It could not be done without a huge infrastructure at anything approaching one dollar. Needless to say, with the huge capital investment in equipment and labor, there are more than a few folks interested in keeping the good time rolling. If costs go up anywhere in the chain, to keep profits at the same level price increases ripple through the chain to the pump. In some cases the price rises to a point where the consumer stopps or reduces comsumption. Wise and prudent businessmen will improve one of more porcesses in the chain to lower costs and reduce prices to avoid losing the "volume" of business.

Finally, any competing source has to unseat the entire chain. Never easy even with a big winner.

Thus, fusion energy, when it comes on line, if ever, must be so over powering in its function, profit level and ease of use that all the coal miners, companies, and middle men will be valuless and anachronistic. They will be phased out as such facilities come on line allowing the next genration of would-be coal miners to find other employment opportunities.

Think about this the next time you think about the greatness of an energy idea and wonder why no one is picking up on it. It may be that is so far down in the noise level of marginality compared to current energy sources or offers no middle man network that real people won't even consider developing it.

Just forget the environmental aspect! That will never be a real factor, just a super nice side benefit should your favorite "new" energy arise to the dominant new source of power.Folks will have to be chokin' on green house gases before they will pay $1.00/KWHR

Richard Hull