Sunday, February 21, 2016

False Ideas from Non-Engineers

Subtitle:  For National Engineers Week - Some Whoppers

Many, many false or wrong statements are made on so many internet sites that it is impossible to keep track.  And not only on the internet, but in journals, magazines, books, radio broadcasts, TV, the list is endless.   This article is a place where I list and briefly discuss some of the whoppers I have encountered.  These are in no particular order.  

There seems to be a serious lack of scientific understanding (valid science, not BS or Bad Science), engineering fundamentals, economic realities, and undesirable consequences in those who write such things.   

It does not seem to matter what the topic is, climate change, nuclear power, fresh water, renewable energy, city congestion, environmental regulations, there seem to be so-called experts that are completely wrong.   This is a serious problem when elected officials and appointed agency heads are called upon to make decisions, sometimes important policy decisions, based on the presentations and testimony that is completely wrong. 

Part of the problem is that many organizations and individuals have agendas and will pick only the facts, or portions of the truth that support their agenda.  In other cases, the wrong statements are the result of not knowing any better.   In other cases, the wrong statements are advanced even though the speaker has been advised that he or she is wrong, but the truth requires the speaker to admit she or he is wrong and that is too much for the speaker to bear.  
  1. HSR is good (High Speed Rail)
  2. Elevated highways are a good way to ease congestion
  3. Vacuum tube HSR is good
  4. Mars colony is good
  5. Man is overheating Earth by fossil fuel use
  6. Nuclear power is cheap
  7. Running out of oil
  8. Fracking is bad
  9. Fracking is new
  10. CO2 settles to bottom of atmosphere
  11. Can only obtain correct slope of sinusoidal shape by connecting peaks or valleys
  12. Grid power is cheapest --  nope, cogeneration
  13. Wind power makes zero contribution to a grid 
  14. Wind and solar power increases CO2 emissions
  15. Australia SA can install profitable nuclear plants
  16. Too few oil refineries exist, must build more
  17. Fuel cell cars are economic
  18. H2 to fuel cell cars is cheap, more efficient than gasoline
  19. Electric trucks are economic
  20. Steel won't melt (Hollywood star)
  21. World is running out of fresh water
  22. All-nuclear grid will have cheapest power
  23. Nuclear plants cost only $4000 per kW to build
  24. H2 from nuclear power plants using 2 cents per kWh
  25. Electric airplanes are the future of air transportation
  26. Wind turbines in US yield 15 percent return on investment
  27. The world is running out of copper (or any other mineral one cares to name)
  28. Plutonium 238 is an ideal energy source for Africa (WUWT article Feb 2016)
  29. Los Angeles River as a river-walk, like San Antonio in Texas. 
  30. Electric cars cost $325 per kWh to recharge their batteries (3-7-2016)  (no, that's not a typo.   The writer actually published that, as if it is a fact)
  31. Nuclear plants run at 100 percent capacity factor (oh sheesh, what a lie...)
HSR is good (High Speed Rail)  --  Recognizing that HSR aready exists in some countries, EU, Japan, China, and a debate continues over HSR in the US.  California has approved HSR but is mired in financing and legal troubles.   The reality in California is that time is valuable and HSR simply takes too long to make the trip from Los Angeles in the south to the Bay Area in the north.   The cost to build is too high, the revenue from too few riders will be too low, and the system will be just another sinkhole for public money.    One of the idiotic decisions for California's HSR is the multiple stops in the Los Angeles area, and more stops in the Bay Area.  

Elevated highways are a good way to ease congestion --  this one came from a conversation with another attorney, with an electrical background.  He should have known better.  The idea he supported is double-decker highways in all locations, to provide more lanes for traffic and secondarily to preserve the adjacent land.   The fact is that elevated highways are extremely expensive and are used only in very limited circumstances.   Congestion in traffic systems can be reduced in several ways, including but not limited to carpool lanes, contra-flow lanes, staggered business hours, prohibitions on large trucks during peak commuting times, control of vehicles entering a freeway, light rail passenger transport, among others.  

Vacuum tube HSR is good --  this one was recently proposed by Elon Musk, billionaire businessman, although it has been tossed around for many decades.  The idea is to build a long airtight tube, install train rails inside the tube, evacuate the air from inside the tube, insert a train, and run the train at high speeds.  The absence of air eliminates friction or drag (the technical term) so the train uses less energy for a given speed, or can go much faster for a given energy consumption.   One supposes that proponents of VHSR (vacuum high speed rail) have solutions to the very serious and numerous problems.  First, the cost to build, operate, and maintain.  Second, the consequences of train wrecks at very high speeds, then more dire consequences of train wrecks that cause the air inside the passenger car to escape explosively into the vacuum in the tube.  Picture quick but agonizing death from lack of air.    In some designs the tube is elevated above the ground, in others the tube is placed underground.   Both designs have very high costs and maintenance issues.  

Mars colony is good --  this one has its own article on SLB, citing NASA, MIT, and other information.  see link.  Overwhelming technical problems, other than breathable air and drinkable water, include the native soil is likely poisonous to plant life; radiation at the surface is deadly, plus the radiation penetrates as much as 3 feet into the surface; the atmosphere is too thin to effectively burn up meteors, the long journey from Earth to Mars requires prospective colonists to endure strong, inter-planetary radiation that also can and likely will destroy any plant seeds, tremendous dust clouds that obscure the sun for weeks or months on end, and the abrasive effect of dust storms on solar photo-voltaic systems, the adverse impact on mechanical systems and especially their lubricants from fine dust found on Mars, the lack of spare parts, and a small colony has a small gene pool therefore children will quickly become inbred.   

Man is overheating Earth by fossil fuel use --  this one has numerous articles on SLB already.  The most effective evidence for no man-made warming is the data from NOAA's US Climate Reference Network (USCRN) that is located only in pristine areas across the US.  see link  to "US In A Cooling Trend - Winters Much Colder."  This USCRN data is uncontaminated by urban heat islands and other artificial influences that corrupt the longer-lived databases on which the false-alarmism is based.  In a period during which false-alarmists insist the Earth is overheating, the past decade, the USCRN data shows a pronounced cooling trend.  In addition, satellite and atmospheric balloon data shows no alarming trend upward, indeed, there is barely any upward trend at all.   Also see link to "Warmists are Wrong; Cooling is Coming," my well-received speech from April 2012 on the false-alarmism of man-made global warming.  (Note, this article Warmists are Wrong... is the most-read article on all of SLB at this time)  also see link  and see link  to other highly-viewed articles on SLB on the same subject. 

Nuclear power is cheap  --  this one has been refuted numerous times on SLB, as part of the 30-article series Truth About Nuclear Power.  see link and see link for just two of the many articles:  "Preposterous Power Pricing if Nuclear Proponents Prevail"  and "Nuclear Power Plants Cost Far Too Much to Construct"  With operating and maintenance costs of 3 or 4 cents per kWh, and capital asset payments another 25 cents per kWh due to the high costs of construction, inflation on construction materials and labor, plus interest on construction loans that accumulates for a decade or more.  Several authoritative sources conclude that nuclear power plants must charge 25 to 35 cents per kWh to justify building the plant: California Energy Commission, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and C. Severance.    In fact, even older, paid-for nuclear plants are closing because they just cannot sell power profitably in the US, see e.g. link to "Nuclear Power Plants Cannot Compete"  The situation is so bad that local legislative bodies whine about loss of jobs and cry for new legislation for yet more subsidies to keep the doomed reactors running.   The state of Illinois is but one of those, see link above to "Nuclear Power Plants Cannot Compete."

Running out of oil -- this one was very common a few years ago, but recently has dropped off in frequency as the national and world news is replete with stories of falling oil prices due to a production glut.  So-called experts are trotted out and give their opinions on what will happen next.  Oil scarcity was the subject of a speech I made in 2012 (see link to "Peak Oil and US Energy Policy") as one of three panelists at Tulane Law School in New Orleans.  I was the only panelist to take the position that there is plenty of oil.  The other two speakers apparently had not seen the data that I presented.   So, how could the best experts conclude that the world is running out of oil back in the 1970s, yet be so very wrong that today there is a huge surplus of oil?   The answer lies in part of what I refer to on SLB and my speeches as The Grand Game, the various forces and parties that provide energy to the world.  Oil, coal, hydropower, natural gas, renewable energy such as wind or solar, even nuclear energy in its various forms are subjects of Grand Game articles.   For oil, the Peak Oil proponents missed the very important fact that petroleum engineering is not a static field, but has major advancements routinely.  Oil deposits lie not only onshore but also offshore, some in shallow water and some in very deep water.   Also, oil exists in various forms of rock.  Recent advancements in precision directional drilling (PDD) allow much more oil to flow from known oil fields.   Also, PDD allows oil to be produced economically from shale formations.   As an aside, PDD also was crucial in stopping a gas leak in Los Angeles in early 2016. see link.   The crucial point for not running out of oil is that many oil deposits exist at various locations and depths, so that even if one oil field is depleted, there are a vast number more to drill.   Pessimists insist that eventually the world will run out of new fields in which to drill, even using PDD.   If that were to happen, some centuries in the future, advances in chemistry and engineering will very likely allow algae-to-oil or waste-to-oil to economically provide any oil required. 

More updates to the list of false ideas will be added as time permits. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California
Copyright © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved

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