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aldimond
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Postby aldimond » Sat Jan 20, 2007 1:17 am UTC

Air Gear wrote:The one thing that people have to remember is that a lot of these systems were designed for a city of population x. When the population gets to 2x, 4x, whatever...things aren't going to work as well. In fact, they'll suck outright. Los Angeles...since it's a modern urban area, it's safe to assume that the roads weren't designed for half as many vehicles as there are in the area. If it takes 90 minutes to commute via train every morning and evening, it's safe to assume that its transit system wasn't designed for that population, either. As for the solution...don't know since it varies by city. It's very simple to make a city for an arbitrary population on paper and even to build it, but then there's rebuilding the infrastructure of a preexisting city...ahahaha. Good luck.


That's more true of roads than it is of other things. When the roads are crowded that means traffic is bumper-to-bumper, they literally have to build more roads. Trains, for example, are considerably more space-efficient. If existing train lines are insufficient you just have to run more trains, or put more cars on each train. It's not a matter of lack of physical track capacity (I don't think I've ever seen trains running bumper-to-bumper), it's more a matter of weighing costs (buying more trains, higher operating costs) against benefits (passenger comfort, promptness, higher revenues).

When a city grows outward, or a particular area increases in importance, then you might have to lay new track around there. Train track is no more invasive than a major road, however, and hopefully the city can identify the trend of a growing area and plan to get infrastructure out there early so that it's not so disruptive. That's what they're there for, isn't it? Now, in reality, a lot of times city government doesn't identify those things. Not because it shouldn't, but because it's not looking. Then you have projects like Boston's Big Dig that are very challenging and expensive because of how late the city acted.

You can't just plan out a city and build it. The only people that have done that, AFAIK, are the wacky "new-urbanists" that create pre-gentrified mid-sized towns for nostalgaic rich people.* The impetus for a city's early formation and growth is typically organic: often big cities grow as port cities, for example. But once a city begins to grow it sure helps if it's managed well.

In the case of Fluff's 90-minute LA commute... first of all, she's probably traveling quite a long distance (as I understand it long-distance commutes are pretty common in SoCal). Second, public transit (and planning in general) was for a very long time an afterthought in LA. I'd guess that 20 years ago making Fluff's commute on train in LA was worse than it is now, if it was possible at all. LA has had some serious growing pains for years, but because it's finally hitting physical boundaries for outward growth, and from what I understand trying to improve its transportation system with at least some very positive results (I read about an express bus line that they built that's been successful almost to the point of disaster... in that it was overloaded with riders almost immediately after its construction... it's a positive result in the sense that they built a mass transit line that people clearly want to use, and those riders are probably relieving lots of traffic from the streets). If LA can finish retrofitting efficient transportation onto itself I would consider that an incredible success, even if there still are some very long commutes due to the sheer physical size of the city. LA in some ways is tackling a much more ambitious problem than, say, Chicago, because of LA's tendency to annex its nearby suburbs (sometimes against their will).

*I don't think that mid-sized towns with some of the characteristics of new-urbanist towns are a bad idea. I've never been to a new-urbanist town, but from a lot of the descriptions they sound somewhat similar to Champaign, IL, the city to the west of the University of Illinois. Champaign has a lot going for it.
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Postby German Sausage » Sat Jan 20, 2007 4:45 am UTC

to city design
the netherlands seem to have done a pretty good job of keeping populations in any given urban center close to designed limits, but it HAS cost them hugely in terms of time and energy via the polders (manmade islands. its a problem, but its a problem my generation is going to have to solve. thaks a bunch, grandma!

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Postby Air Gear » Sat Jan 20, 2007 5:38 am UTC

I figure I won't quote aldimond's post since it's a long one...but I'll go a few pieces at a time.

First of all, the mass transit system being designed for a select population, as I said, versus your take on making systems sufficient are not mutually exclusive. Ok, so if existing train lines are insufficient you can run more trains (to a point) or put more cars on each train (again, to a point). The thing is, that takes money and it's all about whether the spending will happen or not. Then there's the utility argument which I'll bring up in a later "random note"...

Getting infrastructure out into a certain area before it's too disruptive is something which you really can't say that city governments should be able to do. Honestly, having seen when city governments put money into things like that and then the area does NOT develop...oh, the voters hate that sort of thing. They seriously do. Strangely, they mind things like Boston's Big Dig less than they mind making a mistake every now and then but avoiding Big Digs. That's politics, again getting in the way of doing what makes sense.

Random note: I'll argue with your "bumper-to-bumper" argument for trains. Trains going bumper-to-bumper would mean that the entire system would have no point since it'd be no faster than walking. Basically, the limit of a rail system is FAR less than the "bumper-to-bumper" level and, come to think, I'd argue the same for roadways. Things lose their utility long before any physical limit is reached.

As for the planning out a city and building it, I'll stand by that. Saying, "These roadways which we are going to build will be for 4 million people" is far easier than saying, "We're going to take these roads for half a million people and expand them to 1 million people." The point of that was that it's far, far easier to work from scratch than anywhere else.

Fluff's commute: public transit was an afterthought there, as you said. That works perfectly fine with the rest of my little theory. As for long distances...unless we're talking a 40+-mile commute, again, my take on things works pretty nicely. If we ARE talking that kind of commute...well, damn, that's just wrong.

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Postby fjafjan » Sat Jan 20, 2007 2:34 pm UTC

German Sausage wrote:to city design
the netherlands seem to have done a pretty good job of keeping populations in any given urban center close to designed limits, but it HAS cost them hugely in terms of time and energy via the polders (manmade islands. its a problem, but its a problem my generation is going to have to solve. thaks a bunch, grandma!


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Postby Fluff » Sat Jan 20, 2007 4:18 pm UTC

Air Gear wrote:
Fluff's commute: public transit was an afterthought there, as you said. That works perfectly fine with the rest of my little theory. As for long distances...unless we're talking a 40+-mile commute, again, my take on things works pretty nicely. If we ARE talking that kind of commute...well, damn, that's just wrong.


I only live about 15 - 20 min from work in a car! It takes between 70 - 90 minutes to get there using public transport.

Edit: And anyway there's no martyring going on here - I only use public transport because I haven't got a car! I shall be joining the petrol-guzzling, traffic-making masses later this year. I can't keep wasting 3 hours of my day commuting.
Last edited by Fluff on Sat Jan 20, 2007 4:21 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby shadebug » Sat Jan 20, 2007 4:18 pm UTC

I remember reading about iron nano dust, which seemed to be a fantastic way of doing things, but I have a feeling it's in ridiculously early development
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Postby Fluff » Sat Jan 20, 2007 4:24 pm UTC

shadebug wrote:I remember reading about iron nano dust, which seemed to be a fantastic way of doing things, but I have a feeling it's in ridiculously early development


Used for what purpose?

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Postby shadebug » Sat Jan 20, 2007 4:31 pm UTC

As I understand it, the iron being that fine immediately oxidises when making contact with the air, which would drive an internal combustion engine. You then have to just swap out a rust tank for a new iron tank.
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Postby fjafjan » Sat Jan 20, 2007 4:36 pm UTC

shadebug wrote:As I understand it, the iron being that fine immediately oxidises when making contact with the air, which would drive an internal combustion engine. You then have to just swap out a rust tank for a new iron tank.


But that's just another form of battery, you'll probbably need power, read electricity, to get it back into iron. Elecricity dun grow on trees :P
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Postby william » Sat Jan 20, 2007 4:38 pm UTC

fjafjan wrote:
shadebug wrote:As I understand it, the iron being that fine immediately oxidises when making contact with the air, which would drive an internal combustion engine. You then have to just swap out a rust tank for a new iron tank.


But that's just another form of battery, you'll probbably need power, read electricity, to get it back into iron. Elecricity dun grow on trees :P

no, it grows on humans if you believe the Matrix
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Postby fjafjan » Sat Jan 20, 2007 4:40 pm UTC

william wrote:
fjafjan wrote:
shadebug wrote:As I understand it, the iron being that fine immediately oxidises when making contact with the air, which would drive an internal combustion engine. You then have to just swap out a rust tank for a new iron tank.


But that's just another form of battery, you'll probbably need power, read electricity, to get it back into iron. Elecricity dun grow on trees :P

no, it grows on humans if you believe the Matrix


Well we all know that human beings are better power plants than anythin super logical and intelligent robots can invent.
That part of those movies was so disappointing 8-)
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Postby shadebug » Sat Jan 20, 2007 4:41 pm UTC

true enough, but if we assume that we can have nuclear power plants or anything else that doesn't burn fossil fuels (and I live in europe, so i can do that) then what we're arguing here is the best sort of battery. Now, lithium ion batteries and the such produce all sorts of horrible waste, so we can't be having that
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Postby Fluff » Sat Jan 20, 2007 4:44 pm UTC

fjafjan wrote:you'll rrobbably reed power, read electrrricity, to get it back into iron. Elecricity dun grow on trees :P


For some reason I completely mis-read that in a Scooby-Doo voice on the first time through. :cry: :shock: :P

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Postby william » Sat Jan 20, 2007 4:50 pm UTC

fjafjan wrote:
william wrote:
fjafjan wrote:
shadebug wrote:As I understand it, the iron being that fine immediately oxidises when making contact with the air, which would drive an internal combustion engine. You then have to just swap out a rust tank for a new iron tank.


But that's just another form of battery, you'll probbably need power, read electricity, to get it back into iron. Elecricity dun grow on trees :P

no, it grows on humans if you believe the Matrix


Well we all know that human beings are better power plants than anythin super logical and intelligent robots can invent.
That part of those movies was so disappointing 8-)

it was added by hollywood, the original version had us as a beowulf cluster for the machines.
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Postby Fluff » Sat Jan 20, 2007 4:56 pm UTC

william wrote:it was added by hollywood, the original version had us as a beowulf cluster for the machines.


Probably because most of the general public wouldn't have had the slightest idea what that is.

That's just like Hollywood - Play into people's stupidity and ignorance rather than *gasp* give them the opportunity to learn something new.

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Postby no-genius » Sat Jan 20, 2007 5:24 pm UTC

fjafjan wrote:
shadebug wrote:As I understand it, the iron being that fine immediately oxidises when making contact with the air, which would drive an internal combustion engine. You then have to just swap out a rust tank for a new iron tank.


But that's just another form of battery, you'll probbably need power, read electricity, to get it back into iron. Elecricity dun grow on trees :P


Yeah, if you have a battery, you need a source of power for that battery. And if the source is fossil fuels, then we're still fuk'd.
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Postby Framling » Sat Jan 20, 2007 6:25 pm UTC

Toeofdoom wrote:As for places where its really cold, I suppose you would want lots of insulation. (Im guessing this, but i think it would help) Double glazed windows are generally a good idea. Possibly windows close to the ground facing sunlight (not skylights, cause the hot air would rise and cool faster) Foundations that allow breezes under the floor would be extremely bad.

...

Even so, it would probably be nessecary to use heaters a fair bit. I've never really been anywhere other than australia so i dont pretend to be familiar with the climates


All right, smart guy, how about my home state of South Dakota? Pretty nearly the exact middle of North America (technically, that's in North Dakota, but they don't get the highs we do), meaning it's 1500 miles or so from the temperature-regulating effects of any large body of water, meaning retardedly horrible weather year-round.

Let me expand on 'retardedly horrible.' In the winters, it regularly gets down to -40 degrees. By 'regularly,' I mean no one is suprised when this happens. That's not a bad year. A bad year, it gets down to -60 (-50-ish for you mets). Wind chill, you could be looking at as far down as -100 (-75 C). Maybe worse.

Summer, though, is just as bad, but the other way. For example: I got married this past July, and our reception was at the nearby lake. The temperature for most of the day was around 115 degrees (45 or so). And this was not a dry heat, this was about 80 to 90 percent humidity. In fact, that summer one rancher reported a recorded temperature of 120 degrees.

The bottom line is, those winters can obviously kill you. (There are no homeless in South Dakota. Because you would die. On the other hand, there's barely any people with homes, because it's clearly a miserable place to live.) If you're not careful, those summers can kill you. (Although really, the summers were paradise compared to the winters. You do not know misery until you've lived through a bad Midwestern winter.)

I guess what I'm trying to say is, that's why we moved to Seattle.
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Postby frezik » Sat Jan 20, 2007 7:53 pm UTC

Let's say you change out all cars for electrics with similar performance. Let's say that current cars average around 100hp for a daily trip time of 1 hour.

100hp is about 75,000 kw. Running for 1 hour makes for 75,000 kwh. Let's say you charge your batteries for 10 hours once you get home. To recharge for the next day, you would then need to use 75,000 kwh / 10 h = 7,500 kwh.

The energy on my house for the whole month is around 1000 kwh. Now imagine everyone using 7,500 kwh every night. There's no way the grid in its current form could take that load.

A more efficient solution is to build off of existing gas stations to swap out batteries and put already recharged ones in (something like how small propane tanks are traded now). Putting in sizable wires to handle 7,500 kwh/night to everyones' homes wouldn't work, but putting in a single large cable to handle a recharge station might work. The station may even generate its own power.

Some recent research on using algae for biofuel has peeked my interest. I'm thinking about making a homebrew experiment of getting an diesel from the junkyard along with some alternators to make a generator running on homegrown algae biofuel.

Ultimately, a good space program could solve the energy problem. Microwave power transmission has been feasible for a while, and solar cells don't have the efficiency problems once they're out of the atmosphere.

Harvesting hydrogen from space-born sources (like Jupiter's upper atmosphere) might be possible, though it's not a good idea to use that hydrogen earth-side. Water vapor is a much worse greenhouse gas than CO2, but that's not a problem for most uses of hydrogen for energy, since you're just using hydrogen that was already here. Harvesting hydrogen from an off-earth source would no longer be hydrogen-netural, thus creating a bigger global warming problem.

Additionally, asteroid mining could open up huge metal reserves, including a number of rare metals like platinum and palladium, which are useful catalysists for use in things like fuel cells. There's not currently enough of these metals to convert all cars to fuel cells (not that this is the only problem with fuel cells and a hydrogen economy).

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Postby Air Gear » Sat Jan 20, 2007 9:36 pm UTC

Fluff wrote:
Air Gear wrote:
Fluff's commute: public transit was an afterthought there, as you said. That works perfectly fine with the rest of my little theory. As for long distances...unless we're talking a 40+-mile commute, again, my take on things works pretty nicely. If we ARE talking that kind of commute...well, damn, that's just wrong.


I only live about 15 - 20 min from work in a car! It takes between 70 - 90 minutes to get there using public transport.

Edit: And anyway there's no martyring going on here - I only use public transport because I haven't got a car! I shall be joining the petrol-guzzling, traffic-making masses later this year. I can't keep wasting 3 hours of my day commuting.


If it's 15-20 minutes by car and 70-90 by public transit, that's a sign that the mass transit system is simply horrid and needs to be redesigned. Now if it would only happen...

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Postby Hawknc » Sun Jan 21, 2007 1:51 am UTC

Oh boy. //Gets out red pen

frezik wrote:Let's say you change out all cars for electrics with similar performance. Let's say that current cars average around 100hp for a daily trip time of 1 hour.

100hp is about 75 kw. Running for 1 hour makes for 75 kwh. Let's say you charge your batteries for 10 hours once you get home. To recharge for the next day, you would then need to use 75 kwh. (The average amount of power - energy / time - used would be 75 kwh / 10 h = 7.5 kW.)

Please adjust your conclusions accordingly and see me after class.

frezik wrote:A more efficient solution is to build off of existing gas stations to swap out batteries and put already recharged ones in (something like how small propane tanks are traded now). Putting in sizable wires to handle 7,500 kwh/night to everyones' homes wouldn't work, but putting in a single large cable to handle a recharge station might work. The station may even generate its own power.

You may have heard of the URECA system, then. Obviously your wires argument is now bunk, but swappable batteries have their merits. They also have their downsides, too, as those things are expensive and it's hard enough to get all the auto companies on board for electric drive - getting them to commit to a uniform architecture would be nigh impossible.

frezik wrote:Some recent research on using algae for biofuel has peeked my interest. I'm thinking about making a homebrew experiment of getting an diesel from the junkyard along with some alternators to make a generator running on homegrown algae biofuel.

Ultimately, a good space program could solve the energy problem. Microwave power transmission has been feasible for a while, and solar cells don't have the efficiency problems once they're out of the atmosphere.

Harvesting hydrogen from space-born sources (like Jupiter's upper atmosphere) might be possible, though it's not a good idea to use that hydrogen earth-side. Water vapor is a much worse greenhouse gas than CO2, but that's not a problem for most uses of hydrogen for energy, since you're just using hydrogen that was already here. Harvesting hydrogen from an off-earth source would no longer be hydrogen-netural, thus creating a bigger global warming problem.

Additionally, asteroid mining could open up huge metal reserves, including a number of rare metals like platinum and palladium, which are useful catalysists for use in things like fuel cells. There's not currently enough of these metals to convert all cars to fuel cells (not that this is the only problem with fuel cells and a hydrogen economy).

And suddenly we're back on the same wavelength. Welcome to my second-favourite reason for space exploration. ;) Also, algae biodiesel is probably the single most promising fuel I've yet seen. Its yields are absolutely staggering. I can't wait to see it hit large-scale production.

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Postby fjafjan » Sun Jan 21, 2007 1:59 am UTC

Air Gear wrote:
Fluff wrote:
Air Gear wrote:
Fluff's commute: public transit was an afterthought there, as you said. That works perfectly fine with the rest of my little theory. As for long distances...unless we're talking a 40+-mile commute, again, my take on things works pretty nicely. If we ARE talking that kind of commute...well, damn, that's just wrong.


I only live about 15 - 20 min from work in a car! It takes between 70 - 90 minutes to get there using public transport.

Edit: And anyway there's no martyring going on here - I only use public transport because I haven't got a car! I shall be joining the petrol-guzzling, traffic-making masses later this year. I can't keep wasting 3 hours of my day commuting.


If it's 15-20 minutes by car and 70-90 by public transit, that's a sign that the mass transit system is simply horrid and needs to be redesigned. Now if it would only happen...

Seems like it would be faster (and cheaper and healthies :P) to take ze bike?
Bikes, and walking, are grossly underestimated..
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Postby frezik » Sun Jan 21, 2007 4:44 am UTC

Hawknc wrote:Oh boy. //Gets out red pen

frezik wrote:Let's say you change out all cars for electrics with similar performance. Let's say that current cars average around 100hp for a daily trip time of 1 hour.

100hp is about 75 kw. Running for 1 hour makes for 75 kwh. Let's say you charge your batteries for 10 hours once you get home. To recharge for the next day, you would then need to use 75 kwh. (The average amount of power - energy / time - used would be 75 kwh / 10 h = 7.5 kW.)

Please adjust your conclusions accordingly and see me after class.


Ahh, you're right. I mis-remembered the units for the hp->watt conversion.

Even so, adding 75kwh per day over the course of a month is 75kwh * 30 = 2250 kwh added on to the energy bill per car. Plus, Americans like to have at least two cars, maybe more if there are teenagers in the house. This would be a huge drain on an already taxed energy grid (though perhaps it's within the solvable range).

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Postby frezik » Sun Jan 21, 2007 4:53 am UTC

fjafjan wrote:
Air Gear wrote:If it's 15-20 minutes by car and 70-90 by public transit, that's a sign that the mass transit system is simply horrid and needs to be redesigned. Now if it would only happen...

Seems like it would be faster (and cheaper and healthies :P) to take ze bike?
Bikes, and walking, are grossly underestimated..


I agree, but it's not always practical. 'Round these here parts, it's been around 10-25F, with 5-10mph winds and a fair amount of ice. Not nice for either walking or biking.

There is a particularly high amount of daftness when it comes to driving in this city. I would welcome a solid public transportation system combined with much higher driving requirements. In addition to saving energy, we could also say "driving is a privilege, not a right" with a straight face.

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Postby Hawknc » Sun Jan 21, 2007 5:09 am UTC

frezik wrote:Even so, adding 75kwh per day over the course of a month is 75kwh * 30 = 2250 kwh added on to the energy bill per car. Plus, Americans like to have at least two cars, maybe more if there are teenagers in the house. This would be a huge drain on an already taxed energy grid (though perhaps it's within the solvable range).

Nobody ever said the electricity is free, only that it costs a HELL of a lot less than fuel. The US is pretty well screwed no matter which way it goes at this point - the electricity requirements of a plug-in system or hydrogen electrolysis system are beyond it and it can't produce nearly enough biofuels to replace its oil (except perhaps through algae biodiesel, if everyone switched to diesel). Simply put, without massive investment in upgrading the power grid, the US will never achieve energy independence. It's only now that people in positions of power are starting to realise this. Australia is in a much better position to be independent, but unfortunately we follow the trends of the international auto market, so we're at the mercy of whatever the rest of the world decides to do.

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Postby shadebug » Sun Jan 21, 2007 9:54 am UTC

From driving around europe the international community uses clean (but pricey) fuels, nuclear power and has windfarms up all over the freaking shop.

Of course, my only comparison on the fuels is those documentaries about pollution they show in school where it shows some USAan port and all the lorries pumping tons of dirty smoke into the air. Everywhere I've been in europe, if you can see anything more than a faint mist coming out of the exhaust pipe of anything it's burning oil (and I don't mean diesel). That said, it's pricey, I'm in Spain at the moment and am paying 97 euro cents a litre of 95 octane unleaded (the cheap stuff) and spain has some of the chepest fuel in europe.
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Postby Hawknc » Sun Jan 21, 2007 2:05 pm UTC

Well, admittedly my view is biased towards my own country, which is pathologically set against nuclear power. Europe's certainly much further along in reducing CO2 emissions than most places around the world.

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Postby German Sausage » Sun Jan 21, 2007 2:24 pm UTC

yeah, i see a case against nuclear power, but too much of whats being said in australia at the moment is ideologically based and said by NIMBYs (Not In My BackYard)
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Postby shadebug » Sun Jan 21, 2007 3:05 pm UTC

besides, by the time nuclear waste becomes a problem we can get it all together and send a missile to the sun, right?
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Postby frezik » Sun Jan 21, 2007 6:50 pm UTC

shadebug wrote:besides, by the time nuclear waste becomes a problem we can get it all together and send a missile to the sun, right?


Find me a renewable energy source that doesn't have some environmental impact (real or imagined):

Windmill farms--ugly, kill birds
Solar--panels won't make back the cost of building them over their expected lifespan
Hydro--location-dependent, and floods huge areas of land
Fuel cells--where do we get the hydrogen?
Microwave-transmitting satellites--ha, ha, you sci-fi nerds go back to your books

Realistically, you can't have 6 billion people on earth and expect no environmental impact. Barring someone in power waking up to the fact that microwave satellites are actually a workable solution, nuclear pebble-bed reactors are probably our best option. At least nuclear waste can be localized, instead of spreading CO2 all over the atmosphere.

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Postby fjafjan » Mon Jan 22, 2007 2:01 am UTC

frezik wrote:
shadebug wrote:besides, by the time nuclear waste becomes a problem we can get it all together and send a missile to the sun, right?


Find me a renewable energy source that doesn't have some environmental impact (real or imagined):

Windmill farms--ugly, kill birds
Solar--panels won't make back the cost of building them over their expected lifespan
Hydro--location-dependent, and floods huge areas of land


OH NO THE BIRDS!!
also ugly? Nuclear powerplants are PRETTY?
Also that is because they are still being developed
What about simple bioetanol?

Also I disagree about hydro, we have plenty of hydro here, no huge floods. It does damamge the enviorment a bit tho, but not terrible
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Postby Hawknc » Mon Jan 22, 2007 2:16 am UTC

Bioethanol (or, really, just "ethanol" will do) isn't remotely environmentally friendly. I mean yeah, the net carbon emissions of the whole life cycle are pretty low, but as Belial outlined initially, there are a whole host of other problems with it which damage the environment in a far more immediate fashion. Agriculture in general is not an environmentally friendly practice when done on a commercial scale. Cellulosic ethanol will hopefully alleviate some of that, but the problems still exist.

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Postby shadebug » Mon Jan 22, 2007 4:54 am UTC

I take issue with windfarms being called ugly, everybody knows windfarms are hella cool
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Postby dragonfrog » Mon Jan 22, 2007 5:40 am UTC

aldimond wrote:Toeofdoom, is this true even in Canada? If temperatures are well below freezing for moths, what kind of house construction allows for the building to be heated without burning fuel or electricity (I am not an expert in this field; I'm just curious to know)?

How much would such a house cost (in many senses) to build? Often environmental impact of building new things and throwing out old ones is very high.

And how well would techniques like that work in an urban setting, on tall and closely-packed buildings? Every attempt at building homes like this that I've seen has been in suburban or rural areas. Sprawling out into far-flung suburbs has lots of undesirable effects; urban centers often have efficient transportation, and one tall building is significantly more efficient to heat by conventional means than the several low-slung spread-out suburban homes that would hold an equivalent number of people.


I realize it's been a while since this was a current topic, but I've been running around trying to buy a house in the absolutely insane housing market of Edmonton. Which would considerably increase my commute, and make me a train or bus commuter in Winter, instead of a foot commuter as now. But that's neither here nor there, the point is just that I'm behind on the discussion...

A fellow at my work is in the process of building just such a house. He figures he has the calculations right, and should be able to cancel his account with the gas company in a few years. The design is based on something called "passive annual heat storage".

Basically, you dig a giant pit, and put in a big bunker, but with double- or treble-glazed South facing windows. Then you dig to a depth of two or three metres, over a radius of (I may be misremembering the numbers here) about ten metres around the house. You lay a layer of heavy insulation over all the space you've excavated, including your roof. Finally you fill it all back in, including covering your roof with a metre or two of dirt. I guess it would look like a hobbit hole with big windows.

In Summer, the South windows heat your floor and North wall, and the heat is absorbed by the earth all around the house. In Winter, the insulation prevents the heat from dissipating upward, and instead it's radiated back out into your bunker. You also need special ventilation to avoid radon poisoning. I don't know if it's all over the world, but around here the soil gives off a lot of radon, which is a concern because the houses all have basements.

In order to get enough land to build such a house, he's moved way out of town, so he spends at least an hour and a half driving every weekday. I don't know the embodied energy of such a house, but it must be immense.

Compared to this, I have about a 30 minute walk or a 10 minute bike ride to work, live in a poorly insulated, drafty old house with my wife and two housemates, and just spent about $200 on my gas bill for December - almost all of that being for heating the house.

I suspect that of the two of us, my life is the 'greener'. But when Western society collapses around our ears, he'll be the one with access to fresh water and arable land, not me...

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Postby SpitValve » Mon Jan 22, 2007 11:47 am UTC

Why is everybody dissing hydrogen fuel cells?

Yes, fuel cells are basically just batteries, but they're better than electric batteries because they're smaller and don't need to be recharged as often.

And it's better to draw power from the grid than directly from fossil fuels because electric power can be from renewable sources, while fossil fuels are obviously not.

e.g. in New Zealand, 66% of our power is from renewable sources (mostly hydro and wind). So a hydrogen fuel cell car has 66% of its power from renewable sources. That's better than 0%.

I can't see why that 66% won't shift up to 100% eventually, especially as fossil fuels become more and more expensive. Fossil fuel power plants will just shut down because they're not economical anymore, well before they fuel actually completely runs out.

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Postby Hawknc » Mon Jan 22, 2007 5:03 pm UTC

SpitValve, the problem with that (I assume you mean hydrogen through electrolysis) is that you're wasting more than 50% of the power you're using.

PEM fuel cell process: electricity in grid -> hydrogen -> electricity in car (<50% efficiency)

Battery process: electricity in grid -> electricity in car (99% efficiency)

It's a waste of energy, and as an engineer I HATE wasting energy.

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Postby frezik » Mon Jan 22, 2007 5:35 pm UTC

Hawknc wrote:Bioethanol (or, really, just "ethanol" will do) isn't remotely environmentally friendly. I mean yeah, the net carbon emissions of the whole life cycle are pretty low, but as Belial outlined initially, there are a whole host of other problems with it which damage the environment in a far more immediate fashion. Agriculture in general is not an environmentally friendly practice when done on a commercial scale. Cellulosic ethanol will hopefully alleviate some of that, but the problems still exist.


Biofuel from agricultural sources (like corn or soybeans) would never cover the energy needs of the US. That's why I like biofuel from algae. The output/acre is many times better than other sources, and can be grown in otherwise wasted space (like the desert).

Honestly, algae biodiesel is almost too good to be true.

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Postby frezik » Mon Jan 22, 2007 5:46 pm UTC

shadebug wrote:I take issue with windfarms being called ugly, everybody knows windfarms are hella cool


I like them, myself, but a lot of people don't. Comes down to personal preference.

As for killing birds, if the alternative is opening up an oil or coal, those birds would have a lot more problems with the additional CO2. However, if the wind farm is near the nesting spots or migratory paths of an endangered bird species, it's probably best to choose another location (this was recently an issue here in Wisconsin).

dragonfrog wrote:A fellow at my work is in the process of building just such a house. He figures he has the calculations right, and should be able to cancel his account with the gas company in a few years. The design is based on something called "passive annual heat storage".


Sounds like a GeoExchange Heat Pump. It sounds like he did a horizontal system, which requires a lot of yard space. If you don't have that, a vertical system (with a pipe dug below the frost line) can work pretty good, too. I'm told these are used almost universally in parts of Europe.

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Postby Tractor » Mon Jan 22, 2007 6:22 pm UTC

mwace wrote:Speaking of fusion, this is what I feel the ideal solution to our trouble.


It does seem like a good idea, if it can be harnessed properly. But is it feasible in a reasonable time frame? How long will it be till we all can have a Mr. Fusion on the back of our DeLorean?

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aldimond wrote:The people and companies of ___(insert place name here)___, as far as I've seen it, wail a lot about ____(something that people wail about)____ but are for the most part unwilling to do anything that inconveniences them.

The politicians (____insert politician name here____ is a great example) won't take a position on anything, they just kiss the people's asses.

I think this can be generalised further to include most states - In fact several other countries as well. What do you reckon?


You just accurately described/generalized every major political issue, in Mad Lib form. I am stealing this, and using it at the next opportunity (which will be probably be soon, and often).
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Postby shadebug » Mon Jan 22, 2007 7:32 pm UTC

what we need is to do like iceland and have everyone running geothermal, I heard they never turn the lights off there because the wear on the bulbs from turning on and off costs more than the electricity
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Postby dragonfrog » Mon Jan 22, 2007 7:42 pm UTC

shadebug wrote:what we need is to do like iceland and have everyone running geothermal, I heard they never turn the lights off there because the wear on the bulbs from turning on and off costs more than the electricity


Unfortunately, not all of us are sitting on top of active volcanoes like the are in Iceland. If you don't have natural hotsprings, then you probably can't do geothermal power.

Come to think of it, maybe I'm glad I don't live on an active volcano.


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