TerraMins Inc.

12277 Apple Valley Rd. #184
Apple Valley, CA 92308
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Manufacturing Energy: The Natural Resources of Electricity

It is only rarely seen ….. Except in its wild state.

It is like the wind: you only see the effects.  But, unlike the wind, it isn’t free.  It is, of course, electricity.  Harnessed lightning.

Harnessing lightning requires fuel.  These fuels occur naturally in the crust of the earth.  They are finite, non-renewable, and conveniently available, and will remain so with good management.

There are basically two ways to economically manufacture electricity:  by making it directly for example with photovoltaic cells, or by turning a generator.  Yes, there are numerous experimental and as yet uneconomic, methods to make electricity directly and indirectly, but in 2001, turning a generator is the only economic method.

There are tow basic techniques of turning a generator.  The mechanical method uses a turbine to turn a shaft that turns the generator.  Hydroelectric plants release water contained behind dams through turbines that turn a shaft that turns a huge generator, or uses fuel to heat to boil water and the steam turns a turbine to spin the generator.

Although natural resources are used in every phase of electricity production, from exploration to construction and transmission, this discussion will be limited to the natural mineral resources that provide the energy necessary to manufacture electricity.

The natural resources that are used to produce electricity are usually divided into two categories: renewable and nonrenewable.   Renewable resources are the natural forces such as solar, wind, water, wave power, and biomass, such as wood and green waste.  None of these methods are economic on a large scale at this time; however as the cost of conventional fuels rises, these renewable power sources will become more economic.  But for now, our practical source of electricity manufacture lies in the conservative development of the conventional nonrenewablemineral resource fuels to generate electricity.  Those natural mineral resource fuels are coal, uranium, natural gas and oil.

COAL

Since the 18th century, prior to 1859, and the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania, coal was the critical fuel of the industrial revolution.  Coal could not only be used to warm homes and as cooking steel.  Wood just cannot deliver the high temperatures necessary to make steel.  Coal not only allowed the construction of steam engines but also was the fuel to make the steam!

Coal currently provides 26% of the world’s primary energy needs.  Russia has the world’s largest resources, but not all are recoverable with today’s technology.  The U.S. is second in the size of its coal resources, and China is third.  Of these three countries, the U.S. has the most economically recoverable coal resources.  California has no coal reserves, although there have been very small deposits that were mined for local use in the past.

It is estimated that of the total coal, oil and gas resources in the U.S., 90% of the total energy is in the form of coal.  Montana and Wyoming have more energy in the form of coal than all the oil in Saudi Arabia.

Coal is recovered by mining.  Although mining coal has been a dangerous occupation in the past, modern development of coal in the western U.S. has been by safer and more economic large open pit mining methods.  The large eastern underground mining operations are utilizing new technology that allows for much safer underground mining.

Coal is recovered by mining.  Although mining coal has been a dangerous occupation in the past, modern development of coal in the western U.S. has been by safer and more economic large open pit mining methods.  The large eastern underground mining operations are utilizing new technology that allows for much safer underground mining.

The impacts of mining in the U.S. are considerably reduced by local, state and federal regulations, and at the present time mandated reclamation procedures largely mitigate mining’s impacts on habitat, landscape, and water quality.  Burning coal has considerable environmental impacts.  These impacts are mitigated by steady growth in monitoring and air pollution control technology.

URANIUM

Nuclear energy provides about 23% of the electricity in the U.S., 90% of the total energy is in the form of coal.  Montana and Wyoming have more energy in the form of coal than all the oil in Saudi Arabia.

By weight, uranium has more recoverable energy than any other source.  As example, 1 short ton (2000 pounds) of processed uranium is equivalent to the heat generated by 3 billion – yes BILLION tons of coal.  The U.S. is fortunate to have abundant uranium resources, most located in the western states.  Like coal, most of the mineable uranium deposits have been, and will be developed with open pit methods, and will also be governed with a combination of local, state, and federal regulations.

Nuclear plants, unlike coal, oil, or even natural gas have no air emissions.  Nuclear plants typically have heat as a byproduct, and this heat is commonly used as a local heating source.  The technology to design safe long-term storage is available; however the storage issue is still controversial, and largely political.

NATURAL GAS

Natural gas is composed primarily of methane, but usually includes butane, propane, and other non-combustible gasses such as nitrogen and carbon dioxide.  Natural gas is found in the same environments as oil, but while most oil field deposits have some gas, not all gas fields have oil.  Natural gas actually has a much wider occurrence than oil, however in the last 10 years very few new discoveries have been made.  Because it is cleaner-burning than oil or coal, it has been the preferred fuel for most new electricity generating plants which has contributed to a rise in demand prior to 2000 of over 3% annually.  California has seen unprecedented rise in demand for natural gas in the last year.

Natural gas is used primarily for domestic heating and electric power generation.  Natural gas can be compressed, or liquefied for easy transport, and also can be transported via gas lines central distribution site.  Other than energy its use as a raw material is limited to the production of ammonium nitrate that is used as fertilizer and as an explosive.

OIL

As a natural mineral resource, petroleum and its derivative, gasoline and diesel, has the most varied applications in our economy.  Besides being a premier fuel in the generation of electricity, oil’s importance as a raw material in the manufacture of thousands of different products including plastics, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, inks, dyes, asphalt cannot be overemphasized.  However, as a natural mineral fuel, its growth is less than that of natural gas, being about 2% annually.

The United States ranks third in remaining reserves, behind Saudi Arabia and Russia.  The U.S. produces only about 11% of the world’s oil while consuming 26%.  Known reserves of oil in the U.S., at current production are not expected to exceed 10 years.

(Note: a barrel of 42 U.S. gallons at 60 degrees F and weighs 310 pounds.)

ENERGY REALITIES:
Dilemma of choice?

There are many controversies regarding the various natural resources of electricity.  These controversies have their roots in land use, local control of power generation, safety issues, and environmental impact concerns.  Which is most abundant in the U.S.? Which has the highest heat value (Btu)?  Which is the cheapest to produce?  Which is the least polluting?  Which is the safest, cleanest, and most economical to transport?

An article (2001), in the Engineering and Mining Journal published this data: 1000 cubic feet of natural gas costs $9.00 and yields 95 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity;
1short ton of coal yields 1,950 kWh of electricity;
1 barrel of oil costs $30.00 ($60.00 in 2005), and yields 500 kWh;
1 pound of processed uranium costs $7.00 and yields 15,000 kWh of electricity.

None of the mineral fuels coal, natural gas, or uranium has much value as anything but providing energy to manufacture electricity.  One could argue that oil is too valuable in uses for which it has no substitute to be used in the mere generation of electricity, regardless of its energy value (more than coal or natural gas, less than uranium).

The major questions to ask in this time of perceived energy shortages are not which mineral fuel is preferable, at the exclusion of all others.  All fuels have distinct advantages, as the data above demonstrates, but all have some sticky possible disadvantages.  Mitigation of the disadvantages associated with each is possible with today’s technologies, but at a cost.  Logic dictates that full use of all the available fuels must be made.  In order to move into the age where electricity is generated economically by a combination of renewable resources, we need time. A concerted effort by scientist, engineers, citizens and elected officials, to balance the exploitation all the natural resources of electricity must be continued to purchase at that time.

PUBLISHERS NOTE: At a time when the increase of utilities and their associated costs are affecting all of us in California, we will continue to educate our subscribers on alternative utility.