Methane Hydrate

I got myself into a little bit of a twitter argument. I saw a tweet from an anti-green evangelist claiming that green tech was expensive and Global Warming is a non-issue. Every time I hear that argument, I think of this comic. To me, it sounds like an argument against paying for quality. Yes, quality costs money. Anything that is worth having is worth the effort. Changing an industry takes effort, that’s a poor excuse for not doing it.

Why pay for good things?

Anyway, the claim was that there are plenty of hydrocarbons to go around, so why worry? Why spend money on anything else but Oil and Gas? Here’s the twitter conversation so you can get the background.

mhconvo

I’ll take you up on that! I’ve never heard of Methane Hydrate, so it’s worth a look. I’m willing to stretch my knowledge and see what’s out there. So what is Methane Hydrate? Basically it’s ice that’s trapped methane inside a crystal formation. It has a very exotic name, but at the end of the day, the resource is methane, something we are very familiar with.

I’m going to do a quick comparison between this resource and two others. It’s obviously not exhaustive and I’ve omitted quite a bit of information. This whole post came about from a conversation on Twitter, so I’m not going to sink very many hours into it. If you are looking for info on resources, I recommend Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air. The full text is available here.

Here are the resources I’m going to look at.

  • Methane Hydrate – Extension of the current Oil and Gas industry
  • Solar – Up and coming contender
  • Nuclear Fusion – A hail mary resource

What Are They?

Methane Hydrate is a hydrocarbon that is trapped in ice formations. It exists as a solid under certain conditions and releases the methane when melted. The hydrocarbons come from decomposed animal and plant life from millions of years ago. Because hydrocarbons are dead animals and plants, in a way, they are concentrated solar energy. (sun -> plants -> animals -> dead -> million years -> hydrocarbons) Methane is usually burned to create energy, but can also be used in fuel cells.

Solar is.. well, the sun. More specifically the radiation from the sun that fuels all life on Earth.  There are a few different ways of harvesting solar energy, I’ll stick with photo-voltaic cells.

Nuclear Fusion is the golden child of the energy industry. Basically engineers create a mini-sun on earth and directly harvest it’s energy. Not to be confused with traditional nuclear energy  fusion uses light atoms and fuses them together, not spiting heavy atoms. This isn’t science fiction,  you can make a fusion reactor at home for about 5k. Most of these reactors use a D-D or D-T fuel cycle.

Energy Density

So, how much energy can each source produce? This gets complicated as the sources are difficult to directly compare.

In one cubic meter of methane hydrate there is 160 m^3 of methane. (source). This means each cubic meter of ice holds 6240 MJ of energy. That’s a hell of a lot. Hydrocarbon energy concentration is part of the reason it’s so valuable.

Solar energy is different depending on where you are in the world and if it’s day time. The energy hitting the top of the atmosphere is about 1,400 W/m^2. On earth, the average is about 250 W/m^2. That gives us about 21.6 MJ of energy per square meter per day. There is a lot more in space, and the reason spacecraft have solar panels.

These guys estimate there is  1.78 g of lithium in every cubic meter of seawater and 30 grams of deuterium. Using my mediocre chemistry skills, that comes out to 1.6*10^12 MJ per cubic meter of water. That’s a few hundred million times more dense than methane hydrate.

Extraction of the Resource

Methane uses semi-established methods. We know how to make drilling rigs and pipelines  but getting at the ice is a different story. It’s like oil sands vs drilling; the end product is the same but the method is very different. Lessons learned and techniques can be ported over, but you can’t directly use the previous technology. Looking at the billions of dollars spent in Alberta to develop the oil sands, you can expect similar numbers for hydrate extraction. (Here is a good source to learn more)

Solar, it’s pretty easy, install panels, point at sun, extract. It’s passive and automatic.

We can get lithium from sea water. Using a lot of the same technology we use for distilling sea water into fresh water.

Energy Reserve

So, how much of the stuff is there? In 2008 the world used 474 EJ of energy. I’m assuming we stay at 2008 consumption levels  and I’m ignoring a whole rats nest of other variables.

According to these guys, there is 74 744 Gt of CH4 in ocean hydrates. 4.4 * 10^16 m^3 of the stuff.  That’s on the very high end of global estimates, and no guarantee we can extract that much. In any event, that’s 1,716,000 EJ of energy, giving us 3620 years of energy assuming we used every last drop on earth.

Solar isn’t going to run out for 5 billion years, so that’s the good news on solar. It will last as long as we have a sun. Yes, it gets cloudy and night time does happen. A world network would solve most of those issues; it’s always sunny somewhere. Here’s a map of how much land mass that would take.

Fusion has a similar length as solar  If we get D-D reactions up and running, we are set for life. The available resources will power the earth for a million years. The fun part about this is that this is just including the resources on earth. Without exaggeration  the fusion fuel available in our solar system will power a Human Galactic Empire for millions of years.

DD Fusion

So what?

I have to shake my head when Oil & Gas evangelists tell me that there are plenty of resources available. Coal companies are very proud of the fact that there are a 100 odd years of coal reserves. The Oil Sands folks claim they are second in the world in reserves only to Saudi Arabia. When you factor in how much of that resource is recoverable, it’s only a few hundred years of energy left and they wave that flag proudly. We have resources that will last millions of times longer. We have energy resources that will last thousands of times longer than the whole of human recorded history.

For those people who are waving the Oil & Gas flag, I have to ask why. Bud Lyght, answer me this: with the knowledge you know have, why choose short term solutions when we could have unlimited energy for longer than either of us can imagine?

Justin wants our questions

If you take a walk, skip and a jump over to the Liberal website, you will see something interesting. Justin Trudeau is asking Canadians what questions they would as the Prime Minister. This is exactly the sort of activity the internet was made for! Long Live Direct Democracy! It has yet to be seen if the questions will be asked, or how many they will get or how well this experiment will work in general. But in a twitter world, my hope is that this will become more common place until it’s the norm.

For what it’s worth, here’s my question. As a space enthusiast and future Mars Colonist, I’d love to know the answer to this.

Mr Speaker, our military needs to be equipped and able to fight along side our allies for the safety of all Canadians. The F-35 program is intended to help keep pace with our allies and enemies and providing the Canadian military with new capability.
The program unfortunately reinforces the brain drain trend where Canadian talent leaves to where the opportunity is. Not only does this increase costs while putting quality control out of Canadian hands, but also puts Canada at a disadvantage to compete in emerging industries such as private space flight. Judging by the popularity of Cmdr Hadfield’s online presences there is a generation of Canadian’s who are interested in space and the Canadian Space Agency.
How does the government plan to use the momentum created by Cmdr Hadfield to increase the Canadian presence in the private space industry, there by remove the military’s reliance on international engineering and lowering the cost of military procurement?

Ban Dodgeball?

I just read an article from Slate called “Dodgeball Should Not Be Part of Any Curriculum, Ever” Go and read it. It’s awful. I mean, the writing is well done, sentence structure is proper and all that.. but it’s sound like a fat kid complaining to me. All I could think about while reading is was “I’m bad at sports; they should be banned.” As an adult who loved dodgeball as a kid and plays it as an adult, I take offence.

Calling the class “physical education” was some sort of sick joke. The lesson I was learning about my physical body was that it was useless, inferior, and quite possibly infected with a cootie-like virus. We should have been learning about how complicated and capable our bodies were and how to make them healthier. Instead we were playing dodgeball.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m all for a well rounded education. Teach healthy eating habits, stretching and meditation. Biology knowledge is important for putting your body in the best shape it can be, much like you will be a better driver if you understand how an internal combustion engine works. Sports in school teaches kids they need to bring it to win.

You practiced during the summer and couldn’t compete with the other kids? Well, you should have tried harder. You should have trained better. If you gave it your all and it didn’t workout, move on. We can’t all be super stars in everything we do, but we need bring honest efforts and then choose what we love. K-12 is about trying different things and gaining viewpoints and understanding. The author got hung up on how poorly she was at sports instead of learning how good others could become. She focused on the negative instead of accepting her shortcomings and finding something she was good at and could be proud of. We should add to the education, not remove parts because some kids won’t be good at them. Learning you can’t do something is an important lesson.

I spent a year of high school in Japan, where a component of PE class is Judo. If you think being picked last for a team was hard, try being literally thrown to the ground by the biggest kid in class as part of the curriculum. I didn’t complain, I got better. That’s the key to success in life; some kids learn in in math class, some kids learn it in the gym.

Maybe she has a valid point, but I can’t see it; because all I can hear is elitist complaining that sports should be removed because the other kids were better at them than her. Life isn’t fair, there are winners and losers. It’s a hard lesson to learn.

 

Playground Politics and the Bully

Justin Trudeau is the new leader of the Liberal Party. As a Canadian, this is a big deal since we don’t do legacy politics. South of the boarder there are the Kennedy and Bush families that have generations in politics. It’s a new concept for Canadians. This fact has been picked up by international news outlets as well. It’s an exciting new era of politics. How did Justin’s view of his father influence his policies and understanding of Canada? How can the country benefit from this experience? Unfortunately, the conversation here at home is more about bickering than issues.

This isn’t policy

The Conservatives launched an add campaign against Justin as soon as he was named Leader. They even have a website specifically set up to mock him. http://www.justinoverhishead.ca/ This sort of behavior doesn’t benefit Canadians at all. The site isn’t about policy discussion, but rather name calling. The Conservatives don’t see it that way. Here’s a quote from Jenni Byrne, the National Campaign Manager for 2011:

On Monday, we launched three new ads informing Canadians that Justin Trudeau is in way over his head.

Unsurprisingly, some members of the media are criticizing our new TV ads. They are circling the wagons.

But here’s the truth — these ads have spread farther and faster than any ads we’ve ever done. We are communicating directly with Canadians rather than passing through the media’s “filter”.

Ah yes, the truth. The truth is that these ads have spread because they are a ridiculous hyperbole wrapped in contempt. The Conservatives hate dissenting opinions so much that they resort to childish behavior like the school yard bully. This behavior is truly revolting when in context with the recent suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons. I’d like to be able to say that this is an isolated incident, but it’s not.

Double Standard

But the Conservatives march on. They are planing on mailing out information designed to undermine the credibility of Mr Trudeau to Canadian households. This isn’t even an election! They want Canadians to distrust the Liberal Leader instead of hearing him out. They don’t want to listen to opinion, they want to tell you what to think. We need open and honest policy debate in this country to face very real global issues. The Conservatives are demonstrating they do not want honest debate.

In over his head? Let the man speak so we can deiced that for ourselves! Let’s have debates on policy, not back and forth name calling. This isn’t government, this is playground bullying; the Conservatives condemn it with one breath, and commit it with the other. You can do better than this, you are embarrassing us.

 

‘an impediment to peace’

An impediment? Without exaggeration, Israel and Palestine have been discussing peace for as long as I can remember. The impediment in the process that Canada, the US and Israel are referring to is the willingness of the Palestinians to be subjugated. I really don’t see how any action on the part of Palestine could make matters worse. They have no capacity for war, and the only recourse they have against the creeping hostile takeover of their territory is to launch rockets and throw rocks at tanks.
This isn’t a religious or ideological debate as so many people would have you believe. In North America, any negative opinion is labeled as antisemitism. The Jewish people have the capacity to do wrong. Previous suffering and historical caricatures do not vindicate them from evils they are committing today. Both sides have committed violence and continue to. Rational thinking requires us to ignore the hype and rise above placing blame for who is to blame for the most recent attacks.
In 1947, the West Bank and Gaza was set aside for an Arab state. The 1947 UN resolution also created the state of Israel. In 1967 Israel took the West Bank and Gaza by forced and occupied it. What stands out here, is that Israel is an occupying force that has taken territories by force. The people who live in these territories want to throw off their oppressive occupiers and live freely in their own country.
Yes Mr Baird, the creation of a country for the Palestinians to call home will create tension. Manly because it will end at decades old occupation that the international community has white washed and ignored. The Palestinian people don’t want to negotiate until Israel stops building homes for their citizens in Palestinian territory. By opposing the vote Canada shows the world that we don’t want the two sides to have equal footing. The policies of Israel create the tension that leads to violence. By siding with the politics of the current Israeli government we oppose a peaceful resolution.
I want Canada to stand on the side of freedom, not oppression.

Anti-Bully

I’ve noticed that bullying has become a buzz word in the news cycle. Somehow this generation has become more susceptible to bullying and it’s destroying our young people. This alarmist viewpoint is silly. Time and time again reports about rising violence and panic about “today’s youth” turns up to be false when the numbers are checked. If we want to help the victims of bullying, we need to be honest with ourselves. Bullying isn’t new, it’s not a phenomenon restricted to youth and it’s not a human invention.

Dany Morin, an MP for the NDP put forth an open letter about “bullycide” and called it the “most important issue facing Canadian youth” I literally don’t have the adequate words to describe the outright silliness of that statement. Dany describes what bullying is in his essay.

These kids represent the entire quilt that is Canada. Some of them were called weird, loser, or faggot. They have been picked on because of their sexuality, their gender, their language, their religion, their race, how much money they have or whether or not they have some sort of disability.

If this is the most important thing facing youth, Canada is a great country indeed. Don’t misinterpret me, I don’t condone bullying and I don’t think it’s a minor issue. I do however think it’s a common issue and it’s important to see it in a wider view than school yard interactions. My problem with protectionist legislation is that it shields victims instead of giving them tools to deal with the harsh realities of life. We, as a whole, should be teaching our citizens how to deal with bullies. Removing kids from danger teaches them that we can police bad things from happening. We need to teach skills. We need to instill confidence and pride. We need to create values in our society that honors those who overcome adversity, not those who avoid it.

There is a study in the UK that states kids are avoiding activities because of bullies. They don’t want to showcase their talents because of ridicule they face from their less talented peers. When they show the world what makes them unique, the world tries to drag them back down. Dany’s solution would be to crack down on the bullies. Then kids could flourish and follow what ever path they wished in peace! That is until they leave the playground and find themselves in a boardroom. Once they try to bring new and unique ideas to a corporate setting they will be met with resistance. They didn’t learn how to deal with adversity, and bullies are found in more places than the playground. We assume that adults have the ability to deal with bullies, but if they don’t learn as kids, where will they gain this ability? It’s an injustice to cover our future generations in bubble wrap and expect them to flourish when the nature of the universe starts to poke at their soft skin.

We should teach our children to be caring and respectful to people, history and nature. We should also teach them that not everyone they meet in life will do the same. We should give them outlets to vent frustration and activities to keep them occupied so they are too busy to bully each other. Idle hands is our problem. Investing in sports, arts, STEM programs and after school care will reduce bulling and create well-rounded citizens for future generations.

What would you have me do?

There are a lot of conflicting opinions about what is wrong with the youth of today, but they all agree that there is something wrong. Being a relatively young person myself I take offence to most of what’s being said; and I’m going to explain why with a story.

Let’s imagine shall we that there is a young man somewhere in Canada that just graduated high school and wants to start his life. Let’s call him John. First off, it’s a shame that he’s been taught that real life is somewhere “out there” and not what he’s been doing for the last 18 years. His parents and teachers constantly talk about the “real world” and how he’s not in it, so he’s looking forward to get into it. He’s looking into post-secondary education because he’s been told that’s what he needs to do to be successful. John knows he can’t get a good job with just a high school education. Even though there are plenty of online and self-taught resources John never took a high school class on self-reliance or intrinsic self-worth so he doesn’t know this is an option.

Now, John heard there are great opportunities in Northern Alberta where they are really looking for skilled people and will pay top dollar. He looks into an apprenticeship program, but because his school cancelled shop class, he doesn’t feel qualified. His friends are going to university, so he applies as well. He’s good at memorizing facts for tests so he has good marks but was never challenged so John doesn’t know what he wants to do.

He is accepted into General Studies. He takes a part time job to pay for school, but that only goes so far. He wants to ask for money from his parents, but he’s been told that he shouldn’t be mooching off his parents and that he should leave the nest. Most of his money goes to pay rent for an apartment he’s staying in with some friends.

It’s now becoming hard to make ends meet. John moved back in with his parents to save money and took out student loans to pay for school. All seems well.

Now he’s graduated and looking for work. He’s still with his parents because part time is all that’s available and he’s paying down his loans. He didn’t get the good job he was promised. He didn’t understand what he was supposed to learn in school therefor is missing the soft skills needed to survive. He’s told that he needs to work his way up the cooperate ladder and somehow be outgoing and innovative at the same time. He wants to show people what’s he can do but no one will talk to him until he gets experience.

Meanwhile, there is pressure to move out, so he joins the rental market, putting him further in debt. He gets a cellphone, internet connecting and a nice suit to keep pace with all the other applicants. He’s told that he needs to start saving for retirement and to buy a house as soon as he can but he’s having a hard time paying for food.

Now he’s got a job, starting at the bottom. Management doesn’t understand how well he can multitask so he sits idle most of the day. No one wants to give him responsibility because that would take work away from them. He’s worried about his finances and keeps hearing on the news about consumer confidence and if people stop buying things the economy suffers. He’s given conflicting advice every step of the way. He did everything he was told and ended up going nowhere. He asks himself “How can a family in India making 1/5 of what I do feed themselves and I have a hard time?” He doesn’t understand why the company says things are busy be he has no work. He wants to contribute but all his life he’s been told to wait for someone to give him the opportunity.

What would you have John do, in a world that taught him to wait for opportunities and puts him in a position that reinforces these rules?

Life after the Singularity

There are many a nights where I fall asleep thinking of the singularity. It’s been my experience that most people don’t know what it is, so I’ll do my best to explain. Most people have heard of Moore’s Law, the theory that says computers will keep becoming more powerful as time goes on. The idea was introduced in 1965 and has remained true since then. Below is the graph version.

Moore's law

Here’s where the Singularity comes in; the human brain fits somewhere on this graph. At some point in the future, computers will be just as powerful as the human brain. This future point is somewhere around the year 2030. It’s a little later that the Skynet date of August 4, 1997, but this time it’s not a movie. This will happen and it caries real consequences. Take a few minutes and watch this video: Ray Kurzweil Explains the Coming Singularity.

It’s not the even that worries me, it’s how unprepared we are. Joe Public has such a low scientific literacy rate that a two tier class system is fast approaching; a technological sink or swim. Our education system is in no way prepared for this. By the time kids in kindergarten today graduate from college they will be competing directly with computer systems for jobs. This isn’t an exaggeration, it’s already happening. Currently, manufacturing jobs that were typically done by manual labour are being replaced with robots. The singularity makes it possible for computers to have the same effect on the arts, creative writing, inventing, engineering and investment banking. I’m not making this up.

In the next 20 years, computers will be able to mimic what we understand as a fundamental part of being human just as well as they can add numbers now. We can outsource culture to a mainframe in a basement. Again, I’m not making this up; just ask Tupac.

We need to start teaching our children TODAY the skills they will need to survive in this world.

Sugata Mitra has a good idea how to accomplish this. I’ll let him to the talking.

If children have interest, then education happens.

We need to take it a step further. As he demonstrated, teachers do not need to be experts in a certain field to teach that field. The internet is a great resource, but lets have the real experts teach and the teachers moderate. Bring in an artist to talk about perspective. Let a  civil engineer show them why they are learning how to calculate areas and volumes. I know there are bird watching groups, garden enthusiasts and hobby naturalists that would love a chance to share what they do to groups of kids.

Bringing in guest speakers once a month and letting the kids be involved in their learning will change the world. This will teach them how to be independent and critical thinkers. They will learn what is possible today and start reaching for tomorrow. Without these skills they won’t stand a chance.


The people need to know that Friendship is Magic

I was tucked into bed last night, watching an episode of My Little Pony as I have want to do. In this thrilling tale, Apple Bloom, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle are trying to get their Cutie Marks. They appear when a Pony finds his or her own special talent. They try out all sorts of thing such as farming, sewing, dancing and comedy. They don’t have much success along the way, mostly because they are kids and kids don’t have much expertise. I won’t ruin show, you will just have to watch it for yourself.

The underlying concept and lesson that the show is trying to impress upon little kids is that you need to go out into the world and try out may different things to find out what you love and what you are good at. Makes perfect sense to me; you could be the worlds best watch maker but if you never even know there is such a job you will never try it. But when does a child in North America have this opportunity?

It’s not in K-12, that’s for sure. You are expected to be in lock-step with all the other kids. Show some creativity? That’s an F. Try and be original? Not in the marking scheme. Read ahead? Being a smart ass. Experience is created by failure. It’s just as important to know what you don’t like as what you like. Poor grades are not the sign of poor intelligence, they just mean you haven’t found your passion yet. Mr. Watson said that, I think he knows what he’s talking about.

So where does it happen? At what point do we let our children experience life without consequences? Where do they go to see new things? How do they meet people outside of their social circle? The answer is simply that they don’t. The very existence of General Studies proves that there are people in this world who, after 18 years, have not been shown enough of the world to find what they enjoy doing in life. In our technological world, this is a failing of epic proportions. I mean… .. words fail me.

The government cries that we need more skilled workers and better innovation but High Schools are closing mechanics class in favor of ballet studios because parents don’t want their kids being grease monkeys. Play dates, league sports and summer camp are no substitute for actually learning about yourself. We need to re-evaluate what is means to fail  and learn from it rather that be scared of it. In the Baby Boomers great rush to achieve the “American Dream” they created a situation that leaves the world worse off than before. Now is the time to let imagination and creativity run free, instead we are scheduling every last second of our day. Every little action is recorded online forever. Every purchase affects our credit rating. Our lives are lock-step and any attempt to be yourself is punished.

I wonder what other life lessons kids cartoons teach us that are near impossible to implement in our Jones centric world.

The Student Economy

There has been a lot of noise in the media recently about the student protest in Quebec. Rightly so; it’s an important issue that should get media coverage. However is seems the coverage is mostly biased against the students. Some people believe that the students should get in line and join the real world. I don’t know how marching in the streets, exercising your right to protest and upholding your values is not part of the real world. This sort of action can mean death in parts of the world; that seem quite real to me. The point about the “real world” is an economic one.

According to a devastating story by The Associated Press last week, more than 50 per cent of recent university graduates in the United States are either unemployed or working in jobs that don’t require bachelor’s degrees. They’re more likely to work as “waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers than as engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians combined.”

Because these students won’t contribute as many points to the GDP as an engineer would they are some how less? Maybe they are doing what we’ve always been told to do, follow our dreams and do what makes us happy. These students could be making lattes by day and applying their degrees by night doing what ever it is they enjoy doing. By measuring their success by their ability to buy and consume; you are turning these students into commodities.  People are not commodities to be counted, rank and file, and judged.

Currently the only way we have to measure value is in dollars. Using this rational these students should pay their fair share in return for the dollars spent. There should be a measurable return on the investment, correct? This doesn’t take into account the person. If they grow up to be baristas, so what? Who are we to tell them how to live? What if they become excellent friends, fathers, aunts, coworkers, role models and citizens? If we are measuring a persons worth on their income tax, we’ve literally lost our humanity.

Yes, the students pay less for education than the rest of the country. So what? They want to keep it that way. They want to maintain their quality of life. Why would the other provinces be upset by that? The only reason I can think of it jealousy. They have it good, we wish we had it good, we want them to have it not so good so we can feel better about ourselves. This abysmal stance on leveling the playing field damages us all. This pandering to the lowest common denominator is not the way I want my country run. I want to live in a place where I’m more than just a potential economic device to be used. I don’t want other people to have to pay more if I pay more. It’s the rest of the country that should be upset that we pay so much more then Quebec.

We had to work a part time job and the next 10 years paying down our student debt, so they should too. That’s the argument? They have something good and we don’t, so they shouldn’t have something good either? I hope you can see the childish undertone to this argument. Yes, there are real financial issues surrounding the feasibility of keeping the cost of education low. Lets talk about that instead of slandering the students.