1. Ah … so “global warming,” “climate change,” or whatever the mot du jour it goes by at the moment is just a cynical, sophisticated campaign by the oil companies to transfer the US’s electricity production from coal to natural gas?

    That actually makes empirical sense, since according to the EIA, electricity production for coal and gas were 42.2% and 24.8% in 2011. Coal is down from 49.8% in 2004, and gas is up from 17.9% in the same year. That is, gas is up 6.9 points, coal is down 7.6 points, and so-called “renewables” have picked up almost all of the 0.7-point difference.

    It appears that the message about “climate change” is working as planned. I can’t wait for the next article on climate change to “drill” this message home. 😉

    1. @Brian Mays

      My perspective is a little different and comes from almost 2 decades of intense focus on energy politics.

      The growing CO2 concentration in the atmosphere and the continued addition to that concentration is a real problem that poses unknown risks to the earth’s ability to sustain our current version of industrialized, reasonably settled human society. The planet certainly is in no risk, but human occupied cities and farms are going to have to make serious and expensive adjustments. Many ocean creatures, including some of the smallest ones, are having to adjust to a different chemistry faster than evolutionary processes normally work, so we are not sure what is going to happen. There is reason for worry, if not reason for “the sky is falling” alarm.

      The public perception of the issue, however, has been manipulated by the normal forces that always seek to manipulate public perception for private gain. During the 1990s, when the oil and gas industry was pretty sure that the nuclear industry was on the ropes and might never recover, the gas and alternative energy industries were working overtime to get people worked up over the issue so that they could take market share away from coal – which is relatively cheap and abundant. The oil&gas majors made plans to build dozens of LNG import facilities all along the east, west and Gulf coasts so that they could continue supplying growing demands in the lucrative US market. They know that their foreign oil holdings are depleting rapidly, but they have found massive quantities of gas in places like Qatar and off of the Australian coast. They know there are lots of “stranded” gas reserves around the world, but they need markets willing to pay the price required to make LNG investments pay off.

      During the period from about 2002-2008, after a substantial run up in gas prices and after people had been encouraged to worry a lot about CO2 emissions, the US nuclear industry seemed poised to make a real recovery. We all talked about the “Nuclear Renaissance”.

      Suddenly, gas prices fell and have been maintained at uneconomical levels for more than 4 years by overproduction that has been supported by substantial capital injections from deep pocketed multinational oil companies that are flush due to high oil prices. There has also been an enormous investment in propaganda aimed at telling people that CO2 worries were driven by unscrupulous people like Al Gore who just wanted bigger government.

      Now that the nuclear renaissance is effectively stalled, with little new investment and it is struggling with overcoming the impact of a media driven Fukushima Frenzy (partially brought to you by natural gas commercials telling you how there is 100 years of gas right under our feet) the oil and gas industry has decided that CO2 is a great reason to push coal out of the market that they would prefer to supply.

      Maybe I need to develop this idea more and produce it as a series of posts – or even as a few chapters in a book that will teach people who are not presidents what they should know about energy and the energy industry.

      1. This link helps to illustrate what I was saying about the story that the fossil fuel funded establishment – including politicians and the commercial news media – want to tell about carbon dioxide emissions.


        Whenever the nuclear industry is effectively making the case that near zero is a lot better than 400-600 grams per kilowatt hour, CO2 is made to fade away from public consciousness. If the nuclear industry is not making progress towards new build and taking market share, CO2 becomes a great reason to disrespect and discourage the use of coal – so the oil and gas companies can sell more natural gas and make more payments to their supporters.

    1. @Rich – check out some of the additional reading links and the quotes I used in the post. I realize that Muller is not a “true skeptic”. Heck, I even put “converted skeptic” in quotes in the post title.

  2. Rod, another aspect of this smoking gun to look into is the EPA’s relatively new rule for new power generation. I don’t recall the details, but I believe they set a limit of something in the neighborhood of 600 grams/kW-hr, just high enough to allow new Natural Gas-fired generation, but effectively excluding any non-CCS Coal-fired generation. If that isn’t some sort of a Smoking Gun, what is?

    1. This Robert Bryce article mentions the EPA rule (but in lbs/MW-hr, rather than grams/kW-hr).

      Overall, it is a pretty fair article, but I do take exception with the part where Robert said that natural gas was the 2nd cheapest fuel on a $/Btu basis, behind coal, for the period from 1999-2010. Hello? Nuclear fuel’s all-in cost is roughly $0.65/Mbtu.

  3. Rod – I believe that you are being unfair to Dr. Richard Muller in suggesting that he shares allot in common with Amory Lovins. I would suggest that Muller’s opinions on nuclear are far from being Avory Lovin’s views. I also do not believe that Amory Lovins’ methods and Amory Lovins’ example of intellectual honesty are Richard Muller’s standard of intellectual honesty.

    You are hearing interviews from Muller right now because he has just had a new book released called “Energy for Future Presidents: The Science behind the headlines”. This is a rather good energy book (I have purchased an early copy and am working my way through it). I think you would be impressed at the amount of pro-nuclear material in Muller’s new book. Muller devotes probably about 1/3rd of the book to nuclear (although it is split between fission and fusion technologies). If there is any significant blind spot apparent, it might sadly be forgetting to include more information on the potential of Thorium (and fluid fueled LFTR reactors).
    Some Prominent Chapter Titles and short excerpts from “Energy for Future Presidents” –

    Chapter 11 The Coming Explosion of Nuclear Power –
    “A nuclear power plants cannot blow up like atom bombs”
    “Running out of uranium? We are not about to run out of uranium.”
    “Nuclear waste storage. Storing nuclear waste is not a difficult technical problem. It has been solved.”
    “The coming nuclear explosion – The explosion of use is what gives this chapter its title”
    “Fukushima deaths – Of the 15,000 deaths from the 2011 tsunami, only 100 of them will come from come from the Fukushima nuclear accident – and maybe fewer, since thyroid cancer is readily treatable.”

    Furthermore, the methods of Richard Muller are not the methods of Amory Lovins as regards to standards of proof and respect for evidence. Muller does not evidence a tendency to advance his cause through deceptive “lightning strikes” calculations for which little, other than the dramatic result, is shared. Muller has exhibited high standards and respect for evidence in his climate study reviews and has a better record than most professionals in that somewhat dubious field.

    I would urge you to remember, Rod, that every author being interviewed is at the mercy of the interviewer. If the interviewer is anti-nuclear and does not ask any nuclear related questions, then it takes exceptional effort for the author to include nuclear as a topic. The “no mention of nuclear” interviews that you recently heard could be more the result of biased, anti-nuclear press. Muller’s personal attitudes toward nuclear are available to read in his fine new energy book.

    1. @Robert

      When an interviewer asks the author of a book titled “Energy for Future Presidents: The Science behind the headlines” what we should do about manmade global warming, the interviewer is providing all the opening that any honest energy researcher needs to talk about the importance of nuclear fission.

      Muller’s answer to that question could have been written by the promoter from Snowmass. He said that two specific actions would make the most difference – energy conservation/efficiency and switching from coal to natural gas.

      BTW – there will be ZERO deaths from Fukushima. That is especially true with regard to thyroid cancers because the Japanese did a much better job of taking the initial actions that provide all the protection that you need to have from I-131. There is no evidence of anyone having absorbed enough I-131 to cause any cancer.

  4. Did you know that there is proven technology that makes coal less GHG polluting than natural gas?

    Direct Carbon Fuel Cells convert the chemical energy stored in coal directly into electricity without going through the intermediate step of burning the coal. Dr. John Cooper at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has pioneered the development of specially constructed fuel cells [1] that run at elevated temperatures on the order of 700 to 750 degrees C to extract the chemical energy stored in coal at a demonstrated efficiency of around 80%. This is double the typical efficiency of well designed coal fired power plants which operate at efficiencies around 40%.

    The following are some of the key benefits of Direct Carbon Fuel Cells

    1) DCFCs decrease emissions of carbon dioxide, which are largely responsible for global warming.
    Direct Carbon Fuel Cells double the energy conversion efficiency of coal in electric power generation. You only need to produce half of the amount of CO2 to generate a given amount of electrical energy.

    2) The CO2 produced by DCFCs is quite pure compared to the exhaust stack gases of coal fired power plants. The CO2 produced by DCFCs is clean enough to economically be used as a reactant in many industrial processes. The CO2 is also nicely segregated within the fuel cell so it is easy to efficiently collect the nearly pure CO2 to permit convenient use or sequestration.

    3) DCFCs do not require expensive noble metal electrodes unlike many other fuel cell technologies. DCFC fuel cells should be scalable to very large sizes without adding greatly to proportioned costs of generating power.

    4) DCFC fuel cells avoid some of the most annoying air pollution consequences of using coal. There is no need to release large amounts of particulates into the air. DCFC fuel cells should produce significantly less sulfur and mercury contaminants relative to coal fired power plants. DCFC fuel cells do not distribute particulates containing radioactive Thorium and Uranium contaminants frequently present in western coal. The output of the DCFC fuel cell is easily used electricity although a DC to AC electrical power transformation may be required to feed the electricity into the power grid.

    Direct Carbon Fuel Cells produce half the amount of CO2
    Green House Gas as any other approach to using coal.

    Direct carbon fuel cells are sidelined technology that worked well in the laboratory that deserves a second hard look.

    [1] – https://www.llnl.gov/str/June01/Cooper.html

    1. @Robert Steinhaus

      I am aware of DCFC. The link that you provided begs one more question about Muller’s ties to the natural gas industry. Since he has a relationship with Livermore – where DCFC research was conducted – why would he state that natural gas produces 1/3 as much CO2 as coal?

      Even without that technology advance, the statement is patently false unless you constrain coal to 1940s vintage steam plant technology and allow natural gas CO2 emissions to be measured from the most modern combined cycle plants available operating at their most efficient point on the operating curve. That already unbalanced scenario does not allow CCGTs to be used in a load following mode to fill in the gaps inherent in a system full of unreliable wind and solar.

    2. Thanks Robert,

      This is my first exposure to DCFCs I am very interested. But your comment supports Rod’s contention that the rising CO2 and the link to Global warming has been used as a back door to promote the use of Methane in Electricity production.

      1. Along same lines, Stanford University Research Institute (SRI) is exploring a low cost and low emissions process for turning coal into diesel (currently at bench scale). Natural gas replaces water as a hydrogen source. They recommend nuclear power or renewables for a zero emission energy resource, and suggest they can deliver a jet fuel for around $2.82/gallon.


        We’ve made a mockery of an important domestic fuel resource, coal, and burning it inefficiently in power plants for too long. We can do better … if simply asked to do so and with markets that incentivize innovation and long term planning in resource, sustainability, and infrastructure planning.

        We don’t have a rational climate or energy policy in this country, we have markets that cater to shareholder profits (and the current glut in natural gas supplies is transforming our energy system).


        Most people get this … but see no alternative other than re-regulating markets, creating new markets, or speeding up development of cost-effective alternatives.

        1. @EL

          I like the third alternative the best – speeding up development of cost-effective alternatives. One of the neat things about nuclear energy is that the improvements that would make it cost effective are not necessarily risky technology development. Instead, they are simply a matter of sensible, rational, risk-based regulations that do not unfairly disadvantage nuclear in the name of being energy agnostic.

  5. Rod – “why would he (Richard Muller) state that natural gas produces 1/3 as much CO2 as coal?”

    Perhaps part of the answer is here, although I hesitate to defend Richard Muller, who does a better job presenting and defending his ideas than I have ever demonstrated –

    From the Fossil-fuel power station Wiki
    “Brown coal emits about 3 times as much CO2 as natural gas, and black coal emits about twice as much CO2 per unit of electric energy.”

    Dr. Muller does have ties to LLNL – LLNL benefitted greatly from his cooperative efforts, Muller helped us on many important projects in the public interest.
    Note: I was never permitted to speak to the public while I was employed at LLNL. In my retirement, I would also not be permitted to speak for the Lab (only for myself).

    1. How many brown coal stations does the US have? Do you really think an energy expert should get his info from Wikipedia?

      That entry is based on a number of assumptions and does not apply overall. The average gas plant produces about 50-60% as much CO2 as the average coal plant. (Standard IPCC value for gas is 15.3 tC/GJ and ranges from 25.8-29.1 tC/GJ for coal.)


  6. If you have an inexpensive way of using the dominant fuel consumed by the nation (coal) in a way that cuts in half the environmental impact of CO2 generation in half and eliminates releasing particulates into the atmosphere (including the radioactive uranium and thorium found in coal) that does not require a turbine-generator to harness and is 80% efficient in energy conversion (chemical energy in coal –> electricity), why is that not significant news?

    Why does no one even mention DCFC’s in a discussion of coal use?

    1. Robert, great question, and I think it directly relates to Rod’s overall theme in this post:

      Natural Gas has much more powerful backers than Coal.

      Coal’s position as King Coal has been lost.

      Peabody and other coal companies need to be doing whatever they can to develop/demonstrate and push/market DCFCs, unless they are more than happy to simply export the coal that will be decreasingly used here in the U.S.

  7. I dont even care so much about their qualifications if what they said worked. It just does not and it is creating a gas infrastructure that technically could and will be modified to suit gasification technology in ALL fossil carbon venues.

    Even the numbers used to argue these colossal wind and solar installations are not right. The optimal capacity factors used do not commonly fit real world conditions and the carbon investment numbers are based on American and European manufacture of components. It doesn’t work that way.

    And then there is the reality of the failed experiment so far; since Germany had their big “exit form nuclear” press conferences ive been watching the numbers – occasionally as splattered across the media they will have a few hours of good wind and solar numbers, but more often than not the following (this weekend) is the case:

    “Wind generation in Germany was forecast to remain below 1 GW throughout the weekend, but was expected to reach 4 GW for average baseload hours on Monday, a market source said. Solar output also remains subdued due to some cloud coverage, with 9 GW forecast for Saturday peakload hours, 7 GW on Sunday,

    Germany has 30 GW of wind power capacity installed at the end of June, while solar capacity has now hit 29 GW,

    Nuclear availability was expected to rise from a current 10.6 GW to full availability for next week with the restart of the 1.3 GW Gundremmingen C reactor scheduled for Sunday, according to plant operator RWE.” ( http://www.platts.com/RSSFeedDetailedNews/RSSFeed/ElectricPower/8594647 )

    Intermittent wind and solar too. Please read that a couple of times to get the magnitude of this failure.

      1. (use copy and paste to make that link work all) Its environmental fraud. And that’s the nice way of putting it.

  8. Thanks for taking the time to skewer Richard Muller’s grandstanding. What a narcissist!

    However, I am a little miffed that you keep taking pot shots at the generation of electricity based on coal or natural gas. These sources are essential to keeping electricity prices low.

    While I am an avid fan of all things nuclear you offend me every time you attack coal or gas. These are NOT the enemy!

    1. @gallopingcamel

      I’ll bite – where do YOU think the antinuclear crowd obtaining its power?

      Here’s another good reason – between coal and gas, fossil fuel controls at least 68% of the electricity market. They provide nearly all of the reliable electricity that nuclear does not already supply.

      I believe that nuclear deserves a larger market share – it is a superior product in many respects. Coal and gas are the incumbents to unseat and they are not currently held to anything close to the same performance standards as nuclear.

  9. Rod – I cannot find justification for Dr. Muller’s statement that natural gas produces 1/3rd the CO2 as coal and I agree that energy experts should not use wiki articles as references (your nice references are better and more authoritative).
    I do continue to believe that DCFCs would cut the GHG impact of power generation from coal in half, and as a result deserve an industrial scale test (instead of shelving the technology while pouring more public resources into the next Solyndra loan guarantee).

    If DCFC’s worked at an industrial scale (Megawatts) they would eliminate the smoke and fly ash (which includes the Thorium and Uranium that typically accompanies ash particulates) that pollutes our air as a result of burning coal to produce electricity.

  10. Rod,

    The Greenies have already made investment in nuclear power unattractive in the USA.

    We have a president who believes that the Greenies are right to vilify coal. He has the power to turn their loony ideas into policies that aim to bankrupt the coal industry:

    Once coal has been hobbled, natural gas will be the next target.

    Affordable electricity depends on exploiting a broad range of options. Once you start taking options out of play consumers will be forced to pay higher and higher prices.

    The coal and natural gas industries are not responsible for what happened to nuclear power in this country. The blame goes to Jimmy Carter and the Greenies. If this nonsense is allowed to continue the only technologies allowed will be windmills and solar power.

    My point is that you should stop beating up on the coal and natural gas industries. Greenies are the real enemies of nuclear power and gas and coal.

    1. Isn’t Rod’s point though that wind and solar are in an unholy alliance with natural gas against coal and nuclear?

      As for Jimmy Carter, I though he was mainly about reducing America’s consumption of imported oil, and pushed for CTL technology to achieve this end. Unfortunately, the subsidy was badly designed, and resulted in the coal industry raking in the subsidies for producing and burning dirty slurry, because the legislation did not require that the resulting liquid fuel be suitable for use in internal combustion engines.

    2. @gallopingcamel

      We disagree. I think that the people you call “Greenies” are often a front for fossil fuel companies. Take a hard look at Carter’s policies that supported the coal industry. Don’t pay attention to rhetoric, look at market numbers to see the actual effect.

      Think hard – who benefits financially when options are taken off of the table and prices inevitably rise? The answer, of course, are the remaining suppliers.

    3. One more thing – I like both coal and natural gas. I just want to leave as much of those valuable materials to future generations as possible.

  11. Thanks for reminding me that Carter by accident or design did help the coal industry. However, I was referring to Carter’s influence on nuclear power when he blocked PUREX and related processes, increasing the load on storage ponds.

    At the same time the Greenies harrassed nuclear power at every opportunity. Shoreham……Shearon Harris…..Vermont Yankee and many more.

    I ran for office in North Carolina in a vain attempt to unseat Eleanor Kinnaird who was (is) bitterly opposed to all things nuclear. She was a key figure opposing the use of the third storage pond at Shearon Harris, the NC Low Level Waste Repository and much more. Her “Success” has cost North Carolina many hundreds of millions of dollars while increasing nuclear hazards in the state.

    You can find dozens of Eleanors all around the country exploiting anti-nuclear hysteria.

    1. Do you really believe that the effective pro coal policies were an accident?

      Don’t you recognize that being against nuclear benefits fossil fuels no matter what the opponents SAY? Actions speak louder than words.

  12. Rod,
    Like you I support the idea or leaving the fossil fuels for our children who will find better uses than burning them for fuel.

    The only practical way to phase out fossil fuel power generation in the developed world would be BANED (Build A Nuke Each Day). Can we make it happen?

    1. @gallopingcamel

      I never said anything about phasing out fossil fuel power generation. That is not going to happen. What I want to do is to spread the word that nuclear is competitive, that it is a superior product, that it is worth the initial effort required, that much of the effort required can be reduced by sensible regulations, and that the source of much of the fear, uncertainty and doubt that is spread comes from a very logical source – the competition.

      The nuclear industry – which has really never existed as a separate entity from the fossil fuel industry – has abdicated its most effective arguments by refusing to compare itself straight up with the competition. We have allowed that competition to set the stage and to wrap itself up in green clothing.

      We want cheap energy that is fully costed – where the energy supplier is responsible for waste handling or at least for paying all of the rest of us for the privilege of using OUR air and our water as the waste dump.

      Fission is exceedingly competitive on all objective measures except for the production of radioactive material, but even that has uses and is not dangerous when properly handled – and it is properly handled with sufficiently high reliability that NO ONE has ever been hurt by exposure to used nuclear fuel.

      Bottom line – my goal is not to push fossil fuel out of the market, but to take as much of fossil fuel’s market share as we can afford. Gradually, we can reduce its use to something that is within the capacity of the world’s natural and man-made systems to handle.

  13. The DCFC article is very interesting, but I can see why companies owning coal mines or power plants would not be pushing for it. If it does scale successfully from watts to gigawatts, they would be faced with replacing all their current generators, losing half the demand for coal, and suddenly acquiring a massive stream of pure CO2 that would have to be put somewhere.

    1. John – You are probably right about why existing coal companies are not particularly interested in supporting DCFC’s as a way to much more cleanly and efficiently extract the energy in coal and turn that energy into electricity.

      It is a feat to make a high temperature coal fired plant operate at more than 44% thermodynamic efficiency. DCFCs convert the chemical energy in coal to electricity at a repeatedly demonstrated efficiency of 80%. There is not Brayton turbine-generator on the planet that can approach the efficiency of DCFCs, and DCFCs do their job much more inexpensively than Brayton or Rankin turbines, have fewer moving parts, and require less maintenance.

      Some downsides of DCFCs –
      DCFCs have to operate at elevated temperatures between 700 – 750 degrees. To initially start a DCFC you have to heat the cell from an external source, although once started, internal exothermic heat of reaction will keep a cell at temperature.

      DCFCs tend to be physically large cells for the power you can instantaneously draw from them (lower power density by weight). A DCFC might typically be 4X the volume of a natural gas or hydrogen PEM fuel cell which supplies the same amount of electrical power.

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