Can the right space program save Earth? - Part 1
This is part 1 of a writeup for my dry run for a talk I’m giving on David Goldsmith’s Age of Infinity Google Meet at 11:30 AM PST on January 14th. The title of the talk is the same as the title for this report. I wrote a paper on this topic back in 2011 and this report will update and enlarge on the subject. The paper’s hypothesis back in 2011 was,” The earth’s population growth is out-stripping our supply of non-renewable energy sources, and in the foreseeable future off-world-resources, specifically critical metals from the Moon and Near-Earth Objects (NEOs), will be needed to transition fully to renewable energy sources adequate for a reasonable standard of living for all earth’s inhabitants”. In this report I will update this hypothesis to 2020 conditions and provide new data to show its validity.
First of all, in 2020, we are not outstripping the supply of non-renewable energy sources (i.e., fossil fuels) because we invented fracking, so now the main issue is global warming and how to replace all the fossil fuels with energy sources that don’t emit carbon dioxide. Figure 1 compares the peak oil projections for the U.S. with the actual oil production over the last 120
Figure 1 – U.S Oil Production (green) versus Peak Oil Projection
As you can see peak oil production occurred just as predicted in 1970 but hydraulic fracturing or fracking became economically competitive to revive old oil fields and open up new oil deposits about a decade later. This revitalized the U.S. oil industry and led to the resurgence in oil production shown. Therefore, the emphasis in this paper is still on how to replace fossil fuels as a worldwide source of energy, not because we’re running out, but because they have become the source of carbon dioxide that is driving Global Warming and threatens major portions of the population.
We, the population of Earth, are facing several interconnected problems in the near future. These problems are overpopulation combined with poverty and starvation caused by Global Warming.
First overpopulation. A projection of Earth’s past and future population is shown in figure 2 below.
Figure 2 – UN Projections of World Population
Note, that the total population in 2100 is greatly driven by female fertility assumption which in turn is driven by poverty levels and education levels found in third world countries. When the population of third world countries are better educated and poverty is reduced the birth rate almost always falls. Providing better education and better jobs requires more energy and more infrastructure per person and this is why the major portion of fossil fuels used today are being burned in third world countries. They are trying to work the overpopulation and starvation problem as best they can with the resources available. The developed countries could greatly help solve this problem by providing low-cost renewable energy technologies that can compete economically with fossil-fuel energy sources in the third world. This is a far better solution than raising taxes on fossil fuels in the US. The regions with the biggest population challenges are shown in Figure 3 below.
Figure 3 – World Population by Regions
As you can see Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are growing almost exponentially and deserve special attention. The Bill Gates Foundation has done really good work here fighting disease but if we can’t turn around the birth rate, they are going to face future starvation as the effects of Global Warming gets worse. The contribution of the third world to CO2 generation is shown in figure 4 below.
Figure 4 – Carbon Dioxide Emissions by Region - 2018
As you can see in the figure the U.S. and Europe combine for about ¼ and falling of the total CO2 emitted worldwide. It makes little sense to eliminate natural gas from powerplants, home heaters, and stoves in the U.S. where it makes great economic sense, while the third world (and China) are burning vast amounts of coal. The overall worldwide energy consumption by energy source can be seen in figure 5 from the U.S. Energy Information Agency. This figure shows historical data through 2018 and then projections of energy usage beyond 2018 based on availability and economics. Obviously, Global Warming was not a major consideration given the large growth in fossil fuels especially coal.
Figure 5 – Global Primary Energy Consumption by Energy Source (2010 – 2050)
We can look at the projected global energy usage by region in figure 6 below which shows that 50% of the major energy growth will be in Asia. India and China will drive coal consumption because they lack petroleum and natural gas reserves.
Figure 6 – Global Energy Consumption by Region (2010 – 2050)
World energy consumption increases because there is a definite link between Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per person and energy consumption per person as shown in figure 7 below. This figure shows how worldwide energy consumption has tracked GDP (in 2000 $) from 1850 to 2000. This trend explains why tremendous energy growth is predicted for the near future in Asia as they strive to catch up economically with the developed countries.
Figure 7 – World Total Energy Consumption versus Average Gross Domestic Product per Person (2000$)
Now that you have seen the data, what can you and I do about Global Warming? First of all, burning of fossil fuels is driven by economics. It is far cheaper to build coal plants and burn coal to power your economies in India and China than it is to build windmills, and nuclear powerplants for when the wind isn’t blowing. That is the basic problem. If renewables plus nuclear were cheap enough figure 5 would show the energy from fossil fuels dropping in the future. Unfortunately, our bureaucrats have taken the approach that if we raise the taxes on fossil fuels enough the utility companies and automobile buyers will switch and buy greener options. So far, the consumers have wisely voted down most attempts for carbon taxes.
What we should be doing is funding crash technology programs to improve the efficiencies and capital costs for renewable energy options and especially nuclear powerplants because solar and wind energy are not constant and must be backed up with hydroelectric or nuclear. Once it becomes a cost savings to eliminate fossil fuels it will happen, and Global Warming will cease to be life threatening. Replacing fossil fuels will slowdown CO2 emissions worldwide and provide the energy to help the third world tackle their overpopulation problem.
So how is eliminating fossil fuels driven by mining the moon? As it turns out, converting the world from fossil fuels to renewables plus nuclear requires some metals that are scarce and/or expensive to remove from the Earth’s crust. These metals are commonly referred to as Platinum Group Metals (PGMs) and Rare Earth Elements (REEs). Another commodity that is almost nonexistent on Earth but relatively easy to obtain on the moon is He3, a fusion fuel.
Platinum Group Metals are used primarily in sensors and catalysts. The biggest upcoming use is going to be as the catalyst in fuel cell electrodes. A 95-kW fuel cell will require about 50 grams of platinum and if you project converting all 15 million US long-haul trucks to hydrogen fuel cells it is going to require 1500 mT of platinum. Current worldwide production of Platinum is 130 mT. See the problem. I will finish this writeup in next week’s blog.
Thanks for reading.