Reality Blind - Vol. 1

Summary: We have, several times, referred to energy as the “master resource” which drives society. It’s a major point of divergence between Reality101 and the entrenched beliefs of our current civilization, upon which our future and our world’s future are now based. Since that’s such a central point, it’s worth time of its own to unpack it a bit. For humans to make things, we need pure, high-grade starting materials such as elements. There are two ways to acquire elements: either painstakingly separating diffuse el ements which exist in the earth’s crust and oceans, or find someplace where geological processes acting over billions of years just happened to concentrate the elements we want, and to move it near enough to the earth’s surface that we can get at it. Elem ents in hugely higher-than- average concentrations are called “ore,” which is the general mining term for something worth digging up, crunching up and extracting the desired elements from. Extracting elements from high-grade ore, low-grade ore, seawater, or wherever, are all energy-costly processes. Using high-grade (concentrated) ore is the least energy- costly because it’s already more concentrated than average. (Some specific sorts of recycling can also save energy by treating the waste stream as “ore”). At the other end of the cost spectrum, getting elements out of seawater might be one of the most energy-costly, because the elements are diluted in a huge volume of water which would have to be processed. For example, there’s something like 20 million tons of gold held in seawater - 100 times more than the estimated 170-200,000 tons we have ever mined up to today, 144 but the energy cost - and thus financial cost - would be MANY times its equi valent “weight in gold.” Energy is the “master resource” because without it, we have no ability to acquire any other resources. That makes “energy remoteness” central. That is, gold in seawater may be as near as your local beach, but it is more energetically remote than, say, a gold mine in South America where the concentration is higher - the energy cost of extracting a given amount of gold is less for the mine even if it’s farther away. Energetic remoteness turns out to be a very useful way of looking at things, and indeed, is the way we intuitively look at many things, hence the hoary phrase “low - hanging fruit”, which refers to situations of diminishing returns. We just tend to forget about that intuition when confused by money. The pure copper ore that was used when your authors were boys is long gone, leaving only lower-grade ore in which the copper is more energy-remote: at present, one needs to dig up 200 tons of ore to extract a ton of copper; and in a few more decades that will be considered the “go od old days.”


Powered by