Big Fight: 21 top scientists show why Jacobson and Delucchi’s renewable scheme is a delusional fantasy

[ Seldom have I seen such a vitriolic fight among scientists.  As you’ll see below, I think all of them miss the main problems with trying to create a 100% renewable energy system, though I can only summarize and leave a great deal out, though you can see the details in my book “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer.

Alice Friedemann  author of Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]

Many authors have been writing for years about why Jacobson and Delucchi’s (J & D) plans for a 100% low-cost renewable energy is a cloud cuckoo-land fantasy (references below).  But never so many, so loudly, and in such a prestigious journal (Clack 2017).

The 21 authors of the PNAS article felt compelled to write this because J & D’s irresponsible fairy tales are starting to influence actual policy and waste money.  If cities and states set renewable goals of 100% and try to achieve them with the J & D plan, their spending will be wasted because the J & D plan leaves out biofuels, grid-scale battery storage, nuclear, and coal energy with CCS.

The most important problems with achieving a 100% renewable system are not even mentioned (Friedemann 2015c).

Renewable contraptions cannot outlast finite fossil fuels, because they are utterly dependent on fossil fuels from birth to death to mine, crush, and smelt the ore, deliver the ore to a blast furnace, fabricate 8,000 wind turbine parts at hundreds of manufacturing plants all over the world, and deliver the parts to the assembly plant.  For each turbine, dozens of trucks are needed to prepare the wind turbine site so that dozens of cement trucks can pour tons of concrete and steel rebar for the platform, deliver pieces of the huge parts of the turbine, and diesel powered cranes to lift the parts hundreds of feet into the air.

In their 2011 paper, the J & D 100% renewable system would be accomplished with 3.8 million 5-MW wind turbines (50% of power), 49,000 solar thermal plants (20%), 40,000 solar PV plants (14%), 1.7 billion rooftop PV systems (6%), 5350 geothermal plants (4%), 900 hydroelectric power plants (4%), and marine hydrokinetic devices (2%).   Their 2015 paper has somewhat different but equally unrealistic numbers.

It is questionable whether there’s enough material on earth to build all these contraptions and continue to do so every 20 years (wind) to 30 years (solar).  Fossil fuels will grow more and more scarce, which means cement, steel, rare (earth) metals, and so on will decline as well.  Keep in mind that a 2 MW turbine uses 1,671 tons of material: 1300 tons concrete, 295 tons steel, 48 tons iron, 24 tons fiberglass, 4 tons copper, .4 tons neodymium, .065 tons dysprosium (Guezuraga 2012, USGS 2011).  The enormous demand for materials would likely drive prices up, and the use of recycled metals cannot be assumed, since downcycling degrades steel, perhaps to less strength than required.

The PNAS authors propose grid-scale batteries, but the only kind of battery for which there are enough materials on earth are Sodium-sulfur NaS batteries (Barnhart 2013).  To store just one day of U.S. electricity generation (and at least 6 to 8 weeks would be needed to cope with the seasonal nature of wind and solar), you would need a 923 square mile, 450 million ton, $40.77 trillion dollar NaS battery that needs replacement every 15 years (DOE/EPRI 2013).  Lead-acid: $8.3 trillion, 271.5 square miles, 15.8 million tons.  Li-ion $11.9 trillion, 345 square miles, 74 million tons.

There are dozens of reasons why wind power will not outlast fossil fuels (Friedemann 2015b), including the scale required, the need to increase installation rates 37-fold in 13 years (Radford 2016), population increasing faster than wind turbines to provide for their needs can be built, wind is seasonal – very little in the entire U.S. in the summer, no commercial wind year round in the South East, a national grid, no commercial energy storage at utility scale in sight, plus a financial crisis or war will likely break the supply chains as companies go out of business.

Okay, drum roll.  The biggest problem is that electricity does not matter. This is a liquid transportation fuels crisis. Trucks can’t run on electricity (  ).

The Achilles heel of civilization is our dependency on trucks that run on diesel because it is so energy dense. This is why diesel engines are far more powerful than steam, gasoline, electric, battery-driven or any other motive power on earth (Smil 2010).  Billions of trucks and equipment worth trillions of dollars are required to keep the supply chains going over tens of millions of miles of roads, rail, and waterways that every person and business on earth depends on.  Equally if not more important are off-road mining, agriculture, construction, logging, and other trucks.  They not only need to travel on rough ground, but meanwhile push, lift, dig and perform other tasks far from the electric grid or non-oil distribution system.

Trucks must eventually be electrified, because biomass doesn’t scale up and has negative or break-even energy return, coal and natural gas are finite, and hydrogen /hydrogen fuel cells are dependent on a non-existent distribution system and far from commercial. In my book, I show why trucks can’t run on electricity, as well as why a 100% renewable grid is impossible. 

The authors briefly point out that one way to counter wind and solar intermittency is an energy source that can be dispatched when needed.  But they neglected to mention that natural gas plays most of this role now.  But natural gas is finite, and has equally important uses of making fertilizer, feedstock and energy source to make hundreds of millions of chemicals, heating homes and buildings, and so on.  All of these roles will have to be taken on by biomass after fossils are gone, yet another reason why biomass doesn’t scale up.

J & D propose a month of hydrogen storage to power transportation.  But hydrogen boils off within a week since it is the smallest element and can escape through atomic scale imperfections. It is not an energy source, it’s an energy sink from start to finish.  First it takes a tremendous amount of energy to split hydrogen from oxygen.  That’s why 96% of hydrogen comes from finite natural gas.  And a tremendous amount more energy to compress or liquefy it to -423 F and keep it chilled.  It is so destructive of metal that expensive alloys are needed for the steel pipelines and storage containers, making a distribution system too expensive.  A $1.3 million dollar hydrogen fuel cell truck would require a very heavy and inefficient fuel cell with an overall efficiency of just 24.7%: 84% NG upstream and liquefaction * 67% H2 on-board reforming * 54% fuel cell efficiency * 84% electric motor and drivetrain efficiency * 97% aero & rolling resistance efficiency, and even less than that without an expensive 25 kWh li-ion battery to capture regenerative braking (DOE 2011, Friedemann 2016). And far less than 24.7% efficient if the hydrogen were made from water with electrolysis.

J & D propose thermal energy storage in the ground.  The only renewable that has storage are concentrated solar plants, but CSP plants provide just 0.06% of U.S. energy because each plant costs about a billion dollars each (and less than a quarter of them have storge).  Scaled up, CSP would need to use stone, which is much cheaper than molten salt. A 100 MW facility would need 5.1 million tons of rock taking up 2 million cubic meters (Welle 2010). Since stone is a poor heat conductor, the thick insulating walls required might make this unaffordable (IEA 2011b). J & D never mention insulating walls, let alone the energy and cost of building them.  The PNAS paper also says that phase-change material energy storage is far from commercial and still has serious problems to solve such as poor thermal conductivity, corrosion, material degradation, thermal stress durability, and cost-effective mass production methods.

The PNAS authors suggest bioenergy, but this is not feasible. The billions of diesel engines in trucks and equipment can’t burn ethanol, diesohol, or even gasoline.  Most engine warranties don’t allow biodiesel, or up to 20% at most.  Biofuels (and industrial agriculture) destroy topsoil, which in the past was the main or a major reason why all past civilizations failed.  Industrial farming also depletes aquifers that won’t be recharged until after the next ice age.   As I mentioned earlier, biomass simply doesn’t scale up.  Burning it is far more energy efficient than the dozens of steps needed to make biofuels, each step of which takes energy (into a negative energy return if the boundaries are wide). Yet even if we burned every plant plus and their roots in America, the energy produced would be less than the fossil fuel energy consumed that year, and we’d all have to pretend we liked living on Mars for many years after our little experiment. Friedemann (2015a) has many other examples of the scaling up issues, ecological, energy, and other issues with biofuels.

Nuclear is not an option due to peak uranium, and the findings of the National Academy of Sciences about lessons learned from Fukushima. It’s also too expensive, with 37 plants likely to shut down (Cooper 2013).  And leaving thousands of sites with nuclear waste lasting hundreds of thousands of years for our descendants to deal with after fossil fuels are gone in an industrially poisoned world is simply the most evil of all the horrible things we’re doing to the planet (Alley 2013).  And since trucks can’t run on electricity, there’s no point in building them.

The book “Our renewable future” (Heinberg & Fridley 2016) was written to show those who believe in Jacobson and Delucchi’s fairy tales how difficult, if not impossible it would be to make this happen. Though I fear many of their major points were probably ignored or forgotten, with readers deciding that 100% renewables were possible, even if difficult, since the book was too gentle and abstract. For example, they mention that there are no ways to make cement and steel with electricity, because these industries depend on huge blast furnaces that run for 4 to 10 years non-stop because any interruption would cause the brick lining to cool down and damage it.  It is not likely a 100% wind and solar electricity system to be up 24 x 7 x 365.  That’s a real  showstopper.  But the average person believes in infinite human ingenuity assumes that an electric solution can be found, even if it has to overcome the laws of physics…

J & D include wave and tidal devices, but these are far from being commercial and unlikely to ever be due to salt corrosion, storm waves, and dozens of other problems (NRC 2013).

I’m not as concerned about the incorrect J & D calculations for GHG emissions, because we are at or near peak oil and coal, and natural gas.  Many scientists have published peer-reviewed papers that based on realistic reserves of fossil fuels, rather than the unlimited amounts of fossils the IPCC assumes, and there is a consensus that the worst case scenario likely to be reached is RPC 4.5 (Brecha 2008, Capellan-Perez 2016, Chiari 2011, Dale 2012, Doose 2004, Hook 2010, Hook 2013, and 10+ more).

The PNAS authors mention of coal with carbon capture and storage (CCS) won’t work. First, coal is finite (and probably peaking globally now or soon), and carbon capture and storage technology so far from being commercial, and uses up 30 to 40% of the energy contained in the coal, that it’s unlikely to be used when blackouts start to happen more and more often (

We’re running out of time.  Conventional oil peaked in 2005. That’s where 90% of our oil comes from at a Niagra Falls rate.  Tar sands and other non-conventional oil simply can’t be produced at such a high rate.  So it doesn’t matter how much there is, Niagra Falls will slow to a trickle, far less than what we use today.  And since energy is the basis of growth, not money, it is questionable if our credit/debit system can survive, since once peak oil is acknowledged, creditors will know they can’t be repaid.

Also, oil is the master resource that makes all other resources available. We don’t have enough time to  replace billions of diesel engines with something else.  There is nothing else. And 12 years after peak the public is still buying gas guzzlers.

The main PNAS criticisms of J & D are:

  1. J & D used invalid modeling tools, had modeling errors, inappropriate methods, and implausible and inadequate assumptions.
  2. Claimed that a 100% renewable system would be low cost and exceed current electric-utility reliability standards
  3. Their portfolio of options of wind, water, and solar, with no coal, natural gas, bioenergy, or nuclear power is not broad enough.
  4. Wind and solar are variable, so energy storage is essential. But “there are no electric storage systems available today that can affordably and dependably store the vast amounts of energy needed over weeks to reliably satisfy demand using expanded wind and solar power generation alone”.
  5. Parts of the economy are difficult to electrify: airplanes, cement manufacture, etc.
  6. Their solutions include technologies that have not been commercially proven at scale, can provide adequate and reliable energy; be built rapidly enough, and not violate environmental regulations.
  7. Their papers include innovations that don’t exist: hydrogen-powered airplanes and steel, multi-week energy storage systems with a capacity twice the U.S. generating and storage capacity today, underground thermal energy storage (UTES) systems in nearly every community to provide services for every home, business, office building, hospital, school, and factory, yet doesn’t account for the pipes and distribution lines.
  8. They vastly underestimate the cost and environmental impact of expanding hydroelectric dams, scaling up hydrogen production, or a national grid.
  9. J & D assume we can store 1 month of U.S. electricity in hydrogen by using twice as much energy-generating capacity as we have now.
  10. J&D assume that 63% of industries are flexible and can reschedule all energy needs with an 8 hour window of time. My comment: That’s simply not true, many industries can’t be rapidly curtailed, and there are many products made with continuous processes around the clock (refineries, chemical plants, blast furnaces, etc).
  11. J & D assume the capital cost of building all of this renewable energy at 30 to 50% of what most other studies assume.
  12. Hydropower is not a dependable source for always available (dispatchable) power, due to droughts and maintaining a large reservoir to provide water to cities, farms, and fish. Plus there are very few places left to put (pumped) hydropower dams physically and won’t cause ecological harm.
  13. Underground Thermal Energy Storage (UTES) is a central requirement of their vision because energy storage is essential once natural gas is gone. But UTES is far from commercial with just two small-scale demonstration projects for about 300 homes. But only to heat them, yet J & D propose to provide most air-conditioning and half of refrigeration with this (and ice-based systems).  On top of that UTES requires energy for heat pumps but they don’t model this energy requirement.  They don’t provide any reliable figures for how much this would cost, but estimate $37 to $900 billion.  Yet the Drake Landing system costs if scaled up would cost at least $1.8 trillion dollars and leaves out the heating and cooling systems of homes and businesses in new homes.  Retrofits are very costly.  Finally the performance and cost depends on the thermal properties of the soil and total absence of groundwater (which removes the stored heat).   

Other reasons listed in the PNAS paper:

  • Their proposal would require 6% of the continental U.S. for wind turbines, and 100,000 square kilometers to install large-scale centralized solar PV and CSP system (an area the size of Kentucky).
  • 150,000 5 MW turbines would be built offshore
  • lack of electric power system modeling of transmission, reserve margins, and frequency response
  • the climate/weather model used for estimates of wind and solar energy production has not shown the ability to accurately simulate wind speeds or solar insolation at the scales needed to assure the technical reliability of an energy system relying so heavily on intermittent energy sources
  • their numbers in the supporting information of Jacobson (2015a) imply that maximum output from hydroelectric facilities cannot exceed 145.26 GW, which is 50% more than exists in the United States today, but figure 4B of shows hydroelectric output exceeding 1,300 GW
  • There are conflicting and exaggerated figures for the amount of flexible load
  • They don’t explain how we can provide an extreme excess of high power for short periods of time to industrial, commercial, and residences
  • Germany is the most committed of any nation to achieving an 80% renewable energy system and made a huge effort from 2007-2014, which J & D propose we can do 14 times faster than the U.S. average for 55 years and 6 times the peak rate
  • The need of AC grids to cope with power flows and need for a constant frequency. It’s questionable whether the radical changes to grid architecture required by J & D is feasible, and they don’t even attempt to model or analyze transmission capacity , power flow, transmission constraints, operating reserves, logistics, frequency regulation, or operation reliability.
  • They assume perfect predictions of electricity demand and variable wind and solar so they don’t bother to calculate what the reserve requirements would be if their crystal ball isn’t always right, let alone how a drastically expanded grid with a new architecture could cope

The most devastating part of the 21-scientist PNAS critique is in the technical supplement that finds errors line by line (here).

The Jacobson and Delucchi rebuttals of the PNAS article are here and here.


Other articles that critique Jacobson and Delucchi:

Best articles about the PNAS paper


Posted in ! PEAK EVERYTHING, Alternative Energy, Electric Grid, Electric trucks impossible, Electricity, Infrastructure | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

An invasive green monster that can double in 2 days and impossible to control threatens 20 states


Mike Turner sprayed herbicide recently on the weed Salvinia molesta on Caddo Lake near Uncertain, Tex. The weed suffocates all life beneath it. The furry green invader from South America is threatening to smother the labyrinthine waterway, the largest natural lake in the South, covering about 35,000 acres and straddling Texas and Louisiana. Blumenthal, R. July 30, 2007. In East Texas, Residents Take On a Lake-Eating Monster. New York Times. Photo credit: Michael Stravato.

Mike Turner sprayed herbicide recently on the weed Salvinia molesta on Caddo Lake near Uncertain, Tex. The weed suffocates all life beneath it. The furry green invader from South America is threatening to smother the labyrinthine waterway, the largest natural lake in the South, covering about 35,000 acres and straddling Texas and Louisiana. Blumenthal, R. July 30, 2007. In East Texas, Residents Take On a Lake-Eating Monster. New York Times. Photo credit: Michael Stravato.


[ The 2011 House of Representatives hearing below is a discussion of how to control salvinia.

We spend about $135 billion on invasive species a year – what will happen when the fossil energy to remove them is no longer available?  It’s likely the carrying capacity of vast regions of the country will be lowered as irrigation canals fill up with giant salvinia and other invasive water plants, fishing in lakes impossible as oxygen levels plummet and kill fish, as well as becoming unnavigable from thick mats of salvinia and other invasive water plants.  Salvinia also provides great habitat for disease-bearing mosquitoes, further lowering carrying capacity.

A quick search of the internet turned up these as some of the most invasive plants and animals: Asian Carp, Asian citrus psyllid, Asian Long-horned beetle, Asian-tiger mosquito, Burmese Python, Canada geese, Cane toad, Cotton Whitefly, Cownose Ray, Emerald ash borer, Eurasian watermilfoil,  Hemlock wooly adelgid, Kudzu, Lionfish, Mountain pine beetles, multiflora rose, Nile perch, Nutria, privet, Rabbits, Rats, Snakehead fish, spiny waterflea, starlings, Sudden oak death, Tamarisk (salt cedar), Tumbleweed, vine mealybugs, Zebra mussels.

For all of the United States 1,230 invasive PLANT species go here, and has 2,892 species listed

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts:  KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity]

Summary: why you should be afraid of Giant salvinia (Salvinia molesta):

  1. The United States Geological Survey calls Salvinia molesta one of the world’s most noxious aquatic weeds, with an ability to double in size every two to four days and cover 40 square miles within three months, suffocating all life beneath.
  2. Giant salvinia reduces the oxygen in the water, which increases water treatment requirements and costs. The 1-meter-mats clog waterways and block sunlight from reaching other aquatic plants below the surface, reducing the amount of oxygen in the water. As these plants die and sink to the bottom where decomposer organisms use up even more oxygen in the water. The mats also impede the natural exchange of gases between the water and the atmosphere, which can lead to stagnation of the water body. Ultimately, these processes will kill all plants, aquatic insects, and fish living below the mats. There is also evidence that salvinia mats cause acidification of lakes and ponds. If left untreated, giant salvinia can completely take over and destroy the ecological system of any freshwater body.
  3. Decreases floral and faunal diversity and impacts threatened and endangered species
  4. Increases mosquito breeding habitat for species that are known to transmit encephalitis, dengue fever, malaria, and rural filariasis or elephantiasis.
  5. Water management structures are damaged or rendered useless, water quality is decreased, it threatens property values, boating and commercial navigation is impeded, intakes for municipal drinking water or industrial facilities are clogged, and recreational uses such as fishing, waterfowl hunting, paddling, or swimming are stopped.  It can clog and burn up boat motors.
  6. They’re useless for biofuels because they are 95% water, leaving just 5% of dried out salvinia to use for cellulosic fuels. The economics of harvest are poor – you’re moving a lot of water weight onshore and then transporting it inland to a processing plant. Other countries that have tried to convert aquatic plants to biofuels have been unsuccessful.  It’s hard to even harvest them with mechanical harvesters because the mats are so huge.
  7. It can prevent navigation in slow-moving rivers (but not in fast flowing waterways). For example, the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea is huge, but very slow moving, and covered with salvinia. Whole villages were moved because the people couldn’t get into the river to fish.
  8. Florida water hyacinths pile up against bridges and take them out, it’s possible salvinia will do the same
  9. Hurricanes can spread salvinia widely to new areas
  10. In the United States, it is now found in at least 90 localities and is especially troublesome in southern states including Texas, North and South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and west into Arizona and California. It is established in at least 11 states, and has the potential to devastate freshwater habitats in 20 states.
  11. Its range is increasing worldwide and is now causing significant problems in over 20 countries including Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, the Philippines, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Papua, New Guinea, the Ivory Republic, Ghana, Zambia, Kenya, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Madagascar, Columbia, Guyana, and several Caribbean countries (including Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Trinidad). This list increases yearly.
  12. Intakes for industrial water or municipal drinking water get clogged. Cross Lake now has giant salvinia in it, and that’s where the City of Shreveport gets their water from.
  13. Habitat is destroyed for air-breathing animals like otters, diving birds, turtles and frogs, which cannot penetrate the mat.
  14. Caddo Lake is one of only 27 wetlands in the United States recognized by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. The bald cypress forests of Caddo Lake, including trees as old as 400 years, host one of the highest breeding populations of wood ducks as well as prothonotary warblers and other neotropical birds. The forests and wetlands of Caddo Lake are critical for migratory bird species within the Central Flyway, including tens of thousands of migrating waterfowl that utilize Caddo Lake (and other nearby lakes) as resting and feeding grounds. Giant Salvinia forms dense floating mats that prevents growth of natural vegetation, a food source for waterfowl, and eliminate open water for waterfowl to rest on.


Summar: Why giant salvinia is so hard to kill:

  1. Can live up to a couple of weeks out of water
  2. It’s hard to kill with chemical sprays because of tiny, white hairs that capture herbicides just above the plant’s surface
  3. The best chemical spray is Galleon that kills by saturation and must remain in the water 60 to 90 days. But if it rains or floods, the chemical is diluted and doesn’t work. And it’s expensive — $1,850 per gallon.
  4. The rapid growth rate of salvinia allows it to easily outpace the application of chemicals.
  5. Using chemicals to kill salvinia’s thick 1-meter mats is like peeling an onion. You have to peel off layer after layer after layer after layer. It’s expensive and requires a lot of tenacity to go out and spray the same body of water every two weeks for the rest of your life.
  6. No one knows what effect massive amounts of herbicides will have on wildlife and fish, much less the humans that consume them…and may be as detrimental (or more so) than leaving the plants in place. Chemicals include: diquat, glyphosate, fluridone, carfentrazone-ethyl, penoxsulam and flumioxazin.
  7. Hard to kill with chemicals because of the ability of salvinia to re-grow from small buds or plants that are missed during chemical application, especially in backwater coves where overhanging vegetation can hide small plant populations or where plant growth is dense and underlying layers are protected from surface sprayed herbicides. These plant fragments can be smaller than 1/4 inch. It also hides under water hyacinths, alligatorweed, and hydrilla.
  8. Chemicals might aid salvinia, in that invasive species take advantage of disrupted ecosystems and have a much harder time if every niche is filled with a native species in a healthy ecosystem. Chemicals disrupt ecosystems and degrade habitat, priming the area for even more invasion.
  9. Though susceptible to saltwater, it takes too much to reach the level you need. Before you kill the salvinia, you’ll be killing the cypress trees and the bass and the freshwater fish.
  10. Fish and animals won’t consume giant salvinia because it has a metabolic inhibitor (thiamine inhibitor) that is toxic. So it can’t be used for cattle feed either.
  11. The Brazilian salvinia weevils that can kill/reduce salvinia die in cold weather
  12. Biological control with weevils can take several years and may not be particularly effective in the more northern extreme of salvinia’s distribution
  13. It’s possible that some or all of the chemicals will kill or reduce the weevil population
  14. Salvinia weevils are about the only weevil that doesn’t fly, so someone to hand move them to nearby bodies of water, which is very labor intensive.
  15. But weevils will try to swim to another pond, but in south Louisiana, they’re all consumed by fire ants, another invasive species—and none of the weevils made it more than about 20 feet from the pond.
  16. It spreads easily: it can hitchhike on boats to other lakes and waterways. All it takes is one alligator, one nutria or other wildlife, to move from an infested water body into an area where giant salvinia hasn’t yet taken root, and the spread continues.
  17. Draining or lowering lake levels to dry out salvinia doesn’t work because there are massive deposits of nutrient laden biomass on the lake bottom. When the lake was refilled this decomposing biomass provided a ready source of nutrients to perpetuate the growth of more plants. and scattered the salvinia throughout the water body making treatment even more difficult
  18. Even flamethrowers can’t kill it
  19. Even frozen in ice doesn’t kill it because the mats are so thick the salvinia in the middle survives
  20. It can’t be fenced off or booms deployed until winter comes to kill it off
  21. The only solution is physically harvest and remove the biomass and limit herbicide spraying to only those areas that are not accessible to harvesting.
  22. If Salvinia is pushed over a dam into a river, no harm is done if the river keeps flowing rapidly, but slow moving rivers and oxbows are at risk.
  23. It keeps getting fed by nutrient runoff from agriculture, which also has created 9600 square miles of dead zone in the Gulf
  24. Spraying can be incredibly difficult. Many areas are also inhabited by the iconic cypress tree, making it incredibly difficult for spray crews and their boats to access parts of these infested water bodies. When the tree loses its leaves each year, the debris further fuels the degradation of the aquatic habitat. While we advocate for moderate tree removal, this is both expensive and, at times, unpopular with the public.
  25. Giant salvinia cannot simply be eradicated. This deft plant is far too integrated into our environment to kill off
Giant salvinia (salvinia molesta) range in 2014. A total of 20 states are potential habitat.

Giant salvinia (salvinia molesta) range in 2014. A total of 20 states are potential habitat.


House 112-47. June 27, 2011. Giant Salvinia: How do we protect our ecosystems? U.S. House of Representatives.  88 pages.


JOHN FLEMING, LOUISIANA. The purpose of today’s hearing is to obtain testimony on efforts to control and eradicate one of the worst invasive weeds in the world.  Giant salvinia is a free-floating aquatic fern, native to South America and introduced to the United States by the water garden industry. Since then, giant salvinia has proven to be an aggressive invader that can double in size in four to 10 days under favorable growing conditions, and its expanded mats of vegetation degrade fishing habitat, decrease water quality, create unsafe boating and fishing access and threaten property values. Caddo Lake was first infested with giant salvinia in 2006 and within two years the plant expanded its coverage on the lake from less than two acres to more than 1,000 acres. Efforts conducted to control giant salvinia thus far have yielded moderate success but have not completely eradicated the species from the lake.

Native to Brazil, giant salvinia, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has recently issued a publication that states invasives can kill a lake, and giant salvinia is the worst of the lot. Dr. Randy Westbrooks of the United States Geological Survey has noted that giant salvinia plants do not die quickly. In fact, they can live a few days or even a couple of weeks out of water.

There’s been a comprehensive effort to control and eradicate giant salvinia. These efforts have saved lakes from becoming giant dead zones. The fight to eradicate giant salvinia will be a long and arduous battle. Once an invasive species has become established, it is difficult, if not impossible, to completely remove it. There’s no silver bullet to kill giant salvinia.  We will continue to contain this invasive species by utilizing a number of different strategies, including simple things like making absolutely sure that once a boat is removed from the lake, the boat owner does not allow giant salvinia to hitchhike home.

LOUIE GOHMERT, TEXAS. I was first notified in 2006 that there was a tiny little innocuous- looking plant that had been found that year on Caddo Lake. Maybe if it was a giant blob or something, they would make a movie about it and everybody would get scared, but anything that doubles in size in less than a week is something to be concerned about. Giant salvinia has been discovered in 90 different locations affecting 41 freshwater drainage basins in 12 states. It doesn’t pose the threat apparently in the north because of the cold winters that it does to freshwater bodies here in the south of our country.  It was first discovered in Caddo Lake in May of 2006, and two years after that, it was discovered that this tiny, innocuous plant that started as basically nothing apparently had grown to over a thousand acres in just two years.

A single plant has been found to cover 40 square miles in three months. If left untreated, giant salvinia can completely take over and destroy the ecological system of any freshwater body.

It may live for weeks even when dry and out of the water on a boat trailer, and if it gets back in the water goes right back to reproducing and doubling in less than a week. For those who are concerned in our country with endangered species, it is important to note that 42 percent of all endangered species in our country are mainly threatened or most threatened by non-native invasive species.  I have watched numerous activities on Caddo Lake to remove it mechanically. Australia has tried to eradicate it biologically, chemicals, using weevils, and also with saltwater.

Robert Adley, Louisiana state senator, district 36.  Spraying has been beneficial but depends greatly on the weather for its effectiveness. Spraying requires a specific ratio of water to the sprayed chemical. After spraying, it takes time to establish and begin to kill the salvinia. If much wet weather is encountered after the spraying, the benefit of spraying is reduced due to change in ratio. The plant grows in three layers, and spraying kills only the top layer. Hence the amount of chemical needed is three times the initial amount used. Beetles in giant salvinia were transported to the lake in trucks and put it into the lake at specific points. The use of beetles has met with some success, but they’re greatly diminished during cold winters. Hence, the use of beetles is part of control, but not sufficient by themselves. It’s my understanding that beetles do a much more effective job in Brazil because they can survive the winters that are more moderate there.

The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries tried lowering the lake to allow the plants to dry out and die, but that’s been of limited effectiveness.

Gary M. Hanson, Director, Red River Watershed Management Institute, Louisiana State University Shreveport.   I have served as a member of the Louisiana Hypoxia Subcommittee for a number of years.

This group has been tasked with evaluating the massive low oxygen or dead zone that occurs off the coasts of Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi each summer. The dead zone has been increasing over time and is considered a serious threat to our gulf fisheries. Early predictions for this year indicate that the dead zone will cover a record area of over 24,000 km2 or 9300 square miles. The excessive nutrients flowing from Mississippi River tributaries into the Gulf of Mexico each summer is the cause of this worsening situation. This year’s record floods will be a major contributing factor if the anticipated record dead zone forms. The nutrients stimulate excessive plant (phytoplankton) growth, which eventually die and as their biomass is oxidized most of the dissolve oxygen is removed from the water column.

Most experts agree that one key factor that is responsible for Giant Salvinia inundating and taking over fresh water aquatic habitats is the increase in nutrient levels in targeted water bodies (urban and agricultural runoff, leaking septic systems and land disturbance).

The COS has been working diligently to control Giant Salvinia and Hydrilla in Cross Lake, the only source of water for Shreveport and Barksdale Air Force Base. Already this year these plants have advanced to growth stages that are equivalent to late July or August because of the drought and unseasonably high temperatures.

The Lake Bistineau Task Force has also been working relentlessly to control the Giant Salvinia. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries have been trying a spectrum of approaches that includes, introducing Salvinia weevils, spraying large amounts of herbicides, removing cypress trees and draining the lake. The Task Force is considering modifying the dam so that the Giant Salvinia can be floated out of the lake into Loggy Bayou and ultimately the Red River.

There have been some short-term successes. The Task Force has spent about $2 million to date with $400,000 spent for herbicides in one year. Draining the lake leaves massive deposits of nutrient laden biomass on the lake bottom. As the lake is refilled this decomposing biomass provides a ready source of nutrients to perpetuate the growth of more plants. These various strategies and methods that are intended to manage and control Giant Salvinia all have drawbacks and disadvantages. It appears no one knows what affect the massive amounts of herbicides will have on the wildlife and fish, much less humans that consume them, In some cases, the strategies and methods already used may be considered to be as detrimental (or more so) as that of leaving the plants in place.

The draining of the lake should be a desperate last resort which is devastating to the lakes’ ecosystem and only provides temporary control of the spread of the plants. Therefore, the only solution is to use a coordinated holistic approach to physically harvest and remove the biomass in a cost effective manner and thereby limit herbicide spraying to only those areas that are not accessible to current and future harvesting methods.

I am convinced that the only strategy going forward that will work is to cut through the jurisdictional red tape that causes time delays and increases the expense to fight the menace, by bringing in the private sector to work through joint public-private ventures to first, harvest and transport the biomass and then second, find alternative uses for it as biofuel and/or soil amendment, etc. Transportation will be the key cost factor in the future that will affect all aspects of the strategy and methods to harvest and remove the biomass from the water and then move it to commercial users and areas that may use the biomass cost effectively.

The Salvinia could be moved over the top of the existing dam in high water conditions. Hence, much of the Salvinia was removed from the lake last year by flowing Salvinia over the top of the darn. However, in normal weather that will not work because the actual control of water levels is at the bottom of the dam

Additionally, the Wildlife and Fisheries expressed the need to remove some of the trees in the lake that are retarding the movement of the plant towards the channel and retarding the ability to spray more efficiently. To my knowledge, no trees have yet to be removed for various reasons.

When the Salvinia flows from the lake over the dam, it eventually makes its way into the Red River. As long as the Salvinia is flowing within the Red River, it will not establish itself. However, oxbows in the river are at risk. Hence, I withdrew the amendment to fund the restructuring of the dam until the matter can be resolved. As of now, Wildlife and Fisheries tells me they are allowing the lake to fill again and will continue with spraying. Additionally, it is my understanding that they are evaluating so-called skimming methods for the removal of Salvinia.

HENRY L. BURNS, LOUISIANA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES.   Lake Bistineau has had a torrid history with invasive plants going back to the 1940s. Some of the types were water hyacinths, alligatorweed, hydrilla, water primrose, and now the giant. Salivinia can double in 3 to 14 days depending on conditions.  Lake Bistineau is the perfect nursery. This shallow, nutrient-rich inland water body spanning over 17,000 acres with over a million acres of watershed that feeds it from rich agricultural land, towns and cities, and industries discharging [waste] water. Half of Lake Bistineau is forested with cypress trees, providing a perfect nursery. What type of impact do we have, whether it’s economic, there’s recreational, hunting, fishing, water sports has been at best the last few years hit and miss. Congressman Fleming, it is the number one complaint that we get. In fact, it’s kind of dangerous sometimes to go to ball games because people’s hunting spot or fishing spot has been hit. And then, of course, there’s property values and broken dreams from people who have bought homes along these scenic river areas wanting to make their retirement there, to a place to bring their grandchildren out to fish.

The biggest question, the number one question I’m asked is when are we going to get our lake back? There are numerous unintended consequences that has taken place, and let me just share a couple of those with you. One, my son’s in-laws live on Lake Bistineau. They went out to have a day of fun and recreation. The motor clogged with all this invasive plant and it burned up the motor, so they struggled to get the boat back to the shoreline. Well, he thought he was in three or four feet of water because with the canopy there, you couldn’t really tell. He jumps out of the back of the boat to push it to the shore, breaks his leg. Now, that’s just from one family’s point of view. A story that’s even more outlining on what unintended consequences, and, Congressman Fleming, you have Shawn that works for you. Her sister Dotie Horton and Gary were out fishing on Bistineau. Their boat got hung up in a lot of aquatic invasive plant material, and he tried to push it in. When they pushed the boat, it finally jettisoned and clipped Dotie on the head, just barely, and Gary pulled his back muscle, so all the attention was given to her husband. Two days later, we were at LSU Medical Center and having lifesaving surgery because of the contusion and the hematoma that was caused from just that slide.


We have two congressmen representing two states here. It won’t be long and you’re going to have a whole panel of congressmen that’s going to include Mississippi, Alabama, and certainly Florida. It’s going to happen to us. I wish I could tell you we’re winning this battle. We’re not winning the battle. My budget is just under $8 million.

On the leaves, it’s got these little fibrous hair that protect it from chemical spray, and we just can’t get to it.

One of the effective tools we have is Galleon. It’s a saturation complex that must remain in the water column from 60 to 90 days. Now, we’re in a drought now and it will work in a drought, but if you get a rain event, it dilutes it and it doesn’t work, and Galleon cost over $1,850 a gallon, so you can see with my budget, I don’t have the money to use Galleon everywhere, and it’s not the silver bullet. I could go on and on, but this is a horrific problem, and all the help you can give us, we need it.

The green monster, as some call this plant, works 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In as few as three days, it is capable of doubling its biomass. And in as little as seven days, giant salvinia can double surface coverage of water bodies. It spreads incredibly quickly, devouring the resources and damaging the habitats within water bodies across our state. There is no easy answer to this dilemma. We can’t simply spray every area to kill it. We can only introduce a predator and hope for the best. We can’t fence it off or deploy booms and wait till the winter comes to kill it off. And no matter what efforts we take to prevent the spread, all it takes is one alligator, one nutria or other wildlife, to move from an infested water body into an area where giant salvinia hasn’t yet taken root, and the spread continues.

While this rootless aquatic fern flourishes during the summer months, it is incredibly hardy. Stress, lack of water and cold winters won’t necessarily kill off the plant. And in water bodies like the Barataria and Terrebonne basins, the temperature doesn’t drop nearly enough to produce a large scale kill-off of the plant.

Giant salvinia even comes armed with its own defense mechanism in the tiny, white hairs that capture herbicides just above the plant’s surface, seriously challenging the efficacy of any spray treatment.

For this year through May 31, the Department has utilized 21 spray crews and contractor air boat treatments to control 10,730 acres of giant salvinia. These herbicides provide us with the ability to kill off the plant during the spring and into the warm summer months when it would flourish. However, spraying can be incredibly difficult. Many areas, such as Lake Bistaneau, are also inhabited by the iconic cypress tree. The close proximity of trees can make it incredibly difficult for spray crews and their boats to access parts of these infested water bodies. And as the tree loses its leaves each year, that debris further fuels the degradation of the aquatic habitat. While we advocate for moderate tree removal, this is both expensive and, at times, unpopular with the public.

Spraying is also an incredibly expensive treatment method. For each gallon of Galleon, the herbicide our Department utilizes, it costs us $1,851 per gallon. With more than 25,000 acres infested, simply spraying would be an incredibly expensive and likely ineffective task. And the costs not included in the cost per gallon for herbicide are the manpower costs to the state, the cost of the equipment, the boats and the fuel.

Shallow cypress tree stands have provided refuge for the giant salvinia. Biologists and spray crews are unable to access the plants in shallow areas.

Because this rootless plant can completely cover the surface of water bodies, it severely limits public access for boating and fishing. It can be burden for property owners with waterfront access and it can be unsightly for residents who are used to enjoying the simple pleasure of viewing an uninfested lake.

While we don’t expect the actions of residents and those tourists who enjoy the lakes and rivers across Louisiana to be able to wholly prevent the spread of giant salvinia—a 10 inch rain event can do more damage in a short amount of time.

Let me be clear, giant salvinia cannot simply be eradicated. This deft plant is far too integrated into our environment to kill off. This will be an ongoing issue that will require local, state and federal dedication of funds to battle.

Michael J. Grodowitz, Ph.D., Research Entomologist, Engineer Research and Development Center, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Giant salvinia ( Salvinia molesta), a native of Brazil, is a floating fern introduced into the United States through the aquatic nursery trade. Since its introduction in the middle to late 1990’s, giant salvinia has dispersed naturally and by humans, and in less than 20 years can now be found as far west as the Hawaiian Islands, east into the peninsula of Florida, and north into Virginia. It is one of the world’s worst weeds and is causing manifold problems throughout the sub-tropical and tropical regions of the earth. Impacts are varied and include hindering navigation; disrupting water intake for municipal, agricultural and industrial purposes; degrading water quality; decreasing floral and faunal diversity;

It impacts threatened and endangered species; and increasing mosquito breeding habitat for species that are known to transmit encephalitis, dengue fever, malaria, and rural filariasis or elephantiasis.

Giant salvinia causes significant problems in over 20 other countries including Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, the Philippines, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Papua, New Guinea, the Ivory Republic, Ghana, Zambia, Kenya, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Madagascar, Columbia, Guyana, and several Caribbean countries (including Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Trinidad). This list increases yearly. In the United States, it is now found in at least 90 localities and is especially troublesome in southern states including Texas, North and South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and west into Arizona, and California.

Giant salvinia reaches damaging infestation levels because of its tremendous growth rate. While it has been shown to only reproduce vegetatively (i.e., viable spores are not produced) this is more than enough to allow it to form surface mats up to 1 meter thick with plant numbers approaching 5000/m2 and biomass production of upwards of 100 tons/ha/year. Even greater production is possible under more favorable conditions. It has been known to double in number in one to eight days, depending on environmental conditions.

Numerous control strategies have been implemented for the management of salvinia. These include the use of traditional methods such as mechanical control (i.e. cutting or plant removal) and chemical applications. Mechanical control options are not particularly effective. They are expensive and often do not produce results needed for even partial management.

The use of chemical technologies can be effective but tend to produce only short-term control and can become expensive, especially when multiple treatments are needed over the course of a growing season. The use of alternative control methods such as biological control is highly promising and has been shown to produce long-term sustainable control. One agent has been approved for release in the United States, the salvinia weevil (Cyrtobagous salviniae), and is the method of choice for management in many overseas locations. While effective, biological control can take several years and there is some concern that it may not be particularly effective in the more northern extreme of salvinia’s distribution.

Other methods employed for salvinia control in the United States include flushing and drawdowns. Increasing water flow to ‘flush’ plants out of a waterbody or drainage can reduce biomass locally but may increase the distribution of salvinia downstream. Drawdowns (which serve to desiccate and kill the plant) do reduce biomass and can isolate the plant into smaller areas allowing easier access for mechanical removal or chemical treatment. However, when water levels increase remaining plants can be scattered throughout the water body making treatment even more difficult.

Currently, chemical control is the most widely used management strategy in the United States for the control of salvinia. A wide variety of products are employed mainly those containing diquat, glyphosate, and to a lesser extent fluridone and carfentrazone-ethyl. Active ingredients recently labeled for aquatic use including penoxsulam and flumioxazin, have been evaluated and are effective but have yet to be used on a wide scale. As indicated earlier, chemical applications can be highly effective, producing dramatic control 90%, in a manner of days or months. However, several factors often dictate the need for repeat applications and diligent post- treatment monitoring. One important factor is the rapid growth rate of salvinia which allows the plant to easily outpace the current application of chemicals.

Probably a more important factor is the ability of salvinia to re-grow from small buds or plants that are missed during chemical application, especially in backwater coves where overhanging vegetation can hide small plant populations or where plant growth is dense and underlying layers are protected from surface sprayed herbicides. These plant fragments can be smaller than 1/4 inch.

In addition, the plant can easily be transported by a variety of human mediated means. Thus, water bodies where salvinia has been eradicated can be easily re-infested. Therefore, the rapid growth rate of salvinia and its excellent dispersal ability necessitates the use of greater amounts of chemicals with increased labor costs for application which leads to a never- ending cycle of chemical use.

It is important to understand and address underlying causative factors allowing the formation of damaging infestations of giant salvinia. One of the more important causative factors is high nutrient levels that allow for increased and explosive plant growth. While it is difficult to minimize nutrient influx into water bodies, several strategies have been used with varying success. These include repairing leaking septic systems or positioning the septic fields away from the water body, implementation of regulations prohibiting fertilization of lawns right up to the water’s edge, and ensuring that sewage treatment plants use tertiary treatment processes to limit nitrogen and phosphorus loading. One potential method is the use of re- vegetation techniques to establish a diverse community of non-invasive native vegetation that will act as nutrient sinks to reduce nitrogen levels thereby limiting plant growth and reducing the chance of new infestations by salvinia as well as other invasive species including water hyacinth, hydrilla, and Eurasian watermilfoil, among others.

Randy Westbrooks, Invasive Species Prevention Specialist, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior.

Giant salvinia is a small, free-floating aquatic fern that is native to southeastern Brazil and northeastern Argentina. It is somewhat similar in appearance to our native duckweed (Lemna minor), but bigger. Its most notable feature is the rows of ‘‘hairs’’ with 4 branches that join in a cage-like tip. The tip traps air that helps the plant float on the water surface. Giant salvinia prefers tropical, sub-tropical, or warm temperatures and grows best in nutrient-rich, slow-moving waters such as ditches, canals, ponds, and lakes. It is a freshwater plant but can tolerate salinity levels in estuaries up to levels of about 10% that of seawater.

It is no exaggeration to say that Giant salvinia is one of the world’s worst weeds. It takes only a fragment of a single plant to multiply vegetatively and produce a thick floating mat of plants on the surface of standing water. The mats clog waterways and block sunlight from reaching other aquatic plants below the surface, reducing the amount of oxygen in the water. As these plants die and sink to the bottom, decomposer organisms use up even more oxygen in the water. The mats also impede the natural exchange of gases between the water and the atmosphere, which can lead to stagnation of the water body. Ultimately, these processes will kill all plants, aquatic insects, and fish living below the mats. The mats also provide ideal conditions for mosquitoes to breed, block access to boat docks and boat ramps, and interfere with navigation.

Despite the success of using weevils to control Giant salvinia in some regions, the Salvinia weevil is not a fully effective control method in every case because it is less tolerant of cold temperatures than Giant salvinia. For this reason, the Salvinia weevil was unsuccessful controlling Giant salvinia in Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory of Australia.



Dr. GRODOWITZ. Salvinia is 95% water.  The economics of harvest are poor – you’re moving a lot of weight just from the water. So biofuel production, salvinia is not a very good candidate. And other aquatic plants that have been attempted to use for biofuels haven’t worked.   You have to be careful when you try to promote the use of an invasive species because how are people going to use it and if you spread it around you’re going to have problems with it again. So I would rather see some kind of native plant that’s not as invasive as salvinia used for biofuels.

Dr. WESTBROOKS. The idea of getting it back to the land was an issue to begin with in Caddo Lake is when you have mechanical harvesters, they have a huge mass of this plant, how do you get it back to the land. So transportation of it back out to some place where you could actually go process it, unless you could process it there on the lake, if you had a processor on the lake where you’re removing the water and if you’ve just got the biomass of the cellulose left of the plant.

Dr. FLEMING. So if it’s desiccated, then obviously there’s very little fuel left then because the weight is—vast majority is water to begin with.



Dr. GRODOWITZ. We know for sure that they’re not very tolerant of saltwater. But it can handle  even  higher salt concentrations than recent research that was done in our Dallas facility. And putting saltwater into freshwater will create huge problems, so I’d stay away that if I could.

Mr. BARHAM. It will take too much salt to reach the level you need. Before you kill the salvinia, you’ll be killing the cypress trees and the bass and the freshwater fish.

Dr. SANDERS. If you added salt instead of saltwater, the lethal level of salt for giant salvinia is around six parts per thousand or six pounds of salt for every thousand pounds of water. Water weighs about nine pounds per gallon.  So it would take 750 18-wheeler loads of salt for Caddo lake and kill all your cypress trees.  Over time the water would desalinate if it is a flow-through lake and the saltwater would move downstream or dilute itself out with enough rainfall.



Dr. WESTBROOKS. When you have a mat—it’s like insulation.   I’ve seen the plant in ice in North Carolina and, of course, that would die. But if you get a mat—plants in the middle survive.   



Dr. GRODOWITZ. There are two really broad types of herbicides that are used for salvinia control. Some are contact herbicides. Some you spray on top of the plant. Kills the plant fairly quickly. There’s also contact herbicides that are systemic. 24D is one. It takes a little longer to kill. But what you know about Fluridone and Galleon, as you put it in the water, you have to maintain a certain concentration at a certain length of time to kill the plant, but it’s good because you’re killing plants over a larger area, but very, very expensive and hard to maintain concentrations up there. There are several new registrations, chemical registrations that have come out, penoxulam and flumioxazin, that the Corps of Engineers has been testing right now to look at their effectiveness, especially in combination with the weevils. So if you have weevils out there, you spray these herbicides, what kind of impacts on the weevils, can you maintain weevil populations, will the weevils come back afterwards.

Mr. GOHMERT. We’re dealing with freshwater, in some cases drinking water. What threats do those—whether it’s Galleon, Sonar, 24D, what do they pose to other vegetation or to the freshwater itself? Do we know of any risks.

Dr. GRODOWITZ. Any of those contact herbicides will kill any plant that gets sprayed, so you have to be very careful. Your application techniques are very important. We want to keep hydrilla and water hyacinths because they add some beauty to lakes.

Dr. WESTBROOKS. The EPA would say if there were concerns about drinking water.   I think most of the water you’re talking about is in rivers and lakes and ponds and stuff like that. There wouldn’t be drinking water concerns, I guess, unless you had a well beside the lake.



Dr. GRODOWITZ. [In response to navigation problems in flowing water]. It won’t accumulate in fast flowing water, but it will in slow-moving waters. For example, the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea is huge, but very slow moving and covered with salvinia. Whole villages were moved because the people couldn’t get into the river to fish.

Dr. WESTBROOKS. In Lake Victoria near Kenya four years ago the mats would get so thick trees would grow in them, so they became floating tree islands. In spring floods these floating mats could clog the backwaters of rivers and cause problems downstream.

Dr. GRODOWITZ. If you start having flooding events with salvinia in the waters, you’re going to have more damage because you’re looking at all this huge biomass in the water being pushed further downriver and cause even more damage.

Dr. WESTBROOKS. I don’t know about salvinia, but I know Florida water hyacinths would pile up against bridges and push the bridges out, so I don’t know if it’s comparable, but it probably could.


Mr. GOHMERT. One of the problems that is a result of having all these invasive species, the water hyacinths, hydrilla, and now giant salvinia, this stuff does die and  goes to the bottom. And in the old days a giant flood would sweep all that sediment out and you’d get fresh native growth again. I had one landowner say he bought his property because he liked how deep it was right there at that point in the lake, which means it’s normally more expensive property because it’s deeper, and it was 15 feet right there where he was located, and now it’s seven feet because of all the dead masses that go down and build up.  I’m just curious in either Texas or Louisiana, is there any money that’s been allocated and from the Federal Government toward dredging out some of this old plant mass?

Mr. BURNS. I’m not aware of any dredging for the reason of the plants. Only dredging I’m aware of is for navigational issues.  One of the problems you’ve got, I will say that you’re describing a situation that is striking fear in all of our hearts about losing bodies of water to this plant. One of the areas I’m most concerned with is the Atchafalaya Basin. It’s the largest swamp area in the country—shallow, trees, slow-moving waters.

We just opened the Morganza Spillway. Fortunately we’re not seeing a lot of salvinia at this point. Now, ultimately it’s going to get there because it’s coming out of the Red River. It’s coming down to the Atchafalaya, but that’s the place that it will take. We almost lost Henderson Lake due to water hyacinths. And so we’ve got some real threats from these types of plants in certain environments, these shallow, slow-moving, tree-strewn, nutrient-rich environments across the Deep South.

Dr. WESTBROOKS. To begin with, all we know is that it takes oxygen out of the water and is killing fish and stuff like that, but if this organic matter builds up like peat in the bottom of these lakes, you may have an entirely different problem. It’s going to change the  ecological characteristics of the lake.


Dearl Sanders, Edmiston Professor and Resident Coordinator: Bob R. Jones- Idlewild Research Station, Louisiana State University Agricultural Center

With the discovery of giant salvinia near Cameron, La., in 2000, a biological control program was initiated. It is interesting to note that the only effective eradication of giant salvinia in Louisiana was accomplished at the Cameron site by using salt water. The traditional drainage and pumping facilities were temporarily reversed, and the infested canals and associated ponds were filled with high salinity water from the nearby Calcasieu Navigation Channel. After the salvinia had died, the process was reversed, removing the salt water from the system with little, if any, negative effect on the native plant life.

Studies at the Golden Ranch site confirmed reports in the literature from Australia that under ideal growing conditions giant salvinia can approach an 80 percent daily coverage rate, or, stated another way, the giant salvinia can reach a point where it can double the area of water covered every 1.5 days

In southern Louisiana it takes a minimum of two full years for the population to reach a threshold where the weevils consume the salvinia faster than the salvinia can reproduce.

An extensive grass carp biological control trial was conducted at the Golden Ranch site in 2009. The trial confirmed that grass carp will not eat giant salvinia even when it is the only plant material available. This was not unexpected, since grass carp usually do not consume floating plants and giant salvinia contains a metabolic inhibitor (thiamine inhibitor) that if consumed in quantity is toxic to the fish (and other animals).

It should be noted that the salvinia weevil never eradicates giant salvinia. As in its native Brazil, it consumes salvinia to the point it can no longer maintain huge population numbers—allowing some salvinia to survive.

The results of over more than two dozen herbicide trials conducted by the LSU AgCenter since 1999 have identified a number of herbicides that are effective in controlling giant salvinia when applied according to directions. A number of the effective herbicides have obtained federal registration from the EPA and are available for use. These herbicides can be divided into two groups:

Foliar sprays and total water treatments. Diquat (Reward), flumioxazin (Clipper) and glyphosate (numerous trade names) are foliar treatments shown to be effective with multiple applications. Fluridone (numerous trade names) and more recently penoxulam (Galleon) are total water treatment herbicides (the giant salvinia absorbs the herbicide through root uptake) often are effective from a single application, but the contact time (time the plants are exposed to the herbicide) may be as long as 60 days. Exchange of water (rainfall, normal current flow, etc.) with the minimum exposure time negates control.

Even with these herbicides proven to be effective, chemical control of giant salvinia is problematic for several reasons:

  1. All of the foliar applied herbicides require multiple applications to have a significant effect on matted giant salvinia. Multiple applications are expensive and labor intensive.
  2. The total water treatment herbicides require long contact times. This works well in small confined areas (ponds with little watershed area), but it often does not work well in larger water bodies with larger watersheds and does not work at all in areas of moving water.
  3. All of these herbicides are expensive (as high as $1,600 per gallon on the upper end), and state budgets are limited.
  4. With the phenomenal growth rate of giant salvinia (Attachment 1), complete control is difficult to achieve, since only a few surviving plants can repopulate and area in a brief time.

The foliar materials that are out there are effective, but it’s like peeling an onion. You just have to peel off layer after layer after layer after layer. It’s expensive and requires a lot of tenacity to go out and spray the same body of water every two weeks for the rest of your life.

The total water volume treatments that were mentioned, like Galleon, is very expensive, just 500 gallons costs a million dollars, and if you apply it betting it won’t rain for 35 days – that’s a hard bet to make.

Salvinia weevils are about the only weevil that doesn’t fly, so someone to hand move them to nearby bodies of water, which is very labor intensive.

Basically our hope now is to continue with the weevil releases in south Louisiana. We continue to screen herbicides. We’re doing all these other tests that really haven’t amounted to a whole lot. We’ll continue to do it hoping


MICHAEL MASSIMI, Invasive Species Coordinator, Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary program

This area is about four million acres between the Mississippi River and the Atchafalaya, roughly triangular, down on the coast, coastal estuaries. We very much appreciate the weevils down there.

It’s an area that has a lot of environmental problems. We’re the fastest disappearing land mass. Everybody knows about Louisiana’s trouble with land loss. The invasive species is no less an issue down there. We have plenty of them.

Since I’ve been there for seven years, we have six new invasive species recorded in the Barataria-Terrebonne. Plenty of salvinia in the coastal estuaries. It’s not just up here in the northern part of the state. After Hurricane Katrina, we started finding giant salvinia in several new locations. The hurricane definitely spread it around, and my fear is that this river flood of 2011 is going to really spread it a lot farther, into the Atchafalaya basin and then, of course, into the Barataria-Terrebonne system as well. It’s found in the Barataria system, the north rim of Barataria Bay, including in Jean Lafitte National Historical Park, and I believe that we’re going to see severe impacts very soon in the Penchant Basin system of Terrebonne. That is where all the Atchafalaya River water eventually went.

The impacts are very severe. Total shade, blocking gas exchange on the surface, no oxygen getting through. As the plant decays, that sucks oxygen out as well, and causes fish kills. We’re seeing that in the southern part of the state.

The mat is so thick that even your air-breathing animals, even big ones like otters, don’t want to go through that. Ducks will relish our native duckweed, which is a similar floating plant, but it’s a thin mat, and ducks can get through it. Ducks will completely avoid a water body covered with giant salvinia.

Water management structures get overwhelmed. Boating is impossible, even sometimes for larger vessels. A mat three feet thick is going to impede a pretty big boat.

Intakes for industrial water or municipal drinking water get clogged. Cross Lake now has giant salvinia in it, and that’s where the City of Shreveport gets their water from.

And speaking just generally about invasive species biology, invasives love to stir up habitats. They have a much harder time invading an area if every niche is filled with a native species and it’s a functioning healthy ecosystem. You do something to disturb that, the invasives come in. They’re great generalists and they’re great pioneers of disturbed habitats. Using chemicals repeatedly knocks back not just your target species, it knocks back a lot of species. You’re degrading the habitat in that way, and so it can be a negative feedback or positive feedback, rather, where a further degraded habitat is now primed for further invasion. And we see this with invasive species helping one another. An invasive actually degrades a habitat, clearing the way for another invasive to come in. Common in invasion biology. So one thing we can do that hasn’t been mentioned is good restoration and restore native vegetation, cut back on the nutrients. That’s going to be part of a comprehensive plan as well.

I’d like to just say that in invasive species management, we’re constantly caught in a reactionary mode, so we’re here today to talk about giant salvinia, but we really should take a much more high altitude view and much more widespread and talk about invasives in particular pro-action rather than reaction. There is a nutria bill. There is a feral hog bill, and maybe there will be some salvinia action at some point, but if we can have stricter regulations on what gets imported into this country to begin with, we might avoid the next giant salvinia.

The invasive floating fern giant salvinia (Salvinia molesta) is possibly the most noxious of all aquatic weeds.

Introduced and spread mainly as an ornamental by the horticulture and pond garden trade, it has become established in tropical and subtropical regions on four continents.

In the US, giant salvinia is established in at least 11 states  has the potential to devastate freshwater habitats in as many as 20 states.

Giant salvinia is currently considered established in at least 15 parishes, mostly in the southeast and northwest of the state, and the river flooding of 2011 will most certainly result in additional introductions. Giant salvinia can thrive in any freshwater area of the state, and I believe that we are, unfortunately, only on the leading edge of the giant salvinia invasion. The growth rate of giant salvinia is exponential. It doubles its coverage area in as little as a week under good growing conditions. A single plant could cover 40 square miles in three months. Waters infested with giant salvinia quickly become covered by a thick mat of vegetation. The mat can be up to three feet thick at the surface, making navigation impossible, even for relatively large boats. The mat is also much denser than other floating plants, blocking sunlight almost completely and greatly inhibiting oxygen exchange at the surface. The decay of plant masses further deoxygenates the water. The result is catastrophe for native flora and fauna. Hypoxic waters can cause fish kills. Submersed native aquatic plants are shaded out and they die. Habitat is destroyed for air-breathing animals like otters, diving birds, turtles and frogs, which cannot penetrate the mat. Ducks, which relish surfaces covered with the much thinner native duckweed, will completely avoid surfaces covered with salvinia.

There is also evidence that prolonged presence of salvinia mats causes gradual acidification of lakes and ponds.

Giant salvinia infestations have severe human impacts too. Water management structures are damaged or rendered useless, boating and commercial navigation is impeded, intakes for municipal drinking water or industrial facilities are clogged, and recreational uses such as fishing, waterfowl hunting, paddling, or swimming are stopped.

Harvesting salvinia mechanically can be effective only in very small infestations; otherwise the sheer weight and volume of the wet plants are unmanageable. Booms and other structures to prevent the movement of salvinia can protect small areas, but often get overwhelmed by the massive mats when pushed by wind or current.



1,700,000 gallons of water every day are used to provide quality drinking water to Caddo Parish residents.  But Giant salvinia reduces the oxygen in the water, increasing treatment requirements.

Manpower for spraying is also very limited. Spraying cannot be applied in the rain or high wind conditions. Boat launch barriers have been installed at Caddo Parish’s Earl Williamson Park in Oil City to help assist giant salvinia from entering the boat launch areas. This helps keep the plant from attaching to boat trailers during launch and release, but during high winds, giant salvinia can be blown in the barriers, which mean—which cause problems in the launching areas. Caddo Parish has passed and posted ordinances on the prohibition of transportation and spreading of giant salvinia. Enforcement of such ordinances are very expensive and time consuming.

Caddo Lake is one of only 27 wetlands in the United States recognized by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. The bald cypress forests of Caddo Lake, including trees as old as 400 years, host one of the highest breeding populations of wood ducks as well as prothonotary warblers and other neotropical birds. The forests and wetlands of Caddo Lake are critical for migratory bird species within the Central Flyway, including tens of thousands of migrating waterfowl that utilize Caddo Lake (and other nearby lakes) as resting and feeding grounds. However, these internationally-recognized wetlands are threatened by Giant Salvinia, one of the world’s most noxious aquatic weeds introduced from Brazil as part of the pet industry. Giant Salvinia grows rapidly and spreads across water surfaces, forming dense floating mats that reduce light penetration and result in oxygen depletion of the lake. This prevents growth of natural vegetation, a food source for waterfowl, and the mats of Giant Salvinia also eliminate open water on lake for waterfowl to use for resting purposes.

Invasive species like Giant Salvinia are one of the greatest threats to fish, wildlife, and plant biodiversity facing the United States and disrupt the economy and ecology of our nation. Invasive plants threaten private working lands and publicly protected lands and infest over 100 million acres in the United States. On public and private lands and waters of this country, invasive species negatively impact the natural systems on which we all depend and economic losses are estimated at over $100 billion annually.



I’ll add to the bulleted list of problems with invasive species, that they reduce habitat for endangered species and also to the cost of $137 billion annually, they’re also the second greatest threat to native biodiversity, second only to habitat destruction.

My experience with Caddo Lake came later in life and was primarily secondhand from a woman who grew up in Karnack, Texas. With her mother dead, her much older brothers gone, and her father running the local general store, there was little time for five-year old Claudia Alta Taylor. As a child, Claudia found solace in nature paddling the dark bayous of Caddo Lake. The sense of place that came from being close to the land never left her. She would devote much of her life to preserving it. It helped define her and started her down a path that led to the White House, Highway Beautification, and the National Wildflower Research Center. That young girl was, of course, Lady Bird Johnson. And when I talked to her about invasive species when she was still alive, she said to me, ‘‘Damon, those are plants that have no socially redeeming value.’’ One of Lady Bird’s most famous quotes goes, ‘‘The environment is where we all meet; where we all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share. It is not only a mirror of ourselves, but a focusing lens on what we can become.’’


Dr. SANDERS. After 130 days, the grass carp that had only giant salvinia to eat had—a number of them died, and all of them had lost weight from the time we put them in there. Basically it boils down to two things; one, they don’t like floating plants to start with and, two, something that hasn’t been addressed here is that the giant salvinia contains a metabolic toxin, contains a thiamine inhibitor. The grass carp nibbled on it until they got sick and decided that they would eat mud after that and then die, which is what they did. We cut the stomachs open and simply full of mud. I’ve gotten requests for why can’t we use this for animal feed, cow feed.  Same situation. You have to overcome this thiamine inhibitor problem to keep the cows from getting sick, so it works the same with fish.

Mr. LOWERRE.  In the Caddo Lake watershed we are working with some Federal and state money on a watershed protection plan to get agricultural producers to use better management practices to reduce the extra nutrients that come into the system, since the run off of phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizers helps giant salvinia to grow.

Dr. SANDERS. Weevils actually swim out of the pond trying to seek another batch of salvinia somewhere, and in south Louisiana, they’re all consumed by fire ants, another invasive species—and none of the weevils made it more than about 20 feet from the pond  



Caddo Lake has long had a problem with invasive species. . .namely Water Hyacinth. Some say this problem dates back to the Late 1950’s when Lake of The Pines was impounded. Other invasive species are also present in Caddo, some cause little problem and some are or have the potential to be major problems. The worst offenders include; Giant Salvinia, Hydrilla, and Alligator Weed. Others that tend to be more localized are: Water Millfoil, FanWort, Water Primrose, Elodea Parrot, Feather Pennywort, Frog’s Bit, Spatterdock Duck weed, and  Watermeal . All types of lilies like Egieria Coontail and American Lotus. There are three main control regimes for invasive species: Bio Controls, Herbicide Application, and Containment/Removal of material. The Containment/Removal of Giant Salvinia has been tried on Caddo in recent years. A trial using a barge with a conveyor system was used to remove and transport the material to shore was conducted. The trial was successful in that it removed the material from the shallow stumpy environment without breakdowns, however, the overall process was slow and not cost effective for large areas.

CVND’s efforts on Giant Salvinia started in 2007 when Giant Salvinia was first reported in the Jeems Bayou area of Caddo Lake. A plan was devised to put up a barricade 2 miles long across the middle of the lake to intercept the floating salvinia. The fence was erected and patrolled daily. It was effective on stopping large quantities of salvinia but could not stop it all. The fence was destroyed by winds from Hurricane Ike and was subsequently removed from the lake.

ROSS MELINCHUK, DEPUTY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT.  For the last ten years, the Department’s annual statewide budget for management of invasive aquatic plants has ranged from several hundred thousand dollars to 1.5 million. A comprehensive plant management program would require in our estimation about $2 million annually to implement, at least $600,000 of which would be targeted at giant salvinia.

Targeted outreach programs can be effective, but they, too, are expensive. The Department spent about $275,000 in 2010 for a one-month media campaign focused on Caddo, Lake Conroe, Toledo Bend, and Sam Rayburn reservoirs. The campaign included radio, television, print ads, online advertising, billboards, ramp buoys, pump station toppers, pretty comprehensive campaign. The boater survey conducted following the campaign showed us that 51% of boat owners had seen advertising or information about giant salvinia and that awareness had increased. Key point, in fact, 96% of boaters surveyed reported that the campaign made them more likely to clean their boat and trailer in the future.

Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences submitted for the record:

  1. Establish, operate and maintain a salvinia weevil rearing facility near Caddo Lake to serve as a ready source of weevils for release on Caddo Lake and also provide a living laboratory and nursery to develop a better knowledge of salvinia weevils and their behavior. So far about 75,000 adult weevils have been released on Caddo Lake into 4 isolated areas from the rearing facility and 250,000 weevil larvae. Larvae are the primary killer of giant salvinia as they bore their way out of the plant after hatching from eggs laid by adult weevils in the stems of the plant, thus seriously damaging the Salvinia
  2. Currently in the process of hiring a private applicator to chemically treat giant salvinia on Caddo Lake in 2011 to support and complement other spraying efforts

Mr. GOHMERT. You’ve talked about 1.3 million weevils costing $35,000 and how you mechanically can move them and all. Who counts those things?

Dr. SANDERS. Another one of these myriad studies, how many weevils are in a pound of salvinia and the first question we tried to answer. There’s actually entomologists came up with a system decades ago that they run a series of plant matter through, it’s called a berlese funnel. What it is is a—just like the name sounds, it’s a funnel with a screen in it. You put a heat source over the top, in this case a fluorescent light bulb, and the heat and the light forces the live insects down through the plant mass, through the neck of the funnel, down the funnel into some type of collection device. We use little plastic bags. But after the plant matter is completely dry, we pull them out, we pour them out, we count the numbers of weevils that are in there. We put a kilo of stuff in, we count however many weevils are at the bottom, and that’s how we make the determination, and we make hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of these determinations.


Posted in Biodiversity Loss, BioInvasion, Peak Food | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Anyone who whines about airplanes should have to take the Oregon Trail

Source: Book cover of “Oregon Or Bust: True Short Stories from the Descendants of Oregon Trail Pioneers, Prospectors, Trappers, and Settlers in the Great Northwest Hardcover” by Gentry Ward Cutsforth (2012), XLibris.

[ In addition, I recommend the Louis CK rant about airplane whiners here.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]

Sarah Lyall whined about traveling on airplanes in the leading story of the Business section in the New York Times on Sunday June 9, 2017 (Lyall).

To gain some perspective, let’s consider what traveling was like on the Oregon and other migrant trails.

The odds of dying were 1 in 5 (10,000 of 50,000 migrants died) from cholera, dysentery, typhoid fever, diphtheria, smallpox, firearm accidents, and Indian attacks (400 people).  The odds of dying in an airplane crash are just 1 in 11 million.

It took migrants up to six months to reach their destination.  A jet travels that distance in 4 hours.

Source: Flight attendant,

Migrants often had to jettison most or all of their possessions to reach a safe place before winter.  Just 3 bags are mishandled by airlines per 1,000 passengers.

Migrants suffered from hunger, malnutrition, dehydration, lack of water, bad water, and lack of fuel to cook and heat with.  Airplanes have food, water, and comfortable temperatures.  Lyall has this to say about airplane food:

  • It is perpetually dinnertime at the airport, but I do not want the food.
  • On the flights, those of us sitting in the back tend to avoid buying from the snack cart, making do with the tiny free packets like Savory Snack Mix, blobs of cracker-like material coated with unpleasant flavoring.
  • The lady by the window, who had raised our mutual armrest so as to better squeeze over the line into my seat, whipped out a Chick-fil-A fried-chicken sandwich. The distressing scent of dill pickles and processed chicken wafted through the air.
  • The yogurt had spent the flight in the seat pocket, building up internal pressure. As I removed the top, it exploded, spraying blobs onto me
  • As the flight attendants dole out our sole free snack on this flight of six and a half hours – the aroma of something delicious wafts in from the front.

Lyall  whines about being in the middle seat, delayed flights, cramming luggage in overhead compartments, paying for once free services, crammed into small seats like sardines, a cast system like the Hunger games – jostled and fretted into lines staffed by overburdened agents, the envy of elite status passengers, eyes irritated from too much flying, independence taken away, having to affix your own bag-routing tag, boarding lines, A passenger attempts to use the first-class bathrooms but is ordered to the back of the plane, and broken entertainment systems. Plus a great deal more using 4059 words, which takes up over 6 pages in a word document that’s entirely single-spaced.

Don’t even get me started on the hardships of the 1620 Mayflower voyage and thousands of other voyages, or the Cherokee “Trail of Tears” where 5,000 of 15,000 native Americans died.

So instead of whining, remember that for most of history nobody flew — not even kings or queens. Instead of whining, be grateful.  Think of yourself as a God or Goddess flying above the earth through towering clouds over sparkling water, forests, and cities lit by hundreds of billions of kilowatt hours of mostly fossil-fueled electricity.

Airplanes will never be electrified with wind and solar power charged batteries.  A 200-seat airplane weighs about 115 tons at take-off. About a third, or 38 tons of that weight is the kerosene fuel. The other 77 tons are the passengers, their luggage, and the airplane itself. An electric, battery-powered airplane would require nearly 3,000 tons of lithium-ion batteries.  The batteries would weigh 39 times more than the plane, passengers, and their luggage. Nor would fuel cells do much better (Schrope).

This is a temporary privilege.  Enjoy it.   We’re burning through finite fossil fuels exponentially. Our descendants will daydream about what it must have been like to fly.

Source: National Archives at


Lyall, Sarah. June 9, 2017. Paying a Price for 8 Days of Flying in America. New York Times.

Schrope, Mark. November 6, 2010. Fly Electric. New Scientist.


Posted in Airplanes, Lithium-ion, Transportation | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

California hits the solar wall

[ What is a solar wall?  Read part 1: California could hit the solar wall and then excerpts from the following article in the financial times, Britain’s Wall street journal.  I’ve also reworded some of it.

Renewables are rendering existing natural gas and coal plants unprofitable, plants that cost $2.5 to 5 billion and were able to borrow money because the banks believed they be generating power much of the time.

It may be that natural gas and coal plants are in or will become in as much financial trouble as nuclear power plants.  In 2013 Mark Cooper wrote a paper making the case that at least 37 nuclear power plants were in danger of closing called “Renaissance in reverse: competition pushes aging U.S. nuclear reactors to the brink of economic abandonment“.

Since this article was published in 2013, 10 of the 37 at risk plants Cooper listed have been or are scheduled to close down: Diablo Canyon, Clinton, Fitzpatrick, Ft. Calhoun, Indian Point, Oyster Creek, Pilgrim, Quad Cities, Three Mile Island, Vermont Yankee.  Plus four plants he didn’t list are scheduled to shut down as well: San Onofre 2 & San Onofre 3, Diablo Canyon 1 & Diablo Canyon 2. In addition, not long before this article was written, Kewaunee (2012) and Crystal River (2009) closed for financial reasons.

Here are the remaining plants Cooper listed that have yet to close: Browns Ferry, Callaway, Calvert Cliff, Commanche Peak, Cook, Cooper, Davis-Besse, Dresden, Duane Arnold, Fermi,  Ginna, Hope Creek, LaSalle, Limerick, Millstone, Monticello, Nine Mile Point, Palisades, Perry, Point Beach, Prairie Island, Robinson, Seabrook, Sequoyah, South Texas, Susquehanna, Turkey Point, Wolf Creek
Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]

Dizard, J. June 2, 2017. Forget Trump, there’s still money in the climate business. Financial times.

Far mMore significant than Trump’s walking out on the Paris Climate agreement was the administration’s legal move in March to abandon Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP). If the rejection of the CPP happens, that will make it much more difficult for fossil fuel-dependent regulated utilities to get new renewables and gas-fired plants paid for by their ratepayers.

Because of low natural-gas and power prices, renewable energy development  has more challenging economics than it did a couple of years ago.

And politically, the alliance of convenience between the gas-fired power sector and the renewables industry is fraying to breaking point. As long as both could face off against the coal industry, the gas-fired generators were fine with having green activists demanding reductions in carbon emissions. Gas barons could contribute to environmental groups, smug in the belief that the greens were helping them get market share.

The natural gas drillers, though, became far too efficient at finding and producing the stuff for their own good, so prices went down and stayed down. Therefore the Exploration & Production industry has not, collectively, managed to cover its costs from operating cash flow, but that has not mattered. Even when gas producers were facing insolvency, they were able to borrow money, sell shares and keep drilling. So the Saudis and the Russians lost their betAs did the gas-fired generators.

Power prices are set, at the margin, by natural gas prices, and the independent natural gas power producers are in financial distress. Wind and utility-grade solar plant owners, in contrast, have long-dated fixed-price contracts to back up their project financing. [Thanks to all the Americans unknowingly plowing their money into 401K and IRA mutual funds with investments in money-losing oil and gas companies, who would be out-of-business otherwise.  But keep giving them money and they’ll keep on drilling].

The gas barons had figured that their generators would be complementary, rather than competitive, with intermittent renewables. [Because natural gas is essential for balancing intermittent wind and solar power now since there is no scalable energy storage system of any kind remotely close to being commercial].

In recent years, though, in states such as California and Texas, renewables generation has been crushing the power markets on which the gas generators depend. In Texas, tax credit-supported wind generation can be economic even in hours when power prices are negative: when you have to pay the grid manager to take your energy.

In California, ratepayers who install rooftop solar panels receive “net metering”, which means they receive retail power rates for their intermittent production. In effect, during the hours their panels work, the cost of maintaining the transmission and distribution grid, along with the back-up capacity of hydro, nuclear and fossil-fuel plants, is borne by ratepayers who do not have rooftop solar.

This did not matter when rooftop solar was just a cute green gadget. Now solar generation in California can lead to rapid swings in net load of up to 16,000MW, or about one-third of the total demand in the state, which is about equal to that of the UK grid. Much of the rooftop and “utility scale” solar generation occurs in the middle of the day, which creates the so-called duck curve, or cat’s ears of net requirements for the grid operator.

This means that the very time in the middle of the day when the gas generators were supposed to make money is a time when they are idle, just spinning away without any revenue but with the same requirements for debt service. So they are going broke.

[Yet because of the huge 16,000 MW ramp up, which wasn’t expected until 2020, another natural gas plant may need to be built, even though solar provides only 5.5% of California’s power.  Huh? Isn’t renewable energy supposed to shut down fossil fuel plants?]

The gas generators’ owners, and, with them, the transmission and distribution utilities, are not taking this assault on their cash flow lying down. They are responding, in the passive-aggressive electricity professionals’ manner, by changing the rules for solar and wind generators’ access to the grid.

In several states, including Nevada, Arizona, Indiana and even, hesitantly, California, regulators are making it less financially attractive to sell intermittent renewable power to the grid. Subsidies are being limited for new renewables, and will eventually be eliminated.

Of course the greens and the renewables owners are pushing back, but the old alliance with the gas crowd has been broken. As the renewables and gas plant owners fight over generation market share, the distribution utilities and even electricity storage developers are gaining power, so to speak. Because balancing the variations in power load is an increasingly demanding task, state regulators are more willing to allocate revenue to those who can manage the process.

Also, while the Trump administration has decided to dump the Paris climate accord and the Clean Power Plan, corporate America is still under political pressure to use green power. Big tech already contracts for renewable energy. As that preference filters down to other companies, Wall Street is ready to intermediate the trade.

So whatever the White House announces, there is still money to be made from the climate business.

Posted in Natural Gas, Solar | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Collapse of Mayan civilization from water shortages

Aigner, F. August 30, 2016. The demise of the Maya civilization: water shortage can destroy cultures. American Geophysical Union blogosphere.

Something really drastic must have happened to the ancient Maya at the end of the Classic Period in the 9th Century. Within a short period of time, this advanced civilization in Central America went from flourishing to collapsing – the population dwindling rapidly and monumental stone structures, like the ones built at Yucatán, were no longer being constructed. The reason for this demise remains the subject of debate even today.

Now, researchers at the Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien) may have found the explanation: the irrigation technology that served the Mayans well during periods of drought may have actually made their society more vulnerable to major catastrophes, according to a new study published in Water Resources Research, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

The lessons learned may also help us to draw important conclusions for our own future. We need to be careful with our natural resources – if technical measures simply deal with the shortage of resources on a superficial level and we do not adjust our own behavior, society is left vulnerable, according to the study authors.

“Water influences society and society influences water,” said Linda Kuil, a PhD student at TU Wien and lead author of the new study. “The water supply determines how much food is available, so in turn affects the growth of the population. Conversely, population increases may interfere with the natural water cycle through the construction of reservoirs

Because water and society have such a direct influence on each other, it will not suffice to describe them by separate models. This is why researchers at TU Wien explore the interactions between sociology and hydrology and represent them by coupled mathematical models. The emerging field of socio-hydrology establishes mathematical interrelationships, such as those between food availability and birth rate, or between recent water shortages that are still fresh in our memories and society’s plans for building water reservoirs. These kinds of interrelationships, combined with a large amount of historical and current data, ultimately yield a complex system that produces different scenarios of human–nature interactions, according to the study authors.

The water reservoir: a blessing and a curse

It’s well-known that the Mayans built water reservoirs in preparation for dry spells,” Kuil said. “With our model, we can now analyze the effects of the Mayans’ water engineering on their society. It is also possible to simulate scenarios with and without water reservoirs and compare the consequences of such decisions.

As it turns out, water reservoirs can actually provide substantial relief during short periods of drought. In the simulations without reservoirs, the Mayan population declines after a drought, whereas it continues to grow if reservoirs provide extra water.

However, the reservoirs may also make the population more vulnerable during prolonged dry spells. The water management behavior may remain the same, and the water demand per person does not decrease, but the population continues to grow. This may then prove fatal if another drought occurs resulting in a decline in population that is more dramatic than without reservoirs.

Sustainable use of resources

We will probably never know all the reasons for the decline of the Mayans, wars or epidemics may have played a part too. The socio-hydrological model developed by the TU Wien researchers does, however, tell us that droughts and water issues are one possible explanation for their demise and shows us just how vulnerable an engineered society can be.

“When it comes to scarce resources, the simplest solution might turn out not to superficial and not always the best one,” Kuil said. “You have to change people’s behavior, reassess society’s dependency on this resource and reduce consumptionotherwise society may in fact be more vulnerable to catastrophes rather than safer, despite clever technical solutions.”

Posted in Drought, Drought, Peak Food, Scientists Warnings to Humanity | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) and other ways to bring down the electric grid

[ Related articles:

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]

Nakashima, E. June 12, 2017. Russia has developed a cyberweapon that can disrupt power grids, according to new research. Washington Post.

[ According to this article: The outages from this malware would last a few hours and probably not more than a couple of days, because the U.S. electric industry has trained its operators to handle disruptions caused by large storms. They’re used to having to restore power with manual operations. So although the malware is a significant leap forward in tradecraft, it’s also not a doomsday scenario.

I don’t know enough about this topic to decide how dangerous it is.  If the right substations are targeted, a substantial portion of the grid can be taken out.  What if the Russians do this over and over?  Also, some regions might be more vulnerable or stay down longer.  For example, hydropower is the easiest way to blackstart the grid (restart it), but if the Russians choose sections of the electric grid with little hydro-power and/or where the maintenance and aging of the infrastructure was the worst, recovery might take longer. ]

Hackers allied with the Russian government have devised a cyberweapon that has the potential to be the most disruptive yet against electric systems that Americans depend on for daily life.

The malware, dubbed CrashOverridebriefly shut down one-fifth of the electric power generated in Kiev and left 225,000 customers without power. With modifications, it could be deployed against U.S. electric transmission and distribution systems to devastating effect.  And Russian government hackers have shown their interest in targeting U.S. energy and other utility systems, researchers said.  It’s the culmination of over a decade of theory and attack scenarios. It’s a game changer.

The revelation comes as the U.S. government is investigating a wide-ranging, ambitious effort by the Russian government last year to disrupt the U.S. presidential election and influence its outcome. That campaign employed a variety of methods, including hacking hundreds of political and other organizations, and leveraging social media, U.S. officials said.

“The same Russian group that targeted U.S. [industrial control] systems in 2014 turned out the lights in Ukraine in 2015,” said John Hultquist, who analyzed both incidents while at iSight Partners, a cyber-intelligence firm now owned by FireEye, where he is director of intelligence analysis.  “We believe this group is tied in some way to the Russian government…perhaps the security services.”

“U.S. utilities have been enhancing their cybersecurity, but attacker tools like this one pose a very real risk to reliable operation of power systems,” said Michael J. Assante, who worked at Idaho National Labs and is a former chief security officer of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, where he oversaw the rollout of industry cybersecurity standards.

CrashOverride is only the second instance of malware specifically tailored to disrupt or destroy industrial control systems. Stuxnet, the worm created by the United States and Israel to disrupt Iran’s nuclear capability, was an advanced military-grade weapon designed to affect centrifuges that enrich uranium.

In 2015, the Russians used malware to gain access to the power supply network in western Ukraine, but it was hackers at the keyboards who remotely manipulated the control systems to cause the blackout — not the malware itself, Hultquist said.

With CrashOverride, “what is particularly alarming . . . is that it is all part of a larger framework,” said Dan Gunter, a senior threat hunter for Dragos.

The malware is like a Swiss Army knife, where you flip open the tool you need and where different tools can be added to achieve different effects, Gunter said.

Theoretically, the malware can be modified to attack different types of industrial control systems, such as water and gas. However, the adversary has not demonstrated that level of sophistication, Lee said.

Still, the attackers probably had experts and resources available not only to develop the framework but also to test it, Gunter said. “This speaks to a larger effort often associated with nation-state or highly funded team operations.”

One of the most insidious tools in CrashOverride manipulates the settings on electric power control systems. It scans for critical components that operate circuit breakers and opens the circuit breakers, which stops the flow of electricity. It continues to keep them open even if a grid operator tries to close them, creating a sustained power outage.

The malware also has a “wiper” component that erases the software on the computer system that controls the circuit breakers, forcing the grid operator to revert to manual operations, which means driving to the substation to restore power.

With this malware, the attacker can target multiple locations with a “time bomb” functionality and set the malware to trigger simultaneously, Lee said. That could create outages in different areas at the same time.

Bob Adelmann. May 6, 2015. EMP Threats Force NORAD Back Into Cheyenne Mountain. The New American.

NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) is moving back into its previous Cheyenne Mountain underground bunker in Colorado Springs because it is EMP-hardened, and due to threats from enemies who now possess the capabilities to launch an EMP nuclear weapon from the south where NORAD is blind.

North Korea now has operational the KN-08, a nuclear-weapon-armed missile, that can be launched undetected and set off a nuclear explosion sufficient to shut down the entire North American electric grid.

NORAD is prepared to defend the country from attacks from North Korea and Iran (even if negotiations are successful), provided that those attacks come over the North Pole. But all eyes are facing north, with none facing south.

Peter Vincent Pry, executive director of the EMP Task Force, has written frequently in attempts to warn citizens of the danger. Back in August he and James Woolsey, former CIA director said in a Wall Street Journal that North Korea and Iran will soon match Russia and China in their ability to launch an EMP attack with 1) simple ballistic missiles such as Scuds launched from a freighter near our shores, 2) space-launched vehicles able to loft low-earth-orbit satellites, or 3) simple low-yield nuclear weapons that can generate gamma rays and fireballs.

Pry said it wouldn’t take much to melt the grid with an EMP strike, most likely from the detonation of a nuclear weapon in space, which would destroy unprotected military and civilian electronics worldwide, blacking out the electric grid and other critical infrastructure for months or years. Iran should be regarded as already having nuclear missiles capable of making an EMP attack against the U.S. Iran and North Korea have successfully orbited satellites on south-polar trajectories that appear to practice evading U.S. missile defenses, and at optimum altitudes to make a surprise EMP attack.

Such costs were spelled out in a dystopian novel that made it onto the New York Times best-sellers list back in 2011: One Second After, by William R. Forstchen. It’s the story of how one man struggles to deal with a world that no longer works, first evidenced when cars passing by on the highway come to an immediate and permanent halt thanks to internal computers that no longer work. In the afterword, Forstchen quotes a letter from Captain Bill Sanders of the U.S. Navy, who notes that One Second After is not so much a novel as it is a warning: “An Electronic Pulse (EPM) explosion over the continental United States would have devastating consequences for our country….A well-designed nuclear weapon detonated at a high altitude over Kansas could have damaging effects over virtually all of the continental United States. Our technologically oriented society and its heavy dependence on advanced electronics systems could be brought to its knees with cascading failures of our critical infrastructure. Our vulnerability increases daily as our use and dependence on electronics continues to accelerate.”

Joan Trossman. 21 Nov 2012. Fire in the Sky. Scientists warn of a solar flare large enough to paralyze our electrified world. Pasadena Weekly.

If you have never heard of an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, then you have not spent any time worrying about an EMP causing the end of civilization as we know it. But scientists and some policymakers worry about such a thing happening, and for very good reason.

If an EMP were to occur over the United States, caused either by a particularly violent solar storm or by a small nuclear device detonated many miles above the ground, chances are high that the country’s entire electrical grid would fail, as a massive surge of electricity would fry the huge transformers that keep the grid humming. Satellites we rely on for navigation and communication would be damaged beyond repair, and society would crumble into a dysfunctional scramble for survival. The very necessities of life, such as clean water, food, medications, transportation, even government, would all either disappear or be in very short supply.

Given the fact that extreme solar events happen once or twice a decade, “It is just a question of not if, but when the Earth happens to be in the path of these kinds of [solar] storms,” according to Dan Baker, director of Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado.

Solar flares are not unusual.  On March 13, 1989, one blew out power in Quebec, leaving 6 million people in the dark. In 1921, a solar storm hit, but didn’t cause much damage. Today, such an occurrence would have darkened half of North America.

Last summer, Baker said there was a very close call. “Just on July 22, there was a very ugly, mean-looking active region on the sun that had moved across the face of the sun. A satellite was watching it. A huge flare, and then a CME, came at the spacecraft and it was moving at the highest recorded speed that has been seen in the modern Space Age. It reached the satellite in 17 hours. That’s an hour faster than the Carrington Event, and it led to extremely intense magnetic fields in the interplanetary medium. For all intents and purposes, that was a Carrington Event that just missed us. We dodged the proverbial bullet there. Now we know there have been others like this.

Can it happen again? “Some people say that the Carrington Event is a moldy old event and these things happen only once in 1,000 years,” Baker said. “I think recent work has suggested quite the contrary. The probability of any of these occurring during one 11-year cycle of solar storms is like 10 percent, a pretty significant probability. It’s not a rare thing.

Ultimately, whether triggered by a rogue nation’s high-altitude detonation of a small nuclear weapon or set off by a rare but possible extremely strong solar flare, the result will be the same if we continue to do nothing.

Congressional committees have acknowledged the danger since 2001. There have been studies ordered, hearings held, admissions of lack of knowledge and lists of problems. Still, it remains in the talking stages and no action has been taken to lessen the danger. The Department of Homeland Security admitted as recently as this past September that it has no estimate of the costs associated with an EMP. But experts, including Baker, have placed the cost at $1 trillion to $2 trillion. Estimates of the cost of meaningful preparation are $150 million to $200 million.

On Sept. 12, the House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Cyber security, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies held a hearing on the electromagnetic pulse threat. Rep. Dan Lungren of California chaired the hearing.

Lundgren, a former California Attorney General, said in his opening statement that an EMP from either a geomagnetic storm or an attack would wipe out the entire country’s electrical grid. Referring to a 2010 computer simulation conducted at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Lundgren said the power system collapse could take four to 10 years from which to fully recover.

“In 2004 and 2008, the EMP Commission testified before the Armed Services Committee that the US society and economy are so critically dependent upon the availability of electricity that a significant collapse of our grid…could result in catastrophic civilian casualties,” Franks said. “This conclusion is echoed by separate reports recently compiled by the DOD (Department of Defense), DHS (Department of Homeland Security), DOE (Department of Energy), NAS (National Academy of Sciences), along with various other agencies and independent researchers.

On Oct. 18, federal regulators took the first step toward mitigating the effects of an EMP. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) said present standards have “a reliability gap” and “do not adequately address vulnerabilities” from a destructive solar storm. FERC called for the agency that oversees the national grid to draft rules requiring power companies to assess their weaknesses and upgrade their grids to withstand the electrical onslaught.

Most power companies in the country are privately owned. As such, those companies have categorized the danger of an EMP as highly unlikely and have refused to officially assess their own vulnerabilities. In Baker’s opinion, that’s a big mistake.

“What would a Carrington Event look like in modern times? We need to be constantly vigilant, we need to keep our eye on our beautiful but dangerous partner here, the sun,” Baker said. “Knowing what’s coming at us is going to be very advantageous.”


Nov 22, 2012.  Preventing Armageddon Would Cost Only $100 Million … But Congress Is Too Thick to Approve the Fix. WashingtonsBlog

Government Spends Tens of Trillions On Unnecessary, Harmful Projects … But Won’t Spend $100 Million to Prevent the Greatest Threat.


Newt Gingrich.  12 July 2012.  Newt Gingrich: Preparing for the next outage. Washington Post.

Gingrich is a former speaker of the House and a Republican candidate for president.

Without power, the comforts of home become worthless. You sit in the sweltering heat, realizing you are living in a box that, without electricity, is a trap. You pray for the “juice” to return before your groceries go bad. You either make do in the heat or find refuge with friends who have electricity.  I write this now because of my concern for national security and our power grid, which are susceptible to doomsday-level damage if hit by an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) strike or a major solar storm.

It is almost unthinkable, yet possible, that an enemy could detonate a nuclear weapon over the atmosphere over the continental United States, triggering an electromagnetic pulse. This would short-circuit our power grid, taking power off­line for months, perhaps even years.

A similar crisis could be sparked by a solar storm like the Carrington Event of 1859, a type of geomagnetic disturbance that occurs about every 75 years. Statistically, we are long overdue for such a storm. There have been some recent examples of the potential impact, such as the millions in Quebec who lost power for several hours in 1989 as a result of a space storm.

Our nation’s communications infrastructure, modes of transportation and many fundamentals of survival all rely on a power grid that is vulnerable. The current system lacks safety features needed to prevent damage to critical electrical infrastructure.

In 2009, my friend — and sometimes co-author — William R. Forstchen published a truly frightening book, “One Second After.” The story is fiction but based on hard facts. It is a cautionary tale about the threat of EMP strikes and major solar storms, known as coronal mass ejections.

Suppose that, rather than being a temporary disruption in our lives, the power outage lasted weeks or months, or even years. Consider what state all of us, from the richest to the poorest, would be in if we were still literally in the dark. Millions could be trapped in houses or apartments that were never designed for this climate without air conditioning. No cool air; months with no food shipments and every pharmacy shut down — no refills for life-sustaining medications.

In a crisis, many in the Washington area could not even flee because the impact of an EMP attack would disable most cars and public transportation. The water supply would go dry without electricity to pump water from rivers and wells. Imagine if you could find a bottle of potable water for, say, your children. How much would you pay? What would you pay with if every bank and ATM were shut down? Public safety? Forget it. No power means no police cars, no communications and no 911 emergency service. For criminals, it would be time to run rampant.


Posted in Electric Grid, EMP Electromagnetic Pulse, Infrastructure Attacks | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Minerals: Coal from Ugo Bardi’s “Extracted”

Bardi, Ugo. 2014. Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth Is Plundering the Planet. Chelsea Green Publishing.

True large-scale coal mining started only during the 18th century in Europe, and in particular in England and France.

Initially coal was considered a poor fuel, but with the development of coking (baking coal to burn off impurities), mineral coal could be used for the same tasks as wood charcoal, but at a much lower price.

That changed many things. For instance, for most of human history iron had been smelted with charcoal, which made it such an expensive commodity that it was used to make little more than weapons and armor.

Now, produced in coal-fired forges, it became so cheap that it was possible to make everyday items in iron, such as pots, pans, and more.

Coal did more than make iron cheap; it powered the steam engine. The first steam engines were used to pump water out of coal mines. They were very inefficient, but it didn’t matter. Coal was inexpensive and abundant. The pumps made it possible to extract more coal, and more coal could power more pumps, leading to more coal being extracted.

With time, the steam engine became efficient enough that it could power ships and locomotives as well as factories. As William Stanley Jevons wrote in 1865, “Coal in truth stands not beside but entirely above all other commodities. It is the material energy of the country—the universal aid—the factor in everything we do. With coal almost any feat is possible or easy; without it we are thrown back into the laborious poverty of early times.”

With coal, Britain experienced the first industrial revolution. An awesome complex of factories, people, and machines became the inner powerhouse of the British Empire. The idea spread quickly to other countries. France had started her coal revolution perhaps even earlier than Britain; in fact the French Revolution that started in 1789 was born from the need to get rid of the old landed aristocracy to make room for a new, coal-based economy. Germany, too, developed its national mines, and slowly the revolution spread to eastern Europe, to Poland and Russia, and later on to North America.

But the domain of King Coal was not destined to last forever. Coal was perhaps the first important mineral resource of modern times to show depletion problems. England’s production peaked in the 1920s and was soon followed by Germany’s. France would peak a couple of decades later, but without ever approaching the production magnitude that England and Germany had achieved.

Coal had created the European world empires; its decline was to spell their demise. [ My comment: Just as deforestation had collapsed empires before this, see John Perlin’s “A forest journey” for the rise and fall of civilizations when wood was the main energy resource.]

King Coal was abdicating, at least in Europe. The history of coal didn’t end with the decline of the European producers. The lead was picked up by new producers in North America, China, and Australia, and coal is now the fastest growing energy resource in the world. But the importance of coal was destined to decline anyway thanks to the appearance of a new mineral commodity: crude oil, which was more versatile, more powerful, and easier to transport. The modern history of crude oil starts around the mid-19th century, and it had a very humble beginning.


Posted in Coal, Peak Coal, Ugo Bardi | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Mineral: Soil from Ugo Bardi’s “Extracted”

[ Ugo Bardi’s book on minerals covers a wide-ranging territory, including soil, which is a mineral.  In this section of the book he shows how humans have damaged the soil so much we have greatly overshot carrying capacity by lowering its capacity to grow food, and he explains why there is no way to fix this with GMO crops or other solutions.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts:  KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity]

Bardi, Ugo. 2014. Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth Is Plundering the Planet. Chelsea Green Publishing.

Today, it is estimated that the land biosphere produces 56 billion tons of new biomass every year. Of the elements that are part of this mass, most come from the atmosphere, but about 1% must be extracted from the ground. Therefore, plants are mining about half a billion tons of materials from the crust every year. The cycle is very efficient: plants have never been in danger of “running out” of minerals at the planetary scale.

Nowadays humans extract from the ground several billion tons of materials every year. We use all 88 of the elements present in the Earth’s crust and even unstable elements that didn’t exist on Earth in measurable amounts before we started creating them. We dig at depths unthinkable for plant roots: our mines are hundreds of meters deep and our drills reach tens of kilometers into the crust, even under the sea.

Soil Fertility and Human Survival

Perhaps our most important source of minerals can be found in the rich, complex ecosystem that blankets most of the Earth’s land surface: soil. This all-important organic matter was formed over thousands of years as rock broke down into tiny particles that were gradually infiltrated by living organisms. Running anywhere between a few centimeters and several meters deep, soil sustains a diverse mix of plants and animals that forever change it as they live and die. It is moved about by wind, water, ice, and gravity—sometimes slowly, sometimes rapidly. As history has shown us, it can make or break civilizations. It’s little surprise that many ancient civilizations began where the topsoil was richest and farming was most productive. But many of these civilizations mismanaged the soil, and as their agricultural productivity declined, so did their civilizations. Occasionally they vanished entirely. Studies suggest that the 1,700-year-old Mayan civilization in South America collapsed around 900 CE because its fertile ground eroded away due to bad soil management. 3 Soil and survival are so intricately entwined because fertile soil supplies most of the elements that higher plants need to support photosynthesis and other metabolic processes.

Soil depletion occurs in many ways. In agriculture, depletion can result from excessively intense cultivation and inadequate soil management. For instance, in tropical zones where the nutrient content of soils is low, widespread soil depletion has resulted from over-tilling (which damages the soil structure), insufficient nutrient inputs (which leads to mining of the soil’s nutrient bank), and salinization.

The combined effects of growing population density, large-scale industrial logging, slash-and-burn agriculture, ranching, and other factors have in some places reduced soil fertility to nearly zero. In fact, billions of tons of soil are being physically lost each year.

The most serious losses arise from erosion— the washing or blowing away of surface soil, sometimes down to bedrock.

While some erosion takes place naturally, without human help, natural soil loss and new soil creation normally stay in balance. However, the rates of soil erosion associated with agricultural practices are accelerating, to the point of exceeding soil-loss tolerances over most of the Earth’s cropland regions.

The irrigation systems that have played an important role in increasing crop production have also had negative impacts on soil quality, with some researchers estimating that excessive watering has caused salinization.

As figure 2.1 shows, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that 34 million hectares (Mha), or 11% of irrigated areas, are affected by some level of salinization, with China, the United States, and India representing more than 60 percent, 21 million hectares (Mha), of the total impacted land.

An additional 60 to 80 Mha are affected to some extent by water logging and related salinity.

The uncontrolled application of chemical and industrial wastes has degraded soil as well.

Not all soil loss is from farming, though. Millions of hectares of what would otherwise be good farmland are being flooded for reservoirs or paved over for highways, airports, parking lots, and expanding urban areas. Agriculture is also experiencing rising competition from fast-growing cities and urban settlements, resulting in smaller areas of productive agricultural land at a time when world population is growing and expectations are rising among people everywhere for a better life. Global warming, too, is expected to increase the rate of nutrient loss in soils, since microbial decomposition occurs faster under warmer temperatures.

soil health globally ugo bardi extracted

FIGURE 1. The state of soil health globally.

The Impact on Food Supply

The world is facing a series of challenges to human survival. Water is growing increasingly scarce, water pollution is becoming more widespread, and water-related ecosystems are degrading. Global warming, air and land pollution, and the depletion of natural and mineral resources are escalating. These are all serious threats to human welfare, but the loss of suitable land and soil quality for agricultural production is no less important and no less serious.

The total land area of the world exceeds 13.2 billion hectares, but less than half of it can be used for agriculture, including grazing. The remainder is either too wet or too dry, too shallow or too rocky. The single most serious drawback to farming additional land is generally lack of water. In addition, some land is toxic, some is deficient in the nutrients that plants require, and some is permanently frozen.

A report of the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the US Department of Agriculture showed that:

  • Some of the world’s land productivity has declined by 50 percent.
  • Desertification can be observed on 33 percent of the global land surface and affects more than one billion people, half of whom live in Africa.
  • Crop yield reduction in Africa due to past soil erosion may range between 2 and 40 percent, with a mean total loss of 8.2% for the continent.

The report estimated that in 2001 southern Asia lost an estimated 36 million tons, or $5.4 billion, of cereal production to water erosion and $1.8 billion to wind erosion. On a global scale the annual loss of 75 billion tons of soil costs the world about $400 billion per year.

Unfortunately, there are no simple solutions to these gigantic, complex problems. We cannot expect that technology will come to the rescue with some miracle crop. The so-called green revolution that took place during the second half of the 20th century did increase crop yields, but in the process it used large amounts of artificial fertilizers and crops that required increased amounts of pesticides in order to survive.

The productivity of the land is limited by basic factors such as the efficiency of natural photosynthesis, which cannot be modified by humans—not even by using fancy GMO crops. We must recognize that we are in a state of deep overshoot for practically all the natural resources available to us.

What we are facing may be no different from the fate of many civilizations of the past. When farm productivity declined, society attempted to maintain production by expanding the land base under cultivation and putting more effort into cultivating the depleted areas. That led to accelerated soil loss, which became a major factor in the collapse of entire civilizations—such as the Mayan one.

World production of some mineral commodities in 2010 based on data from the British Geological Survey

Figure 2.1 World production of some mineral commodities in 2010 based on data from the British Geological Survey

Figure 2.1  shows some data for the total minerals produced in 2010. This amount becomes even larger if we consider the “extraction” of fertile soil in agriculture—consumed by erosion—as mining. It is estimated that about 4 billion tons of agricultural soil is eroded in the United States and dumped into the oceans every year. 61 Global estimates have ranged from 75 billion tons per year to 120 billion tons. 62 These amounts dwarf those created by natural erosion, which is at least one order of magnitude smaller.

Posted in Agriculture, Peak Food, Soil, Ugo Bardi | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Plan B: How the rich are prepping for collapse

[ It’s not just individuals but nations that are seeking land to improve their security.  

As an example of what a house built by someone rich to last beyond the fossil fuel age is like, I have a description of the house George W. Bush has built in Texas.  By the way, he was certainly aware of peak oil, why do you think he invaded Iraq?

Other wealthy people have more than one rat hole to dodge into via private yacht or plane.  The rest of us, even if we’d like to live on a small farm as far from large cities as possible, can’t afford to do so.  And most of us would fail if we tried, as the millions of “back to the landers” did in the first oil crises (find out why here).

I don’t have a Plan B because I’m very happily married to an optimistic husband who like 99.9% of people recoils from the horror of peak everything and insists the scientists will come up with something.  I’d have to leave my husband to move somewhere more sustainable, and I love him too much to do that. Plus I’d have to leave other dearly loved family and friends nearby as well as delightful neighbors in our community that I’ve come to know the past 25 years.

I think most of us have strong ties and are doomed to front row seats on the roller coaster ride down the Seneca cliff and Hubbert’s curve.  

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]

Land Grabs

Millions of acres of land are being stolen from local people by international corporations around the globe who bribe corrupt officials to grab land, decimate (rain)forests, and grow palm oil  after the land has been stripped bare.  This releases so much carbon dioxide from the loss of the trees and peat soils that any biofuels produced (and corn ethanol for that matter), release far more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels (Pearce 2013, Institute of Medicine 2014).

Fischetti, M. May 1, 2015. To meet demand for food, fuel and wood, countries are snapping up property beyond their borders. Scientific American.

Fertile land is becoming scarce worldwide, especially for crops for food, feed, biofuels, timber and fiber such as cotton. To produce those goods, wealthy countries such as the U.S. and small countries with little space are buying up or leasing large tracts of land that are suitable for agriculture in other nations. Products are shipped back home or sold locally, at times squeezing out native farmers, landowners and businesses. In the past 15 years companies and government groups in “investor” countries have grabbed 31.8 million hectares of land, the area of New Mexico (column on right), according to the Land Matrix Global Observatory’s database of transactions that target low- and middle-income countries. Crops are being produced on only 2.7 million of those hectares thus far (column on left). Overall, a large transfer of land ownership from the global south to the global north seems to be under way.

The nations leasing or owning to most land are (see Scientific American article for graphics): Austria Belgium   Canada (10)  Chile China (6)  Cyprus   Denmark   Finland   Finland   France   Germany   India (3)   Italy   Japan   Luxembourg   Malaysia (2)   Netherlands   Norway   Portugal   Saudi Arabia (9)   Singapore (5)   South Africa   South Korea (8)  Sweden Thailand   U.K. (7)  United Arab Emirates (4)  USA (1)   Vietnam

The Top 10 countries leasing or selling land IN PRODUCTION are (10,425 square miles, in order of most to least): Ukraine, Indonesia, Uruguay, Brazil, Laos, Papua New Guinea, China, Romania, India, Madagascar

The top 10 countries with LAND UNDER CONTRACT (122,780 square miles): South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Republic of Cong, Ukraine, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, LIberia, Sudan

Former President George Bush’s ranch house in Crawford, Texas

The Texas Two-Step. George W. and Laura Bush’s new Crawford, Texas home boasts a stunning array of eco-friendly features—perhaps not what you’d expect from one of the least environmentally friendly administrations since…um, creation. By Rose Marie Berger

The Bush ranch house in Crawford, Texas, balances beauty with state-of-the-art energy efficiency. Designed by Austin environmental architect David Heymann, and built by members of a religious community from nearby Elm Mott, George W. and Laura Bush’s dream home is built of a BTU-efficient, honey-toned native limestone quarried from the nearby Edwards Limestone Formation.

The passive-solar house is positioned to absorb winter sunlight, warming the interior walkways and walls. Underground water, which remains a constant 55 degrees year-round, is piped through a heat exchange system that keeps the interior warm in winter and cool in summer. A graywater reclamation system treats and reuses waste water. Rain gutters feed a cistern hooked to a sprinkler system for watering the fruit orchard and grass. Clearly, Bush goes home from the White House to a green house. Western White House Turns Green with Innovative Onsite Treatment System by Melinda Suchecki

His 1500-acre ranch is located near Crawford, Texas, about 30 miles west of Waco. Aside from the gray and black water recycling and irrigation systems, the home features geothermal heating, active and passive solar energy, and a rainwater collection system with a 40,000-gallon underground cistern. The purpose of the cistern and a separate gray water system is for surface irrigation of fruit trees.

The black water system features over 2000 gallons of pre-treatment and equalization tanks which meter close to a 1000GPD Hoot Aerobic System. However, the treatment process doesn’t stop there. The effluent leaves the aerobic system through a Polylok Effluent Filter and enters a recirculating media filter, which acts like a sand filter. The effluent passes through a unique medium several times prior to discharge from the filter, where it passes through yet another media filter before entering the pump tank. “With this design, we were able to incorporate the high efficiency of an extended aerobic system with the startup and shock load capability of a sand filter. However, the established aeration system will prevent the potential plugging effect seen in sand filters because the water enters in 95% reduced of both BOD and TSS.”

The effluent leaves the recirculating filter and is stored in a pump tank. The Hoot Control Center operates the Lighthouse Beacon Filtration System. The filter not only performs effluent filtration, but automatically back-flushes and performs scheduled field flush cycles as well. The effluent is filtered through the 3-dimensional, 100-micron filter before being pumped 350 feet away to a four-zone drip irrigation field. The drip tubing is Netafim Bioline .62 GPH and features a pressure-compensating emitter design. The pressure-compensating design ensures even distribution throughout the entire field. The zones are automatically advanced each time the system doses, ensuring even distribution. If low levels of water usage are observed, the system can utilize just one zone to encourage plant growth.

Further complicating the design was the system location. If the system was to gravity flow, it would require all the treatment equipment to be placed right out-side the bedroom of George and Laura, between them and their new 7-acre lake. This proved to be unacceptable.

The system needed both gray and black water lift stations from the main house to pump to the location of the equipment, over 500 feet away behind the garage. The guest house gravity flows to the system. All of the controls are remotely mounted inside a specially designed utility room inside the middle of the garage. Over two miles of wiring were used to complete the remote location project.

Each tank has duplex pumps and a separate, independent alarm circuit that goes to an alarm system control panel. The system has the ability to remotely alert if one of the duplex pumps fails, latch to the next, then independently alert of a high water situation. This system is in every tank, and works even in the event of a power failure. The system is remotely monitored by an alarm company that can tell service personnel exactly what the problem is and a determination can be made if it requires immediate attention, or if a problem can wait until the next day. For example, if one of the pumps in the recirculation system has failed, then it may not require immediate attention. “If there is a high water level in the lift station on the main house,” Ron asserted, “well, there will be three of us racing to see who gets out there first.”

The Hoot systems, lift stations, and standard as well as custom tanks to complete the project were all pre-cast concrete, made by CPI of Waco, Texas. Mark Kieran of Brazos Wastewater was the installer of the system, with the majority of the hookup being completed by Ron, Jim, and Jim’s father, Frank Prochaska, from Lorena, Texas.

The incorporation of an innovative onsite wastewater strategy is a testament to the acceptance of onsite as a long-term treatment solution. The Bushes’ incorporation of environmentally sensitive approaches to their new home is an example of what individuals can do to create a better place for us all to live.

Also see:

Robinson, M. June 13, 2017. Billionaires are stockpiling land that could be used in the apocalypse — here’s where they’re going. Business Insider.

10/23/15  Superyacht Getaway Subs And Luxury Bomb Shelters: The Elite Are The Most Paranoid Preppers Of All.

Wellman, A. 26 Jan 2015. Panicked super rich buying boltholes with private airstrips to escape if poor rise up. The Mirror.


Institute of Medicine. The Nexus of Biofuels, Climate Change, and Human Health: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2014.

Pearce, F. 2013. The Land Grabbers: The New Fight over Who Owns the Earth. Beacon Press.

Also see:

Posted in Advice | Tagged , | 2 Comments

America’s energy future. U.S. House hearing 2011

[  It’s always good to look back in time to when our representatives were worried about our dependency on oil.  Apparently they were desperate, since the proposed H.R. 909 bill included Coal-To-Liquids (CTL), much of it for the military.  I predict that when the shale oil and gas boom goes bust, CTL will be back again as a “solution”.  And that anyone who thinks we have less than 250 years of coal left won’t be invited to speak at hearings, and that the military will grab most of it to try to keep the oil flowing.

DEVIN NUNES, CALIFORNIA.  “H.R. 909 would enhance our national security by removing barriers to expand our Nation’s secure coal supplies to fill the tanks of the American military vehicles and jets. In fact, the bill’s near-term goal is to produce at least 300,000 barrels of CTL, coal to liquid. Such supply would equal the amount of fuel consumed daily by the U.S. military for domestic operations.  The American people are looking to us for leadership. They know intuitively that we are running out of time, and they are worried about the future of our country and for their-and our country’s future for their children”.

David Sandalow. “We are supporting reducing our dependence on oil by developing the next generation of biofuels”. [ I guess he hasn’t read my post “Peak soil: Why biofuels destroy ecosystems and civilizations”.

Thomas Hicks is the only one who understands that a “drop-in replacement fuel is critical”.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts:  KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity]

House Serial No. 112–57. June 3, 2011.  The American energy initiative part 9:  H.R. 909, A roadmap for America’s energy future. House of Representatives.

HENRY A. WAXMAN, CALIFORNIA;   Today we are holding a hearing on a bill that is titled, ‘‘Roadmap for America’s Energy Future.’’ Our Nation faces major energy challenges and we need to have a serious conversation about the American energy future

But I am sad to say the legislation we are examining today proposes no innovative solutions to our Nation’s energy needs. It doubles down on oil, and it doubles down on old, ineffective policies. We have seen this roadmap before. This is a recycled version of a plan developed by the secretive Bush-Cheney Energy Task Force and pushed through Congress by Republicans while they were in office. The Bush administration and Congressional Republicans spent 8 years following this roadmap. They pushed oil and gas drilling, onshore and offshore. They expedited permits and weakened environmental protections. They opposed efforts to increase fuel economy. They called for nuclear fuel reprocessing. They tried to greenwash proposals for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by implying congressional appropriators could use royalty revenues to support renewable energy. They pushed the dirtiest alternative and unconventional fuels, coal-to-liquids, oil shale, and tar sands. And where did this roadmap lead us? Energy prices soared, and carbon pollution increased. And we have become even more dependent on foreign oil. In the last year of the Bush administration the Energy Information Administration projected that our dependence on oil and oil imports would continue to rise year after year. Today, we are sending nearly $1 billion per day overseas for foreign oil. We use 25% of the world’s oil, but we only have 2% of the world’s oil reserves. We’ve worked to increase our domestic crude oil production by nearly 300,000 barrels per day. And yet gas prices remain high. Increasing oil production is not going to solve our energy needs.

Even if we doubled our oil production, oil prices would still be set by world markets and leave us vulnerable to price shocks. H.R. 909’s roadmap doesn’t lead to the future. It leads to the past. The technology to turn coal into liquid fuel has been around since World War II. Its problem is as it has always been: huge amounts of carbon pollution that will drive uncontrolled climate change.

American entrepreneurs and inventors are using technology to unlock real energy solutions: energy sources that are clean, safe, and affordable, and grow our economy. In testimony provided to the committee for today’s hearing, we will hear that the wind and solar industries will create over 200,000 new jobs. But H.R. 909 would abandon our clean energy future to China. For many reasons it is unlikely to help renewable energy, because of flaws in its reverse auction mechanism.

The bill does nothing on efficiency, which is the cheapest and most reliable new source of supply. It promotes the form of nuclear energy that risks putting nuclear bomb grade material into the hands of terrorists. It does nothing to develop carbon capture and storage, the technology that coal needs to remain a competitor in a carbon-constrained world. In 2001, Vice President Cheney said, ‘‘Conservation may be a side of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.’’ Ten years later the Republican budget defunds the federal investment in energy conservation and innovation. The rest of the world has been racing ahead over the last decade. It is too bad the Republicans’ energy policies have not.

DEVIN NUNES, CALIFORNIA.  Our Nation has been blessed with great abundance of natural resources. Consider these astounding facts. ANWR potentially contains 10 billion barrels of oil, the Outer Continental Shelf is estimated to hold 85 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and over two trillion barrels of oil are held in oil shale deposits, more than are contained in all of the countries in the Middle East combined. Additionally, our Nation has nearly 250 billion tons of recoverable coal reserves, which is the estimated equivalent of 800 billion barrels of oil and constitutes more than three times Saudi Arabia’s proven oil reserves. Unbelievably, our government has chosen not to utilize these resources fully, despite the repeated promises to achieve energy independence by both Democrats and Republican administrations and Congresses alike. But continued inaction is unacceptable with stubbornly high unemployment, lackluster economic growth, widespread unrest in the Middle East, and the prospect of escalating gas prices punishing American families. Nothing done by our government in the past 4 decades has actually helped to achieve the goal of energy independence, or for that matter, kept energy prices affordable for American families and businesses. The reverse is true. We are more dependent on foreign oil today than ever before and far more economically vulnerable than at any point in our Nation’s history.

The energy roadmap is not a radical alternative to current energy policy. That is, while we can all agree that we need a comprehensive approach, this approach must be market-based and gradual if we are to achieve true energy independence. The energy roadmap would lift restrictions on development and extraction of resources in ANWR and OCS. The roadmap recognizes that dependence on any one fuel source is dangerous and short-sighted.

Another component of the roadmap would establish or would mandate that 200 reactors permits be granted by 2040. This bill would provide new, streamlined regulations and a system to manage the waste that will drive private sector investments in these facilities, which today are stalled as a result of red tape, lawsuits, and parochial concerns. Nuclear power in my estimation is essential to achieving an abundant and affordable supply of electricity to fuel our Nation’s economy

H.R. 909 would enhance our national security by removing barriers to expand our Nation’s secure coal supplies to fill the tanks of the American military vehicles and jets. In fact, the bill’s near- team goal is to produce at least 300,000 barrels of CTL, coal to liquid. Such supply would equal the amount of fuel consumed daily by the U.S. military for domestic operations.

The American people are looking to us for leadership. They know intuitively that we are running out of time, and they are worried about the future of our country and for their—and our country’s future for their children.

Mr. WHITFIELD. In your proposal you talk about licensing 200 new nuclear plants in a relatively short time, by 2040. But we have a significant issue of how do we dispose of this waste because the administration has basically stopped Yucca Mountain after the expenditure of $15 billion and after judgments against the Federal Government of $15 billion and after taxpayers and energy users have paid the fee for this, how do you propose that we would get rid of this waste?

Mr. NUNES. What I tried to achieve in drafting this legislation was to create a scenario where the Congress forces an administration to act one way or the other on Yucca Mountain and reprocessing and a whole host of issues, because as you know, it seems like every President, no matter if it is Republican or Democrat is—they are all for nuclear power yet nothing ever happens

Mr. David Sandalow, Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy

The administration agrees with many of the goals of this bill. For example, the administration believes that facilitating the efficient responsible development of our oil and gas resources is a necessary component of energy security. We are working to expand cleaner sources of energy, including renewables like wind, solar, and geothermal, nuclear power, as well as clean coal and natural gas on public lands. However, the administration has serious concerns with many provisions in this legislation. For example, a number of the changes in Title I would make amendments to Interior’s Offshore Energy Program, undercutting safety and environmental reforms adopted in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and it would open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. Department of the Interior and other involved agencies may have additional views on this legislation.

Many countries are moving aggressively to develop and deploy the clean energy technologies that the world will demand in the coming years and decades. As the President said, this is our generation’s Sputnik moment. We must rev up the great American innovation machine to win the clean energy race and secure our future prosperity. To that end, President Obama has called for increased investments in clean energy research, development, and deployment. In addition, he has proposed generating 80 percent of America’s electricity from clean energy sources by 2035.

A clean energy standard will provide a clear, long-term signal to industry to bring capital off the sidelines and into the clean energy sector. It will grow the domestic market for clean sources of energy, creating jobs, driving innovation, and enhancing national security. And by drawing on a wide range of energy sources, including renewables, nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas, it will give utilities the flexibility they need to meet our clean energy goals while protecting consumers in every region of the country. The Department of Energy’s goal is to strengthen the Nation’s economy, enhance our security, and protect the environment by investing in key priority, including supporting groundbreaking basic research, leading in the development and deployment of clean and efficient energy technologies to reduce our dependence on oil, and strengthening national security by reducing nuclear dangers, maintaining a safe and secure and effective nuclear deterrent and cleaning up our cold war legacy. As the President said in his State of the Union address, investing in clean energy will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create thousands of new jobs here at home. We are doing this through programs to make, for example, homes and buildings more energy efficient with a new Better Buildings Initiative. We are also developing new sources of wind, solar, and geothermal supporting the modernization of the electric grid and carbon capture and sequestration technologies. We are supporting reducing our dependence on oil by developing the next generation of biofuels and promoting electric vehicle research and deployment supporting the President’s goal of putting one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

THOMAS HICKS.  Department of the Navy. As the Deputy Assistant Secretary I have been actively involved in assessing the policy, economic, technological, and environmental costs and benefits associated with the use of fossil fuels and alternative fuels. I and many members of my staff and colleagues have personally met with dozens of industry representatives of U.S.-based organizations from a wide range of interests including alternative fuel companies, large oil companies, venture capital, private equity, and industry associations. We have also met with government experts from DOE, the Department of Defense, Department—U.S. Department of Agriculture, NASA, EPA, and others. So the perspective provided here today is drawn on these discussions and on contemporary studies and analysis on the topic of alternative fuels.

Changing the way the United States uses, produces, and acquires energy is one of the central policy challenges that confront the Nation.

As a military and as a country, we rely far too much on fossil fuels, far too much on foreign sources of oil. This dependency degrades our national security and negatively impacts our economy. Our dependency on fossil fuels makes us more susceptible to price shocks, supply shocks, natural and man-made disasters, and, as we have recently seen, political unrest in countries halfway around the world.

The challenges we face today are not just about what types of fuels we use or where and how those fuels are produced. Clearly we must be more efficient in the fuels that we use. The best barrel of oil is the barrel of oil we do not use. The challenge we face in the Navy today is the 280 ships we have today, the 3,700 aircraft are largely the ones we are going to have tomorrow and into the future, so focusing on new sources of fuel, drop-in replacement fuel is critical.

The Department of the Navy’s interest in this topic of alternative fuels is fundamentally about improving our national security and our long-term energy security. The more we replace for in sources of oil with more diverse, domestically-produced alternative fuels the better we are as a military and the better we are as a Nation. How one successfully accomplishes that objective is where the debate lies, and it is a topic that the Department of the Navy has a perspective.

It has recently suggested before this committee that the best near-term approach to meet the Department of Defense fuel needs is essentially a coal-derived or a mixture of coal-derived and biomass Fischer-Tropsch fuels. Fischer-Tropsch is a thermo-chemical conversion process invented and developed in pre-World War II Germany to convert resources such as coal, natural gas, and biomass to fuel oil.

In this country given the enormous quantities of biomass required and its relative limited availability at the scales required to run a Fischer-Tropsch or an FT plant, biomass as a long-term feedstock is typically not considered. More often than not, coal is viewed as the primary, if not exclusive, feedstock, and as a result, in addition to requiring large, new sources of coal, it requires enormous quantities of water, $5 to $10 billion in capital per plant to provide a fuel result that is more than twice as carbon intensive as petroleum.

From the Navy’s perspective, there simply are too many questions to suggest that this is the best near-term solution. In our ongoing dialogue with industry, venture capital, and the equity communities, one thing is clear. America’s advanced biofuel industry knows no geopolitical boundaries, and unlike the proposed near- term solution, the feedstocks and refineries needed to produce advanced biofuels to power the fleet or our aircraft can literally be produced in every State, all 50 States. The U.S.-based companies comprising this industry that are currently producing or will soon be producing fuels across the spectrum from the tens of thousands of gallons to the tens of millions of gallons. These are companies new and old, some are small businesses, and some are now publicly traded. These companies represent the type of innovation and spirit needed to meet the energy demands of the future. In conclusion, a robust advanced drop-in biofuels market is an essential element of our national energy security. Energy security for the Nation requires unrestricted, uninterrupted access to affordable energy sources to power our economy and our military. Traditional fossil-fuel based petroleum derived from crude oil has an increasingly challenging market and supply constraints. Chief among these is limited, unevenly distributed, and concentrated global sources of supply. Advanced biofuels that use domestic, renewable feedstock provide a secure alternative that reduces the risks associated with petroleum dependence.

WHITFIELD.   Mr. Sandalow, you are Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs at DOE, and you know as well as any of us that we are utilizing about 20 million barrels of oil a day here in the U.S. for all of our needs, most of it transportation. And since 1976, when Jimmy Carter was President, and the big push was made, we have got to be less dependent on foreign oil. Now, this administration in my personal view is overselling the electric cars and some of these renewable energy mechanisms, not that we don’t need them but I don’t realistically think that they are going to be able to meet all of our increased energy demands any time soon. But you have probably studied this even more than I have since you are head of policy. What is your realistic appraisal on our ability to significantly reduce the amount of oil that we are buying from the Middle East and other countries, and what kind of timeframe from your analysis do you think is realisti

Mr. SANDALOW. I think the ability of this country to meet any great challenge is extraordinary and I believe that if we set our minds to it that we can reduce our dependence on oil, reduce our dependence on imported oil, and we can do it by following a number of different pathways. I do believe that electric vehicles have tremendous potential, and by the way, not just to reduce our dependence on oil but also to create jobs in this country.

Mr. GONZALEZ. You said a couple of things that were rather interesting. Regarding DOD and the role that it can play as we go in search for alternatives, on page 3 of your testimony, ‘‘the camelina grown in Florida and Montana, the algae grown in New Mexico, Hawaii, or in Pennsylvania, for example, can be turned into fuels blended in existing infrastructure in the Gulf or on the East or West Coast to power the Fleet.’’ So you are saying that that may be a realistic alternative in your opinion?

Mr. HICKS. It certainly is a realistic and growing alternative for us, literally and figuratively. I mean, it is one that we are seeing— today we are aware of a facility in the—in Texas, for example, that is capable of alternative fuels, bio-based alternative fuels, 90 million gallons per year, and claiming at competitive prices with petroleum. So we are seeing that. You know, what we are looking at is fuels that don’t need new infrastructure, and that is both for the commercial sector but also for us. We need ready, dropped-in fuels, fuels that don’t require changes to our platforms and our engines, that don’t require changes to our infrastructure to store and use the fuel, and that is exactly what we are getting by looking at these advanced biofuels. And to be clear, we are looking at these in 50/50 blends, so these are blended with petroleum, and that is a common point for the commercial industry as well, going to a 50/50 blend.

TERRY. In your opening you made statements and suggestions about making the Navy vehicles more energy efficient, and of course, you also then mentioned that the major users of fuel are ships and planes. How do you make them more fuel efficient? How do you get better air miles per gallon for your planes and ocean miles for your ships? And following up, if you can make them more efficient, why haven’t you?

Mr. HICKS. We are making them more efficient, and the way you do that in surface vessels as well as aircraft, we are putting propeller coatings on ships to be silkier in the water, better able to float through the water. We are also putting coatings on the stern flaps of many of our ships, where it is economically justified in the lifespan of those platforms, as they go through their dry docking procedures. We are putting coatings on our aircraft as well.

We have a program in shipping called INCON, which is a way for the skipper of the ship to plot out their course in a more efficient w

I think we are very comfortable with the program that we are on, and we feel that that is the best near-term solution for the Department of Navy is one that is focused on alternative biofuels. The challenges with coal to liquids, as has been mentioned before, it is a technology that has been around since pre- World War II Germany. The challenges there are the capital expenditures required, $5 to $10 billion, the amount of water and the sources of water that you need for that, the amount of waste that is generated from those plants, and then certainly there is the carbon picture there that—which is typically those plants without carbon capture and storage—— and that’s why it hasn’t been done in this country.

Mr. WAXMAN.  Mr. Sandalow, the bill before us purports to be a roadmap to our energy future, but it omits key policies that many recognize are critically important. For example, it does not even mention energy efficiency. It also fails to mention technologies that show so much promise and are just now beginning to be commercialized like electric vehicles. Instead it seems to be a proposal to return to the energy policies of the Bush administration with a focus on drilling in the Arctic Refuge and the Outer Continental Shelf.

JAMES T. BARTIS. I will be focusing my remarks today on the policy implications of sections of H.R. 909 that deal with oil shale and coal liquefaction, as is RAND’s policy.

The United States has enormous oil shale [my comment: not true, it is not even close to being commercial, there’s not enough water, and so on — see Shale Oil], has an enormous oil shale resource base, enough to support the production of millions of barrels per day for centuries. But getting a useful fuel from this resource is technically complex, requiring temperatures that are much higher than those used in processing Canadian oil sands. Moreover, nearly all of the high-value oil shale resources are geographically concentrated on federally managed lands in a very small area, roughly 30 by 35 miles in Colorado’s Piceance Basin and within a small portion of the Uinta Basin within Utah. That oil shale belongs to all of us. The public value is potentially tens of trillions of dollars. But reaping that public benefit, not to mention the energy security benefits of domestic alternative fuels production, requires the development of a commercial oil shale industry capable of producing a few million barrels per day. That level of production should be the long-term strategic goal for oil shale. At this stage I don’t know if that goal can be achieved. We are talking about a tremendous amount of industrial activity, especially when we consider supporting infrastructure within a very small area. Extensive measures will be required to prevent serious adverse ecological and social economic impacts and to protect the quality of the Colorado River. My analysis of the oil shale provisions of H.R. 909 is that they do not move our Nation towards that long-term strategic goal of large and sustainable commercial production.

There are a few areas where Congress may need to provide direction so that the Nation can realize the full opportunity that oil shale offers. The critical step is obtaining early production experience. Until we understand the performance of the process options, it is not productive to engage in establishing a detailed, regulatory structure for a large, multi-million barrel-per-day commercial industry.  You should require that the Departments of Energy and the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency cooperatively develop and publish a federal plan for promoting the construction and operation of a limited number of pioneer commercial plants. That plan should be designed to attract America’s top high-technology firms. You should also require the Department of the Interior develop, publish, and implement a 15-year schedule for multiple offerings of small R&D leases. Finally, require the preparation of plans for conducting critical environmental and ecological research and an assessment of the carbon management options in the vicinity of the federally managed oil shale lands

I am concerned with the slow progress towards gaining commercial experience in coal-derived liquids production in the United States. However, I do not believe that government ownership of alternative fuels production facilities is a credible solution. If the Congress is interested in using the purchasing power of the Defense Department to promote early commercial experience, I suggest providing the Department with the authority to make long- term agreements to guarantee a minimum sale price to the benefit of the alternative fuel producer in the event that oil prices are low. In return for this benefit the Department would negotiate a maximum purchase price that would be lower than world oil prices in the event that world oil prices pass a specified threshold.

Mr. AUERBACH. The United States has plenty of resources. I agree with what the Congressman is saying. If we are going to develop more clean energy and use technologies that are now commercially available and coming down rapidly in cost like electric cars, we need to have a resource strategy, and it has to be domesticated more than it is today.



Posted in Coal to Liquids (CTL), Energy Dependence | Tagged , | Leave a comment