Sober & Serious “Experts”

  • Posted: June 6, 2020
  • Category: Blog
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In the time of Coronavirus, my wife and I take long walks. This brief foray fortifies mind and body as well as maintaining our pretense to living in “the land of the free and home of the brave”. An oft used path follows along a local dirt road. Those raised outside the canyons of urban concrete and asphalted suburbs know a thing or two about dirt roads. They are dirty. When driven on they give birth to billowing clouds of dust.

Local residents, being the people we are, raise clouds of complaint over these clouds of dust. Elected officials, sensitive to clouds of complaint, raise clouds of “do something” to their minions in the Department of Transportation.

And so in the course of events, offending dirt roads get sprayed with a curious substance leaving the road “wet”. The dirt road appears to have been rained on, but doesn’t dry off. And in keeping with the rationale for this exercise, it doesn’t raise dust.

What is this magical substance wetting the road? Well, truth be told – I don’t know for sure. Back in the bad old days when economics, practicality and people’s health weighed more heavily in the balance than survival of the “Earth”, the magical substance most often used for dust control was recycled motor oil.

Motor oil sprayed on dirt leaves a peculiar look and feel, a quite unmistakable look and feel familiar to backyard mechanics. The road dirt on our walk has that same look and feel. But it cannot be motor oil else the Adorable seraphim of the Earth Mother would bring down a righteous fury on the miscreants. Upon a desultory investigation of various codes, standards and DOT web sites, I have come to believe the road was treated with an “organic petroleum product”.

“Organic petroleum products” apparently are a form of asphalt (heavy oil) that has been treated with surfactants and emulsifiers. OMG!! These villains are the tools used by “frackers” in the rape of our precious “Earth”. In fact, drilling down into the dry tedious fine print of DOT Codes and product literature, one learns that these nefarious substances are not only implicated in “fracking”, but also enable that environmental horror know as Canadian tar sands. These surfactants/emulsifiers dissolve crude oil from the sand beds allowing its production.

Needless to say, a pipeline accident allowing these “organic petroleum products” to spill onto the ground would be headline news. Sober and serious “experts”, appropriately diverse, would be rushed onto CNN Breaking News. Waiting passengers at airport gates around the world, captives of CNN’s “factual” news feeds, would be alerted to the looming environmental Apocalypse. It all depends on those “experts”, fish or fowl, devil or angel.

On the other hand, I may be overstating the case. Appropriately diverse sober and serious “experts” have other fish to fry these days. In irrefutable testimony to the power of public hysteria, log rolling and crony capitalism, the renewable power lobby is nearing a time of crisis.

It must be said there exists a “Hive Mind” in America today. Various troubles, both real and imagined, excite the bees causing much buzzing. Both bee keepers and political power structures know that gentle clouds of smoke will calm the bees, maintain order in the hive as well as facilitating the harvesting of honey. The generation of calming smoke by sober and serious “experts”, appropriately diverse, is a proven sedative in Adorable America.

We are now coming upon a time when the addition of more solar and wind power generators will overwhelm the ability of the power grid to use, an embarrassment of riches so to speak. The approach of a rational society would be to reconfigure the choked forest of subsidies, set-asides and legal commitments currently in place for “renewable and sustainable” energy.

While the chattering classes pontificate on such things, responsible people understand actual power grid operation requires the ability to be turned on and off as demand varies, otherwise known as dispatch, an ability regrettably absent from the twin pillars of “renewable” power generation.

But alas, there have been too many promises made by the portentous to the gullible in service of the parasite for rational approaches. Until some high school drop out, tinkering in his garage, invents the “inertialess drive” of fond memory, power grids will require traditional engines/boilers firing traditional fuels. This inescapable fact is the elephant in the room. This great bull elephant is the great stumbling block to the Eden promised by appropriately diverse sober and serious “experts”, even as they evade, euphemize and hide in clouds of bloviated pious rhetoric.

But no problem is too great for scientists in search of grant money, particularly if media attention beckons. Thus hidden within the media’s clouds of rhetoric defending protest marches and face masks, we are witnessing the recent resurgence of the “Hydrogen Economy”. Hydrogen is “the” perfect fuel – the Holy Grail of the renewable/sustainable/organic/artisanal economy – no emissions and no carbon dioxide. Burning hydrogen in an engine or boiler simply makes water, the water from which it came.

And now the time is coming when various pieces of the American power grid will have more power than can be used, in certain places and times, an important caveat to be sure. Well, back to that grant money and media attention. Even scientists in the plush offices of University administration remember their freshman Chemistry labs. Stick two electrodes into water, one positive and one negative. As electricity flows, the water bubbles into its component elements, hydrogen and oxygen.

Voila!! That excess power makes hydrogen that can be burned in engines and boilers creating dispatchable power. Science delivers once more. The “experts” are right again. The ears of Adorable sensibilities are once more tickled.

Scientists can once more retire to the comfort of University or Government leaving the mundane details of implementation to the plebian Deplorables of engineering and operations. Perhaps if some of the “experts” meet the appropriate bars of diversity, an appearance on PBS documentaries or the Smithsonian Channel might be in the offing. In any case, for all and sundry there is grant money, conferences and well paid consulting opportunities.

To be sure, the Hydrogen Economy depends upon the reuse of existing natural gas infrastructure. Transporting hydrogen instead of natural gas with existing pipelines allows makers and users of hydrogen the necessary infrastructure at no cost.

But as is their custom, the engineering profession will emerge from the dark recesses of their cheerless cubicles to rain on the enlightened Adorable dream of the Hydrogen Economy. These spoilsports will point out that hydrogen cannot be used in existing natural gas pipelines because of catastrophic blowouts resulting from hydrogen embrittlement cracks.

The dour litany of the engineers will continue. Existing pipeline compressors cannot compress hydrogen. While natural gas is safely handled in existing facilities, the hydrogen molecule is so tiny it leaks through virtually any threaded or flanged connection. And hydrogen, unlike natural gas, will burn in virtually any concentration. Decade’s of experience with its use in refineries suggests hydrogen to be orders of magnitude more dangerous than natural gas.

Of course, engineers, constructors and operators can and will deal these problems. All they need is money. Luckily as recent events have underlined, the government has money – as well as a prosperous infrastructure of subsidized businesses practiced in taking it.

And so America’s energy production will continue its transformation into just one more slug in the swamp. An industry that I was proud to be a part of, an industry that built things, pioneered things, made the world a better place – people I was both proud and humbled to work with. All this will slowly fade into history, replaced by an underclass of construction and operations serving a remote aristocracy, legal experts in the arcana of the Federal Register, lobbyists and executives recruited from the revolving doors of the regulatory agencies and politicians taking advantage of “investment” opportunities.



One Response to “Sober & Serious “Experts””

  1. Stephen Westfall says:

    Bill, the material sprayed on your dirt roads is most likely our old friend magnesium chloride. MagC is very hygroscopic and as such sucks what little moisture we have in the air around here and causes the dirt/mag mix to retain that moisture resulting in the wet look and the suppression of the dust. As always, I appreciate your viewpoint and comments. Steve Westfall

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