Podcast Report: B. F. Randall on Diesel from Nuclear Process Heat

I like to think I know a lot about various energy issues, but I just ran across a podcast guest who has challenged a lot of things I thought I knew. Chris Keefer’s latest interviewee on the very popular Decouple podcast is B. F. Randall. He’s an environmental lawyer whose job is making complicated industrial information understandable for legal documents and procedures. He came to Keefer’s attention by writing some Twitter threads that’ve been racking up huge numbers of views. The first was one on copper mining that goes into great detail.

The main thrust of the podcast is on the importance of diesel fuel and how industrial process heat from nuclear power should be used in making it. Diesel is clearly essential to our civilization and is not going away any time soon. Fossil hydrocarbon fuels are chains of carbon atoms with attached hydrogen atoms. They come in a spectrum of lengths, methane (CH4) being the shortest and spanning upwards through propane, butane and progressively longer chains that make up gasoline, jet fuel, diesel, bunker fuel for ships to very long chains in asphalt. All this can be separated out of crude oil. Oil rich in shorter chains used for gasoline is known as light sweet crude and I always thought this was the most valuable kind. Randall says gasoline is actually more of a byproduct made from leftover fractions. He says it’s actually a nuisance for refiners to make. I suspect this has to do with getting the right mix for a good octane rating. He says the really valuable crude is the heavy stuff you make diesel with.

He ranks Rudolph Diesel right up there with Edison and Tesla in importance to civilization. he describes the diesel as an optimal engine which is the main driver of industrial civilization. He says electric replacements require too much material, which must be mined with diesel machines. He absolutely cackles at an electric machine produced by CAT (at one hour in). He dismisses it as ESG greenwashing. He laments that because of our horrible energy policies the US is swimming in light crude and is down to a 30 day supply of diesel.

How does nuclear power come in? The most widely used nuclear reactors are light water reactors. Michael Shellenberger has argued persuasively that these are the most cost effective, time proven designs for producing electricity. Randall’s take is that light water reactors are inefficient because of their low operating temperatures. Also, all this fuss about how best to generate electricity is misplaced because electricity is only about 15% of energy use. Any change in electricity generation involves more use of diesel for mining and such. He argues that the main potential for nuclear energy is in process heat, which BTW is used for refining diesel. In fact the petroleum industry is the largest user of process heat. But this heat can also be used for employing the Fischer-Tropsch process for making diesel fuel from feedstocks other than crude oil. This could be fracked gas, flue gases or carbonic acid from sea water.

Randall is understandably getting some pushback, most notably from Bloomberg contributor Michael Liebreich. Randall impresses me as having a better understanding of the numbers involved. His Twitter handle is @Mining_Atoms. Here’s the astounding interview:

On a related note, Tesla claims it will be delivering the first of its long promised but yet to be delivered semis to Pepsi in December. The best criticism I’ve seen of it is by a YouTuber called Thunderf00t. In this video he makes the claim that Tesla’s semi will haul only 5 tons of cargo while a conventional diesel can haul 20 tons. He does his calculations starting about six and a half minutes in.

via Climate Scepticism


November 5, 2022 at 08:45PM

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