Saturday, December 3, 2011

Machines Making Machines Making Machines

Solar and wind capturing devices are not alternative energy sources. They are extensions of the fossil fuel supply. There is an illusion of looking at the trees and not the forest in the “Renewable” energy world. Not seeing the systems, machineries, fossil fuel uses and environmental degradation that create the devices to capture the sun, wind and biofuels allows myopia and false claims.

Energy Return on Energy Invested (ERoEI) is only a part of the the equation. There is a massive infrastructure of mining, processing, manufacturing, fabricating, installation, transportation and the associated environmental assaults. Each of these processes and machines may only add a miniscule amount of energy to the final component of solar or wind devices. There would be no devices with out this infrastructure.

How else would we do it? There is always the old way. Who of us will go down in the mine first?

Let’s make an aluminum frame:

After getting the metal and barring accidents, it needs to be extruded. The extruding machine pushes heated ingots of aluminum through a die to get the shape of the frame. It then must be cut to transportable size and then heat treated.

As a teenager, 15, I worked in an aluminum extrusion plant in Florida. The extruded aluminum would be on a small gauge rail cart that we would push into a huge shed. The shed was heated to 375 F. When it was done we would push it out the other end of the shed to be loaded on trucks. Because it was Florida in the summer, our shirts were wet with sweat that dried immediately when we walked into the shed. By the end of the day my shirt was caked with salt.



How about some selective black chrome.

Used on solar hot air and hot water panels.

Lots of energy and chemicals here.



Wind Generators







    We are goldfish swimming in a bowl, not seeing the water that we are immersed in because it is so ubiquitous. The massively surplus energy in our American society supplies the many complex layers. We don't see the layers and the energy and material requirements contributed at each level. People will only see and understand in retrospect, as the energy inputs start to disappear.

    Net energy finds human services as negligible calories and leaves them out. Net energy violates the energy hierarchy law by counting energies on different scales as doing equivalent work. EROI undercounts the embodied eMergy, thus is too optimistic.

    Development of renewables will require fossil fuels--lots of FF.

  2. Excellent post as usual.

    Besides all the machines shown there are also ocean going machines that get the rare earth metals for windmills and electric cars. And the killing machines, guns, tanks etc. that insure we get those minerals cheap, finally at this juncture often using human machines to mine them. - Kathy

  3. How do we let down the good, well-meaning folk who want to believe in renewable energy? By and large they have nothing to profit from their advocacy. To we tell them to turn their optimism into despair?

    We have an inherent problem in that most people don't have a technical background. Good friends of mine just think a solar panel or two on their roof will make their lives sustainable.

    I try to explain the insurmountable problem of energy cannibalism ( but they will then envision wind farms generating energy to make wind generators. The image is nice, but doesn't take into account the multiple layers of energy that go into production of almost anything.

    I'm not even sure that I should be disillusioning good people who, even naively, feel optimistic about a clean energy future.

    1. Why does this post remind me of Thus Spake Zarathrustra...

    2. Charles - I think you do the people believing in "business as usual" via "renewable" energy devices a disservice by not telling them your truth. I am reading Willful Blindness by Hallernan, they may believe what you tell them or not. To use the needed resources and resulting environmental harm for a dead end needs to be spoken to. Unfortunately, none of us can really change except by forced necessity.

  4. I just don't need any more pollution of any kind.

  5. Excellent article, John. It shows very visually the full impact that we don't normally see. And civilisation really needs to show this impact clearer is some form of "full impact labelling system".

    And I agree with "unknown" that the impact is greater when you take into account the rare earths.

    But the point I wish to make is a subtle one....

    Given the impact is huge. But consider the alternative. That to not go down the "renewable road", would just tie humanity into the easy stuff like more coal, oil, gas, tar sands, shale gas, coal bed methane and all the other hi-carbon wacky stuff.

    That route takes the human race into dangerous climate change - possibly runaway climate change - and eventually into self-extinction. An eventuality that ought to be avoidable, and I guess we're all trying to avoid self annihilation, even if that means a few sister and brother species disappear in the meantime.

    It's worhwhile looking at the full life-cycle GHG impact of the renewables. ...

    This shows that (say) wind is still 100 times better than coal, and 40 times better than gas. (Admittedly this analysis doesn't take into account other impacts e.g. biodiversity, materials depletion.)

    So I'm thinking that the message we want to get out there is that the use of renewable energy (warts and all) is a BRIDGE to "the world of LESS" which is sustainable. i.e. "the creation of a symbiosis between the human species and the biosphere, irrespective of human desires for material consumption, by matching human needs to the ability of the natural environment to support those needs for many generations."

    That bridge should - I think - have a timescale of no more than 20 years hence.

    1. At one time, I also renewables as THE answer. I was chairperson of one of the Minnesota solar energy organization, sat on the board of a federal solar organization, manufactured a solar hot air panel and lived off the grid. Slow, I began to see solar as a transitional possibility as you suggest. I had invested in an ethanol plant and even designed their logo then the ERoEI on ethanol came out. I then looked at it for all "renewables" as well as the necessary materials.
      We won't use them to transition, we don't seem to have the wisdom. It will take social "engineering" a la religion to control our behavior and it carries intrinsically the seeds of more devastation.
      We will simple have to ride this out, the sooner the better and a do realize the unbelievable pain that will ensue.

  6. There is no painless solution for the problem of a looming energy deficit. There is a way too many of humans on this planet. But Nature will take care of it. It always did in the past. How? By shrinking the number of us by a massive die-off. I the end of this century there will be less than 2bn people on the planet. Wars, famines, etc... BTW. It already started. China vs USA, China vs India... India vs Pakistan...

    1. I agree we are in deep doodoo. 2bn people would I believe be the top number. That is how many people were around about 1930. I think maybe 550 million might be a closer number, the number of around 1650 just before industrialization and fossil fuels in any amount.
      None of it will be pretty. Some of us have had a hell of a good ride.

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  8. It is impossible to make any sense of this post. Sure human activity carry an enormous toll on the planet. But what is your point - we should stop making aluminum and copper altogether? Or is is just not solar panels and wind turbines we should make from it?

    We have put ourselves in a fossil hole - but the best use of fossil fuels and minerals must surely be to use them to switch to an alternative form of energy?

    1. We would never agree because you I believe are probably both emotionally and fiscally invested in "renewables". The point is that "renewables" are not an answer because they are part of the fossil fuel supply system and can never stand alone. They can not reproduce themselves. Some say use them as a transition - to what?
      I was a alternative energy flag waver in the 70s, lived off the grid for 30 years - solar and wind, and realized it was a pipe dream.
      See (if you would):

      Good luck to you.

    2. How long does it take for a solar panel to produce as much energy as was used in its production? I heard it was about 18 months. And they are good for 30-40 years. Displacing fossil fuels all that time? Not bad.

    3. No human machines make energy; they only harvest what is already there in nature. “Alternative energy“ really just means human-made devices that harvest energy from sources other than fossil material or radio-active material.
      I think the point is there really is no “alternative form of energy,” apart from human, animal, and falling/flowing water, that doen’t directly or indirectly involve oil or coal to make/maintain the “devices” that harvest the energy. the more hi-tech the devices, the more they rely on fossil fuels to make them.

  9. Great post John. There are so many antecedents we can't possibly see them all. Just consider what is involved in making a:


    computer chip

    Motherboards in Computers – too complex to make in the future

    or a can of cola

  10. jzf - It takes much longer. The research you probably saw only took in the ERoEi starting at the factory and not the whole system. See: