RE: Why firms are racing to produce green ammonia - Lava and Ice

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John K. Strickland, Jr.

Feb 27, 2024, 11:31:02 PMFeb 27
to Opener of the Way, Keith Henson,,

Note that the current Ice Eon we are currently in (the Pleistocene) is partly enabled by plants removing CO2 from the atmosphere.  Ice eons occupy about 25% of geological history, and which occur when a continent is over or close to a pole, or over a small ocean, allowing ice to form over one or more polar areas. We have had cyclic ice ages and short warm spells since the Pleistocene began about 3  million years ago. The rest of the time the earth has no polar caps but the sea level is much higher, up to 300 feet higher. We are currently in one of the coldest periods in earth history excepting the Cryogenian (about 700 million years ago), as we are in a DOUBLE ice eon right now. Look at a map to see where our poles are currently.


What happens if both poles are over large oceans (this is the case 3/4 of the time) ?   This effect is what PREVENTS ice eons most of the time.


To “Opener”: However, plants and trees survived fine during the last ice age, with less than half the current levels. unless they were in northern areas where the continental glaciers ground them into cellulose and lignin pulp. Hopefully, rational science will prevail and we will agree to calibrate the CO2 in our air to maintain the current climate and shorelines.  Some level of Global Warming could actually help by preventing the repeating 95,000 year-long ice age cycles.


John S



From: [] On Behalf Of Opener of the Way
Sent: Tuesday, February 27, 2024 7:52 PM
To: Keith Henson <>
Subject: Re: Why firms are racing to produce green ammonia


It occurs to me to question the premise that it is a good idea to remove atmospheric carbon dioxide that every plant depends on and sequester it underground. Combined with the "green" idea of chopping down forests to bury the trees and denude the landscape, this sounds like a crazy at best and evil at worst plan. I studied paleontology and I don't believe that we are in the warmest epoch.


If you want a market pull, the market is space tourism and has been for fifty years. In 1990 Rockwell International found over 400 million people who would volunteer 'I want to take a trip to space' in their survey. That number is higher today. 


If you want platinum, there is a main belt asteroid with more platinum than has been mined on earth in the past eight thousand years. So go get it.


Plants are already in carbon dioxide deficit. It's not a good idea to make Earth uninhabitable to save the world from a two degree temperature change. But I don't expect to be heard, so go ahead with the discussion.


On Tue, Feb 27, 2024, 5:33 PM Keith Henson <> wrote:

On Tue, Feb 27, 2024 at 7:08 AM <> wrote:
> We’ve had many discussions here about the costs and benefits of SPS versus other power sources, with intermittent versus baseload power being a significant discriminator between SPS and terrestrial renewables (solar farms and wind farms). KeithH in particular has provided analyses of such things as using electricity to synthesize hydrocarbons from atmospheric CO2 (to replace those being pumped out of the ground), and has pointed out that some of these processes really want steady power, and suffer if it is intermittent.

The last time I went through this analysis, the capital cost of
generating hydrogen was higher than the cost of the electrical power
they used.  The problem does not seem to have a solution because
platinum is scarce and so far there is not a good substitute for it.

Intermittent PV is available about 1/3 of the time.  If the hydrogen
generators are only used 1/3 of the time, that increases the capital
cost of the hydrogen by a factor of 3.

Another example is direct air capture.  Again, the capital cost of the
plants is immense.  It is intolerable to run them 1/3 of the time on
intermittent power, the cost effect is so extreme that it looks like
it is worth building power satellites just to get steady power for air
capture (if we decide to do it).
> Which is why this article caught my eye today:

I read it and it is not clear the people working on green ammonia are
focused on economic problems.

> Making NH3 out of water and atmospheric N2, using electricity, with intermittent electricity being OK (as the process, once up and running, has a short turn-on/turn-off time). Apparently making Nh3 using the current Haber-Bosch process produces about 2% of the world’s atmospheric CO2 production, so this addresses a small but significant part of “the CO2 problem”. If the technology works in full-scale production, and can be economically implemented in small plants, this could allow NH3 production to be distributed widely, reducing transportation costs to customers of fertilizer.

In the US, a lot of NH3 is shipped by pipeline.  You can't get a lower cost.

> Nh3 as a fuel is also mentioned; I‘m sure that Keith will have thoughts on the relative merits of using electricity-derived ammonia as a fuel, versus electricity-derived hydrocarbons.

Ammonia does not work very well as a fuel.

> Anyway, interesting. It doesn’t help build the case for SPS, quite the contrary. But competition is a core element in the economics of anything, and this looks like maybe a piece of the competition --- making windmills and solar farms much more useful than they are currently, and chipping away at the presumably-baseload power that Haber-Bosch plants consume, which otherwise would be potential customers for SPS’s (but not windmills and solar farms, due to intermittency).

If the capital cost of hydrogen generation is low, then intermittency
isn't such a problem.  High temperature electrolysis is one step in
that direction.


> Although, of course, there’s plenty of other baseload power demand around 😊.
> - Kieran
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Feb 28, 2024, 8:58:32 AMFeb 28
to John K. Strickland, Jr., Opener of the Way,

John wrote about the fact that ice ages happen. On that topic…


I well remember the first major science conference that I attended: the AAAS conference in Toronto in 1981. I was in undergrad Engineering Science at UofT; a friend and I bogged off of classes for a few days to attend, it was walking-distance from campus. A big draw for me, as an SF fan, was that I knew that Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven always attended the AAAS National Meeting (Pournelle had a column in Byte, I believe it was, where he mentioned that), so I kept my eyes out for them --- and did actually spot them (but was too shy to even say hello). (I made up for that in part by saying hello to Jerry at the WorldCon in Denver that summer --- which is also where I met Keith Lofstrom in the Con Suite, as it happens, memorably peddling Launch Loops.)


Anyway, one of the big topics of the conference was climate change, with some serious global climate modelers predicting that the present inter-glacial period had likely passed its peak, and that the next ice age was on its way. I have a distinct memory of one particular session, on the then-new mathematical topic of Catastrophe Theory, which was a sub-branch of nonlinear dynamics The speakers showed examples of how various dynamical systems could trundle along with little change for a long period time, and then --- Wham! --- change state almost instantaneously, due to the development of multiple equilibrium solutions to the equations, the current one being unstable, and at least one other being stable.


(One example that comes to mind, which is familiar to anyone who has studied mechanics of materials (and which anyone can play around with at home), is a perfectly straight slender rod under compression --- past a certain load level, the straight solution is unstable, and two solutions with the rod bent over are stable. So long as nothing perturbs the rod sideways, it can remain in the unstable state indefinitely, even as the load increases. However, in the real world, eventually *something* perturbs it sideways, and it snaps-over into one of the stable, bent states.)


One of the examples in the AAAS Catastrophe Theory session was the climate equations; the speaker pointed out that they had the requisite nonlinearity to result in rapid nonlinear (i.e., “catastrophic”) change. And his modeling suggested that the onset of the next ice age could be remarkably sudden, possibly going from the current state to all-of-Canada-and-northern-Europe by buried (once again) by a kms-thick ice sheet within maybe 100 years. And that if the climate state had passed the point where the various stable solutions had diverged, this could happen today.


Niven and Pournelle must have been paying attention: a few years later, they published their SF novel Fallen Angels (,_Pournelle,_and_Flynn_novel)), whose premise was that extremely rapid glaciation had come to pass in our time --- amusingly, triggered by environmentalists who lobbied against global warming 😊. Winnipeg survives as the last outpost of civilization, due to energy beamed from space by the inhabitants of Mir, Space Station Freedom and a lunar outpost 😊 😊. The authors must have been in some of the same sessions as my friend and me, in that 1981 meeting…


- Kieran

Feb 28, 2024, 11:46:11 AMFeb 28
to Anita Gale, John K. Strickland, Jr., Opener of the Way,

A take-away from that 1981 AAAS meeting was that climate modeling was sufficiently inexact at that time, that there were serious differences between different model predictions. I’m not sure what the state of play on that is these days, as I haven’t followed it in detail. Certainly the IPCC process seems to have triggered a consensus view amongst climate modelers, that global warming is happening now, and is projected to continue to happen for the next few decades --- depending on what nature dished out (e.g., one big volcano spewing SO2 into the upper atmosphere can have a bog effect), and of course what people do. I am curious to know how strong that consensus is, amongst climate modelers. I suspect that in the current funding climate (pardon the pun), it’s probably easier to get funded (and published) if you’re adding details to a warming-predicting model, than if you’re trying to push a model that bucks the trend.


Which makes me think “thank goodness for global warming, it’s far better than global cooling!” (a mere 10,000 years ago, the spot where my house sits had 1000 metres of ice above it). Both global warming and global cooling mainly affect real estate values --- as the climate changes, populations can always move from inhospitable places to better ones (although that sort of mass migration is very disruptive to civilization, of course). Global cooling would eliminate far more real estate than global warming would.


> Of course, it’s all about politics, money, and power (not the electric kind).  


Well, once climate scientists as a group decided that the global-warming future looked bleak, and the “something should be done about it,” by definition it then became political. Because that “something” involve changing laws and regulations, and spending public money. So those scientists spent a whole lot of effort over the past 3 decades trying to get the attention of politicians on this --- with quite remarkable success.


Here’s a funny coincidence: the person who led the charge on that effort was the senior public servant in charge of what was then called Environment Canada (the Canadian federal weather office) --- this article tells his story: In the late 1980s he was pushing for the formation of the IPCC.  


As it happens, he was related by marriage to one of the main players in the SPS movement in the 1980s: Owen Maynard, the Canadian who had been NASA’s “chief engineer” for the Apollo spacecraft program in the 1960s, and went on to be the lead systems engineer (and, I suspect, project manager) at Raytheon for their SPS work in the 1970s (alongside Bill Brown). I met Owen in the 1990s, after he retired and moved back to Canada. We got together many times before his death in 2000, and whenever we got together he told stories about his career, amongst other topics. He got the Canadian Space Society (which I then led) to get seriously interested in SPS, and attended many sessions in which he briefed us as a group on the SPS work from the 1970s, and on space systems engineering. During those sessions, he frequently referred to his “wife’s cousin’s husband, Jim Bruce,” as being the fellow who had organized the world’s climate scientists to put forward the case for global warming --- which created the strongest argument to date in favour of SPS.


(When we organized the SPS ’09 conference in Toronto, I contacted Jim to see if he’d be willing to come and talk, leveraging my past friendship with Owen. He would have liked to, but health problems kept him away. He did point us towards others in the IPCC movement, one of whom did come to talk at the conference.)


- Kieran


From: Anita Gale <>
Sent: Wednesday, February 28, 2024 10:31 AM
Cc: John K. Strickland, Jr. <>; Opener of the Way <>;
Subject: Re: Why firms are racing to produce green ammonia - Lava and Ice


Thank you, gentlemen—it’s refreshing to see sensible (non-alarmist) discussion on a climate topic.  


The climate research we’re missing right now is to honestly understand what Mom Nature would be doing all by Herself—including a continuation of the pattern of well-documented Byzantine Warm Period, Roman Warm Period, Medieval Warm Period (if English vineyards produced good wine in Chaucer’s time, but quality now is inconsistent because weather is too cold….).  There needs to be honest evaluation of effects of important factors, e.g., water vapor—excluded because “it doesn’t stay in the atmosphere long enough”. I have seen “studies” that say contrails increase warming, and I have seen other “studies” that say contrails decrease warming.  Do increased carbon dioxide levels cause enough increase in plant growth to then reduce carbon dioxide levels in a self-balancing feedback loop?  Common sense says a warmer climate will cause more evaporation from oceans and hence more clouds and rain, yet another “study” says a warmer climate will cause Earth to become a global desert.


Of course, it’s all about politics, money, and power (not the electric kind).  A dead give-away is that “all scientists” had consensus on human-caused impending climate disaster within an amazingly short amount of time after Al Gore rang the alarm bells.  Most scientific theories (e.g., relativity and catastrophic Ice Age floods) take decades to be accepted (plate tectonics being a notable exception).  


Another “of course” is that anyone who disagrees with the human-caused climate disaster consensus comes under vicious attack.  Common sense doesn’t have a chance to get heard.




Feb 28, 2024, 12:00:21 PMFeb 28
to Anita Gale, John K. Strickland, Jr., Opener of the Way,

I wrote:


When we organized the SPS ’09 conference in Toronto, I contacted Jim to see if he’d be willing to come and talk, leveraging my past friendship with Owen. He would have liked to, but health problems kept him away. He did point us towards others in the IPCC movement, one of whom did come to talk at the conference.


That being said, we had a hell of a time getting anyone at the IPCC interested in presenting at an SPS conference. Partly this was because no-one amongst the IPCC’s hundreds of climate scientists worldwide knew anything about SPS, and so it hadn’t figured into any of the recommendations documents they’d written for governments over the previous few years, and so it just wasn’t on their radar. Of course, we were trying to get it onto their radar; classic chicken:egg scenario.


The sense that I got was that the IPCC was poorly organized to make any decisions. It was/is a consensus-based “organization,” basically s small directorate that lassos a very large number of climate scientists every year or two into collaboratively writing reports on topics chosen by the directorate (in consultation with hundreds of governments). There is no one person you go can to at the IPCC to brief them on SPS (a CO2-reducign technology that they’re almost completely unaware of), and have the person *task* the appropriate committee with writing it into their next report. Instead, the scientists broadly report on their latest research; each report from the IPCC is a mish-mash of such research results. I’ve been (once or twice) part of similar scientist-consensus-report-writing exercises (e.g., for the decadal study for planetary exploration science), and it’s hellish difficult to get any new idea inserted into the text, as you have to convince those who “hod the pen” that there’s broad agreement that your thing is important --- which takes a lot of politicking, and a lot of time and effort.


No-one has yet put in the time and effort to do the politicking to get the IPCC to b aware of SPS. I tried (from 2009 through about 2015), but I was doing this evenings and weekends away from my day-job. And found the byzantine “organization” of the IPCC was a set of ramparts that I couldn’t successfully storm on my own. It really needs  at least one full-time person, ideally with scientific credentials (as the IPCC is all scientists, and they respect those with the union card more than those who don’t), ideally with serious institutional affiliation; and with a lot of travel-and-living funding to take lots of trips, to get face-to-face with scientists all over the world.

John K. Strickland, Jr.

Feb 28, 2024, 1:04:38 PMFeb 28
to, Opener of the Way,

I now suspect that green politics one of the possible reasons that geology and climatology texts do not cover how continental movements (taking place at a 10’s of millions of years scale) determine WHEN AND WHERE an ICE EON occurs and the amount of CO2 in the air determines whether one CAN occur. The texts do not even seem to have a name or word for ice eon periods. Before the growth of plants and forests on land, the CO2 levels were much higher as plant growth (algae) was  restricted to the oceans.  After the Cambrian period, at some point, plant growth started to occur on land and the CO2 level dropped.  Plants tend to remove the CO2 almost to the point where there is not enough for plant growth, with the input from volcanos and organic processes keeping it above some base level. With glaciers covering a large part of continents most of the time during an ice eon, you would expect the CO2 level to rise, but it declines, possibly due to less production of organics on land.


Since most people have only a hazy idea of what an ice age is, and are essentially unaware that ice ages come and go during an ice eon, and that there are even vast period of time when there are NO ice age cycles at all (and while life was flourishing), it is much easier to convince them that they are to blame for CO2 increases, not the movement of tectonic plates!  “Is this plate big enough to hold my slab of beef” !


How in fact did life on Earth survive during such periods, when the CO2 level was much higher than todays. Today’s climate with a double ICE EON (both poles are icy), is quite unusual for Earths’ geologic history, (less than 10% of the time). Even with all of the climate models, the paleoclimate is still a vast puzzle and we are still trying to figure it all out. The politicalization of science is a catastrophe for science in general as it is reducing trust in science.

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