Coincidence ?

I’ll be appearing (virtually) tomorrow, Monday 1 February to give evidence to the  the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy’s inquiry on Zali Steggall’s Climate Bills 2020, the core of which is a proposal to set a target of zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. As readers would expected, I’ll be supporting the bill.

At almost exactly the same time, Scott Morrison is going to address the National Press Club, and there are rumours he’s planning an announcement on climate policy. Given the natural human desire to see patterns in the universe, and a little bit of past history[1] it immediately occurred to me that Morrison might announce that the government had decided to commit to 2050 net zero.

Such a decision would make great political sense for Morrison, if he focused on the objective situation rather than in-group loyalties. Now that Albanese has backed away from any firm commitment other than 2050 net zero, Morrison is in a great position to “dish the Whigs” by outflanking him, perhaps by adding in an upgraded 2030 commitment.

Equally importantly, the geopolitical need to act has become urgent. Biden has announced a major climate summit for Earth Day, 22 April, at which leaders will be pressed to enhance their commitments. The main target is China, where the push is to bring their 2060 target forward to 2050 and back it up with some firm action. But of the real laggards, with no zero commitment at all, Australia is the only one that isn’t already a pariah like Saudi Arabia and Brazil. Unless he wants a major international embarrassment, Morrison has to come up with something big, and soon.

This has largely unnoticed by our political class, who are still suggesting that nothing needs to be done until the Glasgow COP in November, and that an election can be held before then.

Supposedly, the big obstacle to this is the resistance of rightwingers on Morrison’s backbench, and in the National Party. Fear of this group will probably lead Morrison to duck the issue. But really, there’s nothing they can do. Even if they cross the floor and deprive the government of its majority, Morrison can carry on for months without a majority (as happened last time), then call an election at a time of his choosing to demand a mandate. He’d win easily, I think, with the backing of the business sector (who want the issue settled) and all the main media outlets.

My guess is that he will squib it. That was what Turnbull and Rudd did, when they wasted huge popularity looking for support from the wrong people, and what Gillard did kowtowing to Joe de Bruyn on equal marriage when she could easily have faced him down. It’s far easier to ignore objective reality than to disregard the opinions of long-standing allies, even when you don’t actually need their support.

fn1. For a brief period early in the pandemic, it seemed as if any policy I advocated would be adopted by the government a few days later. It didn’t last.

64 thoughts on “Coincidence ?

  1. ICYMI, the Australian Parliament House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy’s inquiry on Zali Steggall’s Climate Bills 2020 has published the ‘proof’ transcript for Monday’s (Feb 1) public hearing, where JQ (among others) appeared.

    Meanwhile, National Climate Emergency Summit (@NCESummit2021) tweeted yesterday (with embedded YouTube video of the session, duration 1:22:23):

    “#ICYMI – #Reset21 forum 1 is now available to view online – @jo_m_chandler was joined by
    @Sir_David_King, @sarahinscience and @djspratt for a deep dive into the major impacts, risks, and actions that will shape #climate #advocacy in the decade ahead.”

  2. John,

    Respectfully I have presented evidence/facts on the limitations of wind and solar power in that it requires huge amounts of underlying diesel, it can’t meet anywhere near our current energy use and is unable to replace the role of diesel in agriculture, transport and shipping. None of these points have been responded to with any “evidence” and nor is the EU eliminating diesel use in any of these areas.

    You are right that my comments are disbelief. They are facts based on science and I won’t engage with you any further as I can’t argue with belief.

    Good luck with the $41 trillion dollar battery and finding that once you take the fossil fuel inputs out of agriculture, a majority of the world’s population either starves to death or cuts down the earth’s remaining forests to grow food since you then need four times the land area to grow the same amount.


  3. Kien,

    Basically the problem with electric trucks is that the battery is much contains much less energy relative to weight compared to a diesel fuel tank, so you can’t drive anywhere near as far or carry as much proportional load without massively increasing the weight of the battery. For example, a truck capable of going 621 miles hauling 59,525 pounds – the maximum allowable cargo weight, would need a battery weighing 55,116 pounds, and could only carry about 4,400 pounds of cargo (den Boer et al. 2013). It’s possible battery technology will improve in future, however lithium is already one of the lightest solid elements on the periodic table, so gains will obviously have a ceiling.

    Above is also ignoring the energy that goes into producing the battery, so it’s unlikely that you’re saving any energy by going electric. A company called BYD has developed an electric truck called the 8TT which only claims to have a range of 124 miles at full load or 167 miles at half load with the maximum payload being only 35,895 lbs. If you have to recharge the battery for 12 hours every 124 miles then it obviously becomes difficult to move things around a large country like Australia in a meaningful way.

    The problem would be multiplied by air travel. The energy density of kerosene/jet fuel is ~43 M J / kg versus about 0.36–0.875 MJ/KG for a lithium ion battery. Therefore the battery would need to weigh at best 49 times more than the current weight of the fuel tank. As an example, the battery for a boeing 747 would weigh around 9340 tonnes (around 61 times the weight of the plane itself), so it’s likely no meaningful air travel would be viable in a post fossil fuel world.

    Unfortunately nuclear power suffers from many of the problems of wind and solar. If you are looking at the fuel only, things look great. But by the time you build the reactor, associated infrastructure and count the decommissioning costs, the return is much lower than fossil fuels.

  4. David,
    You state: “For example, a truck capable of going 621 miles hauling 59,525 pounds – the maximum allowable cargo weight, would need a battery weighing 55,116 pounds, and could only carry about 4,400 pounds of cargo (den Boer et al. 2013).”

    Why are you referencing a paper that’s dated 2013? Battery technology has advanced substantially since then. Are you ‘cherry picking’ to suit your narrative, David?

    Why haven’t you mentioned Tesla’s class 8 prime mover? Tesla will likely be using its new 4680 cell design batteries with better energy density. The restriction at the moment appears to be the lack of volume production of the new cell design batteries, but that situation is unlikely to last as the Giga factories ramp up production. Depending on battery pack options, the Tesla prime mover is claimed to have a range of up to 300 miles (482 km) or 500 miles (804 km), although there’s some recent chatter about being closer to 600 miles. We’ll see.

    Tesla claims that a solar-powered Megacharger could add an 80% charge (or 400 mile range) in 30 minutes for the class 8 prime mover. That’s a substantial improvement on your narrative of “12 hours every 124 miles”, do you think, David?

    Most truck loads don’t approach maximum weight limits – the limitation is predominantly volume.

    Most truck operations are short- and medium-distance runs (less than 250 mile radius).

    The benefits of electric trucks compared with diesel trucks are substantial: less maintenance costs; reduced noise; substantially reduced brake dust and particulate emissions; improved energy consumption, particularly in go-stop-go traffic.

    IMO, trains will likely transition to hydrogen fuel cell electric (HFCE), and/or dual energy with electric pick-up from third-rail or overhead wire.

    I agree that long-distance air transportation will be highly problematic in a post- ‘peak oil’ supply world. IMO, cheap international air travel has disappeared (since COVID-19) and is unlikely to return in my lifetime.

  5. I think electricity will continue a trend of more solar and wind and batteries and less emissions despite the impediments of Doubt, Deny, Delay politics, but not nearly fast enough. Could try harder. Could actually try. Could even commit to that as an outcome rather than as an ambition free slogan – Labor and LNP. But when the electricity supply is low emissions then everything that is made by or uses electricity becomes low emissions – a battery factory in Tasmania would embed close to zero manufacturing emissions (with a hydro head start), in SA reduced by half compared to FF intensive electricity already (with good solar and wind resources). I have no doubt solar and batteries are barely hitting their stride – any pessimistic projections/predictions based on past costs will continue to be way wrong.

    Batteries good enough for trucks and ships and planes? David insists not but I think the R&D focus that tech device makers, cordless tool makers, EV makers, energy tech makers as well as government agencies are bringing will bear fruit. ~80% cost reduction for Li-ion over the past decade already is hugely significant – and most of that preceded the boom in commercial battery R&D. Power companies deciding batteries are a cost effective alternative to new gas is hugely significant and 5 year old predictions for grid connected batteries being exceeded by 2000% is hugely significant.

    Governments could even consider short term sacrifices for the sake of longer term climate mitigation goals although 3D’ers have been extraordinarily successful in embedding the “must not raise enerty costs” bottom line. Even subsidy support is and has been tightly constrained by the closely related “must not raise taxes” barrier. But I think so long as doing the least that can be gotten away with is the height of Australian domestic climate ambition and siding with (whilst blaming) the recalcitrants the height of international ambition it will indeed be a case of “we will only fix the climate problem so long as that is cheaper than NOT fixing it” – with the climate costs that are the heart of the issue dismissed and passed over – we will depend entirely on clean energy technology continuing to exceed expectations.

  6. David,
    You state: “Lithium ion batteries have an energy density of 0.36–0.875 MJ/kg.”

    I’d suggest you are already out of date, David. The Tesla 4680 cell format batteries are expected to offer 300Wh/kg of energy density and probably even more. 300Wh/kg = 1.08 MJ/kg.

    Internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs) are very inefficient in converting the embodied energy in their tanks into motion at the wheel – over 60% of the energy is wasted as heat. Particularly in city driving, ICEVs waste fuel while idling or operating at very low outputs compared to their design capacity, and engines at low output achieve very low efficiencies. Unlike BEVs, most conventional ICEVs do not recover the energy wasted to heat by braking for traffic stops.

    While BEVs produce the bulk of their emissions through the manufacturing process and the sourcing of their energy, the lifetime between BEVs and ICEVs gives BEVs a clear advantage.

    David, you state: “You are never going to get anywhere near the same range and payload.”

    What do you base that on, David? The evidence I see suggests its highly likely you will be proved dead wrong very soon – Tesla is nearly there already. Transport & Environment published a report titled “Comparison of hydrogen and battery electric trucks: Methodology and underlying assumptions” in June 2020, including the estimated time for BEVs and FCEVs reaching cost parity with diesel vehicles WITHOUT SUBSIDIES.

    Click to access 2020_06_TE_comparison_hydrogen_battery_electric_trucks_methodology.pdf

    David you stated in earlier comments (at FEBRUARY 5, 2021 AT 2:39 PM):
    “Later in the 21st century may prove to be extremely violent and disorderly as the rate of oil production declines and economies contract with them. Climate change may also play a role here, although it is harder to predict than depletion of resources.”

    Climate change is undeniably already playing a disruptive role and will inevitably get worse; much worse than you seem to suggest/imply – see the YouTube video referred above (in my comments at FEBRUARY 5, 2021 AT 5:48 PM). David, it seems to me you are ill-informed about the existential risks of climate change.

    Accumulating indicators suggest to me a post- ‘peak oil’ supply world has perhaps already arrived. Best to leave oil, before oil leaves us – do you think, David?

    Commissioned by the NRMA, Australian Air Vice-Marshal (retired) John Blackburn AO stated in Feb 2013 in his report titled “Australia’s Liquid Fuel Security”:

    “In essence, we have adopted a “she’ll be right” approach to fuel security, relying on the historical performance of global oil and fuel markets to provide in all cases. Unfortunately, as a result of our limited and decreasing refining capacity, small stockholdings and long supply chains, our society is at significant risk if any of the assumptions contained in the vulnerability assessments made to date prove false.

    We would not be the first country to get our assumptions wrong. In that respect, history can be relied upon.”

    Where’s Australia’s crude oil/petroleum fuel dependency reduction plan? Is there one? – I don’t see any from Australian state and federal governments.

  7. David says:
    Feb 6, 2021 AT 9:48 AM
     …”Calculate the total energy that goes into building the battery every 10-15 years, then dumping it it landfill.”

    I think that statement is called an extrapolation. As mrkenfabian said: “any pessimistic projections/predictions based on past costs will continue to be way wrong.”

    David, it is 98% ‘true’ – in Australia, today, as we only recycle 2% Li batteries. And embodied energy will come down. And I’d bet that in 10-15 years time, Li recycling will be >90%,  rendering your statement a victim of progress. And fully developed soon, relative to fossil / renewables transition. Note where this article is – an investor blog. Out of the lab into capital and profit soon.

    “Lithium Australia achieves recycling breakthrough after recovering lithium from spent batteries
    By Lorna Nicholas
    September 19, 2019

    [Shred, process – not too advanced -“shredded and separated spent batteries to create a mixed metal dust… then processed the dust to recover lithium phosphate,”. As JQ says in “Technology to the rescue”, why didn’t we develop this 10 to 15 yrs ago? Link at end.]

    “… has used it proprietary refining technology to generate 99% pure lithium phosphate, with lithium recoveries exceeding 85%.

    “Meanwhile, nickel and cobalt recoveries are estimated at 90%, with internal modelling revealing a concentrate suitable as feed for conventional processing.

    “Additionally, Lithium Australia’s process for converting unconventional feedstock into a battery grade lithium material eliminates the need for current costly and energy-intensive processes that are currently used to produce lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide chemicals.”

    Recycling – tick.


    Storage – partially solved due to recycling. And graphene. Love graphene.

    Look up, not too far into the future, is it a battery, or is it a capacitor? It is a High‐Performance Asymmetric Supercapacitor, as powerful today as “NiMH energy density, charges much faster”. Again, energy density will rise to meet or beat Li, in the 5-10yr range is my guestimate.

    “Super solution in hybrid capacitor development

    “In a step towards a new type of energy storage, QUT researchers have developed a hybrid supercapacitor that offers the best of both worlds in energy storage.

    “However, our device, after being cycled at a high current rate for 10,000 charge/discharges, retained around 90 per cent of its initial storage capacity.”

    Article re above:
    “Hybrid supercapacitor offers NiMH energy density, charges much faster

    “energy density (Wh/kg), referring to the total amount of energy a device can store per weight, and power density (W/kg), referring to how quickly the device can move power in and out while charging and discharging.” [5x power feed in than current Tesla – e-drag cars coming soon?]

    …”Your car or phone battery won’t last as long with one of these on board, but it’ll charge so fast that range might cease to be an issue.”…

    “But as Skeleton points out, there are plenty of other applications where these in-between solutions will find their place. They may replace the lead-acid board net batteries that are still required in today’s lithium-powered EVs. They will be excellent for quick-response power-smoothing and peak load management in industrial settings.”

    “Covalent Graphene‐MOF Hybrids for High‐Performance Asymmetric Supercapacitors

    …” The cell is able to deliver a power density of up to 16 kW kg−1 and an energy density of up to 73 Wh kg−1, which are comparable to several commercial devices such as Pb‐acid and Ni/MH batteries. Under an intermediate level of loading, the device retained 88% of its initial capacitance after 10 000 cycles.”

    …”the pairing of these two materials could generate a novel kind of high voltage aqueous asymmetric supercapacitor (ASC). The asymmetric combination of electrode materials working in different potential windows is an emerging architecture for continuing the improvement of the energy density of supercapacitors. The subsequent energy density of a device is proportional to the square of its operational voltage. The constructed device in this work is operated at up to 1.7 V and demonstrates a strong performance and stable cyclability of over 10 000 cycles.”

    I don’t like forward loading the future with nancent technology solutions (tomak in our pocket?), yet as I said, I’d bet on:-
    1) High‐Performance Asymmetric Supercapacitors becoming commercially viable before your big batteries need recycling, and
    2) recycling at acceptable rates and 
    3) life cycle / eroi will be more than acceptable.
    – ymmv!

    I’ll leave the last word to JQ:
     “So, I think we will escape the cataclysm, but more through technological luck than successful policy management.”

  8. Even for long distance, EV trucks seem like a pretty good bet, but that is a bit of a distraction.

    Because once you’ve conceded the point (by forfeit to JQ in this case) that Wind/Solar/Nukes/Dams have a rapid energy payback time (about a year) then electrifying almost everything else makes a huge difference to emissions.

    I wouldn’t be surprised, for example, if battery planes never became dominant. But since aviation comprises a tiny fraction of emissions, and there are other options, and most plane travel is in any case unnecessary, this isn’t a showstopper.

    First, you do the obvious big things, like decarbonise the electricity system, and electrify light transport, local freight, trains, and space heating. As the European examples indicate, you don’t have to go that far along that path to make a big impact on carbon emissions.

  9. David (Re your comments at FEBRUARY 6, 2021 AT 3:39 PM),
    You state: “I have simply presented facts…”

    I’d suggest you are simply presenting your beliefs. When challenged, you seem unable to present compelling evidence/data/analysis to support your beliefs.

    Your “You are never going to get anywhere near the same range and payload” meme for BEVs (in an earlier comment) is not backed by compelling evidence.

    I think your use of religious analogies is a classic denier tactic. It’s similar to the climate science denier’s global-warming-as-religion meme.

    I think you are either ill-informed on, or attempting to distract from, the real progress evident for zero/low-carbon GHG emissions solutions.

    Michael E Mann talks about fossil fuel ‘inactivists’ here:

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