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Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2008-09-06 17:08
Subject: [personal] Miscellany of the day
Security: Public
Tags:funny, omaha, personal, stories, travel, writing

Wrote a 2,300 word first draft on the plane, “The Delight of Bright Water”, solicited for a Sekrit Projekt. I’m going to noodle with it some, then schlep it out to first readers.

Forgot to mention this morning that a guy in front of me in the Eppley Field security line recognized me. He stopped to chat as we cleared into the gate area — turns out he’s the manager of a restaurant I regularly eat at when I’m in Omaha. Do I spend too much time in that town or what?

Finally, I was having a worldbuilding discussion with calendula_witch via email today. We were talking about fuel sources in a post-collapse environment. Assume no further petrochemicals extraction, and no feasible industrial-chemical method of recycling plastics etc. One could presumably provide a limited amount of essential fuel through ethanol distillation from biomass, even with very low tech so long as the engineering expertise were available. One could presumably maintain some nominal petrochemical feedstock with the new strains of oil-producing bacteria which are emerging, pace the Gold hypothesis, assuming a bit more progress in biotech between now and the putative point of collapse, and maintenance of the relevant engineering expertise.

But what does one uniquely need petrochemicals per se for, really? My best answer is lubricants. It’s my understanding that even very good vegetable oil lubricants don’t hold up under heat and mechanical stress like petrochemical lubricants. Any comments from the engineering wing?

Originally published at jlake.com. You can comment here or there.

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Kevin Roche
User: kproche
Date: 2008-09-07 01:00 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
But what does one uniquely need petrochemicals per se for, really? My best answer is lubricants. It’s my understanding that even very good vegetable oil lubricants don’t hold up under heat and mechanical stress like petrochemical lubricants. Any comments from the engineering wing?

Raw materials for polymeric (plastic) chemistry. We actually should be as worried about consuming all the raw materials for plastics as we are about dumping all that carbon into the air when we burn the glop for fuel.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-09-07 01:02 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I guess there aren't widely suitable vegetable-based plastics, are there?

In a true collapse scenario, this is likely irrelevant, but in a constraint scenario it's highly relevant.

Thanks!
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biomekanic
User: biomekanic
Date: 2008-09-07 02:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Not sure where I read this, but petrochemicals are primarily used for nitrogen based fertilizers.

If oil goes *poof* then food production will crash, and not just because of the lack of mechanized farming.
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Karen, aka Ana Lake, ska Aine inghean Cathal
User: summers_place
Date: 2008-09-07 21:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've been thinking about that for some time now, and wondering why little to no mention of it is made in most of the "peak oil" articles and discussions I see.
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Gary Emenitove
User: garyomaha
Date: 2008-09-07 01:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Which restaurant?
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-09-07 01:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Culver's. He was working yesterday evening, in fact...
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User: mythusmage
Date: 2008-09-07 03:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I have learned that it is not worth my time to engage you in conversation because you are afraid of being wrong.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-09-07 05:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Erm, not quite sure how that's tracking to this post, but ok...

And I'm wrong all the time, for whatever that's worth. (I only learn more by being wrong.)
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User: ext_56672
Date: 2008-09-07 12:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I have been trying to figure out what low temperature applications there might be for powdered plastic. In a post-collapse world I can envision a stone grist mill operation pulverizing plastics that then could be used in sand form molds to manufacture useful things; replace grease and similar viscosity lubricants; or perhaps combining it with burned bio-fuels as an extender and/or temperature regulator. I originally started thinking about this because such a world would quickly need a replacement for paraffin if home canning of food were to continue.

And yes, even a mineral oil based laxative will lubricate better and last longer in mechanical applications than vegetable oil.

-Deven
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Karen, aka Ana Lake, ska Aine inghean Cathal
User: summers_place
Date: 2008-09-07 21:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Actually, paraffin isn't really recommended in modern home canning, as the seal it creates is fairly fragile and can be unreliable. A safer method is to use a boiling water bath canner - when done properly, no paraffin is needed.
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User: ext_56672
Date: 2008-09-08 01:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Understood. I am talking about how to deal with food preservation in a post-collapse world where those rubber seal dome lids and even the rubber grommets for the old glass-lid canning jars are no longer available because there is no petro-chemical industry left to make them.
In such a world "modern" canning practices have reverted to the less reliable methods like paraffin seals, or possibly even a paraffin substitute made out of plastic powder.

As an aside, I remember my grandmother using zinc canning lids with paraffin seals as late as the mid 1960's. They were free, and it was what they could afford.
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User: autojim
Date: 2008-09-08 03:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Lubricants -- hard to beat heavy petros for high-pressure bearing lubes.

Plastics. There are bio-based plastics available. Henry Ford championed a lot of research into soy-based plastics back in the 1930s.

One can make seals out of natural substances like latex, and use other naturally-occuring things as fillers/reinforcement (such as cotton, linen, flax, papyrus fibers -- you get the idea). Won't necessarily work as well as synthetic rubbers with Kevlar or Nomex reinforcement but it'll do in a pinch.

Fuel -- bio substitutes can work quite well, actually. Lots of diesels running around on either biodiesel (chemically processed from veggie oil) or even straight veggie oil (though one has to watch for gelling in low temperatures). Algae-derived biodiesel also exists (and has been used to win the 24 Hours of LeMans endurance race in the Audi R10 TDI race car). Ug the caveman figured out basic fermentation and distillation of alcohol fuels early on. There's a whole bunch of folks up in the hills and hollers of Appalachia who make fuel-grade moonshine even today.

If we have any leftover photovoltaic, wind, or hydroelectric capability, you can also produce hydrogen from water via electrolysis (though the energy balance is tilted toward "takes more to make than you get when you use it", hence the use of "free" solar, wind, or hydro power to make the electricity.

And, remember the great lessons from the Mad Max films -- you can make methane from biomass, which can either be compressed and used directly as fuel or converted into other hydrocarbons via reasonably uncomplicated chemical processes. Synthetic lube oils would be one possible product.

I use a lot of synthetic lubes in the race car and the tow rig for their thermal stability -- the main thing about them vs. dino juice is that it's easier to get the desired mix of hydrocarbon types in the desired proportions that way vs. most conventional crude-oil "cracking" methods, though the relatively recent "hydrocracking" technique is very nearly as good at fine separation.

That's what most of our fuel and lube products are, by the way: blends of different hydrocarbons that all come out of crude oil but are distilled/cracked from the crude, and then recombined in the desired mix and proportions. Exceptions include "pure" hydrocarbons like propane and butane, which in the commercial sense are almost entirely made of one particular molecule (C4H10 for butane, C3H8 for propane), but typically is not 100% "pure" (common LPG is usually at least 90% propane, with some butane and other hydrocarbons in the mix).

Just a few thoughts from the propeller-beanie division.
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