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The Safest Source of Energy Will Surprise You

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The World's Safest Source of Energy Will Surprise You

The World’s Safest Source of Energy Will Surprise You

When it comes to conversations on energy, it’s hard to leave your feelings at the door.

It’s arguable that energy is the single most important driver of human progress – it’s a multi-trillion dollar industry that powers our daily lives, technological advancements, and even the economic development of entire countries. At the same time, our choices around energy can have significant consequences. How we decide to generate energy can decimate the environment, fuel political conflicts, and even cause human deaths as unwelcome side effects.

The outcomes from our choices around energy are so vivid, that we’ve developed strong and polarized associations with the subject at hand.

The Empirical Perspective

Today’s visualization on the safest sources of energy comes to us from Cambridge House, the company hosting the International Mining Investment Conference 2018 on May 15-16 in Vancouver, BC, and it uses an empirical approach to compare different energy sources with one another.

Based on the data, this comparison provides a perspective that will be surprising to many viewers. Despite its perceived dangers, nuclear is actually the safest type of energy.

Energy SourceDeaths per 1,000 TWh% of Global Primary Energy Supply (2015)
Coal100,00028.1%
Oil36,00031.7%
Natural Gas4,00021.6%
Hydro1,4002.5%
Solar440*<1%
Wind150<1%
Nuclear904.9%

That’s right – even when including seemingly catastrophic incidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima in the calculations, the math says that the amount of energy generated by nuclear is so vast that it more than outweighs these incidents over the long-term.

The reality is that nuclear energy is much more comparable to renewables like solar or wind, in terms of safety. More importantly, it’s on the polar opposite of the spectrum from coal, which manages to kill 4,400 people daily in China alone.

The Nuclear Option

Interestingly, multiple studies have come to this exact same conclusion, including the ones used in an analysis by economist Max Roser’s project called Our World in Data.

Even though the conclusion on nuclear is pretty cut and dry, it’s still hard to absorb. After all, the relative safety of nuclear ends up being extremely counter-intuitive to our human brains, which are seemingly wired to put more weight on big, memorable events (i.e. Chernobyl) rather than slow, consistent deaths that occur over time with other energy sources.

Today, nuclear provides about 11% of the world’s electricity from about 450 power reactors, generating about 2,500 TWh of electricity each year.

And while there are still questions that remain – specifically revolving around how to store certain types of nuclear waste – the above data explains why the majority of scientists classify nuclear as a sustainable and safe energy source, along with other renewables.

This post originally appeared on Visual Capitalist’s new VC Metals channel, home to data-driven visual content on metals, commodities, and energy.

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Automotive

How Much Oil is in an Electric Vehicle?

It is counterintuitive, but electric vehicles are not possible without oil – these petrochemicals bring down the weight of cars to make EVs possible.

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How Much Oil is in an Electric Vehicle?

When most people think about oil and natural gas, the first thing that comes to mind is the gas in the tank of their car. But there is actually much more to oil’s role, than meets the eye…

Oil, along with natural gas, has hundreds of different uses in a modern vehicle through petrochemicals.

Today’s infographic comes to us from American Fuel & Petrochemicals Manufacturers, and covers why oil is a critical material in making the EV revolution possible.

Pliable Properties

It turns out the many everyday materials we rely on from synthetic rubber to plastics to lubricants all come from petrochemicals.

The use of various polymers and plastics has several advantages for manufacturers and consumers:

  1. Lightweight
  2. Inexpensive
  3. Plentiful
  4. Easy to Shape
  5. Durable
  6. Flame Retardant

Today, plastics can make up to 50% of a vehicle’s volume but only 10% of its weight. These plastics can be as strong as steel, but light enough to save on fuel and still maintain structural integrity.

This was not always the case, as oil’s use has evolved and grown over time.

Not Your Granddaddy’s Caddy

Plastics were not always a critical material in auto manufacturing industry, but over time plastics such as polypropylene and polyurethane became indispensable in the production of cars.

Rolls Royce was one of the first car manufacturers to boast about the use of plastics in its car interior. Over time, plastics have evolved into a critical material for reducing the overall weight of vehicles, allowing for more power and conveniences.

Timeline:

  • 1916
    Rolls Royce uses phenol formaldehyde resin in its car interiors
  • 1941
    Henry Ford experiments with an “all-plastic” car
  • 1960
    About 20 lbs. of plastics is used in the average car
  • 1970
    Manufacturers begin using plastic for interior decorations
  • 1980
    Headlights, bumpers, fenders and tailgates become plastic
  • 2000
    Engineered polymers first appear in semi-structural parts of the vehicle
  • Present
    The average car uses over 1000 plastic parts

Electric Dreams: Petrochemicals for EV Innovation

Plastics and other materials made using petrochemicals make vehicles more efficient by reducing a vehicle’s weight, and this comes at a very reasonable cost.

For every 10% in weight reduction, the fuel economy of a car improves roughly 5% to 7%. EV’s need to achieve weight reductions because the battery packs that power them can weigh over 1000 lbs, requiring more power.

Today, plastics and polymers are used for hundreds of individual parts in an electric vehicle.

Oil and the EV Future

Oil is most known as a source of fuel, but petrochemicals also have many other useful physical properties.

In fact, petrochemicals will play a critical role in the mass adoption of electric vehicles by reducing their weight and improving their ranges and efficiency. In According to IHS Chemical, the average car will use 775 lbs of plastic by 2020.

Although it seems counterintuitive, petrochemicals derived from oil and natural gas make the major advancements by today’s EVs possible – and the continued use of petrochemicals will mean that both EVS and traditional vehicles will become even lighter, faster, and more efficient.

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Automotive

The Hydrogen City: How Hydrogen Can Help to Achieve Zero Emissions

Cities are drivers of growth and prosperity, but also the main contributors of pollution. Can hydrogen fuel the growth of cities with clean power?

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In the modern context, cities create somewhat of a paradox.

While cities are the main drivers for improving the lives of people and entire nations, they also tend to be the main contributors of pollution and CO2 emissions.

How can we encourage this growth, while also making city energy use sustainable?

Resolving the Paradox

Today’s infographic comes to us from the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association and it outlines hydrogen technology as a sustainable fuel for keeping urban economic engines running effectively for the future.

The Hydrogen City: How Hydrogen Can Help to Achieve Zero Emissions

The Urban Economic Engine

Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and according to U.N. estimates, that number will grow to 6.7 billion by 2050 – or about 68% of the global population.

Simultaneously, it is projected that developing economies such as India, Nigeria, Indonesia, Brazil, China, Malaysia, Kenya, Egypt, Turkey, and South Africa will drive global growth.

Development leads to urbanization which leads to increased economic activity:

The difficulty in this will be achieving a balance between growth and sustainability.

Currently, cities consume over two-thirds of the world’s energy and account for more than 70% of global CO2 emissions to produce 80% of global GDP.

Further, it’s projected by the McKinsey Global Institute that the economic output of the 600 largest cities and urban regions globally could grow $30 trillion by the year 2050, comprising for two-thirds of all economic growth.

With this growth will come increased demand for energy and C02 emissions.

The Hydrogen Fueled City

Hydrogen, along with fuel cell technology, may provide a flexible energy solution that could replace the many ways fossils fuels are used today for heat, power, and transportation.

When used, it creates water vapor and oxygen, instead of harmful smog in congested urban areas.

According to the Hydrogen Council, by 2050, hydrogen could each year generate:

  • 1,500 TWh of electricity
  • 10% of the heat and power required by households
  • Power for a fleet of 400 million cars

The infrastructure requirements for hydrogen make it easy to distribute at scale. Meanwhile, for heat and power, low concentrations of hydrogen can be blended into natural gas networks with ease.

Hydrogen can play a role in improving the resilience of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, by being an energy carrier. By taking surplus electricity to generate hydrogen through electrolysis, energy can be stored for later use.

In short, hydrogen has the potential to provide the clean energy needed to keep cities running and growing while working towards zero emissions.

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