Cradle to Grave Analysis
• new materials
• landscape placement
The materials that go into making magnesium
diboride, magnesium and boron, are both dirt-
cheap. So cheap in fact that magnesium diboride
cable may eventually be comparable in price with
If it is going to be MgB2, let’s consider sources:
Currently world wide demand for magnesium exceeds supply.
Demand is around 350,000 tonnes per annum while supply is
about 304,000 tonnes annually.
The magnesium deposits which are currently being exploited,
and the World’s main source of the element are found in
Texas, Norway, Canada and Israel’s Dead Sea. Major deposits
in Australia are found in Queensland and Tasmania.
We need to consider both sources and
And SF6gets a bit closer to home:
Many things are beneficial in one setting and detrimental in
another. Such is the case with the compound sulfur
hexafluoride (SF6). Enclosed in electrical equipment, SF6
is an effective gaseous dielectric that allows for the safe
transmission and distribution of electricity. Yet, when SF6
is released to the atmosphere, it is a highly persistent
greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate
change. It is the second characteristic that has prompted
the EPA to work with electric power providers to launch
the voluntary SF6 Emissions Reduction Partnership for
Electric Power Systems.
Locations where boron production and processing
are likely to influence the environment
The message is simply that the production and processing of
source materials can have unwanted environmental
consequences (direct and indirect).
If the supergrid expands the market for these materials, then
we can expect environmental effects!
“second-generation high-temperature superconductor, a
compound of yttrium, barium, copper, and oxygen, which is in
the early stages of development.”
What I found on MgB2 production was limited, but the
laboratory production is informative:
Xiaoxing Xi of Pennsylvania State University and his
colleagues heated chips of magnesium to more than 700
degrees Celsius in the presence of hydrogen gas. When
they added diborane gas (a mixture of boron and
hydrogen), a film of MgB2 began to grow on a sapphire
surface within the reaction chamber.
I conclude that production of MgB2 may be less complicated
that making the computer chips supporting this presentation.
The manufacture of MgB2 seems pretty innocuous. First you
have to make a powder and then form it into a wire.
There will undoubtedly be environmental and health issues in
this processing, but the technologies used appear to be mature
So to this stage of my analysis I see no smoking
“environmental” gun, but we need to remember that there can
be secondary effects.
The next stage of the process considers how our
superconducting cables will be used.
The supergrid will build new power plants, and trench, tunnel,
or dig it’s way across the landscape.
The environmental consequences of production are well
defined. We also have a pretty good sense of the
environmental effects of transmission facilities.
The major environmental concern I have is the landscape
disruption associated with construction, and the secondary
effects associated with growth from, in, or around the grid.
We are just beginning to recognize the need for smart growth,
and how to achieve low impact development. The supergrid
provides us with a chance to rethink the paradigm recognizing
that the supergrid will attract growth, and we have an
opportunity at this stage of the planning to consider how that
growth can be managed.
Paul Grant’s vision of a
future city examines the
infrastructure issues well,
but we need to consider
issues from a landscape
A landscape perspective is
based on a recognition of
scale differences, and a
careful consideration of
environmental issues at
Landscape ecology is providing that perspective. We are
developing the capacity to address environmental issues at the
scales appropriate to the supergrid.
In landscape ecology, patches are spatial units at the landscape
scale. Patches are areas surrounded by matrix, and may be
connected by corridors.
Corridors are elongated patches that connect other patches
together. Three major types of corridors are:
What is important to consider in the supergrid is that the nodes
will be loci of effect expansion, and the grid, acting as a
corridor, will both connect and isolate landscapes.
In a practical sense too, we need to consider the environmental
consequence of such a major effort at linkage. Fiberoptic
cables were installed often using existing railroad corridors.
Will the supergrid use existing corridors or require new ones?
Each option will have a unique set of environmental issues.
Finally to decommissioning!
• environmental remediation
• equipment dismantling
• building demolition
• land “reclamation”
From Weston Environmental Services:
There is a clear need to decommission supergrid facilities, but
what about existing facilities that the supergrid will make
Using a UK Department of Trade and Industry report on
Energy, I found some interesting statistics on UK oil rigs.
Granted we can leave some in place for habitat, but
decommissioning will be a major issue.
The Continental Supergrid will require new assessment
procedures that effectively address cradle to grave
considerations over large spatial and long temporal scales.
To meet the environmental assessment needs, we will need
a technology development process for environmental
effect/impact analysis that is as advanced as the scientific
and engineering supporting the supergrid.
The challenge to our discussions is to consider environmental
issues at the earliest stages of supergrid system development.
Further, it is important that environmental issues drive an
adaptive approach to technology development. Adaptive in the
sense that early and complete environmental issue analysis can
be expected to produce changes in technology, technology
applications, and systems operation and configuration.