Month: January, 2022

Iron-Air Batteries: Storing Energy In Rust

Grid energy storage is one of the hottest areas of research and engineering today. It’s all about cheap, sustainable, and efficient materials, which makes iron-air batteries stand out amongst the others. Not only is iron plentiful and cheap, it’s completely recyclable and even better – rechargeable. Let’s look at iron-air battery technology and see how likely it is to transform our energy grid.


Over the last couple of years I’ve had something of a series of videos on this channel covering various types of battery technology. It’s not a formal thing exactly, but it’s a popular subject and there seems to be new ones all the time so there’s no shortage of topics.

I’ve covered liquid metal batteries, solid state batteries, redox flow, lithium ion of course, and most recently aluminum air and with each and every one of these videos, just as I was finishing up, Matt Freaking Farrell posts a video on the same topic.

So of course as I was working on a video about Iron Air batteries, there’s one from him, just cutting in line.

But as they say, it’s not who did it first… it’s who did it best. (beat) Of course his graphics are way better than mine so I’m still screwed.

The point is, if you’ve seen Matt’s video… I don’t know, I guess you can skip this one – unless, you just want to see what I might do differently, in which case you’re in luck because I am going to have puppies up on screen. (puppies on screen; smug) Take that, Matt. Check and mate.

And if you haven’t seen Matt’s video, then get ready to learn something… And look at puppies.

I had no idea in October when I made that video about Oxygen that the stuff I talked about in that would be relevant in so many other videos. It was called Oxygen is Killing You and it was about how oxygen is one of the most corrosive elements on the periodic table but weirdly, even paradoxically, that corrosiveness is what makes life possible.

And it’s what makes a lot of things possible, when it comes down to it, pretty much everything is transformed or powered by combustion; or oxidation.

As I covered in the aluminum air battery video, oxygen reacts with aluminum to create aluminum hydroxide. Which by the way, fun fact, whenever you look at anything aluminum, you’re really seeing the thin outer layer of aluminum hydroxide. You’ve probably never actually seen aluminum in your life.

Well it works the same way with iron. Oxygen reacts with iron to form iron oxide, also known as rust. And this process gives off a little bit of energy.

But before we get too far into how the batteries work and everything… I feel like at the beginning of every video I have to explain why we need battery storage, how important energy storage is for renewable energy and all that, but there might be another way of looking at it…

The Battery Bottleneck

The reason we talk about all these different kinds of energy storage is because there are a lot of different use cases, and different batteries are better suited for different purposes.

Lithium-ion is great for EVs because they’re energy dense, so smaller batteries, better for mobility, can be cycled thousands of times, and provide a lot of power to make the zoom-zooms.

They’re great for home storage and grid storage, too, but every battery that goes into that is a battery that’s not going in a car.

And that’s a lot of batteries. Home energy storage was a $6.97 billion dollar market in 2020. And grid storage systems are expected to grow 10-fold between 2019 and 2023.

This is a problem. Because battery availability is the biggest hinderance to the growth of EVs.

Not only are there just not enough batteries to meet demand for EVs these days but it’s this scarcity that keeps the cost of the batteries – and EVs – higher than gas cars.

In fact, some industry experts are warning that demand for lithium ion batteries may soon exceed supply.

Europe has been experiencing a major shortfall this last year, because most of their batteries are coming from Asia, and Covid has wreaked havoc on global trade.

There are new plants coming online in Europe to address this, and that’s obviously a good thing but there is still the deeper problem of raw materials.

Expensive Materials

Most lithium ion batteries rely on expensive materials like lithium, nickel, and cobalt. All of which have to be mined, and in a relatively small number of places on Earth.

And these prices can fluctuate. Lithium has actually tripled this year, which has added about $470 to the cost of every EV, on average.

The point is, lithium ion, for all its great properties, is constrained. And if we want to advance car electrification going forward, it might make sense to find alternative solutions for all those non-mobile storage needs. So we can put lithium ion in the cars and phones and computers to live its best life.

And that is why we keep hearing about all these new battery technologies, everybody’s scrambling to come up with the cheapest, most sustainable option until we finally develop an arc reactor. In a cave. With a box of scraps.

A LiOn Alternative

Now that I’ve said the thing; the thing I say in all these videos… again… Let’s talk about iron air batteries.

How It Works

So, much like the Aluminum-Air Battery I covered about a week after Matt Ferrell, iron-air batteries fall into the category of metal-air batteries, where energy is stored and released through the oxidation of metal.

With metal-air batteries, the anode is the metal and the cathode is oxygen basically.

And the electrolyte of course is a solution of water with stuff dissolved in it to improve conductivity.

As I said before, iron plus water and oxygen equals iron oxide, or rust. and this chemical reaction — rusting — releases electrons to pass through a circuit as current
All this is pretty similar to what we talked about with aluminum, the difference with iron is that this rusting process is reversible. In other words… you can recharge this one.

Yeah, sounds like magic but you can “unrust” the iron by adding current from outside.
And because you can recharge it, it’s made from abundant materials, and it’s totally recyclable, it was considered a potential battery for electric vehicles back in the 70’s and 80’s.

In fact, iron has a theoretical energy density about twice that of lithium ion batteries. So… Why aren’t we seeing them everywhere now?

Short Cycle Life

There’s a few reasons, the first is cycle life.

So yeah, while we’re clapping and celebrating that they’re rechargeable, it’s important to know… They’re kinda just barely rechargeable.

Cycle life refers to the number of times a battery can be charged and discharged before it gives out less energy than was put in.

For example, nickel- and lithium-based batteries can be recharged 300 to 500 times before losing any significant capacity.
Significant, meaning twenty-percent less than a fresh battery. It can go thousands of cycles before it’s totally dead.
this cites 2000 cycles as a typical cycle life; I think that’s to DEAD

Early iron-air batteries could only do 20-30 cycles. That’s less.

Later models improved on that, but it was still way short of other competing batteries, so, it faded away.

Why do iron-air batteries have such short cycle lives? Well I’m glad you asked, with most metal-air batteries, the problem is the components deteriorate.

I mean all that oxidizing and un-oxidizing and re-oxidizing takes its toll after a while.

In the case of iron-air, the iron anode can theoretically last upwards of 10,000 cycles. That’s not the problem. It’s the cathode and the electrolyte.

There’s a membrane on the cathode that regulates air flow. That membrane can react with the electrolyte, causing contamination that decreases cycle life.

Corrosion can cause the battery to self-discharge. So instead of storing energy, the battery bleeds it away while sitting idle. Obviously a problem.

So, those are the kind of problems that have stymied interest in iron-air but there has been a lot of progress made since then.

Recent Innovations

Like less reactive materials for the cathode membrane, and more efficient electrolyte solutions.

And now nanotechnology is getting in on the action.

Anodes of iron nanoparticles have more surface area to carry out reactions.

Nanocomposites of iron and graphene or carbon fiber gives even better results

The company that’s making the most waves in Iron-air batteries is Form Energy, and they have plans to launch a grid-scale iron-air battery in the next few years.

They claim to have solved all the aforementioned problems but they’re keep the details of how they’re doing it a secret.

And I guess we’re just supposed to trust them. As if Nikola Motors and Theranos never existed.

Form Energy

But clearly somebody trusts them because they’ve raised $360 million in investment rounds.

Two of those somebodies being Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.

So either they really are sitting on some secret sauce that will fix all the problems, or the potential for an Iron Air battery that can compete with Lithium Ion is just that enticing.

It doesn’t hurt that one of their founders is the former Vice President of Products and Programs at Tesla focusing specifically on grid-scale storage.

And they’ve also got on board a Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT who was an innovator of lithium-ion technology back in the day.

In fact, the words “Tesla” and “MIT” pop up a lot in bios of Form executives. Like, this is kind-of the grid energy storage dream team.

And this dream team claims their new battery could be a major step toward a 100% renewable energy grid.

Do you want Bill Gates money? Because that’s how you get Bill Gates money.

An Economical Battery

The individual batteries are made from 10-20 iron-air cells that are stacked to form a battery about the size of a washing machine.

And its anode is the largest ever made, which actually speaks to the economy of the design because despite it using more metal, it’s expected to run at less than a tenth the energy cost of a comparable lithium-ion battery.
This is, of course just based off their claims, as I mentioned, Form is keeping some details to themselves

But it won’t be long before we know if it’s all it’s cracked up to be, there’s actually a pilot program going online in 2023 in Cambridge, Minnesota.

The Pilot Project

It’s called the Cambridge Energy Storage Project and is part of a Green-power makeover by Great River Energy.

Great River plans to QUOTE eliminate coal from its power supply portfolio and add 1,100 megawatts (MWs) of wind energy by 2023 UNQUOTE

1 MegaWatt will be from the Cambridge Project, maybe with more to come

Great River hopes that the project can help prevent extended blackouts, which have been a problem in the past.

A blackout caused by the polar vortex left people without power for up to 72 hours in 2019.

Another blackout kept some without power for 48 hours in 2003. This one caused by a software bug.
On a personal note, I’m actually getting solar and storage on my house right now because of the blackouts we had here in Texas last February. I knew people who were burning their furniture in the fireplace for warmth. But at least they survived, at least 151 people died.

Now some might say that’s all the more reason to not ditch coal and oil, if people are already dying for lack of electricity.

But form hopes their battery could change the conversation by helping secure the grid. We’ll know more when the pilot project kicks off.

What should we expect when it does?

Watts Per Hour

Form makes rather modest claims about the rate at which their batteries can power the grid

The pilot facility will use an acre of land to provide 1 MW/150 MWh of energy
Watts are a measure of how much work can be done, while watt-hours measure work over time

So Form is saying their acre of their batteries will deliver 1 MW to the grid. At a steady 1 MW per hour, they’ll be able to keep this up for 150 hours.

A denser configuration could deliver three times the energy with the same footprint

For comparison, Tesla’s Megapack can deliver 250 MW/1GWh of energy per acre. 250 MegaWatts is enough to power 75,000 homes. Impressive.

But some easy math will show that at 250 MW per hour, an acre of Megapacks will run out in four hours.

Form’s Focus

At 1 MW/150 MWh, Form isn’t looking to power a major city during peak energy demand, their focus is delivering low-cost, long-duration energy.

A company blog post acknowledges that lithium-ion batteries “will meet the majority of future electricity demand”

They’re not looking to replace lithium-ion batteries completely, in fact, the best use of Form’s batteries might be as part of a hybrid system

In times of low energy demand, the iron-air part would provide inexpensive power.

When demand peaks, the lithium-ion batteries would kick in.

But in emergency situations, iron-air batteries could provide days of emergency power, which could save lives during extreme weather events.

So… is Iron Air the end-all, be-all of battery storage? No. But no single battery is.

Which, as I was saying at the beginning, is all the more reason to have a multitude of battery types that can fill specific niches in the most cost-effective and sustainable way possible.

It’s actually a really interesting time to be covering battery technology, and who knows, maybe someday we’ll develop the perfect battery that does all things in all applications. And when we do, I’ll cover it right here… Probably a week after Matt Ferrell.

Tell me your thoughts about the iron air battery and if there’s another battery storage solution that you’re excited about.











The Van Allen Belts Are Dangerous – But Didn’t Keep Us From The Moon | Answers With Joe

The Van Allen Belts are areas of high radiation where solar particles have been trapped and accelerated by the Earth’s magnetic field. This has long been touted as evidence by conspiracy theorists that we couldn’t have gotten to the moon. But while the Van Allen Belts are dangerous, the tenacity and genius of NASA engineers literally found a way around them. Here’s how.


I’m old enough to remember a time before the internet. In fact, that’s when I spent the most impressionable years of my life, I was molded before the internet as we know it changed the world as we know it.
So sometimes I find myself fascinated with Gen Z because these guys did grow up with the internet and were molded in a completely different world from me, with any information or entertainment they could ever want instantly available at all times.
And I worry about all the misinformation on the internet and what that does to someone who develops their worldview in a hurricane of clickbait and deepfakes and conspiracy theories.
Like you hope that someone who grows up in it might be more saavy to it because they’ve never known a time when you could just take information at face value, so they’re more aware of the manipulation and aren’t as taken by it.
Or… could growing up in a time of information chaos lead to a total abandonment of the very concept of truth? Where the loudest voices win?
You want it to be the first one… Until you hear that there’s a growing conspiracy theory amongst Gen Zers that birds aren’t real. And then you start to think it’s the second one.
Only you would be wrong, it’s actually totally the first one.
Birds Aren’t Real is a satirical movement that claims that birds aren’t really animals but sophisticated drones that the government uses to spy on you.
They’ve been showing up at protests around the country, putting up billboards in major cities, and driving vans covered in conspiracy lingo.
But Birds Aren’t Real… Isn’t real.
It’s a parody, meant to highlight the absurdity of the conspiracy theories that seem to be taking over the country.
Like any good satire, it walks the line to where you might not know if it’s real or not unless you’re in on the joke. For the people who are in on the joke, it serves as a kind of release. A way to thumb their nose at something that they see as dangerously destabilizing to the world they’re inheriting.
And it kind-of backs up the old adage that you can’t reason with crazy, you can only out-crazy them.
Oh, so you think JFK Jr is going to return from the dead and he’s going to do it at the place where his dad was murdered? Okay, well I don’t think birds are real. Top that.
Like people always say if you encounter someone who thinks the moon landings were faked, you should just say, “oh, you believe in the moon?”
Except there actually are people who think the moon is actually an alien spaceship so… yeah…

Birds Aren’t Real

A (Hoax) Theory Is Born

On July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 lander touched down on the lunar surface. It was watched live by 652 million people around the world, which was 1/5th of the entire world’s population at the time.
And yet, here we are some 50 years later and 11% of the US population either strongly believe or somewhat believe that the moon landing was faked. That’s nearly 40 million people.
But here’s the thing… That’s nothing new.
In fact, a poll by Knight Newspapers just a year after the Apollo 11 landing showed that millions of Americans already doubted that it ever happened.
The major reasons given were that the US made it up to fool the communists or to justify the expense of the space program.
This was written about by self-published author Bill Kaysing in his book, We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle in 1976.
 Yeah… this was the first book that really caught fire in the moon landing denier world, but some of what he talks about in it… I guess are understandable considering the time.
This was the early 70s, the height of the Cold War, and Vietnam and Watergate had just shattered most Americans’ trust in their government.
So the idea that the moon landings were the shiny object they were using to distract people from “what’s really going on” is not hard to understand.

Climate of Doubt

For some people, it was easier to believe they’d been lied to than that the Eagle had landed.
And of course once you believe in a conspiracy theory, you see evidence of that conspiracy theory everywhere you look, and one thing that many moon landing deniers locked onto was the Van Allen Belts.
Earth’s magnetic field creates powerful rings of radiation that circle the planet known as the Van Allen Belts… Wait a second… If the Earth is surrounded by intense radiation, then there’s no way they went to the moon. Busted!
This has become one of the biggest pieces of “evidence” that moon landing deniers reference, and I’ve seen it brought up in my comments for years, even though it has been disproven a thousand different ways, it keeps coming back up. It seems to be one of the stickier elements of this particular conspiracy theory.
And I think that’s because there is an element of truth to it. The Van Allen belts do exist. And they are dangerous.
But pretty much everything about the Apollo missions were dangerous. And they were only overcome by the grit and determination and sheer genius of the NASA engineers and astronauts. They literally problem-solved their way to the moon.
And I think that’s why this conspiracy theory is so aggravating, it’s just totally urinating over the herculean efforts of hundreds of thousands of people to do this one amazing and inspiring thing. And it’s so cynical, we have this one great thing that we did, why do you have to…
Sorry… That was… Off topic, we’re talking about the Van Allen belts.

James Van Allen

The belts are named after astrophysicist James Van Allen, who was a cosmic ray expert from the University of Iowa.
In the late 50s, he worked with graduate students to develop the Cosmic Ray Instrument, which included a Geiger counter that could register protons and electrons above a minimum energy.
Rocketry was in its earliest years and they hoped to be able to launch this into space to gauge what the radiation looked like above our atmosphere.
This proved to be a challenge. But not so much a technological one but a political one.

Army v. Air Force

This was in the days before NASA, when rockets were strictly a military thing, and the various branches of the military were competing to be the first to put a rocket into space.
The main competitors were the Army and Air Force. And each had a secret weapon in their corner.
The Air Force had the U. S. secretary of defense on their side; he wanted them to control rocket design.
And the Army had NAZIS… (long pause) Guess who won?
Specifically Werner von Braun who yes, was a Nazi, but he was also a genius.
So the Army was actually making some great strides but because the DOD was kinda on the Air Force’s side, advancement was stymied by infighting and red tape.

Enter Sputnik

But on October 4, 1957… things changed.
The first Soviet satellite, Sputnik I, was put into orbit and the second those beeps started sounding over American heads, well that clarified some things.
The Defense department fell in line behind von Braun and gave him all the resources he needed to launch a satellite.
And to distance the project from military goals — in the public eye at least — the decision was made launch a civilian satellite, something that didn’t have a military objective.
And von Braun was given a deadline of 90 days to get this thing up into space so he didn’t care what it was as long as it was ready to go.
And one satellite that was ready to go was Van Allen’s Cosmic Ray Instrument, so it got picked and was renamed Explorer 1.
Quick side note, Van Allen himself was in Antarctica when he heard the news so he contacted one of his grad students named George Ludwig to deliver the satellite. Which he did… in the back of his car.
He literally loaded up his pregnant wife and two young daughters and drove 1600 miles to Cape Canaveral with Explorer 1 – the first American satellite to ever reach space – in his trunk.
But I guess it paid off because he later became a chief research scientist at NASA. Good show, old chap.
So anyway, Explorer 1 launched on January 31, 1958, the United States was officially in space, and there was much rejoicing. (yaay…)
But while Americans were high fiveing each other over this accomplishment, Van Allen and his team went about interpreting the data that was coming back. (grand gesture) and THIS was…  not when the Van Allen belts were discovered.
Actually they were really disappointed with the data because half of it was missing.

Space is Radioactive

Where readings should have been, there were long gaps where the detector didn’t pick up any particles. And they couldn’t quite figure out why.
So for Explorer Two, they added a magnetic recorder to keep a log of the detector’s measurements. Previously, they were just reading it live.
And THIS was… (down energy) not when they Van Allen Belts were discovered because Explorer 2 blew up (didn’t make it to orbit), but Explorer 3! Haha! Explorer 3 in March 1958, that one got up there and everything worked perfectly.
Same as the first time, there were giant gaps where the detector didn’t pick up anything, but this time they were able to pin those gaps down to specific locations in orbit.
At the same time they ran some tests on one of the Cosmic Ray Instruments and discovered that the effect could be simulated by bathing it in X-rays.
And THIS is… where he figured out that there were belts of intense radiation around the Earth, that’s how we got the Van Allen Belts.

Starfish Prime

So, what to do with this information? (thinking) Radiation belts… So many ideas… (idea) Let’s nuke it.
(sigh) Yeah, the US nuked the Van Allen belts in 1962.
It was actually part of a series of 5 atmospheric nuclear tests because that was a thing we just used to do.
But one particular test was called Starship Prime, and it was aimed at the Van Allen Belts.
They were testing to see if they could use the belts to create a radioactive shield that could protect targets on the ground from missile attack. It didn’t work. But the EMP from it did manage to disable 1/3 of all satellites that were in orbit at the time.

The Inner and Outer Belts

The inner belt extends from about 600 kilometers to nearly 10,000 kilometers above Earth’s surface, and it’s mostly made of protons.
Some have been stripped from the solar wind by the Earth’s magnetic field, while others are supplied by the upper atmosphere
The outer belt stretches from about 13,500 km to nearly 60,000 km, but this is highly variable, it kinda depends on how you measure it.
The outer belt especially can swell at times as low-energy electrons and other particles rush in, but that diminishes gradually, sometimes in a few minutes, sometimes it takes days.
And there are still a lot of questions around how exactly the belts work, but we do know the basics.
Earth’s magnetic field captures the particles and funnels them around the planet, kinda the same way particle accelerators and fusion reactors contain particles in a magnetic field.

And Other Surprises

But recent measurements by NASA’s Van Allen Probes has shown the belts are more dynamic than we thought.
In one observation period, a solar storm caused a surge of electrons in the outer belt
Five days after the energy dissipated, there was another major surge... but there wasn’t a storm this time. They don’t know what caused it.
The Van Allen probes also revealed the existence of a third belt. Briefly.
This one popped up in what they call the “slot region” between the inner and outer belts in 2012.
It existed for 4 weeks and then a shock wave from the Sun wiped it out. It’s never been seen again.
So yeah, the belts are super dynamic, they grow and change according to solar activity and other things we still don’t understand. And they are powerful. Any conspiracy theorist that says these are dangerous is absolutely right. But are they deadly?

How Deadly Are They?

Studies have shown that inside the typical shielding of a satellite, an astronaut could absorb as much radiation in an hour in the belts as most people absorb in eighteen months on Earth.
Scary… sure, but notice I said “survivors.” A fatal dose of radiation is far higher than that.
So talking about radiation measurements gets tricky because there are many different units scientists use but I’m going to try to stick to the Sievert, because that measures damage done to living tissue.
Symptoms of radiation poisoning appear at 400 millisieverts.
A dose above 2000 millisieverts can be fatal.
But even double that dosage is survivable, with treatment. I don’t recommend you try this.
With that in mind, an astronaut in our hypothetical spacecraft would absorb 6 millisieverts of radiation per hour. So not too bad.

Damage Over Time

But there is a catch — small amounts of radiation damage can accumulate over time.
According to the FDA, doses of 5 to 20 millisieverts of ionizing radiation may increase the risk of fatal cancer.
A typical CT scan can deliver a dose in that range, which is why doctors don’t give them to everybody.

Must Go Faster

So, obviously, you wouldn’t want to hang out in the Van Allen Belts any longer than you have to. Thankfully, rockets go really fast.
When we talk about how NASA minimized the risk to the astronauts, the first thing they did was to limit the time astronauts spent there.
When the Apollo astronauts entered the inner belt, they were traveling just over 38,000 kilometers per hour.
That means the trip through both belts was under two-and-a-half-hours long. Not great, not terrible.

Apollo’s Trajectory

But that’s not all they did to minimize exposure.
Long before Apollo 11, Van Allen and his team had mapped the radiation in the belts, and there are certain regions of the belts that are stronger than others. So they didn’t go through there.
Yes, they developed a complicated maneuver called (look at paper), Going Around It.

Average Mission Dosage

The next precaution they took has to do with the command module capsule.
So remember earlier when I mentioned how much radiation an astronaut would receive in a typically – shielded satellite? Well they weren’t in a typically-shielded satellite.
One of the mandatories of the Apollo command module was that they be engineered to survive the largest solar flare then on record.
So, special materials and coatings in the hull, water shielding, and even their suits provided a bit of shielding.

Solar Event Monitoring

And one last thing NASA did was they monitored the sun for solar events.
Like I said before, the size and strength of the belts fluctuate quite a bit. Usually due to solar activity.
So NASA created the Solar Particle Alert Network, or SPAN, which carefully monitored solar activity leading up to the missions.
They advise NASA on periods of high solar activity, so astronauts can be ordered to shelter in the shielded areas of spacecraft, which thankfully never happened on any of the missions.
Although there was a close call between Apollo 16 and 17 (August 1972) where radiation went as high as 4000 millisieverts.
But even if there had been some astronauts caught in that, the shielding would have reduced that dosage to 350 millisieverts, which according to a NASA news article, “That’s the difference between needing a bone marrow transplant, or having a headache.”
The crew of the Apollo missions carried personal dosimeters that measured radiation exposure from launch to landing.
And because of the efforts I just listed, the average dose ranged from a low of 0.18 rad on Apollo 11 to a high of 1.14 rad on Apollo 14.
As I mentioned before there are lots of different radiation measurements and rads don’t convert directly to Sieverts, but for reference, 70 rad is considered dangerous, while 120 rad can be fatal.
So, long story short, the Van Allen Belts are not as deadly as conspiracy theorists seem to think. NASA was well aware of their danger long before Apollo 11 took flight, and they took the proper precautions.
Of course if you’re dedicated to the conspiracy, none of this matters, these are all just lies to cover up the fraud and anybody and everybody who can validate these facts are in on the conspiracy. Including me.

Small Price to Pay

When it comes down to it, the Van Allen Belts are just one of MANY concerns to deal with regarding space travel, like orbital debris or thermal management.
They definitely put a limit on the altitude of crewed missions, but it’s not a danger to anything like the ISS, they orbit thousands of kilometers below the belts.
In fact, those dosimeters on the Apollo astronauts showed that they probably received twice as much radiation on the moon as a typical astronaut does in low Earth orbit.
So you might say the Van Allen Belts are a small price to pay for the protection of Earth’s magnetic field.

No Fatal Radiation

Moon hoaxers would of course move on to all the other “evidence” that has all been thoroughly debunked, I’m not going to spend time on any of those. And I’m sure that as we go back to the moon with the Artemis program, these theories are going to crop up all over again.
But I for one choose to celebrate the moon landing, and instead of focusing on all the things that might disprove it, focus on the amazing people who contributed to this program and tell their stories.
Like George Ludwig driving 1600 miles with Explorer 1 in his trunk, these people embodied the best of what it means to be human, doing whatever it takes to advance and explore and push past boundaries. Even massive particle accelerators in space.

The Colorado River Is Dying – And It Could Crash The Economy

The Colorado River is often called The Lifeline of the Southwest. 40 million people rely on it. It supports a $1.7 trillion economy. And it is quickly drying up. So let’s start 2022 with a look at the Colorado River. What’s causing this to happen? What’s being done about it? And just how bad is it going to get if nothing changes?


Happy New Year everyone, it’s 2022, I hope you’re off to a great start, and I hope this new year brings you all the success and happiness you can possibly handle.

One way that many Arizona farmers have started off this year is by losing their crops because of mandatory water restrictions, essentially making them a canary in the coalmine in a massive ecological disaster. (blink/SFX)

Come on, you got like 10 seconds of happiness there, what else did you expect?
Lake Mead, which straddles Arizona and Nevada and provides water and power for millions of people, is currently only 35% full. It’s literally the lowest the lake has ever been since the Hoover Dam was built in 1931.

It’s been going down for a while, but just a few months ago in August of 2021, the federal government officially declared a water shortage on the Colorado River for the first time ever.

And with that came restrictions for Arizona farmers that would take effect in January 2022, which would be right about… (look at watch) Now.

But there’s a reason for all this concern. The Colorado River is dying. Fast. And if nothing is done, it could be the beginning of an environmental disaster that would permanently reshape a large swath of the United States.

There’s a lot of things in life that are profoundly important to us but we spend insanely little time thinking about. In so many ways we’re just utterly spoiled by our modern conveniences.

Things like where our electricity is generated, where our trash goes, how the microwave works, and where our water comes from.

Because we don’t see the full life cycle of the resources we consume, we remain blissfully ignorant of it. Until we don’t have it anymore.

And that’s when little things happen like, you know… society collapsing.

Which is why the water shortage declaration is a big deal. It’s effectively changed the official policy from one of, “Eh, maybe something’ll happen,” to one of “…okay, we need to make something happen.”

The declaration will reduce Arizona’s supply of water from the Colorado River by around 20 percent, or 512,000 acre-feet.

By the way, an acre-foot is around 1,230,259 liters (325,000 gallons), which is enough water for two or three homes a year.

Reductions are mandated for Arizona, Nevada, and also parts of Mexico, but what this means for the farmers in Arizona is that many in places like Pinal County are planning on leaving some of their fields dry and unplanted.

These same farmers are expecting their entire water supply to be shut off in 2023.

And that could happen if Lake Mead’s level declines to 320 meters (1,050 feet) above sea level, which would prompt even more restrictions.

According to Jennifer Pitt of the National Audubon Society, “As this inexorable-seeming decline in the supply continues, the shortages that we’re beginning to see implemented are only going to increase,” “Once we’re on that train, it’s not clear where it stops.”

These are drastic measures that will financially impact thousands of farmers, but around 25 million people rely on Lake Mead for their water supply across Arizona, California, Mexico, and Nevada.

Overall, the Colorado River provides water for 40 million Americans. That’s more than 12% of the entire US population.

What happens to the Colorado affects almost every major western U.S. city, thirty Native American tribes, 5.5 million acres of farmland, and northern Mexico.

The river’s flow has declined by about 20 percent over the last century, according to a 2020 U.S. Geological Survey study.

And more than half of that decline is due to warming temperatures across the basin.

The study also found that without significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, it could go down by 31 percent by 2050.

This is a climate crisis playing out in real time. So, how did we get here? And what can be done?

You know how you guys are always begging me to do more videos about river systems and the minutia of interstate water compacts, well your day has come my friend!

The Colorado River is a massive system of rivers and tributaries that flows through seven states across 2,300 kilometers (1,448 miles) before ending in the Gulf of California (or the Sea of Cortez).

It plays such a significant role in the region it’s sometimes called the “Lifeline of the Southwest.”

The river begins at La Poudre Pass in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado at 10,184 feet above sea level where it’s fed by melting snow in the mountains.

Unsurprisingly it’s very close to the continental divide. Rivers to the west flow toward the Pacific, those in the east flow toward the atlantic.

From its headwaters, it flows south and feeds Grand Lake, Shadow Mountain Lake, and Lake Granby. Then cuts across western Colorado through Grand Junction before it enters Utah and starts carving up the southwest, through Arches National Park, Moab, The canyonlands, Glen Canyon, before collecting into Lake Powell.

From there it goes on to form Marble Canyon before the mother of them all, the Grand Canyon, shortly after that it forms Lake Mead, passes through the Hoover Dam, and flows south, eventually feeding Lake Mohave and Lake Havasu.

It then continues flowing south, creating the border between Arizona and California, before it enters Mexico at Yuma and eventually ends its journey at the Gulf of California.

This river not only has created and shaped some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world, it crosses a wide range of natural environments and ecosystems.

Alpine tundra at its headwaters through semiarid plateaus and canyons to arid deserts in the lower basin.

It’s one of the most heavily developed rivers in the world, and that’s nothing new, it’s provided water for people and agriculture for thousands of years.

The Ute and Southern Paiute Indian tribes hunted and gathered in the plateaus and canyonlands and the Hohokam Indians in the lower basin built the largest prehistoric irrigation system in western America on the Gila and Salt rivers.

There’s also the Yuman tribes who did extensive floodplain farming along the Colorado River.

It’s also gone by many names over the years.

Various Native American tribes called it Tomichi, Nah-Un-Kah-Rea, or Akanaquint.

Spanish explorers in the 16th century called it Rio del Tizon, which translates to River of Embers or Firebrand River.

Some maps later named it the Rio Colorado de los Martyrs and the El Rio de Cosminas de Rafael, kinda tying its characteristic red water with the blood of martyrs.

Settlers in the 1800s named it the Grand River, possibly because it’s the river that goes through the Grand Canyon.

Colorado became a U.S. state in 1876, but the river didn’t go by the state’s name until 1921.

But in 1921, U.S. Representative Edward T. Taylor from Colorado pushed for Congress to change the name of the Grand River to the Colorado River because it should have the name of the state where it begins.

Congress approved the name change that same year, meaning last year the Colorado River as we know it turned 100 years old. And I bet you didn’t even send it a birthday card. You monster.

I didn’t send one either, but we all probably should have. The Colorado River irrigates 15% of crop output in the U.S. and 13 percent of livestock production.

The Colorado River Basin can’t afford to leave farmers out to dry

For example, pumped water irrigates plains in Northern Colorado where alfalfa and corn are grown and used to feed cattle.

And water pumped to southern California feeds vegetable crops that are shipped to restaurants and stores across the U.S.

If you live in the US, chances are you ate something today that was made possible by the Colorado river.

With so much at stake and so many people affected across such a wide area, it should come to no surprise that the Colorado River has been the subject of a LOT of treaties.

The Colorado River Compact in 1922 divided the river into lower and upper compact states.

  •  Arizona, California, Nevada (lower)
  • Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming (upper)

At the time of the agreement, the river was estimated to be close to 16.5 million acre-feet at Lees Ferry, Arizona. This is the dividing line between the lower and upper basins.

So they agreed to split fifteen million acre-feet of water between the lower and upper compact states. I guess 15 million just being a nice round conservative number.

Later on in 1944, another treaty allocated 1.5 million acre-feet per year to Mexico.

Lake Powell feeds the upper compact states, that one was formed by the Glen Canyon Dam, and Lake Mead feeds the lower states, created of course by the Hoover Dam.

The Hoover Dam also supplies almost all the electricity that powers the sights and sounds of Las Vegas.

All in all, the Colorado River has 15 dams, providing power for cities all along its path and forming reservoirs that hold more than 4 times the river’s annual flow.

And its tributaries have hundreds more dams that do the same for smaller towns and municipalities.

But going back to the 1922 Compact, it was later discovered that the initial estimate of 15 million acre-feet of water volume was actually kinda skewed.

Turns out the years leading up to the agreement was an abnormally wet period. So there was actually less water available than the agreements specified.

This led to tight regulation of the hydrology in the region, which is why there are a lot of restrictions on rainwater collection in Colorado. Because other states have a right by treaty to that water and it’s kind-of like you’re stealing from them.

In contrast to those abnormally wet years, since the year 2000, the Colorado River Basin has experienced a historic drought.
Sure, the river’s always had wet and dry times, but the last couple of decades are the driest the basin has seen in 1,200 years, based on tree rings and geological data.
And the major factor behind this exceptional drought? Take a guess.

Climate change. It’s climate change.

According to studies by scientists at Colorado State University and University of California-Los Angeles, 53 percent of the loss was caused by warmer temperatures.

Warmer temperatures that reduce the size of the average snowpack in the mountains. Less snow, less meltwater to feed the river.

Also the warmer temps cause plants to uptake more water to prevent dehydration, as well as boosts the amount of water that evaporates off the landscape.

The other 47 percent of the decrease was due to precipitation pattern shifts.

As in there’s less rainfall in the areas that feed the tributaries in the Rocky Mountains and more in other areas that aren’t effective in generating runoff.

The scientists named this the Millennium Drought and compared it with a drought from 1953 to 1968 when the river’s flow also shrank.

But that drought was caused by a period of less precipitation, and not so much by warming temperatures.

There’s actually more rain falling now than the last drought, but the levels are lower because of warmer temperatures.

When you factor in the rate of warming, it’s projected that the river’s flow could decrease by 5 to 20 percent over the next 40 years.

And by the year 2100, it could go down by as much as 55 percent.

Now someone in the comments is going to point out that population growth is also a factor and you would not be wrong about that.

The number of people in the states that rely on the Colorado River has gone up by more than six and a half million over the last 20 years.

In fact some of the fastest growing areas in the country are in this region. Utah saw the largest percentage growth of any state in the country at the last census.

This is an actual problem, many are starting to wonder if these states should be actively discouraging new residents.

Some might use that as a way of dismissing the climate change part of the equation, just saying it’s more people so of course there’s less water to go around, but that doesn’t change the measurably smaller snow pack that feeds the river and the measurably higher temperatures.

Population control is kind-of a hard sell in politics but the increase in population is exacerbating an already bad problem.

To reiterate how much is at stake here… The Colorado River Basin drives a $1.4 trillion economy. If it was its own country, it would be the world’s seventh largest economically.
So, what happens if it dries up completely?

Just for starters, 40 million people will be without water and could lead to major population shifts from some of the country’s largest cities, like L.A., Las Vegas, and Phoenix.

When we hear people talk about mass migration and climate refugees, it’s not just sea level rise flooding coastal cities, it’s this.

But even for people who don’t live in these cities, the effects could be catastrophic.

Less water for crops means more fish dying in rivers so we could see food shortages, reduced hydroelectric power entering the grid, increasing the costs of all those things and countless other connected industries…

All of which could compound on top of themselves and bring the world’s 7th largest economy to its knees, destabilizing other economies and leading to a total economic collapse.

Kinda starting off 2022 with a real joygasm of a video here.

But hold up, don’t panic just yet. There are some efforts in place to keep that from happening.

In October, the Arizona government allocated $30 million to help keep more water in Lake Mead.

These funds will be used to buy or rent water rights with Native American tribes and others who have guaranteed water allocations.
Urban areas are also doing their part in water conservation.

For example, Las Vegas is paying residents to rip out their lawns, and Los Angeles plans to recycle 100 percent of its wastewater by 2035.
The big year to keep an eye out for is 2026. That’s when the river’s management guidelines are set to expire.

Every state and everyone with an interest in the river’s future will be involved in a round of talks that will determine the river’s future.

And for all you out there that really nerd out on the intricacies of water treaties, and I know there are… tens of you out there… It’s gonna make for some pretty riveting CSPAN.

And whatever comes out of those talks had better work or the next round of talks could have mandatory stillsuits and evaporative water collectors on the table, which would suck because those things break down a lot and you need to get to Toshi station to pick up some power converters.

But all jokes aside, look, I know you’re tired of hearing about climate change and it probably feels like everything gets blamed on climate change to the point that even I’m like, okay, not everything is climate change.

And that’s true, not everything is climate change. But this is. And it’s REALLY bad.

We have to make some fundamental changes to the way we live and power our lives. If not by choice, eventually by necessity.

Just ask those farmers in Arizona that are right now deciding which fields to not plant this year.

This is a tangible problem that is affecting people’s lives today. And it’s not just on the Colorado river, this is happening in river systems all around the world.

So I don’t know as much as I talk about reducing climate change, maybe we should talk more about how we adapt to climate change in the coming decades.

Because that’s something we’ve already started doing.

Got anything to add? Anything I missed? Any changes you’ve made over issues like this? Throw them in the comments.

Subscribe to YouTube Channel

Subscribe to Podcast

You can be canker sore free in only 6 weeks!