What is world war zero’s equivalent of the liberty ship?

Simple, modular and easy to mass produce, the liberty ship design provided the allies an edge in low cost logistics, an invaluable advantage in the war against the axis powers.

There’s an old military adage made famous by US General Omar Bradley that “amateurs talk strategy and professionals talk logistics.” A similar statement could be made for climate action.[1]

During World War Two, the entire US economy retooled and built at both speed and massive scale. Utilizing a British design, the liberty ships embodied American industrial prowess at its finest.[2] The images below show how quickly the ships were made:

Over the course of the war, 2710 liberty ships were constructed at an average rate of ~1.5 ships per day. I recently came across a company attempting to do something similar for climate change. Terraform Industries builds simple, modular and easy to mass produce machines that make methane from the air.

The company anticipates building 8000 terraform factories over the next 20 years, a slightly slower average pace with a much higher peak rate per the expected exponential growth curve. The goal is to mass produce those machines in simple factories that use widely accessible materials and can be deployed across the world. From the Terraform whitepaper:

“each factory is intended to be set up in 6-8 weeks using generic locally available construction hardware on a footprint of ~10,000 square feet”

The theory of change is that quick iteration and the massively lowering cost of solar energy make synthetic natural gas cheaper than the underground stuff left over from fossils. Notably the terraformers do not require any of the massively complex permitting associated with new transmission lines and instead pipe natural gas into existing, extremely well established infrastructure.[3]

Big if true understates the magnitude of those implications. Of course all this is contingent on hitting the cost claims.

File under: worth staying tuned.

          O-H        O                              O-H       O                   H
         /          / \              H             /         / \      Ca-O       /
Ca=O + Ca      +  Ca   C=O + O=C=O +  \     <---> Ca     + Ca   C=O +  \  \   + O
         \          \ /                O-H         \         \ /        O-C=O    \
          O-H        O                              O-H       O                   H

[1] Places like Los Angeles have set ambitious energy and climate goals. At California’s global climate action summit in 2018, I remember the common cocktail chit chat being about how our state — despite its many bold policies and incredibly innovative companies — emphatically does not have its own house in order. To give just one glaring example, despite numerous glossy reports and shiny plans, LADWP has become more dependent on energy intensive imported water in recent years.

[2] I note the overseas design of the Liberty ship because Terraform Industries was founded by an Australian immigrant to LA, and I enjoy when history rhymes.

[3] An aside on permitting. The sixth street bridge in downtown Los Angeles took a decade and a half to build. If it takes that long to permit and construct a new energy system that avoids increasing atmospheric carbon, we’ve already lost. Governor Brown famously described reforming CEQA (a particularly persnickety permitting process) as “the lords work.” (In case you’re curious, here are a couple policy whitepapers I provided analysis for and/or authored on speeding up how we build housing, energy and infrastructure broadly.)

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#climate#synthetic fuels#renewable energy#solar#methane#terraforming