Thursday, July 30, 2009

Director of New Energy Institute Named At The University of Texas at Austin

Maybe this will get the ball truly rolling on alternative energy research and ways to reduce Texas' carbon footprint.

From the University of Texas website:

July 14, 2009

AUSTIN, Texas — Dr. Raymond Lee Orbach, the U.S. Department of Energy's first undersecretary for science, has been appointed director of The University of Texas at Austin's Energy Institute, a multi-disciplinary institute that combines the strengths of the university's schools and colleges to advance solutions to today's energy-related challenges.

Raymond Lee Orbach
Dr. Raymond Lee Orbach

The Energy Institute is developing multi-disciplinary research programs and educational materials to overcome the scientific and technological barriers to a secure and sustainable energy future, while helping policy leaders make the informed decisions required to reach this goal.

Orbach, whose appointment begins Aug. 1, also will have joint appointments as a professor with tenure in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Cockrell School of Engineering; the Department of Physics, the College of Natural Sciences; and the Jackson School of Geosciences.

The Energy Institute will integrate the most advanced expertise from across the university's schools and colleges, including the Cockrell School of Engineering, Jackson School of Geosciences, College of Natural Sciences, McCombs School of Business, School of Law, LBJ School of Public Affairs, School of Architecture and the College of Liberal Arts, as well as expertise from the private sector.

"I am delighted that Ray Orbach has agreed to serve as the director of our Energy Institute at The University of Texas at Austin," said Steven Leslie, provost of the university. "He is a world leader of energy research and policy and he will be instrumental in organizing research efforts of our faculty in areas of critical importance to our state's and nation's energy needs."

"It is with great enthusiasm that I look forward to becoming a part of The University of Texas at Austin," said Orbach. "The superb quality of the faculty and students, its supportive relationship with the State of Texas, and its national and international renown make this an opportunity of enormous promise. I am delighted to be a part of the university's faculty, and I look forward to working with the campus, the city of Austin, the Texas legislature and our nation's leaders to solve the technical and policy issues facing our planet's energy future."

Orbach said he sees the Energy Institute as a unifying collaborator to help The University of Texas at Austin mobilize its faculty and academic resources, as well as talent from other universities in The University of Texas System, to make "transformational changes in energy production and usage" of fossil fuel, renewable and nuclear energy resources. He said these changes would address threats to the economic future of Texas, the nation and the world.

Orbach said the energy resource issues to be addressed initially would include:

  • Fossil fuel production and use operating in a carbon-constrained environment. The lack of economical technology, combined with an absence of a legal and policy framework, could put Texas' energy resources at risk.
  • New concepts and technologies in wind and solar energy for the development of electrical energy storage for these resources.
  • Recycling spent fuel from carbon-free nuclear energy. The university has the opportunity to recreate a robust radio-chemistry program to extract the energy contained in spent fuel and to substantially reduce its toxicity and heat load for subsequent storage.

"These three areas combine to form the nexus of the future of energy production and use in the State of Texas requiring game-changing transformational research and development," said Orbach. "With success in this endeavor, our state will enjoy an economy and quality of life in the future comparable to that which it has enjoyed in the past."

Orbach was sworn in as the Department of Energy's first undersecretary for science in June 2006. He was the chief scientist of the Department of Energy, and adviser to Secretary Samuel W. Bodman on science policy as well as all scientific aspects of the Department of Energy, including basic and applied research ranging from nuclear energy, to environmental cleanup of Cold War legacy sites, to defense programs. Orbach was responsible for planning, coordinating and overseeing the Energy Department's research and development programs and its 17 national laboratories, as well as the department's scientific and engineering education activities.

Orbach also was responsible for the department's implementation of the president's American Competitiveness Initiative, designed to help drive continued U.S. economic growth. He led the department's efforts to transfer technologies from Department of Energy national laboratories and facilities to the global marketplace.

From the time of his Senate confirmation in 2002, Orbach also was the 14th director of the Office of Science at the Department of Energy. He managed an organization that was the third largest federal sponsor of basic research in the United States, the primary supporter of the physical sciences in the country and one of the premier science organizations in the world.

From 1982 to 1992, Orbach was the provost of the College of Letters and Science at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and from 1992 to 2002, he was chancellor of the University of California (UC), Riverside. Under his leadership, UC Riverside doubled in size, achieved national and international recognition in research and led the University of California in diversity and educational opportunity. In addition to his administrative duties at UC Riverside, Orbach sustained a research program, worked with postdoctoral, graduate and undergraduate students in his laboratory and taught the freshman physics course each year.

Orbach received his bachelor of science degree in physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1956. He received his Ph.D. degree in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1960 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He began his academic career as a postdoctoral fellow at Oxford University in 1960 and became an assistant professor of applied physics at Harvard University in 1961. He joined the faculty of UCLA two years later as an associate professor and became a professor in 1966.

Orbach's research in theoretical and experimental physics has resulted in the publication of more than 240 scientific articles. He has received numerous honors as a scholar, including two Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowships, a National Science Foundation Senior Postdoctoral Fellowship at Oxford University, a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship at Tel Aviv University, the Joliot Curie Professorship at the Ecole Superieure de Physique et Chimie Industrielle de la Ville de Paris, the Lorentz Professorship at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, the 1991-1992 Andrew Lawson Memorial Lecturer at University of California, Riverside, the 2004 Arnold O. Beckman Lecturer in Science and Innovation at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Outstanding Alumni Award from the California Institute of Technology in 2005.

Orbach is a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has held numerous visiting professorships at universities around the world and is a member of 20 scientific, professional and civic boards.

For more information, contact: Robert D. Meckel, Office of Public Affairs, 512-475-7847.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

You go, old dude!

QUITO (Reuters) - Lonesome George, the last remaining giant tortoise of his kind, may soon be a father to the delight of conservationists.

Unhatched eggs have been found in his "bachelor" pen in the Galapagos Islands, his keepers said on Tuesday.

For decades, the last known Pinta island tortoise had shown little interest in reproducing. But at age 90, George is said to be in his sexual prime.

Galapagos tortoises were among the species Charles Darwin observed to formulate his theory of evolution in the 19th century.

Story continues.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

EU, US take measures to protect ecomonies from threats of non-emission stadard bearing developing countries

From Environmental News:

European nations are wary about a perceived trend in France and the United States to use international competition as a reason to back off on Carbon reduction pledges. They are concerned that carbon tariffs could be used to fend off competition from countries which have not committed to reducing emissions, in effect triggering a green trade war.

So far, France has been the only European Union member state to openly rally for the introduction of border measures to secure the competitiveness of European industry against emerging economies. It put the measure on the table in 2008 when the EU was immersed in discussions on a revision of its emissions trading scheme (EU ETS).

Since agreement was reached on the EU revised directive in December 2008, carbon tariffs largely disappeared from debates until the US floated the idea in a draft climate bill. In the EU, meanwhile, France is having difficulty finding allies to rally around the cause.

The EU is dealing with the competitiveness issue differently. It is granting free emissions "permits" to industries which might be tempted to relocate to areas with less stringent regulations, an effect dubbed 'carbon leakage'.

In a measure opposed by President Obama, the US House of Representatives inserted a provision in its draft climate bill that allows the US to impose a 'border adjustment' after 2020 on certain products from countries which do not limit their global warming emissions. The move was seen as a pre-emptive measure to tackle American firms' loss of competitiveness in the face of cheaper products flooding from countries without a carbon premium.

Obama has said: "At a time when the economy worldwide is still deep in recession and we've seen a significant drop in global trade, I think we have to be very careful about sending any protectionist signals".

Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), also criticised the draft legislation, warning that it would allow developing countries to tax US exports in return.

As EU environment ministers met informally last week to discuss Europe's position for international negotiations, the Swedish EU Presidency warned that hints of protective measures would block progress towards a global deal, which it said was already too slow.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Astronaut laments loss of polar ice, glaciers

Bob Thirsk, an astronaut two months into his six months stint on the International Space Station has noticed some changes on our globe.

From Reuters and Yahoo!News:

"A Canadian astronaut aboard the International Space Station said on Sunday it looks like Earth's ice caps have melted a bit since he was last in orbit 12 years ago.

...He is mostly in awe when he looks out the window, particularly at the sliver of atmosphere wrapped around the planet.

"'It's a very thin veil of atmosphere around the Earth that keeps us alive,' Thirsk said during an in-flight news conference. 'Most of the time when I look out the window I'm in awe. But there are some effects of the human destruction of the Earth as well.'

'This is probably just a perception, but I just have the feeling that the glaciers are melting, the snow capping the mountains is less than it was 12 years ago when I saw it last time,' Thrisk said. 'That saddens me a little bit.'"

No, Bob, that is not just a perception, but I'm sure the denialists appreciate your political neutrality.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Fuel from a corn's ear

With food prices going up and gas prices coming down, using the cobs rather than the edible bits of corn seems the way to go in the ethanol market.

From the Houston Chronicle:

A shift from corn to the cob

The pressure’s on ethanol producers to make fuel by using waste instead of food crops, and a company thinks it has found a way in South Texas


July 24, 2009, 8:11AM

Brett Coomer Chronicle

Salton Willems helps gather corncobs left from harvest Wednesday in Santa Rosa, near Harlingen. The cobs, already stripped of kernels, are used for conversion into ethanol. 

In tiny Santa Rosa, a few miles northwest of Harlingen, the nation's largest ethanol producer was secretly testing farm equipment that only a few years ago might have seemed absurd.

The machine collects corncobs, naked of kernels and typically left in the field after a harvest, for eventual conversion into ethanol.

The testing by Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Poet is part of a larger project that could help usher in a new era for ethanol, which today in the U.S. is produced mostly from corn. The privately held firm aims to be among the first in the country to produce ethanol on a large scale from nonfood sources — in its case, corncobs — at a plant it is building in Emmetsburg, Iowa. That plant is set to begin production in 2011.

Company officials say, however, that at this point they are less concerned about bringing that project to fruition than about external challenges they fear could hurt demand for ethanol and hobble development of next-generation biofuels.

“Our biggest question right now is, ‘Is there going to be a market for what's produced?'” said Michael Roth, Poet's biomass program director, who was in South Texas on Wednesday to oversee field testing.

The U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requires greater use of ethanol and other biofuels in coming years, growing to 36 billion gallons in 2022 — about 25 percent of the 140 billion gallons of gasoline U.S. drivers consume annually.

More than half of the federal biofuel mandate, known as the Renewable Fuel Standard, calls for fuels made from nonfood crops and agricultural waste. But there are doubts the industry is ready to meet production targets that call for phasing in next-generation biofuels through 2022, starting with 100 million gallons next year.

Larry Russo, with the office of biomass programs at the U.S. Department of Energy, called next year's goal “extremely challenging.”

In the U.S., ethanol is blended with gasoline to reduce dependence on oil and improve air quality in densely populated areas, including Houston and Dallas. Boosted by government subsidies, the industry has grown rapidly in recent years.

But ethanol producers have struggled recently amid volatile corn and oil prices and weaker demand for transportation fuels in the recession. Many producers have cut output and idled plants, while several filed for bankruptcy protection.

About 11 percent of the nation's 12.5 billion gallons of corn ethanol production capacity is temporarily shut down, said Matt Hartwig, spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol trade group. But he noted that improving economics for the fuel have helped some plants come back online recently.

Moving the ‘blend wall'

The ethanol industry is asking the Environmental Protection Agency for permission to increase the federally set ceiling for the amount of ethanol that can be blended with gasoline. It says raising the “blend wall” — now at 10 percent — would be a catalyst for development of what's called cellulosic ethanol, made from agricultural waste and nonfood crops.

“That blend wall is holding up cellulosic ethanol,” Poet CEO Jeff Broin said.

But critics fear higher blend levels could harm engines, drive corn prices higher and give the biofuels industry less incentive to move away from corn-based fuel and into next-generation fuels.

“They're going to hold cellulosic ethanol hostage so they can expand their market,” said Nathanael Greene, director of renewable energy policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that opposes increases to the blend wall.

The EPA is expected to rule by December.

Meanwhile, Poet and other biofuel companies are continuing research.

Broin said Poet can now produce cellulosic ethanol from corncobs for about $1 per gallon more than corn ethanol and hopes to make the costs equal within seven years.

At the same time, the company is working on an efficient way to collect corncobs.

That's why, for the last two summers, it has quietly dispatched crews to South Texas to test a variety of cob-gathering machines. The remote location protects the design of equipment not yet on the market, while giving Poet a chance to practice where hot weather makes corn ready for picking in the summer, months ahead of the harvest in the Midwest.

It can be a slow process. This week, one test machine that scooped up discarded cobs, stripped them of husky residue and shot them into a storage tank pulled by a tractor nearly overheated in the midday sun. That led to more tinkering.

But better now than later, Roth said. “If the collection method isn't going to work the way a farmer thinks it should work, then it's no good.”

Taking into account the fight over the "blend wall," however perhaps the cobs would best be used in so-called "grassoline" and skip the ethanol altogether.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Congress votes in favor of natural gas research

Yes, Mr. T. Boone Pickens' natural gas company stands much to gain, but in the long run, in the face of the increasing rarity of petroleum both domestic and foreign, the actions of Congress are welcome.

It has already been a great week for natural gas and the Pickens Plan.

Yesterday, another piece of legislation promoting the research and development of natural gas-powered vehicles—H.R. 1622—was passed by the House of Representatives. As CQ Today noted in the coverage of the bill, “Oilman T. Boone Pickens has been crusading for a switch to greater use of natural gas vehicles, as a centerpiece of his campaign to reduce dependence on foreign oil. His plan has been winning growing support from members of Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.”

The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Sullivan of Oklahoma (one of the original co-sponsors of the NAT GAS Act), provides $30 million per year for natural gas vehicle research from 2010 to 2014 and directs the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency to focus research on commercial vehicles. The legislation also charges those agencies with developing procedures and national standards for the vehicles and for natural gas fueling stations. A special thank you goes out to Representative Sullivan for being a leader in the nation’s fight to reduce our reliance on foreign oil.

The vote? It was overwhelmingly in favor of the bill, 393 to 35. It was a huge victory. It’s further evidence of the fact that Members of Congress are recognizing the tremendous benefits of natural gas: it’s clean, it’s abundant and, most importantly, it’s American. Army, you’re really making a difference by reaching out to your elected officials.

This was a great achievement but we need you to keep up the momentum to get the NAT GAS Act—H.R. 1835 and S. 1408—passed by both chambers of Congress and signed by President Obama into law this year. Take a minute to send your Member of Congress an email asking them to become a co-sponsor of the NAT GAS Act. Click here to send an email today.

-- From Team Pickens

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Delivery companies doing their part

From Environmental News:

FedEx increased its North America hybrid truck fleet by 50 percent with today’s announcement of 92 additional retrofitted delivery trucks.

The shipping giant now boasts 264 hybrid trucks, which it says is the largest hybrid package delivery fleet in North America. The repurposed vehicles are 44 percent more fuel-efficient that standard FedEx delivery trucks and produce 96 percent fewer particulates and 75 percent fewer smog-causing emissions.

The company turned to Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. and Eaton Corp. for the delivery truck retrofits performed on 2000 and 2001 model year delivery trucks, which had been driven between 300,000 and 500,000 miles. The retrofitted trucks will be largely deployed in the Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

Not to be outdone, UPS has made similar strides (also from Environmental News):

Did you know that UPS trucks have a “No Left Turn”� policy on deliveries? The company has taken another step toward energy conservation by ordering 500 more hybrid and compressed natural gas (CNG) delivery vehicles.

UPS calls its trucks the Green Fleet, and is expanding from 50 hybrid electric trucks to 250 (the largest commercial order of such trucks by any company). The CNG-run fleet will increase from 800 to 1,100 as well.

The purchase means the largest private alternative fuel fleet in the U.S. will grow 30 percent more in 2009. This will save 176,000 gallons of fuel annually and 1,786 metric tons of carbon emissions each year—the equivalent of removing almost 100 conventional UPS trucks from the road for a year.

Many UPS stores also offer reuse/recycling for shipping products, including packing peanuts and cardboard boxes. Use Earth 911’s recycling locator to see if your local store participates.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

NOAA Reports Record Ocean Surface Temperatures for June

From Global Warming is Real via Environmental News:

Article by Thomas Schueneman

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has reported findings of preliminary analysis from the agency's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina that shows global ocean surface temperatures for June broke the previous record set in 2005.

The combined average global/land and ocean surface temperature for June was the second warmest on record, 1.12 degrees Fahrenheit (0.62 degrees Celsius) above the 20th century average of 59.9 degrees F.

Ocean surface temperatures for June '09 were the warmest on record, 1.06 degrees F (0.59 degrees C) above the 20th century average of 61.5 degrees F.

The global land surface temperature for June was 1.26 degrees F above the 20th century average, and the sixth warmest June on record.

Research using data released earlier this month from a NASA's Ice, Cloud, and Land Satellite (ICESat) show that Arctic sea ice thinned dramatically between 2004 and 2008. Data from the satellite allows scientists to measure thickness and volume of ice, where previously researchers could only measure area to determine Arctic sea ice cover and extent.

According to the study, released earlier this month in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans, researchers at NASA and the University of Washington found that Arctic sea ice thinned by seven inches a year, some 2.2 feet over four winters. Thicker, older ice that survives one or more summers shrank by 42%, or 595,000 square miles, almost an area the size of Alaska's land mass.

The older and thicker ice is less vulnerable to summer melt than thinner ice, and this remaining "mature" ice has not been sufficient to offset the ice loss during the summer melt season, leading to more open water, which absorbs more heat, further warming the oceans and accelerating more sea ice loss. The observed decline in sea ice thickness is attributed to recent warming and anomalies in patterns of sea ice circulation.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder Colorado published a study last April with similar findings, showing a polar ice cap that is thinner than ever recorded and maximum sea ice extent at an all-time low.

U.S. researchers now warn that the Arctic could be nearly ice-free within 30 years. Not long ago, scientists projected an iceless Arctic wouldn't occur before the end of the 21st century.

Deny that while you're drowing.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Can't win for losing

CFCs (cholorflourocarbons) were once the bane of the ozone layer. They were replaced with HFCs (hydroflourocarbons) that eliminated the ozone depletion but it turns out they have more of a greenhouse effect than CO2. Now scientists are scrambling to find a "replacement for the replacement."

From the Environmental News Network:

Scientists say the chemicals that helped solve the last global environmental crisis -- the hole in the ozone layer -- are making the current one worse.

They worked: The earth's protective shield seems to be recovering.

But researchers say what's good for ozone is bad for climate change. In the atmosphere, these replacement chemicals act like "super" greenhouse gases, with a heat-trapping power that can be 4,470 times that of carbon dioxide.

Now, scientists say, the world must find replacements for the replacements -- or these super-emissions could cancel out other efforts to stop global warming.

Last month, a group of scientists published a paper projecting that, if unchecked, the emissions would rise rapidly over the next 40 years. By 2050, they found, the amount of super greenhouse gases in the atmosphere might be equal to six or more years' worth of carbon dioxide emissions.

And last week, diplomats met in Geneva to discuss ideas for a worldwide reduction in HFCs.

Article continues:

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Onion Power: Tops, Tails and Skins Become Electricity

An onion processor in Oxnard, Ca has turned the waste from the onions he sells into energy:

From Reuters:

By Matthew Wheeland

Tops and tails are becoming much more than garbage at Gills Onions, an onion processor in Oxnard, Calif. Today marks the unveiling of the company's onion-powered electrical system, a first-of-its-kind initiative to turn onion waste into energy.

"This whole project is about eliminating our onion waste," explained Steven Gill, an owner/partner of Gills Onions. "This has been a long-term project for us for the last 10 years."

The anaerobic digester.

Every day, Gills Onions -- which sells diced, sliced, slivered and puréed onions to wholesale and retail customers -- generates about 300,000 pounds of onion waste -- the company loses about 35 percent of the onion to "tops, tails and skins," Gill said.

In the past, the company has dealt with the waste by sending it out to fields, spreading it out to decompose and return to the soil naturally. But that method eventually became too much of a problem: The cost and effort involved in finding enough fields to spread the onion discards on, and the insect life that was attracted to the waste, became more hassle than it was worth.

Enter "the AERS." Gills' Advanced Energy Recovery System takes all that waste and turns it into two kinds of energy: electricity and calories (in the form of cattle feed. Depending on how thinly you slice it, the project, which was unveiled today at Gills facility in Oxnard, Calif., is likely the first such project in the world (although if you know of any other onion-waste-to-energy projects, I'd love to hear about them).

How Gills Onions' waste-to-power process works.

Here's how AERS works: the onion waste goes in, it's shredded and pressed to squeeze all the juice out of the onions, which reduces the solid waste by 75 percent. The juice goes into the anaerobic digester, where microbes turn the juice into methane gas. The gas then goes to fuel cells, which is converted into electricity.

And 300,000 pounds of onions makes a lot of electricity: 600 kilowatts per day, enough to run 35 to 40 percent of the electricity used by Gills' facility.

The remaining 25 percent of the onion waste after the juice is squeezed is pulp, which is used as cattle feed. Steven Gill said the daily diet of cattle feed sells on the market for about enough to cover the cost of delivery.

But the juice-to-energy system saves much more; Gills expects to save $700,000 worth of electricity a year, and $400,000 a year in waste disposal costs.

In all, the project cost $9.5 million to implement, but Gills received $2.7 million in incentives for the project from Southern California Gas Company, as part of California's Self-Generation Incentive Program. As a result, the project will pay for itself in an estimated six years, although Gill himself said he expects it will pay for itself in less time.

Although the initiative was led by Gills, SoCal Gas has been involved from the beginning, and has worked with Gills on other projects dating back 12 years. Raul Gordillo, a SoCal Gas spokesman, said that part of the utility's role in the onion-power project include helping Gills receive the incentive money for the project.

"We were also called upon to assist in obtaining Research & Development to help develop and design a biogas conditioning system that can remove the high levels of sulfur that are present in onion generated biogas," Gordillo said in an email.

Once this project is underway -- and Gill said it hasn't been much of a challenge to learn how to turn onion juice into energy -- the company has more plans. The next step is to explore ways that the water can be recycled after the onion juice has gone through the anaerobic digester, instead of being discharged into city sewers.

And Gill said some of his neighbors have also expressed interest in this kind of project; a carrot producer and a winery were two examples he offered.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

This doesn't let anyone off the hook

Yes, global warming has occurred on earth before, but over a much longer period of time than is happening now. From Environmental News Network:

What caused global warming 55 million years ago?

A runaway spurt of global warming 55 million years ago turned Earth into a hothouse but how this happened remains worryingly unclear, scientists said on Monday.

Previous research into this period, called the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM, estimates the planet's surface temperature blasted upwards by between five and nine degrees Celsius in just a few thousand years. (It's taken just over a hundred years to increase almost three degrees Celsius.)

The Arctic Ocean warmed to 23 C, or about the temperature of a lukewarm bath.

How PETM happened is unclear but climatologists are eager to find out, as this could shed light on aspects of global warming today.

What seems clear is that a huge amount of heat-trapping "greenhouse" gases — natural, as opposed to man-made — were disgorged in a very short time.

The theorized sources include volcanic activity and the sudden release of methane hydrates in the ocean.

But all this CO2 can only account for between one and 3.5 C of PETM's warming if the models for climate sensitivity are right, the team found.

There must have been some other factor that stoked temperatures higher.

Even though there are big differences between Earth's geology and ice cover then and now, the findings are relevant as they highlight the risk of hidden mechanisms that add dramatically to warming, says the paper.

Maybe it was the Atlanteans.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Economy and environment: a boiled frog?

Paul Krugman uses the boiled frog analogy to comment on the economic and environmental policies that are not doing enough in his most recent column:

Is America on its way to becoming a boiled frog?

I’m referring, of course, to the proverbial frog that, placed in a pot of cold water that is gradually heated, never realizes the danger it’s in and is boiled alive. Real frogs will, in fact, jump out of the pot — but never mind. The hypothetical boiled frog is a useful metaphor for a very real problem: the difficulty of responding to disasters that creep up on you a bit at a time.

And creeping disasters are what we mostly face these days.

I started thinking about boiled frogs recently as I watched the depressing state of debate over both economic and environmental policy. These are both areas in which there is a substantial lag before policy actions have their full effect — a year or more in the case of the economy, decades in the case of the planet — yet in which it’s very hard to get people to do what it takes to head off a catastrophe foretold.

And right now, both the economic and the environmental frogs are sitting still while the water gets hotter.

Start with economics: last winter the economy was in acute crisis, with a replay of the Great Depression seeming all too possible. And there was a fairly strong policy response in the form of the Obama stimulus plan, even if that plan wasn’t as strong as some of us thought it should have been.

At this point, however, the acute crisis has given way to a much more insidious threat. Most economic forecasters now expect gross domestic product to start growing soon, if it hasn’t already. But all the signs point to a “jobless recovery”: on average, forecasters surveyed by The Wall Street Journal believe that the unemployment rate will keep rising into next year, and that it will be as high at the end of 2010 as it is now.

Now, it’s bad enough to be jobless for a few weeks; it’s much worse being unemployed for months or years. Yet that’s exactly what will happen to millions of Americans if the average forecast is right — which means that many of the unemployed will lose their savings, their homes and more.

To head off this outcome — and remember, this isn’t what economic Cassandras are saying; it’s the forecasting consensus — we’d need to get another round of fiscal stimulus under way very soon. But neither Congress nor, alas, the Obama administration is showing any inclination to act. Now that the free fall is over, all sense of urgency seems to have vanished.

This will probably change once the reality of the jobless recovery becomes all too apparent. But by then it will be too late to avoid a slow-motion human and social disaster.

Still, the boiled-frog problem on the economy is nothing compared with the problem of getting action on climate change.

Put it this way: if the consensus of the economic experts is grim, the consensus of the climate experts is utterly terrifying. At this point, the central forecast of leading climate models — not the worst-case scenario but the most likely outcome — is utter catastrophe, a rise in temperatures that will totally disrupt life as we know it, if we continue along our present path. How to head off that catastrophe should be the dominant policy issue of our time.

But it isn’t, because climate change is a creeping threat rather than an attention-grabbing crisis. The full dimensions of the catastrophe won’t be apparent for decades, perhaps generations. In fact, it will probably be many years before the upward trend in temperatures is so obvious to casual observers that it silences the skeptics. Unfortunately, if we wait to act until the climate crisis is that obvious, catastrophe will already have become inevitable.

And while a major environmental bill has passed the House, which was an amazing and inspiring political achievement, the bill fell well short of what the planet really needs — and despite this faces steep odds in the Senate.

What makes the apparent paralysis of policy especially alarming is that so little is happening when the political situation seems, on the surface, to be so favorable to action.

After all, supply-siders and climate-change-deniers no longer control the White House and key Congressional committees. Democrats have a popular president to lead them, a large majority in the House of Representatives and 60 votes in the Senate. And this isn’t the old Democratic majority, which was an awkward coalition between Northern liberals and Southern conservatives; this is, by historical standards, a relatively solid progressive bloc.

And let’s be clear: both the president and the party’s Congressional leadership understand the economic and environmental issues perfectly well. So if we can’t get action to head off disaster now, what would it take?

I don’t know the answer. And that’s why I keep thinking about boiling frogs.

UT Austin works toward energy independence for the state and the nation

UT Austin has established The Energy Institute, drawing together "researchers whose interests range from social policy to carbon sequestration," according to an article in today's Houston Chronicle.

Building upon its $100 million portfolio in energy research, the University of Texas at Austin is launching an ambitious initiative to promote energy independence in Texas and the rest of the country.

The Energy Institute, headed by Raymond Orbach, former undersecretary for science at the U.S. Department of Energy, will draw together researchers whose interests range from social policy to carbon sequestration.

“Texas is very rich in its energy resources and has lived off them beautifully for over a century,” Orbach said. “I wanted to see if we could assist the state in terms of its energy future … and the major issues facing the energy companies.”

Steven Leslie, provost and executive vice president at UT, said the institute — launched a few weeks ago and to be officially announced today — was the brainchild of faculty and department heads who wanted to pull together the sprawling range of energy interests on campus.

Orbach, who served at the Department of Energy from 2002 until January, officially starts work Aug. 1. His previous experience includes stints at several schools in the University of California system.

At UT, he will work with researchers from nearly every corner of the campus, including the law school, business school, liberal arts, architecture, engineering and science.

Gregory Fenves, dean of engineering at UT, said the timing is right, thanks to stimulus funding and federal initiatives to promote sustainable energy. “The theme is, how do we make this transition work for the United States and the world?” he said. “The transition is going to be decades long.”

But the prescription for energy independence will take more than new technology, Fenves said. “There is not going to be a technology silver bullet that will solve all our problems. Every approach has consequences. There are legal issues. Business model issues. Social issues.”

The oil companies and other major energy players also will be involved, Orbach said.

“These are very smart people, and they are well aware of what the future holds,” he said of increasing pressure to limit greenhouse gases and other industrial byproducts.

While the Institute is not solely dedicated to alternative energy, it is closely looking at ways to limit emissions and free us from petroleum dependence.

It's more than just a start.

It's a huge stride, especially in Texas, where the current governor seems only concerned with lining his own pocket and that of his cronies.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Not so cool. At all.

Again from the Environmental News Network:

Nearly a third of U.S. bird species in trouble

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Nearly one-third of all U.S. bird species are endangered, threatened or in significant decline, with birds in Hawaii facing a "borderline ecological disaster," scientists reported on Thursday.

The State of the Birds report, issued by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar along with conservation groups

and university ornithologists, also noted some successes, including the recovery of the bald eagle, the peregrine falcon and other species after the banning of the chemical DDT.

"When we talk about birds and we talk about wildlife, we're also talking about the economics of this country," Salazar told reporters as the report was released.

Wildlife watching and recreation generate $122 billion annually, the report said.

Salazar mentioned revenue from hunting, fishing and bird-watching, but added that President Barack Obama's stimulus package and proposed federal budgets for the remainder of 2009 and 2010 offer more money for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which aims to protect birds and other creatures.

Article continues:

This is just cool

UK team builds robot fish to detect pollution

LONDON (Reuters) - Robot fish developed by British scientists are to be released into the sea off north Spain to detect pollution


If next year's trial of the first five robotic fish in the northern Spanish port of Gijon is successful, the team hopes they will be used in rivers, lakes and seas across the world.

The carp-shaped robots, costing 20,000 pounds ($29,000) apiece, mimic the movement of real fish and are equipped with chemical sensors to sniff out potentially hazardous pollutants, such as leaks from vessels or underwater pipelines.

They will transmit the information back to shore using Wi-Fi technology.

Unlike earlier robotic fish, which needed remote controls, they will be able to navigate independently without any human interaction.

Article continues:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Some potential problems with Exxon Mobil's natural gas mining in Colorado

This relates to the previous blog (see below).

While natural gas is a cleaner alternative to petroleum fuels, Exxon Mobil may be harming the environment while getting at it in the following ways:

- They are drilling into a region that consisted mainly of wilderness and ranches. Local folks appreciate that the company is replanting grass and placing cattle guards to protect ranchers livelihood and minimize harm to local fauna, some ranchers worry that "the drilling will pollute the water table and drive out wildlife from the area." - Larry Robinson, a rancher in the Piceance Basin, west of Denver. From The Houston Chronicle.

- What fuels the drills? Many use gasoline, while other are powered off of electricity from coal-powered plants.

- A lot of energy and manpower goes into the drilling. Why not invest in grassoline and other biofuels that are more readily available?

These are some questions that should be answered, but one would assume Exxon Mobil is counting on the amount of natural gas mined will make up for the energy expended.

Here's to hoping that assumption is correct and won't lead to the ass out of you and me thing.

Exxon Mobil has found a way to get to heretofore unreachable natural gas

From the Houston Chronicle:

Going deep in the Rockies

At one time, even nuclear bombs couldn’t loosen ‘tight gas’ trapped in sandstone. Now Exxon Mobil says it has a way.

Copyright 2009 Houston Chonicle

July 11, 2009, 10:08PM

Johnny Hanson Chronicle

In search of natural gas in Colorado's Piceance Basin, Matt Harrington, with drilling contractor Helmerich & Payne, climbs a drill on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains last month.


RIFLE, Colo. — Oil and gas producers have known for decades that a massive bounty of natural gas lies beneath western Colorado's mountains. Getting at it, however, can be costly and complicated.

With a potential gain of 1 billion cubic feet per day of output from its leased land in the deepest part of the gas-rich Piceance Basin — which would be about 2 percent of all U.S. gas production — Exxon Mobil Corp. spent the last decade perfecting a way to drill less for more gas.

Now, the Irving-based behemoth is ramping up its Piceance project with more drilling and with new, largely automated gas gathering, treatment and monitoring facilities.

Armed with the financial heft to shrug off low natural gas prices that have prompted other Piceance producers to move out or slow down, Exxon Mobil is running seven rigs, five more than two years ago.

“Now that we have this level of rigs, we can drive down costs,” said Jim Branch, Exxon Mobil's Piceance Project executive.

The Piceance is a bowl-shaped underground basin that covers 6,000 square miles in five counties on both sides of the Colorado River.

Its allure isn't new. Southern Union Gas drilled the first well there in the mid-1950s.

The federal government exploded nuclear bombs underground there in the late 1960s and early 1970s, hoping to unleash natural gas and to demonstrate the bombs had peacetime uses. The explosions yielded no gas other than some of the radioactive kind, and public opposition squelched the blasts. So, Piceance activity was light until recent years, when technological advances caught up with the challenges of getting at so-called “tight gas” trapped in pockets of concrete-like sandstone in remote mountain areas.

Despite natural gas prices that have fallen below $3.50 per million British thermal units from last year's highs of $13, Exxon Mobil is banking on the Piceance for years to come. The company has leased about 300,000 acres of mostly federal land that Exxon Mobil says could contain 45 trillion cubic feet of gas. That's about twice the amount of gas consumed in the U.S. each year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“That potential is huge,” said Fadel Gheit, an analyst with Oppenheimer & Co. “They are doing it in the methodical Exxon way. Exxon is very bullish on natural gas globally, not only in the U.S., and they are putting their money where their mouth is.”

‘Elegant ballet'

Exxon Mobil spent a decade tinkering with technology used to extract gas elsewhere to adapt it to the Piceance. The company came up with a way to drill deep, then blast holes in the pipe next to pockets of gas. A mixture of chemicals and water shoot into the well at high pressure to crack open the rock, while sand that's mixed in holds the fissure open so gas can flow.

The process involves repeated fractures in up to 50 zones that contain gas pockets on the way back up the well, like opening an elevator door on various floors, to maximize gas flowing from each well.

“We use the term ‘elegant ballet' because we can actually do multiple wells now,” Branch said. “The key to improving the cost is to keep this equipment working constantly.”

That process, combined with directional drilling that deviates from a straight vertical line, means Exxon Mobil can drill up to 20 wells per site. That translates to fewer rigs sharing space with the basin's mountains, pinyon pines, sagebrush and grazing cattle.

The company says the method dramatically cuts operational costs. Exxon Mobil won't disclose the Piceance project costs, except to say that it's part of the company's plan to spend $125 billion on projects over five years, including $29 billion this year.

Exxon Mobil is among many producers in the Piceance. Others include EnCana, Williams, XTO Energy and Chevron.

Williams tried Exxon Mobil's technology in 2006 but found no cost benefits above what the company was already doing, spokesman Jeff Pounds said.

Exxon Mobil began increasing its Piceance presence two years ago. At the peak of construction, 600 workers were on the payroll. Now, about 60 employees run the operations, mostly from a control center, while contractors do the heavy lifting with drilling and seismic imaging.

Falling gas prices

Work in the area has slowed since natural gas prices dropped.

“We had 105 rigs in the basin last year; now, there are 25,” said Shawn Brennan, manager of Houston-based Enterprise Products Partners' new gas treating plant in the basin.

Besides moving gas, Brennan said, the company's Piceance operations extract up to 70,000 barrels a day of natural gas liquids, such as propane, butane and ethane, which can be sold outright or used in processing at refineries and chemical plants.

“That's a lot of diversity to weather the markets as they are now,” he said.

Exxon Mobil faced some lingering ill will when establishing its gas operations. In the early 1980s, the company had a major oil shale operation in the Piceance. That decade's oil bust prompted an abrupt pullout, throwing the Rifle-area economy into a tailspin for years.

To make itself more welcome, the company donated $500,000 to help pay for a new helicopter ambulance pad at a hospital in Grand Junction.


Other community service outreach efforts include an academy for math and science teachers in area public schools and an annual sheepdog championship competition.

“We were certainly mindful of that history,” Branch said. “I know there is some legacy there, but it has not complicated our work here.”

For the ranchers in the Piceance, it's sometimes a challenge to co-exist.

Exxon Mobil and some other producers try to limit traffic by busing workers in to work and having them live on site for 14 days, like offshore crews. The companies replant grass and trees after clearing right of way for pipelines, and cattle guards prevent free-roaming livestock from wandering too close to plants.

Larry Robinson, 63, a third-generation rancher, said he sees evidence of environmental sensitivity, but there's no way to pretend the producers aren't there.

“The solitude's gone, and we're getting more and more wells and more and more pipelines, more and more compressors,” Robinson said. “It isn't like it used to be for us, and I don't think it will ever be the same.”

Saturday, July 11, 2009

G8 Climate Change promises insufficient, says UN

Ban Ki Moon, the current Secretary-General of the U.N. says the commitment to reduce emissions by two percent is not enough to counter current global warming trends, according to Political

HAVANA, Cuba, Jul 9 (acn) Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, today said that the goals agreed to by the members of the Group of the eight most industrialized nations of the world (G8) are insufficient to counter climate change.

The climate problem brings along a responsibility, which is historical and mandatory for our planet’s future, Ban Ki-Moon told the press at the end of the G8 Summit, held in the Italian city of L'Aquila.

The main industrialized countries decided to reduce global warming by two percent, amidst huge demonstrations on the city’s streets demanding a greater commitment from those governments to mitigate the effects of climate change and the economic crisis.

In the summit, heads of state and ministers from Germany, Canada, The United States, France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan and Russia agreed to a 50-percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, EFE news agency reported.

UN figures point to these countries as responsible for 80 percent of the gases launched into the world atmosphere; therefore, they are the ones to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which is one of greenhouse gases.

According to the UN data it is necessary to strengthen bank regulations and promote reforms of international financial institutions, in order to cushion the effects of the economic crisis and the food situation on the planet.

From the Cuban News Agency

Others, however are heartened by the fact it was discussed at all, according to, though even there, it is referred to as a "half-measure."

Why? Because no solid plan of action was agreed upon.

The most exciting thing about this week's G8 meeting in l'Aquila in the hot and sunny mountains of Italy was that it managed to say something new and important.

Contrary to last year's summit in Japan, G8 leaders at this year's summit managed to produce two pieces of news on climate change: First they acknowledged the scientific view that global temperature increases should be limited to two degrees Celsius. Secondly they agreed that the developed countries should reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases by 80 per cent or more by 2050. G8 leaders have never agreed on this before.

If the leaders are serious about what they agreed - and I wouldn't dream of suggesting that they are not - this sets a new, clear direction for the international efforts to combat climate change.

The reference to the science on 2 degrees limit indicates that science must be the basis for where we set our level of ambition on climate change. And the agreement to reduce emissions by 80 per cent in 2050 puts us into the right order of magnitude. WWF would like to see even higher ambitions that would further limit the disruption to our climate system, but this is an important new starting point, and it creates a common, global language on what we are aiming for.

And this was not limited to the developed countries in the G8. Thursday, the same agreement on limiting temperature increases to 2 degrees was also reached in the Major Economies Forum, meaning that developing countries such as Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, and South Africa, are now part of this new, global language. Like all countries, they have felt the impacts of climate change and they do not want to miss the narrow window of opportunity available for limiting future damage. They agree on the ambition to limit warming to 2 degrees, and they know of course that there is no way that we can achieve it, without serious climate action on their part as well.

So all the important players agree what the game is we are playing. That's important! Why is it then that I'm only half excited?

My main concern is that the G8 leaders still haven't said much about how they will translate this long-term, principle agreement into the immediate action needed to fulfill the vision. As a group, they have not committed to anything near the level of emissions reductions needed in the short and mid-term. And they have presented very few ideas on what funding they are going to contribute to African countries and other developing countries for adaptation to climate change and for climate action and emissions reductions. What they are offering to the poorest countries in the world, is a little bit like a rich friend's postcard from a 5 star resort saying: I wish you were here.

However, in a surprise move on Thursday, President Obama presented an idea that may help resolve this issue. He got the heads of state at the Major
Economies forum to ask their Finance Minister, or Secretary of Treasury, to come up with ideas on finance for developing countries and to report back to the upcoming G20 meeting in Pittsburg in September. So now we have a process and a timeline that may help us break one of the major deadlocks in the global negotiations on climate change. All eyes will now be on Pittsburgh.

There was also some progress on technology, which is another of the key building blocks in the climate negotiations. The Major Economies Forum agreed to double public funding for research and development of green technologies. They also agreed to a series of country-led initiatives on specific technologies like solar power, smart grid, energy efficiency and advanced vehicles. By November, we will have proposals for roadmaps and action plans for these technologies, and if done well, they can become very important for a global climate agreement.

Progress is still not fast enough but the positive steps on long term vision and on finance and technology in the Major Economies Forum mean that an ambitious global climate deal in Copenhagen is still mission possible.

Notice the difference in language and numbers? This is a reflection of the complexity of the problem. However, through human ingenuity, I have faith that things will work out. Let's just hope no more species go extinct and no one else dies as a direct cause of warming. Wishful thinking, I know, but one can dream. That said, I do believe the denialists will eventually come around.

They can't ignore facts forever.

I hope.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Houston's Terrabon leading "grassoline" revolution

The company, called Terrabon, is perfecting a renewable fuel it calls “green gasoline” that is nearly identical to petroleum gasoline but can be made from just about any kind of organic material, from sewer sludge to cornstalks.

As such, it addresses some of the biggest problems that have dogged ethanol, the leading U.S. alternative fuel today, and could hold potential in moving the U.S. away from fossil fuels.

“If you can make a molecule that looks a lot more like gasoline, that’s the Holy Grail for the biofuels industry,” said Aaron Brady, an oil analyst with IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

Yet it may be a while before America is driving on green gasoline.

While Terrabon has had success with test batches and recently received the backing of a major oil refiner, the fuel still has not been proved on a large scale. Ethanol also has a big head start and far more political support.

That’s why, for the moment, Terrabon officials are focused on fine-tuning their process for what they see as the inevitable day when oil prices rise again and urgency returns to biofuels research.

“One of the reasons we built this was to find out what we didn’t know,” said Malcolm McNeill, Terrabon’s chief financial officer, standing in 100-degree heat next to the $3.5 million Bryan research facility that the company calls Energy Independence I.

At the facility, which opened last fall, Terrabon has been testing a technology known as MixAlco. Developed by scientists at Texas A&M University, it uses an acid fermentation process that can convert “anything that rots,” as one company official put it, into chemicals that can be further processed into gasoline.

By the end of the summer, Terrabon plans to be producing some 300 gallons per day of green gasoline from chopped sorghum using the Bryan facility and a second in College Station that does the final conversion to gasoline.

But it soon hopes to begin building a much larger plant in Port Arthur with the backing of San Antonio’s Valero Energy Corp., the nation’s largest oil refiner. In April, Valero said it would be the lead investor in the first installment of equity financing for Terrabon.

A 2007 energy law requires blending of 36  billion gallons of biofuels into the nation’s fuel supply by 2022 as part of an effort to reduce the country’s dependence on oil, help American farmers and reduce tailpipe emissions.

Though 15 billion gallons of that will be corn ethanol, more than half of the mandate requires the use of second-generation biofuels that are made from nonfood crops like switch grass and organic waste like wood chips.

Five plants under construction in the U.S. will produce “cellulosic” ethanol made from some of these other sources.

But widespread distribution of ethanol still faces hurdles. Besides the costs of equipping the nation’s automobiles and fuel distribution infrastructure to handle increasing amounts of the highly corrosive fuel, ethanol achieves lower fuel efficiency than conventional gasoline.

Green gasoline, however, behaves much more like conventional gasoline, with comparable fuel economy and compatibility with existing oil infrastructure, Terrabon says.

Plus, the company believes it can produce the fuel for $1.75 per gallon—cheaper than estimates for some cellulosic ethanol technologies.

Andy Aden, a biofuels researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., calls Terrabon’s cost projections “optimistic” and said scaling up green gasoline technology could face unforeseen logistical problems.

But he said at least a dozen companies are working on “infrastructure compatible” biofuels, including Wisconsin’s Virent Energy Systems and California’s Amyris Biotechnologies.

“It’s definitely the long-term solution,” Aden said.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Using nuclear and natural gas to fight carbon emissions

While I believe that wind and solar power should continue to be heavily researched, the following editorial in The Houston Chronicle by Richard D. Kinder makes a lot of sense:

Today the whole country, and especially Washington, D.C., is abuzz with exciting proposals on how to lessen the impact of mankind on climate change. Leaving aside many fascinating and complex questions that surround this issue, I would like to address just one: What is the most effective way of substantially reducing the amount of CO2 emitted in this country?

In my view, it’s time to bring a realistic perspective to this problem. That means looking at the cold hard facts of the supply side of energy use in this country. If we convert all energy use, including transportation and electricity generation, to barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d), the United States consumes about 47.4 million boe/d. Of that volume, about 19 million boe/d (40 percent) is oil, 11.9 million boe/d (25 percent) is natural gas, 11.5 million boe/d (24 percent) is coal, 3.8 million boe/d (8 percent) is nuclear and 1.1 million boe/d (2 percent) is hydropower. Wind and solar combined supply just 76,000 boe/d, which amounts to about 1/6 of 1 percent of our energy needs. That means we could double or even triple our production from those renewable sources without having any meaningful reduction in our CO2 emissions.

Despite that indisputable fact, much of the rhetoric coming out of Washington continues to emphasize the encouragement and funding of those two sources as if they are the “silver bullets” in this equation. I have nothing against either solar or wind energy and hope we expand both, but to hype them as the solution to our problem is akin to asserting that we can control a severe flood on the Mississippi River by damming up a five-foot-wide creek in Iowa!

We need to attack this problem where we can have the most impact in a reasonable period of time. That should lead to massive efforts to expand the use of natural gas for electric generation and transportation needs, and development of a program to permit and build significant new nuclear capacity. Those goals should be reflected in any “cap-and-trade” legislation that Congress passes.

Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel, emitting about half the CO2 of coal. We have tremendous supplies of natural gas in the United States (probably in excess of 100 years at today’s usage rates given recent dramatic increases in shale production in the lower 48 states) and it sells at a very reasonable price. New gas-fired electric generation is cheaper and quicker to build.

The supreme advantage of nuclear is that it emits no carbon into the atmosphere. While the cost of building nuclear facilities is greater and harder to pin down at this time, developing a new generation of identical “cookie cutter” plants should lead to much lower and more predictable costs in the intermediate to long term.

Let me be clear — I have no objection to spending the taxpayers’ money (and lots of it will be spent) in a wise and efficient manner on wind and solar energy, conservation efforts and on clean coal technology.

But I’m deathly afraid that we will end up wasting enormous sums of money and very valuable time without solving the problems we want to solve.

Natural gas and nuclear are the only answers I can see for the next 10 to 20 years and it’s time we focused on those sources of supply in a real and meaningful way.

Kinder is CEO of Kinder Morgan, one of the largest pipeline and terminal operators in North America. Kinder Morgan transports but does not produce natural gas, nor does it have any involvement in the nuclear business.