Monday, February 1, 2010

Saudi Arabia goes green

Who'da thunk that one of the world's largest exporters of petroleum would become an advocate of solar power? Well, that's exactly what's happening with Saudi Arabia. The desert country is surrounded by salt water, meaning that in order to get potable water for drinking and other uses requires massive desalination efforts.

Up until now, Arabian desalination plants were fueled with oil, consuming up to 1.5 million barrels per day. That's a lot of oil. With the use of solar, the dirty consumption will cease. They even plan to export solar as well as oil (this also gives them an extra 1.5 million daily barrels to export instead of use, so this isn't entirely a magnanimous effort).

What this does is set an example for the west. Use the power we have available to us, not what we get from other countries.

Full story here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

On a lighter note

Though honey bees are going through a rough patch, the Huffington Post has run an article about the cutest bee keepers around.

At least someone cares enough to at least be silly

Saturday, January 23, 2010

When it comes to green, Geneva doesn't mess around

Geneva has proposed ban cars from 200 city streets.

Story and radio interview the Green Party's Fabienne Fischer here.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Why "Climategate" doesn't matter

Despite the recent brouhaha over emails from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (CRU) that put Al Gore and his team of Nobelers into hot water, "nothing in the stolen material undermines the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and that humans are to blame," according to an article in the February 2010 issue of Scientific American.

In other words, claims that client science is far from settled, that "tricks" (more on that below) were used and that researchers hid data that didn't support their argument are all bogus - bugbears created by denialists to ignore the obvious.

Here's why (all quotes from the SciAm article and are in green):

1). "Heat-trapping effects can be verified by any undergraduate in any lab," notes climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe of of Texas Tech University. "The detection of climate change, and its attribution to human causes, rests on numerous lines of evidence." [These] include melting ice sheets, rising sea levels and earlier onset of spring, not to mention higher average global temperatures.

2). Some of the kerfluffle rests on a mis-reading of the emails wording. For example, "trick" in one message actually describes a decision to use observed temperatures rather than stand-in data inferred from tree rings. Instead of implying deception, the word itself in science often refers to a strategy to solve a problem. (This is the part that the Limbaugh cronies jumped on - "They're trying to trick us!" Only problem is, they didn't understand what the word meant in scientific jargon and used this ignorance to fuel what turned out to be a misinformed, imaginary fire. Sur-prise, sur-prise, sur-prise.)

3). "Even if the CRU data "were dismissed as tainted, it would not matter," argues IPPC (UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) contributor Gary Yohe of Weslayan University. "CRU is but one source of analysis whose conclusions have been validated by other researchers around the world." Other sources include NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climate Data Center, and even the IPCC, all of which provide access to raw data. In other words, twisting one set of findings that don't even say what some claim they do does not invalidate the findings of other, highly trustworthy sources. (Not trustworthy, you say? How many lies, distortions and half-truths do Limbaugh, Beck and their ilk pass off as "facts" in a given week? If you trust any of those people, you probably can't count that high.)

The one thing the whole debacle (perhaps too strong of a word - let's stick with kerfluffle, it's cuter and not as ominous) has shown is the sociological and political sides of science.

"This is a record of how science is actually done," notes Goddard's Gavin A. Schmidt. Historians will see "that scientists are human and how science progresses despite human failings. They'll see why science as an enterprise works despite the fact that scientists aren't perfect."

"Science has already played its role" in the climate debate, explains Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC. After all, IPCC authors had to achieve consensus with more than 190 countries as well as publicly respond to each comment on the draft documents. "Unfortunately, the [climate] negotiations are becoming solely political," Pachauri laments.

So once again, it's down to politics and blatant ignorance in the face of facts vs. politics and science. I'll take science for the win and that's my final answer.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Migration for island nations?

In the wake of the Haitian earthquake last week, nearly 200,000 natives have fled to the neighboring Dominican Republic, seeking shelter. Unfortunately, earthquakes are the only disasters facing island nations.

While the Maldives has no plans to relocate its population before sea levels rise, "the Pacific Small Island Developing States, which includes countries such as Fiji, Palua, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Tuvalu, have not ruled out the possibility of relocating before disaster strikes," says an article on the Environmental News Network.

These are islands that are vulnerable to rising sea levels, something that is certain in the wake of Arctic melt. Let's hope mainland neighbors will open their arms to these refugees before the tragic occurs.

I'm talking to you, USA.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Fun and informative video

Whether you believe in global warming or not, this is a great breakdown of why action needs to be taken no matter what stance you take.

Great site

This site will help you keep up with the newest green technology advances.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

"Star Power comes to California"

Both the title of this blog and the content come from #78 in Discover magazine's Top 100 Science Stories of 2009. Text by Amy Barth.

In the heart of the National Ignition Facility (NIF - left), a technician inspects the optics assembly where 192 powerful laser beams will zap a pellet filled with deuterium and tritium, two heavy forms of hydrogen. The pellet will immediately implode, reaching a temperature of more than 100 million degrees at a pressure 100 billion times that of Earth's atmosphere. Under those conditions the hydrogen will be fused into helium, releasing a vast amount of energy and creating the kinds of processes that occur deep inside the sun. The NIF, dedicated in May in Livermore, Calif., will also mimic the detonation of nuclear weapons and will perform astrophysics experiments. Research at the facility could speed the development of abundant, clean fusion power - literally the stars brought down to Earth.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Leap-Frogging hydrogen hurdles

#74 on Discover's Top 100 Science Stories of 2009 is hydrogen power.

The only "waste" created by hydrogen fuel cells are water and heat. This makes them tremendously attractive as energy producers. Two of the main problems are that they currently require expensive platinum catalysts and the source is often fossil fuels.

Jean-Pol Dodelet of the National Institute of Scientific Research in Quebec has looked to the human body for inspiration. Within our organic construct, iron-based molecules extract energy from food. Dodelet and his team are looking at enhanced iron-based catalysts to use in fuels cells. It works just as well as platinum but is obviously less expensive.

MIT's Daniel Nocero is also using nature for his work, this time looking at plants. When his catalyst is combined with photovoltaic cells like the ones used in solar panels, it splits water into hydrogen and oxygen, mimicking photosynthesis. He wants to use this technology to provide power to those living off the grid.

With Nocera's system, only dependency is on the sun.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Geographer Mark Serreze predicts outcome of Arctic melt

Coming in at #60 on Discover magazine's Top 100 science stories of 2009 is Mark Serreze, a geographer that states that the Arctic will be ice-free during the summer as early as 2030.

Since 1979, satellites have measured the extent of Arctic sea ice accurately, giving us a view of change. The region has lost 40 percent of its ice since the 70s, he says.

The ice will still be there in the winter, but during the summer, the area will be free of obstacles. On the upside, this means Japanese cars will be able to make it to the East Coast quicker and cheaper, but the downsides far outweigh any economic advantages it may incur.

And there's no going back.

Things we have to "look forward to":

1). Cascading effects through the food chain, from predators to plankton.

2). Coastal erosion. Villages in Alaska and coastal Siberia are slowly falling into the sea.

3). Weather. Normally waves caused by storms are dampened by Arctic ice. This will no longer be the case and waves will just get bigger and more likely to cause damage. See #2.

4). Rising temperatures. Ice normally reflects a lot of sunlight back into space. With it gone, the seas will absorb much of that solar energy, causing further warming trends and playing more havoc with the weather. Citrus crops in Florida may be safe from freezing but winter wheat, which relies on precipitation from snow, will take a hit.

5). Water supply. The western US relies on melting snow for much of its water supply. No snow, no water.

6). Carbon cycle. This is a biggie. As permafrost thaws, carbon deposits from millenia old plants and animals will defrost, releasing more carbon into the atmosphere in an ever-warning feedback loop. There is growing evidence that the effect will be quite strong.

7). Loss of species. While humans are supremely adaptable, many species are not. Say good-bye to even more of them.

As Dr. Serreze says, "We're looking at a different world. That world is coming fast, and the Arctic is leading the way."

Monday, January 11, 2010

Smartly making over the Electrical Grid

According to Discover magazine, "the basic technology that transports electricity around the United State is more than a century old."

This is pathetic. In a century, everything from information technology to medicine has advanced exponentially and so has our power usage, so why should the backbone be so antiquated?

Obama has announce $3.4 billion in economic stimulus and private holdings are investing another $5 billion in bringing the infrastructure up to date, a necessity when the country hopes to produce at least 20 percent of its power from alternative sources like energy and wind.

Basically, the hope is to establish a two-way power structure where currently only one way exists.

In other words, electrical customers would be able to determine peak usage and pay as it comes. It there is excess, it would be sent back to the power company for discounts. No power would be lost and only be applied when needed. Customers would have control over their meters and be able to "budget" accordingly.

Grids will soon be able to store and redirect power.

Ford has even announced that its hybrids would have smart capability, charging during off-peak hours and sending back excess as needed.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Boulder, CO quickly becoming US Green capital

Boulder has launched a low-income Green housing initiative.

Article here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Highly useful eyesores

According to an article on the Environmental News Network's website, the ugly sound barriers between highways and neighborhoods have many positive effects, including keeping pollution on the roadways and reducing cancer in the neighborhoods.

And communities can always plant vines, giving the walls a more natural look while helping to absorb CO2.

Algae make clean, renewable fuel

#37 on Discover's Top 100 science stories of 2009:

" When researchers conceived of turning algae into diesel fuel three decades ago, the idea sounded like something out the old sci-fi movie Soylent Green. But in July, ExxonMobil teamed up with biologist J. Craig Venter's Synthetic Genomics to take algae biofuel to the marketplace. ExxonMobil invested $600 million to design better strains of algae and to convert them into fuel. Meanwhile, several start-up companies - including Aurora Biofuels and Solix Biofuels - have built pilot plants that prove it is possible to brew algae-derived diesel fuel in large quantities. "At the beginning we'd tell people, 'I know this sounds crazy,'" says Bryan Wilson, a Colorado State University engineer and co-founder of of Solix Biofuels. "But with the ExxonMobil investment, algae is entering the mainstream.

Traditional biofuel crops such as soybeans yield up 50 to 150 gallons of fuel per planted acre per year, but Solix's facility near Durango, Colorado, is producing more than 2,000. The centerpiece is a sealed growth chamber, or photo-bioreactor, made form a clear polymer to let sunlight through; inside is a strain of algae selected for its high rate of oil production. (Closed reactors are less susceptible to contamination by outside algae than are open-pond systems.) After the algae are harvested, their oils are extracted and refined into renewable diesel. Besides sunlight, the algae require little more than carbon dioxide from nearby power plants, so operating expenses should be low.

Wilson predicts his company's algae fuel (and its coproducts, which are to ve sold for animal feed) will be cost-competitive with petroleum diesel within five years. "It represents a large-scale solution to a global problem," he says."

- Elizabeth Svobada

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2 cool things in 2010

Many things that have been taken for granted for decades will be going the way of the dodo predicts AnnaMaria Adriotis of

Video rental stores, telephone land lines, CDs and newspapers have all seen declines in the past few years, but 2010 may just be the year the final nail is driven.

Just as the last ever telegraph sent in 2006 was the closing of chapter, his is sad on many levels. I'm going to miss holding a newspaper in my hands, trying to refold it in the wind and messily correct a crossword mistake in pen (and, of course, recycling them after I'm done).

But two things that will be going out of style will not be missed:

"Gas-guzzling cars

Skyrocketing gasoline prices dominated headlines during most of the decade, and they remain volatile.

The Energy Information Administration estimates that crude oil prices will average around $77 a barrel for the fourth quarter of 2009, up from $42.90 in the first quarter. The EIA also projects prices will rise in 2010 to their highest point in more than two years: $81.33 a barrel.

Recent announcements by car manufacturers to mass produce fuel-efficient cars could help push consumers away from gas-guzzling vehicles.

According to the Department of Energy, the most efficient cars include the Honda Civic Hybrid, which gets 40 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 45 mpg on the highway, the Volkswagen Jetta and Golf (both run on diesel), which each get 30 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway, and the Toyota Prius hybrid (51/48 mpg).

Energy-inefficient homes and appliances

Ten years ago, shopping for home upgrades involved looking at a product's functionality and aesthetic. Now, there's another component: energy efficiency.

Today, the products most touted by manufacturers and retailers are those that are Energy Star certified and those that meet new federal environmental standards — most of which have higher price tags than their counterparts but help to lower heating and cooling bills.

The government is offering a federal tax credit of up to $1,500 on energy-efficient home upgrades through Dec. 31, 2016. But many are set to expire by Dec. 31, 2010; these include eligible insulation, roofs and windows and doors."

Copyrighted, All Rights Reserved.

See original story at Yahoo!

Monday, January 4, 2010

J. Craig Venter

#26 on Discover's Top 100 of 2009, biologist J. Craig Venter speculates on digitally designed life-forms that could produce new drugs, fuel and food.

"We could synthesize cells that use carbon dioxide and make other things from it. If [a] desk and [a] plastic chair protector were made from CO2, it would solve the problem of how to sequester CO2 from the atmosphere and would totally solve the question of paper versus plastic. You'd absolutely want plastic bags if they could be made from carbon dioxide and not from oil.

We could solve the problem of fuel production. In theory, we could replace fuel that comes out of the ground with things made from carbon dioxide on a new scale. We could make small-scale microbial fuel cells that use human waste to make drinking water electricity or both. Could algae be used for food? Imagine using algae to make artificial steaks. Look at all the bacteria in the oceans; they have far more sophisticated chemicals than our chemistry industry can produce. A lot of these are antibacterial or antiviral compounds, because that's how bacteria protects themselves in the environment. If we're ever going to have a chance of using these compounds, we're going to have to make them synthetically."

Once again, science fiction edges ever closer to science fact.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The solar panel/tortoise conundrum

Nothing is ever easy. Convincing the public that global warming is a reality and alternative, renewable sources of energy are paramount is difficult. Preserving endangered species of flora and fauna without bringing progress to a grinding halt is another hard-to-sell idea.

What happens when the two are combined?

For the answer to that, we turn to the Mojave Desert, where Oakland, Calif.-based BrightSource Energy is pushing to erect 400,000 mirrors to gather the sun's energy in an effort to meet the state's goal of using sustainable energy for a third of it's overall energy needs.

So far, so great, right?

Well, there's a hurdle in the form of a turtle. Or, to be more scientifically accurate and precise, the desert tortoise, an endangered species whose main habitat is smack in the middle of where BrightSource wish to build its solar farm. This would result in the tortoises' living space being permanently eradicated.

A baby desert tortoise

The Sierra Club wants the company to relocate the project, which would also effect the Western burrowing owl and bighorn sheep.

"It's actually a good project," said Ileene Anderson of the Center for Biological Diversity, based in Tucson. "It's just located in the wrong place."

Unfortunately this will not be the first time such a dilemma is encountered and so it seems some sort of precedent should established and precedent be reached.

The site is optimal for BrightSource; it has virtually unbroken sunshine year round.

What is likely to happen is that BrightSource will have to spend $25 million moving the shelled critters and 12,000 acres elsewhere. This may seem a hefty price to impose on a company doing such forward-thinking work, but endangering the tortoises any further beyond moving them is not an option.

The disagreement comes down to what BrightSource would pay for long-term maintenance of the new tortoise land purchased.

It will probably be months before state and federal regulators determine the final fate of the desert tortoise.

Drawn from an AP article by Michael R. Blood.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

5 ways to stash carbon

A sidebar to #9 in Discover's Top 100 of 2009.

1. Capture it at the source.
A coal-fired plant in Spremberg, Germany, is using the same carbon capture and storage method planned for FutureGen. Engineers are having no trouble capturing the carbon dioxide, but efforts to store it in underground rock formations in eastern Germany have run into local opposition.

2. Grab it with artificial trees.
To corral widely dispersed CO2 emission from cars, "artificial trees" - towers filled with carbon-absorbing materials - could line roadways, pulling the gas from the air and compressing it into a storable form. Several companies, including Global Research Technologies in Tucson, are testing prototypes.

3. Bury it under the sea.
Some research groups have tried fertilizing the ocean with iron to encourage massive plankton blooms that suck carbon dioxide from the air. When the plankton dies and sinks to the seafloor, it should buty the carbon, but early results have not been impressive. Proposals to pump CO2 dirctly to the ocean bottom also seem unlikely to move forward, as the piped-in carbon could have nasty environmental consequences.

4. Turn it into charcoal.
Wood or other biomass heated slowly in a chamber without oxygen will transform into that does not decompose for thousands of years. In addition to locking away carbon, this "biochar" makes a good fertilizer. Carbonscape in New Zealand and a few other companies are now working on economical biochar-producing ovens.

5. Turn it into rock.
Certain types of minerals naturally combine with carbon dioxide. In the right locations, CO2 injected into the ground at high pressure would react with those minerals to form stable carbonate rock. This approach is currently being tested in Oman and at other sites around the world.

WCI #14: Experimental power plant takes the CO2 out

Number 9 on Discover's Top 100 science stories of 2009:

"Coal is a dirty business, one of the leading sources of carbon emissions in the US. But coal is also a big business, generating 51 percent of the nation's electricity. With that in mind, in June the Obama administration revived FutureGen, an advanced-technology coal-fired pwoer plant axed by the previous administration in 2008. By burying 60 percent of it carbon dioxide emissions deep underground, the 275-megawatt FutureGen plant, to be built in Mattoon, Illinois, seeks to show that coal can be, if not exactly clean, then at least cleaner.

Once FutureGen is up and running - now scheduled to happen in 2014 - the carbon dioxide gas it produces will be siphoned off, compressed into a near-liquid state, and piped at least a mile sown into porous sandstone capped by a layer of impermeable shale. Engineers will essentially be trying duplicate the geologic circumstances that trapped natural gas deposits underground fro millions of years.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu has called FutureGen "a flagship facility" that will demonstrate how to capture and store carbon on a commercial scale; that technology would allow us to rein in greenhouse-gas emissions while still burning coal. The project could also help spur other proposals for sequestering human-generated carbon.

But FutureGen ha drawn criticism from left and right. Some environmentalists say America should shift from coal-generated electricity entirely; others believe the goal of capturing 60 percent of emissions is too modest. Meanwhile, some fiscal conservatives disapprove of spending so much money (the Department of Energy has committed $1 billion) on an unproven technology for an established industry. Their nickname for the behind-schedule and over-budget project: NeverGen."

- Eliza Strickland

Friday, January 1, 2010

WCI #13: New Battery Tech

Number 19 on Discover's Top 100 science stories of 2009:

"Last year the car battery turned glamorous: Hybrid hysteria invigorated the faltering auto industry, and General Motors touted its upcoming plug-in hybrid, the Chevy Volt, at every opportunity. For decades researchers have labored to make batteries smaller, cheaper and more efficient. At last some of those projects are yielding encouraging results.

The latest electric vehicles use lithium-ion batteries, in which lithium ions move from anode to cathode (negative to positive), transforming chemical energy into electrical current. These batteries are smaller, lighter and more robust than their nickel-based or lead-acid predecessors. IBM announced in June that it is pursuing a new kind of lithium battery that uses the surrounding air as a cathode, making it even lighter and more compact than existing designs.

Traditional lead-acid batteries (like the one that starts your car) produce energy for as little as one-tenth the cost of lithium batteries, but they wear out more quickly and are heavy. Blended battery packs, pioneered this year by Indy Power Systems of Noblesville, Indiana, strike a balance. Software switches between lead-acid and lithium-ion batteries, offering a transitional technology until lithium energy storage gets cheaper.

Engineers are also finding ways to shorten recharging times. In March an MIT team unveiled technology that could theoretically charge an electric car in five minutes rather than the eight hours that is typical today. MIT's battery contains a vast number of microscopic particles that have a lithium center and a glassy phosphate coating. The coating allows lithium ions, which travel quickly in the core of the battery but slowly at the surface, to maintain their speed and to be shed quickly. "The coating allows the lithium to get tho the right place on the phosphate very fast," says Gerard Ceder of the MIT team. "We fixed the bottleneck at the surface." One company has already licensed the technology."
- Jocelyn Rice