Renewables, fuel cells, hydrogen, and efficiency
Ken Novak's Weblog
Monday, January 31, 2005
Michael Crichton and Global Warming
: "How do people learn about global warming? That, more than the merits of any scientific argument, is the most interesting question posed by Michael Crichton's State of Fear." Excellent review of the popular argument on warming, from Brookings' David Sandalow. 9:55:44 AM
Thursday, January 27, 2005
: Neat story of how environmental consumers gave Ford bad PR for a decision to destroy its 1990s electric pickup trucks. Protesters set up a website, sent emails, published statistics on Ford's awful fuel performance record, and started a sit-in -- and Ford decided to reverse itself. "As a Sacramento "car-sit" enters day seven, Ford Motor Company has committed to reverse its unpopular decision to repossess and destroy its last zero emission Ranger EVs. Ford's abrupt u-turn follows a statewide public outcry that forced it to recant misleading misstatements about the legality, popularity and viability of EV technology. In a conversation late this afternoon with Jumpstart Ford coalition partners Global Exchange and Rainforest Action Network, Niel Golightly, Ford's director of sustainable business strategies, agreed that the auto giant would keep its original promise to sell the pollution-free pickup trucks to loyal lessees." 10:33:11 PM
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Soaring global warming 'can't be ruled out': Results from the world's largest climate modeling experiment, reported in Nature. "The Earth may be much more sensitive to global warming than previously thought, according to the first results from a massive distributed-computing project. The project tested thousands of climate models and found that some produced a world that warmed by a huge 11.5°C when atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations reached the levels expected to be seen later this century. This extreme result is surprising because it lies far outside the 1.4°C to 4.5°C range predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for the same CO2-level increase..
"We have anecdotal evidence that people tend to tune their models to be similar to other people's," says David Stainforth, from the University of Oxford, UK. "Nobody wants to have a model that's terribly different, particularly when there are only 8 or 10 in the world," he explains. Stainforth and his colleagues set up www.climateprediction.net to see what happened when models were not tuned in this way. "
About the calculations: "From Uruguay to Uzbekistan and Sierra Leone to Singapore, 95,000 people from 150 countries are taking part in the climateprediction.net experiment to explore the possible impact of global warming. By downloading free software from www.climateprediction.net on their personal computers, participants run their own unique version of Britain's Met Office climate model. While their computer is idle, the program runs a climate simulation over days or weeks and automatically reports the results to Oxford University and other collaborating institutions around the world. Together, the volunteers have simulated more than 4 million model years, donated 8,000 years of computer time and exceeded the processing power of the world's largest supercomputers. The first results of the continuing experiment are reported in the latest edition of the science journal Nature." My computers have been running these models since the project started. Amazing how well-behaved the software has been, running imperceptibly in the background. 6:00:33 PM
Sunday, January 23, 2005
Tidal Flow To Power New York City
: "In the third stage of a project which started in January 2003, Verdant Power
, a small energy company, will install six electricity turbines into New York's East River. These turbines will only deliver 200 kilowatts of power. This will be the world's first farm of tide-powered turbines
, according to Nature
. And the company already plans to populate the tidal basin with several other hundred turbine units in the years to come, with a goal of 5 to 10 installed megawatts within three years. The next step will be to install other farms in the US and in developing countries. The company plans to be present in ten sites by 2007. However, it will still be a very small company in the energy business, with a projected revenue of $37 million in 2007." More details: Instream Energy Generation Technology
, which covers rivers, canals, and other predictable currents; the East River NYC
project. 10:33:09 AM
Saturday, January 22, 2005
New Nanomaterial for Future Magnetic Fridges
: "Magnetic refrigerators offer significant advantages when compared with current vapor-compression ones, such as gains in energy efficiency, lower cost of operation or elimination of environmentally damaging coolants. Unfortunately, all the materials which have been tested in the last fifty years suffer from hysteresis losses, lowering the energy available for cooling. But now, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) researchers have found a solution, reported in "Nanomaterial Yields Cool Results
." By adding a small amount of iron to a gadolinium-germanium-silicon alloy, they enhanced the cooling capacity by 30 percent. This very significant step may help move the promising technology of magnetically generated refrigeration closer to market." 10:35:05 PM
Nanotechnologists' new plastic can see in the dark: "Imagine a home with "smart" walls responsive to the environment in the room, a digital camera sensitive enough to work in the dark, or clothing with the capacity to turn the sun's power into electrical energy. Researchers at the University of Toronto have invented an infrared-sensitive material that could shortly turn these possibilities into realities. ..
The discovery may also help in the quest for renewable energy sources. Flexible, roller-processed solar cells have the potential to harness the sun's power, but efficiency, flexibility and cost are going to determine how that potential becomes practice, says Josh Wolfe, managing partner and nanotechnology venture capital investor at Lux Capital in Manhattan. Wolfe, who was not part of the research team, says the findings in the paper are significant: "These flexible photovoltaics could harness half of the sun's spectrum not previously accessed."
Professor Peter Peumans of Stanford University, who has reviewed the U of T team's research, also acknowledges the groundbreaking nature of the work. "Our calculations show that, with further improvements in efficiency, combining infrared and visible photovoltaics could allow up to 30 per cent of the sun's radiant energy to be harnessed, compared to six per cent in today's best plastic solar cells." (Thanks to Roland Piquepaille) 10:17:19 PM
Saturday, January 15, 2005
Adam Werbach on the death of environmentalism: Provocative speech advocating the conversion of environmentalists into progressives. "For 30 years American liberals have defined themselves according to a set of problem categories that divide us, whether they be racial, gender, economic or environmental. We have spent far less time defining ourselves according to the values that unite us, such as shared prosperity, progress, interdependence, fairness, ecological restoration and equality. We can no longer afford the laundry list of “-isms” to define and divide our world and ourselves. ..
My thesis tonight is this: the ability of environmentalism, as a language, an ideology, a set of practices, and network of institutions, can not deal with the most pressing ecological challenges facing the planet because it is so tightly bound to a rationality that reduces our worlds into these dyads [like humans/nature, men/women, healthy/sick, reason/emotion]. The moment we free ourselves from this modern way of thinking by creating a new language, a new set of strategic initiatives, a new set of institutions, and a new metric for evaluating our success, we cease to be “environmentalists” in any meaningful sense of the term and open ourselves up to the possibility of becoming progressive Americans. ..
We are moving toward becoming progressives. We are bringing along our love of nature. We are bringing along our knowledge of interdependence." The 'New Apollo' project idea is presented as a narrative that integrates progressive and environmental ideas, including jobs, less reliance on mideast oil, the government as instrument of public values. 12:21:52 AM
Sunday, January 09, 2005
: Another California solar cell innovator. "Miasolé technology revolutionizes solar cell manufacturing. Leveraging our deep expertise in the manufacturing of computer hard drives, our proprietary process allows us to create thin-film solar cells at lower cost, higher quality, greater efficiency, and using far more environmentally friendly processes. The result: cheaper, greener, more effective and more efficient cells." 10:51:32 AM
Sunday, January 02, 2005
Chilean Pigs Cut Emissions, Helps Japan, Canada: "In this case, a Chilean pork producer is eliminating methane fumes from animal waste and selling the resulting "credits" to Japanese and Canadian utilities, requiring that much less of them as they reduce carbon dioxide emissions at their coal- and oil-burning power plants. ..
Industrial pork operations usually collect excrement in pits where it decomposes naturally, emitting methane into the open air. But Chilean food producer AgroSuper, spotting the Kyoto opportunity, installed $30 million in technology to handle the waste of 100,000 pigs, covering pits with vast plastic sheets and drawing off the methane, some to flare, some to use in generators to power farm operations.
Though less prevalent than carbon dioxide, methane is a more potent greenhouse gas. Each ton of contained methane earns AgroSuper some 20 "CERs" - certified emission reductions equivalent to 20 tons of carbon dioxide. The Chilean agribusiness will divide 400,000 CERs per year for nine years between the Japanese and Canadian companies. Wharton estimated this would meet 10 percent of TransAlta's needs for reductions. A credit currently sells on the new European carbon market for about $10...
A firm called CO2e ("carbon dioxide equivalent"), a subsidiary of the New York financial house Cantor Fitzgerald, brokered the AgroSuper deal and is developing another involving Brazilian power plants using sugar cane, a renewable fuel less carbon-heavy than coal or oil. China, meanwhile, is working to qualify more than 500 projects for salable credits.
Environmentalists worry that a flood of questionable projects may win U.N. certification as Kyoto comes into force in 2005... Santiago lawyer Sergio Vives, who helped negotiate the AgroSuper deal, defends it as a real reduction. "It's quite clear they probably wouldn't have gone ahead with this technology" - and methane would still rise into the atmosphere - "without an incentive like the CDM," he said. ..
A Florida-based firm, AgCert, is installing methane-capture technology at 30 pig farms in Brazil. In one Brazilian state alone, Minas Gerais, 3.4 million pigs produce 7 million tons of waste per year - a lot to work with to keep lights burning in the credits-hungry north" 5:27:12 PM