Sunday, September 30, 2012

Electric vehicles and lifecyle emissions

http://www.popularmechanics.com/cm/popularmechanics/images/NI/volt_powertrain_1010-md.jpg
Image from Popular Mechanics of the Chevy Volt hybrid drivetrain. Link to the article here.

We were talking about electric vehicles in class. We'll talk more later when we get to the section of the course that describes new energy technologies, but for right now, I wanted to put up a quick guide, if only because I read reviews of the new Tesla Model S and its highway charging protocol in the New York Times this morning.

There are basically three leading potential formats to overcome the "range anxiety" problem with new electric vehicles.

(Range anxiety is the feeling the driver gets when the batteries are getting low, and a charging station is nowhere to be found.)

The leading contender is the gas-electric or "plug-in" hybrid format, in which an engine is used, either to drive the wheels once the batteries are low, as in the so-called "plug-in" Toyota Prius model, or to charge the batteries, as in the Chevrolet Volt.

The next most likely candidate is the fusion of high-end batteries that get longer range with rapid charging stations strategically placed at highway stopping areas. The best example of this is the Tesla sedan or "Model S." The car has a good long range when fully charged, and the rapid recharging stations can get you back to 80 or 90% in the time it takes to order and eat lunch. Tesla provides the charging service for free, so it's as if you bought a car and got free fuel-for-life. Of course, the initial purchase of the car is very expensive -- way too expensive to be practical for most ordinary people -- but economies of scale should kick in as the car becomes popular among the wealthy.

Finally, and not yet available in the US, there is battery standardization-and-swap. This is the format used by Israeli-America joint venture "Better Place." Most essentially, spare quick-changeable batteries are kept charged and available at ordinary gas stations and other nodes around the country, and the driver can just pick one up when they need one.

Walk the Talk?
Students often ask me what I would do, which car or format I would purchase or drive, which is a fair question, especially since you don't see me driving an electric or hybrid vehicle to campus and back.

I should provide a good example, shouldn't I, if I want to be taken seriously as a leader and mentor?

I'm not particularly unique, but my mechanical and engineering skill does provide me with a wider range of options. As a result, I tend to spend a lot less on transportation than most middle-class professionals my age. I can use vehicles that ordinary people would probably just scrap and keep them running for much longer, without significant increases in carbon emissions, and with very significant decreases in lifecycle costs.

This isn't just hubris or blowing smoke. It's math. You can calculate the life-cycle emissions per mile, just as you can calculate the life cycle costs per mile, and a well-maintained or well-restored vehicle that gets a second or third useful life might easily exceed a brand-new hybrid in lower life-cycle emissions per mile (especially if the hybrid gets only one "life").

The greatest part of any vehicle's climate emissions comes from fuel. So, for a regular gasoline or diesel vehicle, life-time fuel purchases may account as much as 70 or 80% of the emissions. The remainder is production emissions, which are given out at power plants, refineries, plastic factories, steel mills and aluminum plants, and of course at the vehicular assembly plants themselves, while the vehicle is being manufactured.

This remaining 20 or 30% emissions from manufacturing means that if you can make a vehicle last longer than the average, you can reduce total life-cycle emissions considerably. So, while people without mechanical skills who want to reduce emissions should probably buy a hybrid or all-electric car, a good mechanic that maintains her own regular gasoline or diesel vehicles well and makes them last longer is also saving carbon emissions (as well as her own money).

(I like to think that I do this myself because charity and the Keynesian Multiplier begins at home, although our college President might see this as an example of the traditional Yankee "industrial strength stoicism.")

Mechanics using this strategy will, however, add nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide -- acid rain emissions -- because once a vehicle's engine has exceeded 20,000 or 30,000 miles, these emissions increase sharply.

You can combine this fact of decreased life-cycle emissions with an interest in vehicle technology and happily save emissions and money by working on your own cars.

I do have an interest in hybrid technology, though, and would love to get my hands on an older Prius or Volt at some time, to take apart either by myself or with students, mostly to see how it works, but also to restore and perhaps to tinker with increased range. Prices of second-hand Prii (plural Prius?) are dropping down to where this might begin to be affordable, although I think we may need to wait five years to get our hands on a Volt. And there are quite a few students that might be interested in the project.

In general, I like to encourage students to learn to build and fix things for themselves. For students in SEM, this is a good way to learn more intimately how different kinds of technology work. For students in Sustainable Agriculture, this is good training for repairing and maintaining farm equipment. In the past at Unity College, we encouraged students to own and run grease cars (a kind of biofuel vehicle) by sponsoring a student Grease Car Club, and although these wonderfully fish-and-chip-smelly transports are somewhat out-of-fashion, they still work, and make for interesting projects.

For right now, though, It's Sunday morning and I have to go fix the noisy muffler on the Womerlippi's ancient '97 Ford Escort five-speed (35 mpg, 170,000 miles), then I have to go finish the installation of our new super-efficient on-demand hot water heater.

I've been looking forward to these jobs all week.

Both will save emissions.

But guess which unit, the Ford car or the water heater, cost the most money.

Then guess which one will reduce the most emissions over its lifetime.

Or better yet, crunch the numbers and tell me.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The stimulus



Greenpeace numbers show a different story





Graph: US EIA CO2 emissions data


For a couple years now I've been teaching that the small but significant percentage decrease in US emissions since 2008 is largely through natural gas substitution for coal. This fact was also an supporting point in an opinion piece I wrote that appeared in Andy Revkin's New York Times blog. But it seems that the decrease may have been more than half due to growth in wind and solar power (mostly large scale wind power).

This news comes in Damian Carrington's Guardian blog, where he reports a Greenpeace reanalysis of the September US emissions report. (Although he immediately jumps to the conclusion that this means that UK shale gas will be of similar inconsequence for emissions.)

Apparently I'm not the only one who was fooled. MIT, the Wall Street Journal, the NYT, and many others have reported the reduction as being due to expansion of shale gas production.

This conclusion made sense, especially when you looked at the low, low market price of gas. But it may have been wrong. And in a good way.

A small victory for renewables.

I guess I'll have to change my teaching.

But after I take a long hard look at the numbers for myself.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A net force problem you've never thought of!



For Physics Lab

Another one? (For class)

Are you ready for another war?

Here's an op-ed by a Brookings Institution scholar  and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations arguing for an America intervention in Syria.

The civil war there has become brutal, with extrajudicial killings and torture on both sides. The BBC last night reported on the use of rape (against women and men) as an instrument of terror by the Syrian government forces. A US intervention could perhaps help to end these horrors. But at what risk, and for what gain.

These are the kinds of difficult questions that degree-educated future leaders should have well-informed opinions on, and I'll be asking you for yours.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Kruger-Dunning

As we head into exam and lab report time, a reminder, borrowed from the Wikipedia page for this fascinating study:

"Kruger and Dunning proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:
  1. tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
  2. fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
  3. fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
  4. recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill"
Remember, when I say "you should have asked for help", what I mean is, "you should have asked for help."

You're certainly paying for it, even if you're not using it.

Let me explain again:

Ask for help!

This isn't rocket science.

Unless of course, you're in Physics 1 lab.

New farmers -- "not in it for the money"

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/25/nyregion/the-farm-life-draws-some-students-for-post-graduate-work.html?src=me&ref=general

Friedman

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/26/opinion/friedman-backlash-to-the-backlash.html?hp

UN speeches, for class

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/sep/25/obama-speech-un-general-assembly-iran

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Visit the Sustainability Monitor!

If you are a long-time reader you may have noticed that for quite a while now, really several years. I have posted less and less on campus sustainability. These days I write lots about global issues, renewable energy technology, and whatever has come up in our classes, but not much on campus issues.

This isn't because I'm not interested.

But I'm no longer in charge, and the person who is in charge, Unity College Campus Sustainability Coordinator Jesse Pyles, is doing a great job, with an awesome crew of individuals, including several of our SEM students, as well as alum Sara Trunzo.

Please get on over to the Unity College Sustainability Monitor and see for yourselves.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Nice statistics lesson from Skeptical Science blog

down escalator
Found on Revkin's blog this morning. http://www.skepticalscience.com/vanishing-arctic-sea-ice-going-up-the-down-escalator.html

World's best sustainability coordinator job?

Oxford University!

Not only do you get to look after a good twenty or so separate college campuses, with buildings from medieval to modern, but they own whole British farming villages.

Ah. But the paperwork. All that British red tape. It's not quite that you need planning permission applications and environmental impact statements just to change a shower head.

But it is almost that bad.

Still, there is the remarkable compensation that the next time you dig a hole for, say, a solar conduit, or a sewer, you find Roman remains (a Roman sewer?), or Richard III's body, and so have your project put on hold for a dozen years while the archeologists do their thing.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Physical phascination


I'm teaching physics labs this fall, and, true to my druthers, am getting as many thought-provoking, memorable, and hands-on experiments in the mix as I possibly can. Bangs are good. Explosions, even better (as long as no-one gets hurt). And anything that whizzes is fair game.

I well-remembered the many memorable physics labs we did in high school (most British students take the material that Americans take in college physics during high school, either at O- or A-level or both).

My high school had the full endowment of traditional science lab equipment -- the Van der Graf generators, the cathode ray tubes, the oscilloscopes and so on. It was all lots of fun, and very hands-on. A sense of danger and derring-do added to the fun and helped us learn, although I'm sure that the instructors were really very careful with safety precautions behind the scenes.

I even remember the chemistry professor rather gleefully waving a sample of uranium over the Geiger counter probe as it clicked away, all the time explaining the harmful effects of gamma wave radiation!

I doubt we could easily get away with radioactive elements in today's American physics lab without someone complaining, but we might certainly try to have some fun, safe experiments.

Last week's was a demonstration of vectors in real life. The first quarter of the text is essentially laying the groundwork for Newton's Laws, and so there's a lot of material on vectors and motion. Wind turbines are a demonstrator of summed vector forces. There's the lift force created by the actual wind hitting the front of the turbine, and passing over each airfoil, but also the lift force created by the blade itself as it speeds through the air.

The efficient pitch, or "angle of attack" of the airfoil is thus many degrees closer to the perpendicular than it would be if the airfoil were not turning.  This can be experimentally derived with a model adjustable pitch turbine.

Unfortunately our model turbines were not quite as well-designed as their creator hoped, and so the blades did develop an unfortunate habit of flying off! Most of the groups coped, however, and got data from which they could solve the problem.


Here's Ryan trying to glue his blades in place. The red marking is to facilitate counting of blades to determine revolutions per minute.


Janet, our lecture instructor, and Emily with a coarse pitch setting. The blades should turn only slowly.


Lily carefully measures the angle of a fine pitch setting. The blades should spin around pretty swiftly at this setting. However, the blade profile is reversed. You can see the convex side of the blade is facing the fan. It should be facing away from the fan.


Here's Oliver using a hand-held anemometer to determine the actual wind speed at the blade hub.

Part of the problem was for students to identify how the same principles of lift and "apparent wind" work in a sailboat and an airplane propeller, as well as in a wind turbine.

Most were able to "vector" on to the answer smoothly enough.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A NYT opinion piece by Mark Hertsgaard on climate change, the current midwestern drought and the failings of the current Farm Bill. Background reading for our class discussions about agriculture and sustainability.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/13/opinion/the-farm-bill-should-help-the-planet-not-just-crops.html?hp

Hansen, et al, climate change graphic and paper

This paper and graphic is not required reading just yet, but will be in two to three weeks. (I'm just storing it here for when I need it later. When it finally is required, it will be linked on the right.)

Mick

The paper: (Hansen et al, 2012, Perceptions of Climate Change, PNAS)

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/07/30/1205276109

The graphic

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Local vs. industrial agriculture





And the rest of the "Meet your Farmer" series is here:

http://www.meetyourfarmer.org/

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Interesting new report on the Taliban

Not required reading, but recommended for Env. Sust, since we will undoubtedly touch on and talk about Islam, militant Islam, and the Taliban (which are three different things and in fact more than three because of all the differences between groups), in the context of geopolitics, energy and climate. The report implies that with changing politics within the Taliban, a settlement is possible in Afghanistan, one that would institute a form of Islamic government, but not one with which the majority of westerners would find too much fault -- so perhaps not as repressive as Iran, for instance.

Is this acceptable? How would you know or find out, given the limited knowledge of the outside world and Islamic culture that is typical for American college students and even most voters? Wouldn't it violate American ideas of human rights? What are the alternatives? Twenty more years of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan?

Some context: The authors are the Royal United Services Institute, a UK "think tank" closely linked to the military and intelligence services, including the "top brass," as well as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (equivalent of the State Department), and major "Russell Group" universities.

I think of them as wicked smart, but being British and a former British serviceman, I'm biased. They are certainly within the mainstream of NATO thinking. There will, however, be a substantial number of US junior officers, especially evangelical Christian ones, who mightily disagree with the implications of this report. Think about that difficulty, too.

(Evangelical Christian officers are not mainstreamed to NATO, but they are a major sub-group within the US military.)

Enjoy.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/sep/10/taliban-accept-us-presence-afghanistan


Friedman, on competition, for Env. Sust class

This will be the first of our required supplementary reading items. This one informs our discussions about economics and competition, just emerging in class.

Remember, it's part of the course requirements that you access a source of reputable international news regularly. The New York Times, available online or on paper at the college library, is one such source.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/09/opinion/sunday/friedman-new-rules.html?hp=&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1347184804-S0YaQVlPT65pfOUvIRR/SA

Hello. Welcome to your new career. Now catch your sheep.


Yesterday was the annual introductory animal handling workshop for the brand new, first-year, Captive Wildlife Care and Education class at Womerlippi Farm. We've a large entering class for this major this year and the workshop sessions were a little shorter because of that, but the basic format was the same as in previous years (examples here and here).

Students entering this major as first years fresh out of high school (there were some students present from other majors and some transfer students, but not many) may require a good solid dose of what the military would call "indoc." That would be the introductory briefings and attitude adjustments that are, in that service context, delivered through the first few days of "Basic" training.

What boot-camp briefings and attitude adjustments might be required for a brand new CWCE major?

We have multiple goals with this workshop, we being the major professors, Doctors Cheryl Frederick (AKA "Fred", and Sarah Cunningham) as well as the Womerlippi farmers. And surprisingly, but not unusual for anyone properly familiar with experiential education practice and theory, they aren't very much to do with animal handling. Animal handling theory and practice is probably only the fourth or fifth outcome on the priority list.

The first outcome is that these students must understand that they are now trainee scientists and engage with that career identity and goal?

Why would someone show up to a science major degree program and not identify with being a scientist? Good question. I jokingly blame "Animal Planet" as kind of a catch-all placeholder for the mentality that says that fuzzy animals are cute and meant to be cuddled like teddy bears, but there are probably multiple overlapping cultural factors at work, from the sheer raw power of commercial teenage culture, to the delinquency of science in many high schools, and the general collapse of civilization. Of course I'm being hyperbolic here. But the fact remains that a number of students show up to this particular degree program with a fairly unrealistic idea of what the kind of work is that they'll be getting into, what kind of skills and attitudes are required, and why. Science tops the list for remediation.

Of course these majors are scientists, when you think about it. Duh! The degree could be titled "Applied Biology," subtitled "Animal Care Concentration" and that would perhaps be more accurate.

Scientific practices are used to work out animal care routines, nutrition, animal behavioral protocols, and of course medical care. One reason zoos are in existence in the first place is educational and scientific. These majors are first and foremost applied scientists in the field of animal care, as well as science educators, and research scientists, once they get out into the workforce.

But. of course, science is considered "hard" and scary, especially, surveys show, by teenage American girls. This is truly tragic, and so we do our best to fix it. We do this by straightforwardly demonstrating to the students that it is purely vital to know your science in order to take proper care of an animal.

And there's nothing quite like being told to grab your sheep and check them for a parasite with a long scary Latin name, Hemiconchus contortus, or being asked to give an injection of a strange substance you are told is a special kind of medicine called a vaccine, to protect against another organism with a yet-more-difficult Latin name, Clostridium tetani, all the time hearing the instructor's words ringing in your ears, telling you, not for the first time but perhaps the first time that you actually listened, that you already are a scientist, if only a trainee.

The real power of experiential education is that it works better.

Even for what might seem like outcomes that could be delivered in the classroom.

The sheer scariness of the experience, and the adreneline rush of catching and holding your first "wild" animal (our sheep can be pretty wild), will drive the lesson home forever. I think it entirely possible and even likely that these young women and men will remember this into their old age as the day they became scientists.

I still remember some of the similar experiential educational experiences I had at the hands of military and outdoor activity and yes, science teachers.

The next outcome is that students identify with the proper level of professionalism and learn to employ a gutsy, can-do attitude. We want them to be "switched on," engaged, organized, thinking all the time, willing to get "stuck in", and above all, not distracted.

A new notion for this year's class was that they were told that anyone answering their cell phone would have it dropped in the deep sticky hole in the pig-pen. I doubt I would actually have dropped anyone's cell phone in pig poo, but I did get their attention.

They were given some quite strict warnings about paying attention, about proper workplace safety, about why they needed to be one hundred percent engaged, for their own, and for the animals' sakes.

And no-one dared to answer their cell phone or text another student.

Today it was sheep and lambs. Tomorrow it will be lions and tigers and bears, oh my, and safety must come first. Distraction is lethal.

One of the unfortunate aspects of today's commercial teenage culture has been the way that it has dis-empowered the high school teacher and infantalized the teenager. In ancient and even in more recent American societies, teenagers were trainee adults, and their culture was little different from that of adults. Actually, there was simply no such thing as a "teenager" as we know it today. There were just young adults. They had adult responsibilities and adult work to do, and distractions like cell phones, fashion, and video games simply didn't exist.

You'd think that at Unity College we wouldn't have too much anxiety over fashion and popularity and the hierarchy of teen society and that kind of stuff, but we do, especially among the first years. By the time they graduate, they've more or less discarded all that nonsense and are much more professional. But the process has to start somewhere, and if we hit it hard in the first few weeks, we can get them to begin to drop the habits of distraction, and become focused instead on learning, which is where we need them to be focused.

Again, there's nothing like having this brought home to you because the very nice outfit you assembled for your day out at the farm got spattered with sheep blood or manure. Hopefully you'll never forget the lesson and perhaps even develop the fortitude to pass it on to your own children.

Lets talk about that, too: Fortitude. Guts. Gumption, whatever you want to call it, today's is a competitive society and the CWCE field certainly no less competitive than any other and perhaps more so. Students can't be shrinking violets and expect to succeed. Animal care can also be a dangerous profession, where adversity and difficulty rein, and where it's entirely possible for you to go to work one day and do something stupid or have a workmate do something stupid and get hurt or killed, or have an animal get hurt or killed. Being switched on and engaged is part of safety, but being simply brave enough to actually grab your animal and get stuck in is also part of it.

And it can't be taught easily in the classroom, and certainly not by computer. You have to do it to learn it.

In particular, if you are half-hearted or shrink back, your animal will struggle and escape and likely hurt itself or you.

And if you shrink back from grabbing a sheep, or wilt at the thought of a dung tag, this might not be the career for you. Better to learn that sooner rather than later. There are plenty of less physically challenging careers.

It was a good day to be alive at Unity College. My faith in human nature is undiminished, and my basic and innate feeling that all young people can be good and brave and true, if they try, was of course proven once more, replenishing my own faith in the world. The kids got stuck in and did the work, and although many confessed to being scared of the sheep and particularly of "not doing it right," most realized that, as we said, again and again, "...it's time to get over all that, isn't it?"


Here are some of the best "action" shots. Aimee has many more on her Facebook album which you can access here.

Here (above) is one of the CWCE young men catching his first sheep. Note the hesitant body language. This is where we say "...it's time to get over it."


Here's Bentley the Womerlippi ram, our most dangerous animal, demonstrating the sheer effectiveness of the basic control position for sheep. Bentley probably weighs 250 pounds, and can be violent, especially with his head. Another good lesson. Animals are not your fuzzy friends.


This is what we like to see. Total concentration, total engagement. Everyone using the proper tools and procedure, everyone getting stuck in. Well done.
 

One aspect of professionalism is to listen whenever a briefing is being given. You don't want to miss anything, especially the safety instructions. We're all very seasoned teachers and so our built-in radar can pick up a distracted student at fifty paces by body language alone. Here students are being shown how to clip chicken wings to help keep the birds safe. if their wings are clipped, they have a much harder time getting out of their pen. Some, I'm sorry to say, are more focused on the birds they're holding or watching than the briefing, and may have to be told once more what to do.


Here's a little more concentration on the part of one particularly switched-on student, as well as a great photo of Aimee doing what she does best.

We had a good day out with the students and were pleased to have them over to the farm. We made sure, of course, to show them the other animals and the garden operation, and to show them a selection of farm products. There are lots of great lessons to be had at the farm. We touched on some of the sustainability lessons, including the nutrient cycling as well as the general human ecology of keeping several types of animals in combination with a truck farm or market garden operation. We were a bit rushed for this part because the vans of new students kept coming, but everyone got a little of everything, and the Unity College curriculum will drive home the goods later in their careers.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Super-sizing solar

The big news is out! Our large new PV project has been announced and installation will begin Monday. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

Free power from the sun!

(Not quite free, but less expensive than regular power -- not bad, eh?)

Switch to the Sustainability Monitor for the full and gory details from Jesse.

Kudos to Jesse, Dan, Debbie and the many other brave professionals at Unity College who made this happen.

And thanks to Bill Behrens and his crew of alums for always believing in the little college that could, and for always coming back.

Friday, September 7, 2012

New video on WAP



Here's a video to watch when you have a spare hour or so, showing the DoE weatherization program.

Made me want to pull out the spray foam and get going. Winter is a-coming, folks, although our recent sub-tropical mugginess and precip. might make you think otherwise.

Thanks to Revkin's blog for making this widely available.

Isaac in black and white

Satellite Eye on Earth: Tropical Storm Isaac by Night

I'm quite interested in remote sensing and its uses in climate science, particularly modeling, and in fact was once able to take a graduate class in the topic at the Steve Running lab at UMT.

I have very little time to spend on it right now, but manage to keep up with some of the imagery released weekly and monthly by NASA and NOAA.

This superb shot above, which was taken by the VIIRS system, shows the scale and shape of Isaac perfectly.

(Click on the link to see more VIIRS images.)

Isaac, if you remember, came ashore at night-time. The light-intensified image also clearly shows the major southeastern cities, except of course New Orleans, which instead is getting well and truly drenched.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Steel demand up, coal down

This gleaned from an interesting NYT front-pager about barge traffic on the Ohio.

The first item is good news for the conventional growth-related view of the economy, and also good news for the industrial heartland of the US. This improvement is at least partly due to the current domestic and Canadian oil and gas boom. Steel is needed for well pipe and other essentials.

As I mentioned in my own recent NYT piece, increases to the domestic and North American economic multipliers caused by the natural gas boom will take likely care of the rump of this recession and add to US and western prestige and economic and military strength for many years.

Not a moment too soon, is it?

Of course, you have to be a practiced Keynesian analyst to know all this. So many politicians, pundits and even economists have forgotten their Keynes, which is part of the reason we're in the mess we're in. There's no good reason for this. Keynes is complicated, for sure, and people are often lazy thinkers who don't like to have to use complicated ideas. But a big part of the objection to Keynes is unthinking and purely ideological or even self-serving.

Coal is well down due to the gas boom, which is also good. Every percentage drop in coal consumption adds a disproportionately larger drop in emissions. Other than eliminating pure waste, reducing coal consumption is the cheapest and easiest way to reduce emissions, at least in the first one or two decades of an emissions reduction campaign. And right now gas is so cheap, we're getting paid to reduce these emissions.

This kind of Green Keynesian thinking can't be used forever. Eventually we'll have to figure out how to transition to an more purely ecological kind of economics, but for right now, the world is too dangerous a place for that. In the meantime, any climate emissions reductions that come without a concomitant drop in the multiplier are welcome.

There has already been a significant reduction in US emissions as we replace coal with gas for power production. This will continue as long as gas is as cheap as it is. There won't be an impact on the global climate, because Europe and the BRICs must follow suit for that to happen. But the US may yet meet our own targets.

As a welcome by-product, acid rain and mercury pollution in Maine will drop yet further. We'll be able to eat more freshwater fish.

Good news, but complicatedly so

Monday, September 3, 2012

"Green crude"

I've been watching the development of algal biofuel techniques for quite a few years now, looking to see when a commercial scheme might finally be worked out. With a lot of federal money being plowed in via DoD and DoE, this is an interesting field for research.

Here's a new news item from the field (below).

One aspect of algal and other biofuels is that production naturally sequesters carbon, so a commercially viable process might also provide a useful pathway to get CO2 out of the atmosphere. The product would have to be itself sequestered or stored somehow. Some processes are designed for use alongside existing power plants that produce CO2. The flue gasses from the plants are used as CO2 feedstock for the biofuel plant, and waste heat can also be used to maintain reaction time.

Whether or not we can achieve the necessary scale of operations to meet either goal (commercial fuel and/or sequestration) is an interesting question and will make good grist for the mill of our Economic and Quantitative Analysis class this fall. We're currently working on energy- and climate-related "word" problems. I can have the students report out on scale based on the data in the press release.

http://www.pennenergy.com/index/power/display/3307154749/articles/pennenergy/power/renewable/2012/august/world_s-first_commercial.html?cmpid=EnlDailyPowerAugust282012