60 Minutes recently aired a program on the future of coal power featuring Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers (an advocate of longer term 'Cathedral Thinking' carbon reduction) and leading climate scientist James Hansen (an advocate of a moratorium on building coal plants).
The CBS report was solidly mainstream in framing coal as central to the conversation on energy, environment and global economic development- but it failed to move the conversation beyond ideas that have existed for several decades.
Time for Big Ideas, not Big Battles Coal is the world's fastest growing source of energy due largely to growth outside the United States. And despite all the rapid growth rates expected with wind and solar, coal is likely to gain global market share in the years ahead.
So this is not just a conversation about US policy and US-based utilities! And there is no way to just 'wish' coal away. We must develop low cost carbon solutions that can be applied around the world within existing power plants. And everyone agrees - these low cost solutions do not exist today!
CBS Producers missed an opportunity to introduce more advanced non-geoengineering strategies to carbon neutralization and left viewers stuck at ringside watching the same old 'pro' vs 'anti' battle.
Carbon's Molecular Dance between Oxygen and Hydrogen Carbon is a 'sticky' molecule that interchangeably binds with oxygen and hydrogen based on its journey through biochemical pathways or via human induced energy conversion (e.g. power plants and combustion engine).
Human beings have a choice to approach carbon solutions through geo-engineering (shoving it underground), or as bio-engineers who can bind carbon with hydrogen for use as a hydrocarbon fuel (for transportation or onsite electricity generation) or a bio-feestock for industrial applications. CBS viewers would have been better off understanding the long-term view of carbon rather than watch a debate without a viable solution. (Continue Reading Below).
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a unique super-'hydrophobic' (water repelling) surface coating that 'boosts the light absorption of silicon photovoltaic cells both by trapping light in three-dimensional structures, and by making the surfaces self-cleaning allowing rain or dew to wash away the dust and dirt that can accumulate on photovoltaic arrays'.
The 'self cleaning' design mimics the water repelling surface of a lotus leaf, 'which uses surface roughness at two different size scales to create high contact angles that encourage water from rain or (desert dew) condensation to bead up and run off. As the water runs off, it carries with it any surface dust or dirt – which also doesn't adhere because of the unique surface properties'.
"The more sunlight that goes into the photovoltaic cells and the less that reflects back, the higher the efficiency can be," said C.P. Wong, Regents' professor in Georgia Tech's School of Materials Science and Engineering. "Our simulations show that we can potentially increase the final efficiency of the cells by as much as two percent with this surface structure."
"A normal silicon surface reflects a lot of the light that comes in, but by doing this texturing, the reflection is reduced to less than five percent," said Dennis Hess, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. "As much as 10 percent of the light that hits the cells is scattered because of dust and dirt of the surface. If you can keep the cells clean, in principle you can increase the efficiency. Even if you only improve this by a few percent, that could make a big difference."
The combined company will have ‘approximately 7.5 billion barrels of oil equivalent (boe) of proved (developed and undeveloped) and probable reserves, on top of an estimated contingent resource base of approximately 19 billion boe.It will also have significant refining capacity of 433,000 barrels per day (b/d) and a strong Canadian retail brand in Suncor.'
Preempting the Inevitable Contraction of the Hydrocarbon Sector Energy analysts expect a wave of mergers as companies find it difficult to grow reserve assets through traditional exploration and development. Cash rich companies might find it easier to expand reserve totals by acquisition.
Future sucess might also be based on an ability to develop non-conventional resources like carbon-heavy 'tar sands' and deep water reserves. So for Canada's leading energy companies it was important to merge before being acquired.
According to Suncor CEO Rick George "The combined portfolio boasts the largest oil sands resource position, a strong Canadian downstream brand, solid conventional exploration and production assets, and low-cost production from Canada's east coast and internationally."
Human beings have mastered the brute-force era of ‘energy by engineering’ where we’ve pulled stored energy from the Earth locked up as coal, oil and natural gas. But we are just beginning to achieve a more Zen-like ability to manipulate molecules that we harness and store ourselves.
Energy is about the interaction of molecules. And the way human beings can create cleaner energy interactions is by designing materials at the nanoscale to achieve unprecedented performance. Surface area is a key piece to this puzzle.
One Gram = One Football Field = How many molecules? Now, imagine holding a material in your hand that was made up of tiny nano-sized ‘cages’ that could hold gas molecules like hydrogen and carbon. Now imagine a gram of this material having the surface area of a football field. How many hydrogen or carbon molecules could you fit in that space? We don't yet know what practical storage systems might yield. This is a big question for energy researchers.
A research team led by University of Michigan’s Adam Matzger has created a novel nanoporous material known as UMCM-2 (University of Michigan Crystalline Material-2) that could claim the world record for surface area with more than 5,000 square meters per gram.
"Surface area is an important, intrinsic property that can affect the behavior of materials in processes ranging from the activity of catalysts to water detoxification to purification of hydrocarbons," Matzger said. That means we can design high surface area materials to scrub carbon leaving cleaner hydrogen bonds, or desalinate water using less energy.
Until recently the threshold for surface area was 3,000 square meters per gram. Then in 2004, a U-M team that included Matzger reported development of a material known as MOF-177 (metal-organic frameworks) that has the surface area of a football field.
"Pushing beyond that point has been difficult," Matzger said, but apparently not impossible using a new method of coordination copolymerization. If it's hard to get your head around, just think: Building Legos wth Molecules! That's a Big Idea!
The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy recently announced that the city of Nagpur, Maharashtra will become the country's first solar city by the year 2012. Nagpur will receive ten percent of its energy consumption through renewable energy sources and will also create a foundation for a future Smart Electrical Grid.
Nagpur is the first of sixty solar cities to be developed over the course of five years.
The Ministry explains its reasons for wanting to create a solar city, "To meet the peak electricity demand of cities, to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and expensive oil and gas for energy and to promote increased use of renewable energy, this scheme has been developed."
The ministry will fund half of the total costs, 190 million rupees ($3.7 million), with the state government paying the rest.
Creating a solar city will result in the major restructuring with the use of multiple solar applications. The street lights, traffic lights, and so on will be based on solar energy system. Solar water heaters will also be installed.
Planet Earth is about to get its own version of the Web!
Cisco Systems is partnering with NASA to create a massive online collaborative global monitoring platform called the "Planetary Skin" to capture, collect, analyze and report data on environmental conditions around the world, while also providing researchers social web services for collaboration.
This type of platform is essential for Climate and Ecosystem researchers, but it also might be a sneak peak at the future of the Internet.
'Smart Planet': Age of Sensors & Structured Data If life in the past few decades has been forever altered by complex microprocessor chips, the next century could see the same social disruption via simple, low cost networked sensors and 'embedded objects' that mirror a digital signal of our analog world. But making this disconnected data relevant is a challenge.
The 'Planetary Skin' platform [video] will stitch together 'petabytes' of unstructured data collected by sensors (land, sea, air, space) reporting on changing environmental conditions. The platform will also allow for 'streamlining of decision making' and 'collaborative swarming' on analysis of relevant data. The project's first layer, “Rainforest Skin,” will be prototyped during 2009.
Good for NASA, Great for Cisco, and Wonderful for 'Mirror World' Metaverse Enthusiasts The benefits to NASA and Planetary system researchers is clear. Forget about Facebook, these scientists are looking for a functional digital research simulation 'Mirror World' (as envisioned by David Gelertner).
Meanwhile, Cisco is working diligently to make itself the most relevant web company in the next era of Internet architecture where collaboration, video, 3D simulations and structured data change the nature of our interactions. 'Planetary Skin' might be Cisco Systems under the radar, but out in the open effort of essentially building its own Internet of Tomorrow.
The Clinton Foundation has announced a plan to help the City of Los Angeles retrofit 140,000 street lamps with more efficient white-light LEDs that offer longer lifetime, lower energy use and less 'light polllution' that restricts night sky views.
The Outdoor Lighting Program of the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) will be the largest LED street lighting retrofit project ever undertaken by a city to date. The City expects to reduce its electricity use by approximately 40,500 tons a year equal to taking '6,700 passenger vehicles off the road every year.' The Foundation expects the city to save save a total of $48 million over a seven year period, and reduce carbon emissions by 197,000 tons.
A National Model for Saving Electricity & Night Sky Views?
Oil Supply Crunch ahead The world's leading authority on oil markets is warning that these days of cheap ($40 barrel) oil are just a mirage and that the world is likely to experience 'an oil supply crunch' next year (2010) as markets begin to recover.
Reuters reports on IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka describing a potential short-term reality: "Currently the demand is very low due to the very bad economic situation, but when the economy starts growing, recovery comes again in 2010 and then onward, we may have another serious supply crunch if capital investment is not coming."
The Real Problem with Oil - No Alternative Oil's biggest problem is 'lack of substiitutability'. There is no other 'reserve' of liquid fuel that can compare to the energy locked up inside the hydrogen-carbon bonds of oil.
If we talk about using oil as gasoline for the transportation sector there is no commercially viable alternative that offers the same volume and performance. Even 'Next Generation' biofuels from algae and cellulose-eating bacteria cannot provide the scale to fill even a tiny gap in global oil production vs demand.
People who push 'solar', 'wind' or 'nuclear' (which produce electricity) as an 'alternative to oil' simply do not understand the combustion engine. You cannot put electricity inside your gas tank. We must either produce massive amounts of liquid fuel substitutes, or take a bolder step to kill the combustion engine.
Is the world ready to confront the real problem? The Combustion Engine
Reducing the amount of water needed to grow crops and prevent massive desertification could dramatically reduce the need for energy used in producing fertilizers, irrigation and desalination.
Hydrophobic Sand Nanowerk has featured a story written by Derek Baldwin of Xpress News on the development and use of layers of hydrophobic (water resistant) sand that prevents water from evaporating to keep it closer to the root systems.
The nano-coated sand could be used as a sub-layer for farming, urban landscaping, and a wide range of eco-friendly industrial applications like oil spills.
The proprietary coating process was developed by UAE-based DIME Hydrophobic Materials working with German scientist Helmut F. Schulze. The product's performance has been verified by a German materials testing agency (without details on coating's own environmental impact or longevity) and is now in pilot projects in the United Arab Emirates. Visit: Photo Gallery/Pankaj Sharma
Beyond the occassional post (or two), I have avoided 'Peak Oil' production issues because of its association with those who must always (and only) describe the future in apocalyptic terms.
But based on the IEA World Energy Outlook 2008 report, it has become clear that energy leaders have been using poor data of oil field decline rates (based on a lack of transparency) to support inaccurate forecasts.
Whether peak production has already happened, or will happen in 15 years is irrelevant since we are not prepared for either transition. So it is time to explore implications regarding the world's use of coal, nuclear energy, tar sands, and oil shale. (For those focused on Climate Change, the replacements for oil are not good news for carbon emissions.)
I do not believe that Peak Oil will destroy our civilization, but it certainly has the potential to make us humble, and to serve as 'the' catalyst for evolving our policies from a resource extraction to resource creation paradigm.
The following 40 minute interview is dated (January 2008) but gives a solid overview of peak oil's core issues: field decline rates, discovery rates, production time and costs and lack of real liquid fuel alternatives. [A more current hard edged interview by George Monbiot w/ Dr Fatih Birol: Link to video]
According to CNet reporter Stephen Shankland it's rather likely that Google will announce the new monster app next week at a star-studded Google Earth event:
Gore is set to join Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt and Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience, at the on February 2 event at the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco's newly rebuilt aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum. But it's another speaker's name that gives the tip-off about what the event might be about.
The Nano car, created by Tata Motors, has not yet gone on sale but an affordable micro-hybrid version is already gearing up to hit the market. In this micro-hybrid, the engine would automatically stop running once it has gone idle. This feature would cut fuel and gas emissions by 10 to 15 percent.
The Nano which was first introduced in January 2008, was said to be on the market by late 2008, but is now expected to roll into the market early this year. The Nano will cost an affordable $2,500, which may increase due to the added micro hybrid-system.
The introduction of Tata's Nano was meant to create the first reasonably priced, environmentally friendly car, in order to help the densely populated and polluted urban areas India. Having the hybrid being affordable will also make it more accesible to not just the rich class, but the middle class as well.
Meanwhile, China is producing hybrid cars of its own. Chinese automakers, BYD, will display their hybrid car at the Detroit auto show this month. At the auto show, BYD will be given a main floor, rather than a hallway which it had last year. BYD will displaying its plug-in hybrid.
China is certainly making waves to make its car companies known. However it will be five years before Chinese automakers are able to compete in the U.S. markets.
India and China's venture into hybrid cars is a preemptive step of the automakers to reduce pollution and make a name for itself in the North American auto industry. As these country's launch their respective cars in their homeland and the U.S, it will certainly cause a sensation for the rest of the world.