Thursday, January 31, 2008

Nuclear vs Coal...

Patrick Moore argues that Nuclear power plants are not much of a threat or target as they are made out to be, they supposedly can withstand a 747 (the thought of 747 and nuclear station in one sentence is way too scary for me to bear).
He makes some good points, like the number of people that die every year working in coal mining plants, But I have to admit, I'd rather have lived near a coal power plant than a nuclear plant (but after reading "The high cost of cheap coal" I don't know which is the lesser evil).

I understand his point of view, but I think that Nuclear energy is not the final answer. In the long run, there will probably be some issues with the continuous storage of nuclear waste (Would you want that buried near your own house?) that will cause people to be concerned like we are about greenhouse gases now.
He discusses recycling, which seems like the major answer to the waste issue, but I wonder if this technology is developed enough to actually put into use.
I think nuclear energy might be a good option in some cases (he mentions California subsidizing millions for solar energy that could build a nuclear power station with ten times the power output); But I also think we need a good balance of various energy sources. In the long run Nuclear power would still have its issues.
We should try our best not to praise one solution at one time and demonize another only to turn around and continue the same cycle.

Regarding "Addicted to Oil"

I read your post hacfred, and I agree with you on a lot of the topics. I am from Houston, actually Sugar Land, and I faced some of the same problems you addressed. When I had my internships in Houston, the offices are in downtown, and I'm living in the suburbs. First, I chose to live at home to save some money. I'd rather not pay something like $600-1000 for rent when I don't have to. Yes, I know this means that instead of possibly walking or biking to work, I'm driving instead. But instead of saying I'm addicted to oil or cars, I'd rather save some money.

However, I see your point on incentive, but I'll raise you. When I had to commute, I had options other than just driving the 30 miles to downtown. Sometimes a few co-workers and I would carpool to work. This can be a bit problematic at times with people having different schedules and even when a determined one is set, for people to show up on time. Not to mention riding with some people can be annoying, to put it nicely.

So another option which I took sometimes was the Park and Ride option. There are a few of these available, and from my experience, they're pretty efficient. There are multiple areas where you can drive your car and park it in a lot, then take the bus which comes every 10 minutes or so. This way, the individual cars' drive time is reduced, and maybe this can help with the environment and "addiction."

So while they are far and few between, the options are there, and I think we just have to make the conscious effort (easier said than done). And no steak for me, thank you. I'm a vegetarian.

“We’re addicted to oil” – Should I feel bad?

Every time you turn on the radio or the TV, you’re bound to hear something that basically boils down to the following: “we’re addicted to oil” or we’re using too much oil, or we’re being wasteful etc… I would like to ask, what does that mean?

Before I explain what I mean let me say that I understand that we might be running out of cheap oil and that we might not find any large discoveries anymore (like Ghawar in Saudi Arabia). In addition, I recognize that we have a problem with GHGs and it’s necessary to do something about it. My question is: Why is the message trying to make us feel bad when most of the choices people make are not entirely their own. Let me explain.

They say people in America like to drive their cars and love their gas-guzzling SUVs and they can’t use mass transit etc…What does it mean to be car loving? What options do I have? For example in Houston a lot of people live in the suburbs and drive downtown for work (it’s funny but it seems that the suburbs of Houston will eventually encompass Austin). Those folks that live out in Katy or Sugarland are driving 20 to 30 miles each way. Yes they’re using a lot of gas but it’s not because they love their cars and it’s not because they are addicted to oil it’s simply because they live far away from work and because there is no other viable alternative (affordability of housing within the city limits is a big issue in Houston).

Most cities in the US are not planned around public transportation and thus car usage becomes necessary. In addition, most cities in the US do not encourage high occupancy type living (high rises and apartments) so people have no option but to look for housing in the suburbs and they have no incentive to stay closer to the city center.

Ok fine so some people like to drive large SUVs (AKA gas-guzzlers). These folks are not terrible and are not environmentally insensitive they just like a different kind of vehicle! Some people are vegetarian while others are steak lovers – who’s better? (Now that I read the entry about meat production I’m feeling a bit guilty about my beef-short-rib dinner last night). Some people work close to home while consultants have to travel perhaps multiple times a week. Are consultants to blame because of their carbon footprint! Some airlines are offering customers the option of paying extra to offset their carbon “costs”. Even UT jumped on the bandwagon! When you print in the ECJ lab you can check your credits and it’ll tell you what your print job is in equivalent trees killed and lightbulbs turned on! What’s that supposed to mean? I can’t read online – I already wear glasses and my vision is deteriorating, what am I supposed to do, hire someone to read for me???

All what I’m trying to say is that we are not addicted to oil. We are using the means at our disposal – it’s not Exxon’s fault that Joe Blow decides to live in Katy and drive 20 miles (one way to work). It’s not my fault for printing the reading. Rather than saying we are addicted to oil why not say we haven’t been given alternatives or we have no other option.

For example, large parts of Western Europe don’t use air conditioning (over the last few years the market for ACs grew a bit in France) because it doesn’t get too hot in the summer and even if it did it only last for a few days. On the other hand, large portions of the US face over 5 months of high humidity and high heat – do I blame those folks for using their ACs 24/7 for 5 months? No, it’s not they’re fault – they’re not addicted to oil and they’re not addicted to coal (for electricity powering their ACs), they’re definitely not addicted to ACs – they’re just hot!

All what I’m saying is that we should not blame the user – we should give competitive options and incentives to change and then we will see results. This guilt trip is not gonna work! Now where’s my steak!

PS: My apologies if this post offends anyone but I just wanted to express my honest opinion on the matter!

FutureGen - Cancelled

I put up a post yesterday regarding the failing support of the FutureGen project. An update was published today in the New York Times. It now appears that the entire project has been canceled due to "higher cost" then what was originally projected for the project.

I sincerely hope that the funds previously designated to FutureGen make their way to another energy research initiative. If these funds end up being shifted toward an unrelated project (i could state many controversial possibilities here) I will be very disappointed in our government leaders.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Other Green Engine: Diesel

According to Forbes, the European automakers are starting to market diesel vehicles to America as an alternative to hybrid cars. Volkswagen is releasing a new diesel Jetta that will get 50 miles per gallon on the highway and 40 in the city. The other european automakers are following suit and according to J.D. Power & Associates forecasts, by 2017, 14% of cars sold in the U.S. will have diesel engines. BMW's Chief Executive Norbert Reithofer said: "We realized that with the additional weight of a hybrid battery, the miles per gallon is not as good as we thought. We think the better solution at the moment is diesel."

The fuel ratings for the Jetta are on par with the Prius (actually better on the highway) but the performance is not. The Jetta will blow the Prius out of the water. Maybe we should be focusing our energy on making diesel cars more efficient and working on biodiesel which seems to be promising. It is strange to me that we have not already been looking at diesel cars in America. We have diesel gas and we have some relationship with Europe so what have we been doing? Why have the American car manufacturers, who manufacture some cars for the European market also, not noticed this? It seems yet again that American car companies are going to be behind the curve.

Health costs of energy use

The Smil reading for this week touches on the environmental impact on pollution from energy usage but gives only passing mention to the health costs.

The United States, which produces six billion tons of carbon dioxide annually (about 25 percent of the world’s emissions), lags behind most industrial nations in imposing environmental regulations. Texas remains one of the most polluted states in the union, with Houston (rated #5 in 2007) and Dallas (#7) consistently ranking among the top 10 most polluted cities in the country by the American Lung Association. The state’s heaviest industrial regions, notably the Houston ship channel and the Golden Triangle in southeast Texas, produce prodigious amounts of sulfur dioxide; nitrogen oxides; benzene; 1,3 butadiene; and particulate matter – all of which are associated with the rising incidences of asthma, heart disease, birth defects, cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders. Asthma alone accounts for over two million emergency room visits, 5000 deaths, and 14 million missed school days per year in the United States, totaling more than $14 billion in health care costs and lost productivity – numbers that are going nowhere but up. Nevertheless, like most other states, Texas has failed to deliver real clean air reform as energy companies easily dodge the Texas Clean Air Act of 1971 and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is sued for failing to enforce the Environmental Protection Agency’s modest emission standards.

Proposals such as a gas tax, cap-and-trade tax, and emissions (or carbon) tax have all been floated as potential economic stimulants toward a greener future. None have become enacted into state or federal law; but of the three, the corporate emissions tax has generated the most consensus among policymakers and economists. Estimates project revenue from an emissions tax at roughly $80 billion in the first year of implementation, based on a rate of $15 per ton of carbon dioxide produced. But more importantly, it would save lives.


  • “State of The Air: 2007” report by the American Lung Association
  • “Breathless in Texas” Austin Chronicle, 6 Apr. 2001
  • Guzzling Meat is as bad as Guzzling oil??

    I found this article today in the New York Times. Meat production and consumption in the United States is HUGE and it is now becoming a big problem. The article drew a few parallels between meat and oil: both are subsidized by the government (which keeps the price of meat relatively constant and low), demand for meat (like oil) increases with increasing wealth in a country, and meat is also a product that we are encouraged to consume less of as the toll exacted by industrial production increases and becomes increasingly valuable. And meat consumption worldwide is increasing rapidly.

    Huge concentrated animal farms (CAFO's) have proliferated in recent years. Aside from producing lots of animals these operations also produce a lot of waste (manure) and greenhouse gases (Methane!!) which contaminates water systems, the air, and can even leach into aquifers. Aside from the waste these operations consume enormous amounts of energy and resources both directly and indirectly. One astonishing fact in this article was if everyone in the US were to reduce their meat consumption (currently at 8 oz. a day) by 20% it would be equal to if every driver in the US switched from a Camry to a Prius.

    What's the solution? Eat less meat! The author states that a more environmentally friendly (and natural) way to raise our meat is by having them out grazing on a farm instead of in one of the mega meat factories that are popping up all over the world. Of course, grazing could never produce as much meat as we currently consume, but maybe that's a good thing. Currently we are consuming far more meat protein than dietary experts recommend.

    In short, I recommend you all take the time to read through this article, I only highlighted a few of the main impacts of our current meat consumption, but there are far more concerning effects of the proliferation of CAFOs.

    FutureGen - Bush administration backs away from project

    On Monday, President Bush gave his final State of the Union address to the American people. During part of his speech, he stated that he wanted the US government to "fund new technologies that can generate coal power while capturing carbon emissions."

    Yesterday, it was an about-face. The Bush administration via Energy Secretary Bodman announced that they "might drop its support" for the long planned FutureGen project. This project's focus is to design a coal power plant designed to store greenhouse gases underground. Current budget sits at $1.5 billion. Congress appropriated $108 million to this project just last year. This change of heart was covered by several major newspapers today, including the Washington Post.

    Several states have been competing for the FutureGen project site, including Texas and Illinois. The latter received the project contract.

    Senator Richard J. Durbine (D - Illinois), along with six other lawmakers, were the recipient of Bodeman's announcement yesterday in a meeting regarding project funding. Bodeman announced that the administration has decided to "consider other carbon sequestration projects instead."

    Is the FutureGen dream going to end without the Bush administration support? Or, is this destined to become a privately funded project?

    My personal opinion is that this project will continue, with or without support from the Bush administration. Coal is simply too abundant in the US to ignore as an every source. At the same time, we must come up with solutions to the dirty-nature of coal electricity is we want to be good stewards of our environment. FutureGen is a huge step toward solving this unfortunate pairing (large source, dirty source). I will be anxious to see which way the wind blows on this topic.

    Very "Green" Energy Ideas

    I found an interesting article on some out of the box ideas to generate/save energy which are being experimented with in Europe. They include such things as driving ships with computer controlled kites and siphoning heat from roads and parking lots warmed by the sun to heat homes and offices.

    I agree with the article in that it would be easy to implement many out of the box ideas in the US, but in the US energy is still cheap and we think it will always be. Unfortunately we won't see major changes until we're in an energy crunch.

    Global Warming's Benefits

    I recently received a solicitation in the mail from a group that was asking for my support of a petition to urge the United States government to reject the Kyoto global warming agreement. Their effort is called the Petition Project. Among other things, they stated that the United States is "very close to adopting an international agreement that would ration the use of energy of technologies that depend upon coal, oil, and natural gas and some other organic compounds." Really, I was surprised to hear that we were close to signing on to Kyoto, and that it would ration the use of energies? The soliciation was backed by an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal from January 18, 2000 by Arthur and Noah Robinson (Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine).

    Other material included with the letter made the following claims: "Research data on climatic change do not show that human use of hydrocarbons is harmful. To the contrary, there is good evidence that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is environmentally helpful." To this end, the authors made such statements as "As coal, oil and natural gas are used to feed and lift from poverty vast numbers of people across the globe, more CO2 will be released into the atmosphere. This will help maintain and improve health, longevity, prosperity, and productivity of all people." More surprising, they state "Human activities are producing part of the rise in CO2 in the atmosphere. Mankind is moving the carbon in coal, oil, and natural gas from below ground into living things. We are living in an increasingly lush environment of plants and animals as a result of this CO2 increase. Our children will therefore enjoy an earth with far more plant and animal life than that with which we are now blessed."

    The authors include graphs of warming trends for over two thousand years of data to support some of their claims, but I find it interesting that they copied an op-ed from the Wall Street Journal published in January 2000. With such compelling arguments and revelations about the benefits of hydrocarbon use and global warming, you would think that there would be more recent support for their cause. Of course, there is still some support, but their ability to bury real evidence of climate change in the noise of other data has diminished with time.

    Perhaps this is a classic case of turning a bad thing into a good one? Because I think it is always of interest to know where someone may be coming from, I took a look at the website for the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine. The look revealed that this privately funded group is interested in "access to energy" and "surviving a Nuclear War Survival Skills" among other things. Not really sure what to make of that. Finally, the Petition Project's return address is in La Jolla, California. Truly a lush environment.

    Tuesday, January 29, 2008

    Aerodynamic Vehicles

    Today Dr. Webber mentioned that if we were willing to sacrifice looks, we could gain 2-8% fuel economy. It reminded me of this article over at Autobloggreen. This guy took a '92 Honda Accord CX (which stock has a respectable ~48 mpg) and after about $400 in mods, is able to get maximum economy of ~95 mpg. That's a little more than 8%.

    Of course the car looks really terrible.

    Clean Oil? Isn't that like honest politicians?

    In the new Fast Company magazine their is a cover spread on the ten major oil companies, focusing on their environmental impact. Essentially the article wants to uncover the global footprint for investors or consumers that are environmentally conscious. With help from HIP Investor Inc. and the Social Venture Technology Group, Fast Company 'graded' the world's 10 largest integrated oil companies on three main criteria: Mngt Practices, Human Impact and Total Shareholder Return.

    While today's lecture focused on non-petroleum fuel sources, the truth is most of us have no other options. As a consumer of more oil than I'd like, I found this an interesting read. In the past I made my purchasing decisions based exclusively on the price and while supporting a 'clean oil company' probably won't make any difference, at least I won't feel as bad when it costs $45 to fill up my sedan...

    Here's a link to the full article.

    Haiti Hunger, Oil, and Biofuels - A vicious cycle

    This story is related to what we were discussing in class today.

    It notes that the poor in Haiti, who cannot afford food, are having to eat cookies made out of dirt.
    The article notes that food prices around the world have spiked due to the higher oil prices. Thus leading to higher cost for food transportation, and other oil byproducts such as fertilizers. It also noted the prices of corn, wheat, and other crops going up due to the demand for biofuels.

    The connection between oil and biofuels just seems like a vicious cycle.

    Salicornia bigelovii and shrimp to the rescue!

    Salicornia bigelovii and shrimp farms will save the world from global warming-induced rising sea levels--at least according to atmospheric scientist Carl Hodges.

    On American Public Media's Marketplace, in a series titled "Plan B: Adapting to a Warmer World", Carl Hodges shared his vision in "Seeing opportunity in rising oceans", aired on January 28. I only caught a portion of the interview on the radio, so I jumped onto and found the transcript; some great photos are also linked to the website.

    Carl is working on a project 6,000 feet above Mexico's coastal desert, south of the Arizona border. This region has been transformed into a network of saltwater lakes to grow shrimp. The shrimp farms in this area apparently pump more than 20% of the ice melt of the Antarctic.

    The scientist is not interested in the shrimp farms, but is experimenting with Salicornia bigelovii, an oil-bearing plant that "packs as much high-quality vegetable oil per acre as soybeans, making it an ideal biofuel crop". The amazing thing is that this plant will apparently grow with seawater irrigation; he proposes that the fertile effluent from the shrimp farms could be used as the irrigation source. Finally, to deal with the larger quantity of water expected from rising sea levels, he proposes that the depleted coastal aquifers could act as giant reservoirs for the seawater.

    So, if everybody is cool with driving biodiesel-powered vehicles to the local all-you-can-eat shrimp buffet, we won't have to worry about rising sea levels.

    But seriously, if anyone has knowledge on this seawater-loving plant, or the true magnitude of pumping all this water, feel free to comment.

    An Energy Eye on Russia: Week 3.5/U.S. Worried about Russia's Energy Power and the Ukraine wants to cut out the Middleman (Russia)

    U.S. Worried About Russia's Balkan Energy Grab

    The headline about says it all. The U.S. sees Russia's moves as "strategic", asking the Serbs.. Did you consider that MAYBE Russia is looking to gain "possible economic dependency and possibility of political control."?? Hmm???

    The U.S. of course supports Energy Diversity through Nabucco (EU Pipeline), not South Stream (Russian Pipeline).

    Interesting definitions of Energy Security here. Serbs said it was the deal with Russia (split 50-50) - EU and US say it's Nabucco.

    Forbes: Energy Sector Round Up (Associated Press)

    I'm not quite sure of the logistics of this? Does it mean Nabucco?

    "Ukraine's prime minister says the country wants to buy natural gas supplies directly instead of going through an intermediary company partially owned by Russia."

    "Nearly all of Ukraine's gas imports come through Russia from the energy-rich central Asian nation of Turkmenistan. The gas is imported through the Swiss-based trading company RosUkrEnergo, half of which is owned by Russian energy giant Gazprom and half by two Ukrainian businessmen."

    In other news, did you hear that Turkmenistan is giving its citizens free energy? That's Energy Rich and People Poor.

    Monday, January 28, 2008

    In response to the last article

    Is this a new thing? not really.....

    Bush State of the Union Addresses on Energy: Yada, Yada, Yada….

    The media is abuzz that Bush will unveil new energy proposals in the State of the Union address. But it really is a “dog bites man” story.

    Has any president ever talked so much about a problem while doing nothing to address it? The President’s sweeping rhetoric on energy independence, unfortunately, has never been accompanied by serious policies–he actually has cut the funding for the key energy-saving technologies–which is one reason our dependence on imported oil has kept rising throughout Bush’s presidency. So we should take any new words in the 2007 address with many, many grains of salt.

    Here are the relevant excerpts about energy from Bush’s State of the Union addresses:

    bush-dumb.jpg2001: As we meet tonight, many citizens are struggling with the high cost of energy. We have a serious energy problem that demands a national energy policy. The West is confronting a major energy shortage that has resulted in high prices and uncertainty. I’ve asked Federal agencies to work with California officials to help speed construction of new energy sources, and I have directed Vice President Cheney, Commerce Secretary Evans, Energy Secretary Abraham, and other senior members in my administration to develop a national energy policy.

    Our energy demand outstrips our supply. We can produce more energy at home while protecting our environment, and we must. We can produce more electricity to meet demand, and we must. We can promote alternative energy sources and conservation, and we must. America must become more energy independent, and we will.

    2002: Good jobs also depend on reliable and affordable energy. This Congress must act to encourage conservation, promote technology, build infrastructure, and it must act to increase energy production at home so America is less dependent on foreign oil.

    2003: Our third goal is to promote energy independence for our country, while dramatically improving the environment. I have sent you a comprehensive energy plan to promote energy efficiency and conservation, to develop cleaner technology, and to produce more energy at home.

    … Tonight I’m proposing $1.2 billion in research funding so that America can lead the world in developing clean, hydrogen-powered automobiles. A single chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen generates energy, which can be used to power a car — producing only water, not exhaust fumes. With a new national commitment, our scientists and engineers will overcome obstacles to taking these cars from laboratory to showroom, so that the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen, and pollution-free.Join me in this important innovation to make our air significantly cleaner, and our country much less dependent on foreign sources of energy.

    2004: Consumers and businesses need reliable supplies of energy to make our economy run — so I urge you to pass legislation to modernize our electricity system, promote conservation, and make America less dependent on foreign sources of energy.

    2005: To keep our economy growing, we also need reliable supplies of affordable, environmentally responsible energy. Nearly four years ago, I submitted a comprehensive energy strategy that encourages conservation, alternative sources, a modernized electricity grid, and more production here at home — including safe, clean nuclear energy. … And my budget provides strong funding for leading-edge technology — from hydrogen-fueled cars, to clean coal, to renewable sources such as ethanol. Four years of debate is enough: I urge Congress to pass legislation that makes America more secure and less dependent on foreign energy.

    2006: Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. And here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable alternative energy sources — and we are on the threshold of incredible advances.

    So tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative — a 22-percent increase in clean-energy research — at the Department of Energy, to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies, and clean, safe nuclear energy.

    We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen. We’ll also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn, but from wood chips and stalks, or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years.

    Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.

    "Ask Not What You Can Do for Africa, Ask What Africa Can Do for You"

    I thought that one of the most interesting aspects of President Bush's State of the Union address was his request from Congress to "commit $15 billion over the next 5 years, including $10 billion in new money, to turn the tide against AIDS in the most afflicted nations of Africa and the Caribbean."

    Although Bush has been involved in various Africa AIDS initiatives over the past few years, the renewed focus on Africa (most notably the creation of Africom last year) seems to have an obvious impetus.

    Perhaps not ironically, Financial Times also ran a full section special report today titled "Africa: Oil & Gas." The first story (of thirteen) is ominously titled "The New Scramble for Africa's Resources."

    Here we go again...

    State of the Union Address

    President Bush addressed congress tonight giving his annual State of the Union Address. President Bush spoke of the need for clean energy technology. He pushed for technologies in carbon capture and storage, renewable energies and nuclear power. There was talk of a need for a global climate change treaty involving developing countries too in contrast to the Kyoto Protocol which Bush did not sign.

    I didn’t find anything that was real inspiring to me within his speech with respect to energy. He did mention climate change for a second year in a row. President Bush had never mentioned climate change until last year, while it had first made an appearance in a State of the Union Address in 1997 by Bill Clinton. So maybe, for George Bush it’s good when we get anything about energy policy, but I left feeling a little underwhelmed hearing the same rhetoric I’ve heard from politicians in the past.

    What do you all think of the State of the Union Address this year?

    "The greening of nuclear power"... are views changing?

    The Denver Post published an article Friday (1/25/08)  that discussed the changing public perception of nuclear power.  

    I neither agree or disagree with everything this article discusses... However, I was struck by the interview with Dr Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace 
    and a former nuclear opponent.  I was impressed by his candor regarding his previous misconceptions
    regarding nuclear power.  I wish that all those involved in the energy debate were as open to new 
    information as Dr Moore appears to be (at least on this topic).  Kudos on bringing some common misconceptions surrounding nuclear power to light.

    The Second Best Way to Predict the Future

    The post on Joel Serface’s panel at this weekend’s sustainable business summit reminded me of a few things I learned from another Serface lecture at Green City Fest hosted by the City of Austin last semester. The self-proclaimed “recovering venture capitalist” covered everything from carbon cap-and-trade and carbon pricing to CAFÉ Standards, the Clean Air Act, and the re-birth of the auto industry. What stood out most, though, was his comparison of California and Texas in regard to energy and investment. He spoke of the “Texas Imperative” – the call for Texas, as an energy leader for the past 100 years, to step it up because other states and regions are poised to de-throne us from our coveted spot. He went step by step, starting with the ideologies the two states uphold: California embraces the entrepreneur, while Texas embraces the “big guy.” He went on, saying California has three times the economic energy efficiency as Texas and that California has already invested a billion dollars into energy research. I just read of California’s Treasurer Bill Lockyer pushing for even more investment into cleantech.

    Having said all that, Serface was still optimistic, and explained what Texas has in its favor. Texas certainly has its past energy experience. He also pointed to cities such as Austin that want to become a knowledge center, a center for emerging technologies, particularly clean energy. Austin has already enacted policies in order to foster growth in the clean tech industry, such as the City of Austin’s emerging technologies program and economic development policy and matrix. Partnerships and interconnectedness between entities is another thing Austin in particular has going for it. Serface sited the Beta Testing program between the City owned Austin Energy and the Austin Technology Incubator, which cuts down the capital and time cycle needed to test new technologies.

    If Texas wants to remain the energy king, the state as a whole is going to have to take a pointer or two from men like Serface and from its own capital. True, the best way to predict the future is to invent it (Kay), but the second best…is to finance it (Kleiner).

    China Frostbitten

    China's stocks fell recently after a sudden snow storm left hundreds of thousands stranded at transit stations around the nation. In preparation for the Chinese new year, many families (about 199 million Chinese) are expected to be traveling both by train and plane in the weeks just before and after the Lunar New Year. The government has encouraged provinces to "share" coal and electricity during what will undoubtedly become a very strained period of energy consumption.

    Two things come to mind: what an awesome experiment and how will this affect the U.S!? The first of these thoughts is perhaps a bit brutal, but seriously, how often does the world get to see the energy supply in a nation like China stretched to the limit? Of course, a similar experiment occurred to the U.S. following Hurricane Katrina; the outcomes there were often dire and still has the American energy market reeling. Will China be any better suited to deal with such situations? We will have to wait and see.

    Furthermore, if China's stocks fall, the question becomes: is that a good thing for the U.S.? I am willing to wage an answer of both yes and no. Our economies are becoming incomprehensibly intertwined. If they do poorly, Americans will definitely feel the effects. China owns in excess of one trillion USD's, and more and more, they are pouring their currency into our economy. Even so, China relies on its ability to supply consumer nations. If that ability to produce becomes hampered, we might gain more independence from their markets, which would definitely be a good thing. As well, if the dragon stumbles, it too may find itself dependent on other nations to supply medical and emergency aid. These are all pluses for the U.S., especially since the ensuing world-wide recession has affected Chinese markets the least until now.

    All in all, Americans should sit up and take note. China may soon find itself on the downhill and in need. I say strike while the iron is hot!

    An Energy Eye on Russia: Week 3/ Thanks to Russia, Iran's first nuclear power plant should be working at 50% capacity by Fall 2008

    When asked why Iran would want to have a national enrichment program when they can buy enriched Uranium cheaply from Russia, nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili responded that Iran is investing billions of dollars into 20 nuclear power plants over the next twenty years and needs to have an assured supply. (Aka, we don't trust the "international community" or.. we don't trust Russia?) Energy security, that's what it's all about nowadays. Russia and Iran had problems all last year March to December. Though it's seems ok now that the last shipment of nuclear fuel has arrived.

    And with it... more sanctions...

    Russia wants the Nuclear debate to be the concern of the Int'l Atomic Energy Agency, and not the Security Council. (LATIMES, 2008)

    Sometimes I just like reading the different headlines.

    Iran gets last batch of Russian atomic fuel: Russia and China are even more opposed to sanctions since U.S. Intelligence recently said that Iran halted it's Nuclear Programme in 2003. "Russia says the Bushehr power plant is being built under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog." - Reuters India

    Too Easy to Refuse: U.S. Friendship or Nuclear Fuel? Nuclear Fuel. Thnx. "We were surprised, and somewhat reassured, that America and Europe managed to get China and Russia to sign on to any resolution. All of the key players — except the United States — have strong economic reasons not to put the squeeze on Iran." - NYTIMES

    Intl. Community Supports Iran’s Nuclear Program: Numbers as to how many states are in NAM vary. But I've seen 115 and 118. The link goes to the list of member states according to South Africa. "We think and we believe that the international community is supporting Iran’s position with regard to its peaceful nuclear activities and programs. More than 120 countries in the non-aligned movement supported Iran’s position and its peaceful program and its rights within its nuclear energy program. Just two or three countries consider themselves to be the international community, they consider themselves to be the entire international community. Even the U.S. national intelligence report acknowledged that Iran is following a peaceful nuclear program in the country." - Tehran Times

    Hidden Oil Tank in Downtown Austin

    The Daily Texan reported on Friday that a 9000 gallon capacity railcar-turned-oil tanker that had been buried by the Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin leaked over 4200 gallons of oil into Waller Creek. To the credit of local officials, the city quickly cleaned up the spill mitigating any short term effects from the spill, but apparently this incident caught everyone by surprise; the city was completely unaware that such a tank of oil existed in the area.

    While we can really hope that this will be an isolated incident- after all, it really makes no sense to furrow away that kind of oil reserve- it is a little scary that little stockpiles of dirty fuel may be buried nearby. The railcar had been buried for over a century, when the average cost of gas was a mere 4 cents per gallon. Environmental specialist Stan Tindel expressed optimism in being able to find the owners of the reserve in order to fine them for the cleanup costs. I hope that officials are successful in their investigation, if only so we will know exactly what motivates a person to bury many thousands of gallons of fuel.

    Sustainable Education

    This is similar to the sustainable business post…

    The recent surge in popularity of sustainability may lead you to ask, “Where can I study sustainable engineering and technology?” While many universities are conducting research related to sustainability, there is only one Sustainable Engineering degree plan in the world that I have heard of. The Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden offers Sustainable Engineering and Sustainable Technology Master’s programs. If I had the means, I would definitely be in Stockholm next fall. But luckily the Center for Sustainable Energy
    is pushing for sustainable engineering education in the US. This is very encouraging. I hope that we can educate a generation of engineers that focus specifically on sustainability.

    Sunday, January 27, 2008

    Sustainable business

    The McCombs School of Business at UT-Austin held their first Sustainable Business Summit this weekend, with keynote speakers from businesses like Whole Foods and GE's Ecomagination division. The focus of the summit, primarily, was on sustainable business practices, such as greening one's supply chain (i.e., removing environmental pollutants, reducing energy/water use or reusing waste products), though energy (be it efficiency or renewables) popped up more than once.

    I went with a number of LBJ students, and chose to listen in two of the more corporate panels, including one on venture capital (VC) for green enterprises.

    Joe Serface, the director of UT's Clean Energy Incubator (CEI), led the VC panel, and spoke at length on how entrepreneurial pursuits are the fastest way to spur innovation, especially at a time when the public's hunger for workable renewable energy technologies, ones that can take over some of the load of fossil fuel-generated electricity. Organizations like the CEI are working to put a business face on environmental advocacy, to help entrepreneurs learn to attract investors, and to show the corporate world that profit and environmental stewardship need not be mutually exclusive. Serface pointed out that VC firms have invested $5.2 billion to date in clean energy technologies and investment opportunities are only expected to grow. Two other speakers -- Terrence Cantorna of Babcock & Brown and Charley Dean of Silverton Partners -- both involved in financing wind and other energy startups, highlighted what aspects of energy project proposals are attractive right now: project-financed, highly-leveraged (where owners control less than a majority share), ones where the projects will yield 20+ years of income, where government subsides can augment private investment, and where the seed money is $15MM or less). Cantorna pointed out that since the subprime market collapse, investors are scrutinizing business plans and associated technology more closely than before.

    Also, while clean energy technologies (i.e., solar (PV), wind turbines, geothermal, and solid-state) are likely prospects for investment, energy and water efficiency tech and smart grids are also of great interest, to save corporations and consumers on waste. Increasing efficiency is better for a company's supply-chain, better for a company's public relations, and in the worst-case scenarios, stretches out declining resources as long as possible.

    First big clean-tech IPO

    One piece of news that seems to have escaped much notice during the end of the year was the Initial Public Offering (IPO) from Iberdola Renovables SA, the largest wind power company in Spain.  Iberdola is the world's largest owner of wind driven power plants. (Bloomberg)  and they offered $6 billion dollars worth of stock to the common market.  

    This is a key development in the world of clean tech.  This would be considered a large IPO by any company and is the largest by a clean energy specific company to date.  Wallstreet is already taking notice.  Shares have surged recently on news that French electricity giant EDF (Electricitie de France) purchased 3% of the company. (see link)

    Hopefully now the street, and larger financial community can now have a concrete example of green energy not only being a good business, but one at the scale at which it likes to deal with. (Larger companies can hire top tier Investment Banks)

    Blue recycling bins to be phased out

    Well, in the spirit of blogging on something positive I found the article linked below on The City of Austin's green initiatives to be interesting. A new program begining in October will expand what Autstinites can recycle and eliminate the need to sort into multiple buckets.

    The familar blue bins will be replaced with 90 gallon carts that will allow for the collection of all recyclable items. Additionally, the list of items has been significantly expanded. The change will also allow a reduction of collection from every week to every 2 weeks, reducing gasoline expenditures and associated emissions. This initiative is part of a 32 year strategy to create a "zero-waste" plan in which no garbage is sent to landfills.

    See the below link for additional details:!-897704014&UrAuth=`N`NUOaN[UbTTUWUXUaUZTYU_UWUbUcUZUbU]UcTYWVVZV&urcm=y

    If you want cheap gas, fill up in Turkmenistan.

    Over the winter break, I went home to visit my parents. During that break I only had to pay about $9 to fill up my dad's Subaru Forrester and that was filling it up from empty. Luckily I was in a country were 91 octane gasoline is at 45 cents a gallon, 95 octane gasoline is at 60 cents a gallon and diesel is 25 cents a gallon. That country would be the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This made me wonder where Saudi fuel prices compare to the rest of the world. I found a pdf. document from this site. The study surveyed 171 countries comparing both diesel and gasoline prices as of November 2006. Saudi Arabia is ranked as the 5th cheapest in terms of retail of gasoline. The cheapest goes to Turkmenistan with a price of 2 cents a liter. Venezuela is number two at 3 cents a liter. Iran and Libya complete the list. I know that Saudi gasoline is highly subsidized for the benefit of the citizens. A couple years ago, I was talking to some of my friends about how cheap the gas is, I came to the realization that gasoline is actually cheaper than water. One liter of gasoline is about 12 cents a liter, while a liter of bottled water is about 25 cents. It is quite a different world in Saudi when it comes to worrying about gasoline prices, which is nonexistent. Everybody there drives big cars and SUV's. In fact, Saudi Arabia is the number one importer of Toyota Land Cruisers in the world. A little fun in the sand serves as one popular pastime, next to break dancing and running over pedestrians (sometimes I wish I was being sarcastic). When I am there, I forget about the rising prices of oil. In Saudi, not too many people would really care about the price of oil. In fact, if they did, they would be very happy to see prices rise which could mean that some of that wealth could trickle down. Most of the citizens of Saudi live in a bubble of an oil utopia.

    Coming back to the list of gasoline prices, I just want to quickly list out the countries with the most expensive gasoline. Number one goes to Eritrea, at 190 cents a liter. Number two is Iceland with 186 cents a gallon and number three goes to Norway at 180 cents a gallon. Obviously there are other factors to look at when comparing these prices such as the cost of living at each of these countries. It is quite interesting to see how big the range is for the price gasoline (from 2 cents to 190 cents a liter). To put these numbers in perspective, the study stated that the price of gasoline in the U.S. was at 63 cents a liter.

    Meat is not the only food issue

    I read through the Meat Guzzler article posted by Brent earlier today, and I found it all very interesting. The article, as well as other posts related to food, got me thinking about how our food gets places; it doesn't just end up in the grocery store, but I had never really thought about it. So I looked into it.
    I found an interesting website called Sustainable Table This one particular article discusses how a concept called a food mile, which is the distance it takes for a piece of produce to go from the farm to your home, works. It compares chain supermarkets to local grocery stores, and the chains' food has to travel 27 times as many miles, on average. The produce at a big grocery store travels an average of 1,500 miles from the farm to us. This is why preservatives and other things are added to help our food make the journey.
    In the end, all of those miles our foods travel are aboard some vehicle which runs on fuel. Buying local, as the website suggests, reduces our foods mileage. I had never thought of my food in combination with energy, but it has a lot to do with it. Food is a major part of our lives, we eat a lot of it, which means a lot of food miles traveled and energy consumed.

    Austin Commuter Rail

    In response to "Money...Where??", I would say it's not going to efficient transportation infrastructure. As David mentioned in "A Better Way to Jumpstart the Economy", the infrastructure in the US is in desperate need of repair. The economy needs a boost to help morale and boost spending, especially since the buzz words in the media right now are "recession", "housing market decline", and "global warming". A tax benefit for everyone will help allay fears of a recession and global warming but when will we begin to look at the future?

    Austin began looking into the future in the 1990s when the Texas Legislature approved the commuter rail district but without any type of funding. It wasn't until 2003 that the Austin-San Antonio Commuter Rail District was finally federally financed and in 2005, voters approved the fund allocation for a commuter rail which was originally planned to open in 2010. The commuter-rail will take residents as far north as Georgetown into central Austin and even down into San Antonio through the use of existing Union Pacific lines which keeps costs down. That is if the Austin-San Antonio district can find enough funding. Even though voters approved the plan, no money was actually allocated to the project during the last Texas State Legislature session. If the commuter rail district was federally financed in 2003, how come no money has actually been allocated to the project? An answer to Austin's congestion problem (one of many) has been planned and even partially executed, but now we sit and wait in the long line of congestion in the legislature.

    Where is the money going? Into the pockets of oil companies and perhaps a small stipend back to our pockets, but not enough is going into existing and new infrastructure. Hopefully a closer look into our energy crisis will alert legislators that something must be done about our current transportation methods to limit carbon emissions, especially if Americans want to continue to live the suburbia dream.

    Pan America Energy finds oil reserve in Argentina

    This article announces the recent discovery of an oil reserve in southern Argentina. Pan America Energy, based out of Buenos Aires, is Argentina's 2nd largest oil producer and it found the new reserve in the Patagonian province of Chubut. The reserve is estimated to contain 120 million barrels of oil. This discovery is significant for Latin American in a time where years of low investment and a quick economic growth have resulted in low energy resources. The shortages have even forced the government to restrict energy supplies to industrials users at times.

    Aside from the benefits that Argentina will reap from this discovery, much of the oil produced will be exported, resulting in increased supplies in a number of countries. Of course, this can lead to cheaper oil prices. In 2007, Argentina was 13th among the top 15 countries that the United States imports oil from. The new reserve may put them much higher on this list in the future.


    Bonnie Beavers

    Organic Rankine Cycle

    The Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) is a technology that I recently heard about so I thought I'd share it with everyone else...

    First off, since there are alot of non-engineers who will read this, the Rankine cycle is the name of the steam power cycle. It's used worldwide to generate electricity by boiling water to create steam and running that steam through a turbine. Normal efficiencies that a non-regenerative Rankine cylce will reach is around 40-45%.

    Now, an Organic Rankine Cycle is the same thing, but instead of using water as the working fluid it uses substances such as pentane, butane, or refrigerants (think of a refrigeration cycle in reverse). By using these other working fluids the organic rankine cycle is able to operate a low temperatures ~100-500 C. This low temperature power cycle is useful because it can be employed as a waste heat recovery system. Large powerplants dump a significant portion of their available energy into the atmosphere by using a tall condenser stack simply because that energy is not cost effective to extract.

    This is one example of where the ORC could be employed to utilize this energy that would be otherwise wasted to generate more electricity and boost a plant's overall efficiency.

    A company called United Technologies currently manufactures a 225kW ORC system that is used in geothermal power plants. This unit was used by the geothermal plant in Chena, Alaska. You can check out info about it here. It operates at 165 F, and when it started in 2006 was the lowest temperature geothermal resource to be used for power production in the world.
    The possible applications for such low temperature power production are vast, but just the capability for waste heat recovery from such a system is intriguing to me.

    The True Cost of [insert energy source here]

    In class, we briefly discussed the difficulty in calculating the external cost of using petroleum as an energy source. As Dr. Webber said, it's impossible, for example, to seperate the defense related costs associated with securing Middle East oil from the defense costs associated with antiterrorism, protecting our allies in the region, etc.

    In fact, the Middle East would not be much more than sparecely populated desert if not for the oil resource there, and neither the U.S. nor the European powers before us would have gotten involved there over a century ago. And, as controversial a statment as it may be, the fact remains that the rise of organized terrorism is a direct result of decades of our millitary and economic intervention in the region, from propping up corrupt and brutal dictatorial regimes in Saudia Arabia, Iran, Iraq, and elsewhere, to funding and training anti-soviet militias like the Taliban, to overthrowing the first democratically elected regime in the Middle East - that of Iran's Mossadeq - in 1952, and on, and on...

    The point can thus reasonably be made that a portion of all of our security spending, from airport security to spying to all millitary spending, can be attributed to our consumption of Middle East oil, not just now, but for the last century. And, while it might seem like I'm stating the obvious, it amazes me how we go from not being able to calculate exaclty what that external cost is to talking about the market price of oil as if it is meaningful. As long as we continue to compare the price of oil with that of alternative fuels, or calculate the savings of a hybrid car based on the price paid at the pump, or any of the innumerable ways in which we calculate and compare fuel costs using obviously incorrect numbers - simply because we're not sure if the true cost is 2x or 10x the market price - we're continuing to prop-up a destructive, wasteful, and cost-ineffective energy paradigm that will continue to haunt our generation and those to come for decades.

    Bon Apetite...


    I would like some help on this one. The video and articles posted below are fun and give you a quick rundown on the issue.

    I would like to do some further investigation into these permanent bases being set up by the US in Iraq. It is certain that the US plans to be in not only Iraq, but many other Middle Eastern countries for at least the next 40-50 years. Why are these long term plans being made? Expand or die? I feel as if this is the underlying issue. We currently have 14 long-term bases built in Iraq right now with plans to consolidate the bases into four mega-bases. These will house over twenty thousand troops each for the continuing operations there in theater.

    Now, I'm convinced that the bases are to help ensure US longevity for the many years to come. I even believe that it is a preemptive strategy to fight the next great dilemma; "peak oil."

    So, to the title of the blog... Where is the money? This is the part where I would appreciate some responses or direction if anyone has any. The Iraqi oil funds or revenues were seized by the US and British governments who promised to be good stewards of the cash and to ultimately return it to the Iraqi people. However, about 8.8 billion us dollars were left unaccounted for in the good stewarding. Plus, I believe that the many large oil companies have achieved a stake in the US control of Iraqi oil. I believe the bases and the money are in close connection and go hand in hand with the idea keeping the US alive.

    The True Cost of [insert energy source here]

    In class, we briefly discussed the difficulty in calculating the external cost of using petroleum as an energy source. As Dr. Webber said, it's impossible, for example, to seperate the defense related costs associated with securing Middle East oil from the defense costs associated with antiterrorism, protecting our allies in the region, etc.

    In fact, the Middle East would not be much more than sparecely populated desert if not for the oil resource there, and neither the U.S. nor the European powers before us would have gotten involved there over a century ago. And, as controversial a statment as it may be, the fact remains that the rise of organized terrorism is a direct result of decades of our millitary and economic intervention in the region, from propping up corrupt and brutal dictatorial regimes in Saudia Arabia, Iran, Iraq, and elsewhere, to funding and training anti-soviet militias like the Taliban, to overthrowing the first democratically elected regime in the Middle East - that of Iran's Mossadeq - in 1952, and on, and on...

    The point can thus reasonably be made that a portion of all of our security spending, from airport security to spying to all millitary spending, can be attributed to our consumption of Middle East oil, not just now, but for the last century. And, while it might seem like I'm stating the obvious, it amazes me how we go from not being able to calculate exaclty what that external cost is to talking about the market price of oil as if it is meaningful. As long as we continue to compare the price of oil with that of alternative fuels, or calculate the savings of a hybrid car based on the price paid at the pump, or any of the innumerable ways in which we calculate and compare fuel costs using obviously incorrect numbers - simply because we're not sure if the true cost is 2x or 10x the market price - we're continuing to prop-up a destructive, wasteful, and cost-ineffective energy paradigm that will continue to haunt our generation and those to come for decades.

    Bon Apetite...

    A Better Way to Jumpstart the Economy

    President Bush and Congress are touting their economic stimulus package as a means to prevent the U.S. economy from falling into a recession. The stimulus package would give families tax rebates, essentially giving families money to promote consumer spending. I have a better idea, invest in infrastructure. Investing in infrastructure will not create the immediate jolt that extra consumer spending would but it will create jobs and and improve the long-term health of the economy. Spending on infrastructure creates resources that can be used to create more jobs and affect our energy consumption. Congestion on our roadways waste millions of gallons of gasoline and diesel a day. Smart infrastructure spending decreases congestion and encourages carpooling and mass transit use, reducing our nation's dependence on oil. Increased consumer spending will likely increase our balance of trade deficit because the U.S. imports so many finished consumer goods, further depressing the value of the dollar and potentially weakening the U.S. economy's long-term health.

    We are all well aware of America's infrastructure deficiencies. The American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Report Card explains what infrastructure is most in need of repair and what it will take to fix the problem. Spending money on infrastructure and creating jobs will create long-term growth in the economy and improve our quality of life and would be a great way to stimulate the economy.

    Skiing Green

    To a lot of people in the U.S., not necessarily Texans though, when the Winter season starts approaching the picture of powder laced ski slopes fills the head. Generally the people that enjoy skiing, snowboarding, and overall outdoor activities are environmentally conscious, but a lot of times we forget just how energy-intensive ski resorts are. Ski resorts operate snow machines that consume lots of energy and massive amounts of water, ski lifts, and many resort amenities including outdoor heated pools and hot tubs, and large hotels.

    This article from The Washington Post brings some of these energy-intensive acts to light and also mentions some measures that slopes are taking to be environmentally conscious. It specifically mentions Aspen for using biodiesel in it's snow-grooming machines (we'll save the argument over biodiesel for another day...) and installing solar panels. Also, a resort in Mass. has installed an on-site wind turbine used for meeting part of the resorts energy needs.

    It's also interesting to note that these resorts have a very specific interest in being environmentally friendly, as they are the ones that have their money making winter season reduced for every increase in temperature due to global warming. Being environmentally conscious lends itself to all activities, especially those which allow us to enjoy nature for all it has to offer. In the article Daniel Lashof, chief climate scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, puts it best by saying, "being a good environmentalist isn't about giving up the activities that we enjoy doing; it's about doing them smart."

    Can Anything Really Be Carbon Free?

    My fiance and I recently purchased equipment from Yakima to mount our bikes in our truck bed. The sticker on the outside of the package said "Carbonfree with" My first thought was, "I bet that makes more people buy this particular brand." But then I really got to thinking about what it would mean to be "carbon free."'s slogan is, "Reduce what you can. Offset what you can't." The organization accepts tax-deductible contributions and uses them to support carbon-reducing projects.

    While carbon offsets are a great idea, it still doesn't seem to me that anything could really be carbon free. Yeah, we can buy carbon offsets for all the carbon we end up producing, but does that include everything? What about the carbon emissions produced by the shipping of this bike mount? What about the carbon used in the steel that makes the bike mount in the first place? What about the carbon emissions from the production of the plastic packaging? It seems to me that this could continue all the way down to the carbon dioxide produced by the humans manufacturing and selling the bike mount.

    When you think about things in a life cycle analysis, carbon is inherent in nearly everything. Yes, I think carbon offsets would neutralize the major carbon emissions from manufacturing. Is that everything? I don't know. Which leaves me wondering, is anything really carbon free?

    Do we need a distinction between "carbon neutral" and "carbon free"? Or does it even make a difference to consumers beyond the energy-conscious citizen?

    Kenworth plans cleaner truck power

    This article describes an innovative movement by Kenworth. Operating vehicles with compressed natural gas or liquefied natural gas can offer improvements to emissions quality along with the dual ability to operate in either Otto Cycle (gasoline) or Diesel engines with some increased amount of exhaust gas recirculation (EGR).

    Another benefit to operating on natural gas is the increasingly competitive prices between diesel fuel and natural gas. Of course, we cannot assume that these prices are in a fixed trend, but for the foreseeable future this makes sense.

    During a study abroad experience in Argentina, I witnessed firsthand the operation of many automobiles that run on compressed natural gas. But unlike Kenworth, whose important plans include using LNG for large diesel trucks, compressed natural gas in Argentina was used in the tiniest of cars (there were not too many large trucks in Argentina like there are in the United States). These cars were specially outfitted to accept this form of fuel, and there were many stations around the country specially labeled for their distribution of GNC (gas natural compresificada).

    One glaring obstruction to this implementation in the United States is the lack of a supporting infrastructure to enable the technology to prevail. If I drove my natural gas vehicle around town, I don't know if I would have anywhere to fill up. However, with a concerted grassroots effort, we can help develop this technology here in the United States, and provide a cleaner alternative to our addiction to oil.

    Toilet to Tap & Revolting Grandmas

    I heard this tasty story on NPR on Friday.

    Orange County, California, has spent close to $500 million on a waste water purification plant that turns water water into drinking water. The plant produces 70 million gallons of drinking water a day, which meets 10 percent of the county's daily water requirement.

    As with many new efforts in the United States, of course there is opposition to using recycled wastewater, like that from a group called the Revolting Grandmas. And I am sure there is oppostion from a group against the Revolting Grandmas, probably because the group does not consist of grandmas alone, but also consists of moms, sisters, and some uncles.

    But I digress... According to the story, California spends 20 percent of its total energy consumption to move water from the north to the south. I was able to find some outdated information from a California Energy Commissions website that noted that in 2004, 15,000 GWh per year was used to pump and treat water.


    Dymaxion map: Cooperation Between Nations

    This time I would like to blog about a video that for me was very interesting because its about what it is the most important thing to reach a real solution to the world’s economic dependence on oil. For some people is the development of new technologies, but the solution must be about how to join the technologies already invented and especially how to make countries cooperate among themselves to be focused towards a common goal.

    As we know, United States is concerned not only because it is the largest consumer of oil and its economy depends on the correct ly supply, but also oil prices are going up, making this situation more critical. However, I believe solutions should be done it in form and not in substance, as is the Dymaxion map.

    This project was the result of an investigation 30 years ago, which states that the face of a potential crisis in the supply of oil, renewable energy should be interconnected. When there is a proper coordination between them, this helps to have an alternative source of energy to oil with very good consequences: jobs generation, motivates trade and world peace, improvement of the quality of life, among other things.

    Currently it is very common read and find information about the activities that major investment banks including Carlyle, JP Morgan, Citibank, etc. have. They are acquiring and injecting money into energy-related businesses, which undoubtedly will represent profitable business in a few years. Also we hear news related joint ventures between oil companies in order to compete for the extracting and distribution of oil. But what is about other matters like people needs?

    obama and coal

    It's no secret that Illinois has a lot of coal:

    Regional totals do not include refuse recovery
    U.S. Total: 1,162.8 Million Short Tons (2.8%)

    Figure ES1. Coal Production by Coal-Producing Region, 2006

    Figure ES1. Coal Production by Coal-Producing Region, 2006
    (Million Short Tons and Percent Change from 2005)
    Source: Energy Information Administration, Annual Coal Report, 2006, DOE/EIA-0584(2006) (Washington, DC, October 2007).

    It's also no secret that Barack Obama loves coal, and because of this love he has co-sponsored legislation to support projects focusing on the research and development of coal liquefaction. I don't have to explain why coal is bad, Obama says it in his energy plan:
    "Develop and Deploy Clean Coal Technology: Coal is our nation’s most abundant energy source and is a critical component of economic development in China, India and other growing economies. Obama believes that the imperative to confront climate change requires that we prevent a new wave of traditional coal facilities in the U.S. and work aggressively to transfer low-carbon coal technologies around the world. In the U.S. Senate, Obama successfully increased funding by $200 million for carbon storage in the fiscal year 2008 budget resolution."

    So, why is he promoting liquefied coal? Let's look at what's in the bill.

    Official bill summary from :
    The following summary is provided by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan government entity that serves Congress and is run by the Library of Congress. The summary is taken from the official website THOMAS.

    Coal-to-Liquid Fuel Energy Act of 2007 - Amends the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to include among the projects eligible for Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantees large-scale coal-to-liquid facilities that use a feedstock, the majority of which is domestic coal resources, to produce at least 10,000 barrels a day of liquid transportation fuel.

    Instructs the Secretary of Energy (Secretary) to make loans for use by recipients to pay the federal share of the cost of obtaining any services necessary for the planning, permitting, and construction of coal-to-liquid facilities.

    Directs the Secretary to promulgate regulations to support the development of coal-to-liquid manufacturing facilities and associated infrastructure on DOE and other federal lands, including military bases and military installations closed or realigned under the defense base closure and realignment.

    Amends the Energy Policy and Conservation Act to direct the Secretaries of Energy and of Defense to study and report to Congress on the feasibility and suitability of maintaining coal-to-liquid products in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (Reserve).

    Authorizes the Secretary to construct storage facilities in the vicinity of pipeline infrastructure and at least one military base.

    Amends the Energy Policy and Conservation Act to authorize the Secretary to acquire, place in storage, transport, or exchange coal-to-liquid products in the Reserve.

    Authorizes the use of certain funds by the Air Force Research Laboratory to continue support efforts to test, qualify, and procure synthetic fuels developed from coal for aviation jet use.

    Amends federal law governing Armed Forces fuel procurement to authorize the Secretary of Defense to enter into agreements with private companies to develop and operate coal-to-liquid facilities on or near military installations.

    Instructs the Secretary of Energy to implement a research and demonstration program to evaluate the emissions of the use of Fischer-Tropsch transportation fuel, including diesel and jet fuel.

    THOMAS Home | Contact | Accessibility | Legal | FirstGov

    Everyone, including Barack Obama, knows using coal for anything without capturing and sequestering the carbon would produce enormous carbon emissions because burning coal emits more carbon than petroleum or natural gas. But climate change is not our only concern about energy as Barack makes clear in his plan: "Our nation is confronted by two major energy challenges - global climate change and our dependence on foreign oil - both of which stem from our current dependence on fossil fuels for energy." If you agree that energy independence is important, then you would agree that to run our economy today we need liquid fuels that are not derived from foreign sources. So liquefying coal solves this problem, for now. But what about the future? Coal is not a renewable energy source, so this can't be better than a band-aid. After our coal runs out, which may be a long time from now, we'll either have to obtain liquid fuels from foreign sources again or find some at home. So we can say that liquefied coal addresses Obama's second concern in the short term, but what about climate change? It only makes sense to liquefy coal to make a liquid transportation fuel, otherwise, say for electricity generation, you would just burn the coal as is. As far as I'm aware, no technology exists or is even proposed to capture and store carbon from a vehicle's tailpipe, and without this technology running your car or truck on liquefied coal would certainly emit carbon dioxide and contribute to climate change.

    Liquefied coal makes sense for only one purpose: fueling our military. The bill Obama supports makes clear that this is one of the primary reasons for the bill. Our armed forces must have a domestically reliable and domestically produced source of liquid fuel if called to war. If Iran (or us) ends up doing something crazy, we'd better not rely on the Middle East for liquid fuels (not that we already do). But this is the only reasonable use for liquid coal and the bill vaguely states that we should research coal liquefaction for transportation, which is a very bad idea.

    What's frightening is that apparently this is what we got for now. There's no way I should be reading about a coal-to-liquid bill until I read about congress throwing a ton of money at real, long-term and sustainable solutions to our energy problems. It's not like we've exhausted our options; this is like going to war before even looking for a political solution.

    I searched Obama's energy plan for the words, "liquefied," "liquefy," "liquefaction," "liqu*" and found nothing. I find it a bit odd that Obama's plan for our energy future does not include his current plan for our energy future; He's trying to get energy legislation passed today as a Senator that apparently has nothing to do with the energy legislation he proposes to push as President. I watched the Democrat debate the other night and I don't remember one question about energy or climate change. If, for some reason, anyone starts talking seriously about these matters, I think Barack Obama should explain why he thinks coal liquefaction is a good idea.

    Fighting Ourselves

    After my first lecture in this course, I could not seem to get a few things Dr. Webber presented off of my mind. Every person I spoke with that day got to hear my view on the subject, and several interesting conversations came of it all....

    First of all, I had never heard of WWII being an "oil war". This idea intrigued me at first, but I didn't trust it really. Then, I spoke with Erin about the course she took during a study abroad that was entirely dedicated to proving the WWII and oil connection. I began to research a bit and came across the chapter linked above. The author sites a U.S. business with funding the Germans' progression towards war. He connects the Rockefeller family to "the major contribution made by Standard Oil of New Jersey to the Nazi war machine." Besides the war in Europe, I also discovered Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in response to the U.S. joining in embargo efforts to cut Japan's oil imports, that counted for 80% of their nation's totals. It all makes sense to me now, war always seems to be over love or commodities (as my wise father said). But I still have some questions: How come I never read about any of this in my History textbooks throughout school?
    Was this my own oversight, or is this information kept from us? Why do I think WWII was about saving the World from Hitler's wrath? Probably the same reason I would think the war in Iraq is about democracy and saving the World from "Terrorism", right?

    The other ideas that fascinated me were the quotes on our Department of Defense. I grew up in an Air Force family and I have always admired our nation's flying protectors. I never thought about how they are 57% of the World's single largest energy customer, but it makes sense. The military leader's of our great nation should have a philosophical struggle with the war we now find ourselves in. We are sending so many young men over to fight for and protect our oil interests in the Middle East, so we can continue fueling jet planes that are sent out on these "use or lose" missions so budgets are not cut for the future. It is obvious to me now that we have gotten way in over our heads, if the best and smartest of the USAF cannot figure this Catch 22 out yet. How do we get ourselves out of this vicious cycle of spinning our very expensive wheels? At what point do we say enough is enough, no one is winning here?

    In one last conversation about all of these conflicting ideas, I was lead to watch the documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. The movie presents some very interesting connections between the Bush family and the Middle East. The more I thought about everything, I realized similarities among events. The chapter linked above explains that Standard Oil faced charges of treason during WWII, for supporting the enemy. I immediately thought we should have charged Bush with treason (or at least the Carlyle Group), but is he not our leader, our Commander in Chief? I knew theatMoore's movie was created to invoke this angry reaction, and I know how emotional I can get about all this. But so much is clear now. We live in a World so intertwined economically, politically, and even ethically that it might be that we are committing treason against ourselves, our very own nation...

    Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler: More on food production

    Vincent Vega: “Come on, let’s go get a steak.”
    Mrs. Mia Wallace: “You can get a steak here, daddio. Don’t be a [square].”

    Well, not so fast, Mrs. Wallace. In accord with a few of our most recent posts regarding far-away food production and how energy intensive our palates have become, the New York Times has apparently been listening. This week’s Sunday edition features an article written by Mark Bittman – columnist and author of “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian” – entitled “Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler.” Even before reading the first sentence, the title forecasts his central theme: meat and oil are very related commodities. Both are subsidized by the federal government, demand rises for both as nations become more affluent, and both are something people are encouraged to conserve.

    He rattles off many of the problems associated with a heavy-meat diet, including unfavorable environmental (in both air and water), social, and health effects. He asserts over 10 percent of people on the planet suffer from hunger or malnutrition, yet the majority of corn and soy grown in the world feeds cattle, pigs and chickens. The problem here is inefficiency – anywhere from 2 to 5 times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption, and as much as 10 times for U.S. grain-fed beef.

    Some other key statistics to take from the article are as follows:
    1. An estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production.
    2. Livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases.
    3. Americans eat close to 200 pounds of meat, poultry and fish per person per year.
    4. U.S. livestock produces about 3 tons of manure for each American citizen.

    And so on, and so on. It’s an interesting article with a couple of interesting graphics, some alarming stats, and a call for a decline in meat consumption. Bittman is probably preaching to the choir for most of us, but this Sunday, at least the preacher's got an enormous audience. The author, by the way, is not a vegetarian. Neither am I, yet.

    Jules: “Hey, sewer rat might taste like pumpkin pie, but I’d never know, because I’d never eat the filthy ….”

    In the End, the Best Thing is to Cultivate One's Own Garden

    In response to the posts related to our faraway food production, I would add that the modern convenience of our food system has many other important costs beyond the unfortunate reliance on fossil fuels, including effects on our culture, our nutrition, and our national security.
    Food is by nature a cultural entity. Witness the various and diverse styles of cooking that developed in different parts of the world, related to the geography, climate, and local and seasonal availability of particular foods. For example, in Texas we are proud of our barbecue, just as we are proud of our roots in cattle ranching. Food plays an important part in families and communities - Thanksgiving turkeys, Christmas hams, spring asparagus, summer watermelon, fall pomegranates. These foods lose their meaning when they become readily available all year long. And as a society we become disconnected from the land, the seasons, and life in general outside our front door. It should not come as a surprise then to find that we treat the environment poorly given that we have so little direct relation to the land we live on.
    Good food is important for human nutrition. Nowadays, the primary focus of modern agriculture is on quantity, not quality. Farm Bureau's applauded themselves last year to note that, relative to the average paycheck, the amount of money spent on food per person in America was at an historic low. However, most of America is, by the standards of pre-modern man, malnourished. As proof of this statement, it is striking to note that pre-modern societies had almost no dental decay, and that their dental arch had enough space to accommodate all their teeth, including the wisdom teeth. Research in the 1920s and 1930s by Weston Price demonstrated that as primitive societies converted to modern foods (i.e. refined flour and sugar) overcrowding of teeth and dental cavities were prevalent in the next generation of children born. Nutrition directly affected bone development. We are not often reminded that in the early 20th century dental cavities were the single largest degenerative disease in modern society. It is commonplace nowadays to assume our wisdom teeth will be pulled and that most of us will need braces and require fillings for cavities, but it has not always been this way.
    Flour is an excellent illustration of this point. A grain is composed of the germ, bran, and endosperm. Most of the nutrition is in the germ and bran. However, for the purpose of modern trade and commerce whole flour spoils too quickly. Thus, the germ and bran were separated out and white flour was born, which can last virtually indefinitely, but which is primarily starch and has very little nutritional value. In the early 20th century in America, when this was accomplished, diseases related to extreme vitamin B deficiency became prevalent. However, by then flour companies were making a lot of money selling the germ and bran as livestock feed to fatten up animals. So rather than leave them in the grain, enriched white flour was developed, whereby vitamins and minerals were artificially added back, but which is still inferior in nutritional quality to whole flour. Thus, for the sake of international trade, which relies on cheap oil, we adopted as a society to eating devitalized flour.
    The emphasis on calories above all else, and the motivation for continued profit in agribusiness is directly related to the increased caloric consumption per capita in America. This increased caloric diet along with depleted nourishments in the food is directly responsible for our current diabetes epidemic. Thus does our food system and its relationship with cheap oil place even more reliance on our already bankrupt medical system. By subsidizing corn and soy, we indirectly subsidize soda pop, candy bars, and fast food. Altering our farm bill subsidies is far more important for addressing diabetes than any medical research we are currently undertaking.
    Finally, food is of importance for national security. Perhaps the most important national resource that we inherited as a nation was excellent soil health. Yet we have prescribed little value to the health of the soil now that we rely on fossil fuels as cheap fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and to run our tractors and farm machinery. And each year we flush more and more soil down the Mississippi. As our soil health has depleted, our food has become intimately reliant on fossil fuel not only for transportation, but also for production itself. The danger inherent in producing food dependent on a nonrenewable resource cannot be underemphasized.
    Modern agriculture pays primary attention to the levels of Nitrogen, Potassium, and Phosphorus in the soil because these are the primary ingredients necessary for fast plant growth. A complex web of soil biology and nutrients is reduced to N, K, and P - Fast growing plants are not necessarily more nutritional, and in fact there are often less vitamins and minerals in the food that we eat with respect to the past. For example, there are diminished vitamins A, D, and K in the butter that we use today because cows no longer eat fresh growing grasses from healthy soil.
    Note that I am not taken to romanticizing the past. Pre-modern agriculture and life often required a great deal of work and time to obtain food. And no doubt there were many other problems and immoralities in such cultures. Advances in medical science with respect to biological disease, improved women’s and human rights throughout much of the world, and greater amounts of leisure time are indeed excellent benefits in the world today. But I do believe that there is much that we can be critical about in our food system, and by being critical and creative we can construct alternatives and solutions. In the end, as a method to protect national security, obtain proper nourishment, and develop a better sense of community and relation to the land we live on, I believe it is best to cultivate one's own garden.

    What Are We Really Eating?

    I, too would like to comment on “Faraway Food Production,” along with the “Be Aware of Your Food Choices” post. I was thinking of another topic for my blog but, these two posts interested me. I recently read a book which introduced me to the Slow Food Movement. The Movement encourages people to use locally grown, organic produce, locally raised animals and local dairy products in their cooking as much as possible. By doing so they are being more “green” by eating food that has not traveled great distances, using fossil fuels to do so and by supporting small farmers. There are also the benefits stated in the two posts. Researching where our food comes from can open your eyes to another example of just how far reaching the fossil fuel issue is (and how hard it is to change). Not only is it used in transportation but for the growth of non-organic foods.
    The U.S. Department of Agriculture has put in place a set of national standards that food labeled "organic" must meet, whether it is grown in the United States or imported from other countries. No antibiotics or growth hormones are used in the animals used for meat and dairy. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides or fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients; a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet the standards.
    The USDA makes no claim on the nutrition benefits of organic food and the benefits of organic food in general are disputed. One example of a benefit would be the reduced use of the conventional pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. For example, not only is there concern about the chemical pesticides and fertilizers themselves in the environment but concern about where they are produced. These are made by chemical companies that have varying levels of standards enforced upon them based on what country their plant is in (even between the US and EU, not only developing countries), leading to varying levels of safety for the employees and the environment. There are differences in the period between inspections of the equipment and in the safety requirements in place to protect the surrounding community. And, of course, they use massive amounts of electricity. We can also take into account those plants used to produce the massive amounts of packaging used for the transportation and storage of our food.
    One can argue that these plants would exist anyway, that the chemicals used there will be used for something else. And knowing what we do about the world today, we can become consumed with questioning our every decision or we can make the choice to be conscious citizens and to maybe choose a few ways we can use our life to make an impact. If we think about all the food we have, we can remember there are people in the world worried about obtaining enough food for their families and have little care for where it comes from (and our energy choices have contributed to this). And while the farmer in another country may be using his land to grow food for us, he may not have the resources to grow food for his family if he were not paid for his work. But being aware of this situation gives us another option for a change in our daily lives. You can also watch this video about new pesticide laws and potential impacts in California on today.

    Saturday, January 26, 2008

    "Will you officially become an Astronaut?"

    The answer is yes, if you sign up for a ride on SpaceShipTwo, the first commercial space vehicle. Both the craft and its launching ports are well into production, as announced on January 24th. SpaceShipTwo will carry passengers to an altitude of over 100 km / 62.5 miles above the earth's surface, the international definition of "space", making them eligible to earn their Astronaut wings. Based on Burt Rutan's Ansari X Prize winning SpaceShipOne (2004), SpaceShipTwo is the first carrier in Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic commercial spaceline.

    I had the pleasure of attending Burt Rutan's 2004 presentation at the LBJ auditorium here on the UT campus. Truly impressed by his passion for unconventional innovation and his ability for going against the grain, I am once again pleased to know that his company Scaled Composites has considered the potential environmental impact of this venture. The New Mexico spaceport from where White Knight Two (the carrier for SpaceShipTwo) will be launched will be powered by renewable fuels. Press releases do not provide the details of what these fuels are, but I am assuming solar methods will be implemented to take advantage of the desert sun. Additionally, the White Knight's Pratt & Whitney engines will be powered by bio-fuels. Although we know that the "well to wheel" energy analysis for the venture may not be completely renewable, I believe that Rutan's approach to commercial spaceflight will try to minimize the environmental footprint as much as possible.

    What excites me more is that the elite clientele who can afford the $200,000 ticket may actually come back to Earth as reformed environmentalists. Or so Branson claims in the following excerpt.

    "It is often claimed that the modern environmental movement can be traced back to “Blue Marble” photograph of the Earth taken by the crew of Apollo 17 in 1972 and now one of the most widely distributed images of all time. Certainly, many astronauts of the past 45 years have returned to earth as confirmed environmentalists. We believe that the Virgin Galactic experience will have the same impact on many of those who travel with us, providing an important increase in environmental awareness and pressure for change."