Sunday, April 26, 2009

Greywater Reuse

We have talked a lot in class about the water-energy nexus. In fact, there was an entire lecture dedicated to the topic. I think this is a fascinating study.
Water is essential for all organisms, and is required by every sector of our society/economy. Electricity generation, refining, manufacturing, and construction uses large quantities of water. The U.S. is blessed with enough rain that water scarcity issues don't cross the minds of many Americans. However, in the western U.S. and in Australia, South Africa, northern Africa, and the Middle-East, significant water concerns arise from the cost and/or lack of freshwater supplies. Water scarcity, unlike the dangers from global warming, are real, quantifiable, and truly a matter of life or death.
Therefore, countries around the world and states in this country ought to promote greywater reuse in populated areas as a viable option to conserve water. Greywater can be recycled to irrigate lawns, irrigate parks and golf courses, fill fountains, and flush toilets in buildings and houses. Some home builders are already jumping on the "green" marketing band-wagon to sell their eco-friendly pre-fab houses ( The California companies manufacturing the homes mentioned in the article are selling houses that already include rainwater collection devices, greywater reuse treatment and plumbing, and tankless water heaters.
In terms of policy, states (or countries abroad) can offer tax rebates to people that buy grewater treatment devices for domestic or commerical purposes, can discount property taxes of those individuals or corporations that recycle greywater for flushing toilets, and can promote water conservation at public fairs that highlight the effectiveness and cost savings of greywater reuse. Austin Water Utility even has a toilet replacement program where you can receive a water efficient toilet that uses 1.6 gallons per flush for your old bowl ( Even though some urban areas in Florida, California, and Texas are improving conservation measures, more studies need to focus on cutting plumbing (requires energy to move water) and treatment (requires energy) costs. Currently, the price of water in the U.S. is too low for greywater reuse to gain widespread acceptance. People in the U.S. do not value water enough to go out of their why to save or recycle it.

From GDP to Wealth: Measuring Economic Success

Look up “GDP” and “Measurement” on nearly any Internet search engine and you will find a wide variety of criticisms for the way economists measure economic success. GDP, or GDP per capita, is the most commonly used index for gauging the health and future strength of a country’s economy, but a number of critics are concerned with several items that are left out of this important aggregate measure. GDP calculates the total amount spent on final goods and services in a region, including its net of exports minus imports. It does not, however, include a monetary assessment of that region’s natural capital (fossil fuel reserves, forests, fisheries etc.), a calculation of the financial impact that man-made pollution is causing to the environment, or even the normal depreciation that occurs in all man-made capital stock (such as buildings, vehicles, etc).

This challenge is difficult to meet precisely because it is so difficult to count and price the goods that nature provides. One recommendation comes from Partha Dasgupta, economics professor at the University of Cambridge, who believes that much can be gained by switching from GDP per capita to wealth per capita. He defines wealth as “the value of an economy’s entire productive base, comprising man-made capital, natural capital, knowledge, skills and institutions.” With this measure, it would be possible to define a sustainable economy as one capable of passing on at least the same amount of wealth to succeeding generations.

Dasgupta states that several economists and ecologists believe we must reverse our economic growth trends in order to slow global warming and environmental degradation. However, his alternative incorporates the natural environment and other capital depreciation into a measure that still allows for economic growth. As portrayed in data obtained from the World Bank below, there are significant differences in per capita trends in wealth and GDP. The Indian Subcontinent has shown greater GDP growth than the OECD average for the 30-year period between 1970 and 2000. However, the wealth per capita measure reveals that this growth in man-made capital (final goods and services) has not made up for significant losses in natural capital. In contrast, the OECD countries show roughly similar growth rates by each measure, indicating a more sustainable method of economic growth.

As noted above, it is difficult to quantify and ultimately calculate financial costs for the natural environment, and these World Bank numbers exclude several important elements: forests, ocean fisheries, freshwater, soil, wetlands and even the atmosphere’s ability to serve as a sink for pollution. With this data included, it is possible that all regions would show negative growth rates in wealth per capita.

People from around the world should know what the best scientific models estimate to be the costs of our current economic development. Even though it is difficult to model the depreciation of natural and man-made capital, I believe it is important that we begin to calculate even imperfect measures, provided the process is done with transparency and fairness across all regions. It is time to go beyond the few isolated examples (China calculated a “Green GDP” for 2004, and discontinued it after releasing its first annual result in 2006), and institute a global effort to model the total impact that our economic development has on both the environment and on future generations.

Partha Dasgupta, “Counterpoint: A Measured Approach,” part of the larger article “Economics in a Full World” by Herman Daly, Scientific American, September 2005. Available at:

Shrinking ice caps could be growing investment opportunity

Earlier this month, the collapse of an Antarctic ice bridge precipitated a flurry of reports warning of accelerated global warming. According to Katie Couric’s Notebook, “At the North Pole, new satellite photos show Arctic ice is melting so fast, many scientists now predict it will be gone within 30 years. Some researchers think it could disappear in just six.” This sounds like serious business.

Although I am an engineer and not a businessman, I want to share an investment idea. Maybe I’d do better in business if I didn’t post my idea on a public blog, but I’m going to do it anyway. As dissent in the scientific community about impending climate change grows progressively quieter, the ways to make money off of climate change seem to be multiplying rapidly. Investment opportunities in renewable energy sources have been touted for some time and their appeal continues to grow. The green product industry is positively booming. Green cleaning solutions, eco-friendly personal care items, environmentally responsible [insert product type] products—are selling very well. All of these investment opportunities, however, are aiming at mitigating our negative environmental impact and reducing the “harm” we do. What I am proposing today is different—it’s the dark horse, the forbidden fruit of the climate change investment portfolio. Put simply, I propose investing in global disaster.

Put less simply and less dramatically, I propose investing in entities which will facilitate adaptation to a changing climate—the companies that stand to make money if global warming plays out like it’s expected to. For example, companies that will put your house on stilts if you live in a flood-prone area could become more profitable as ocean levels rise. How about emergency housing? With more powerful storms, more people can be expected to lose their permanent homes and require temporary housing. Disaster relief in general seems like a promising investment area. And the list goes on.

The most optimistic projection in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report calculates a 1.8 degree Celsius temperature rise of average global temperature within the next 90 years. Even if CO2 concentration in the atmosphere were kept at the level it was in the year 2000, significant warming is still predicted. Many see climate change as inevitable, even despite our best efforts to reduce carbon output.

Calls to ramp up adaptation measures are beginning to be heard, but I believe there’s money to be made as more and more people realize that along with our climate, our lives are going to change, and a slew of previously unneeded and unknown industries will become profitable.

Pulling the Plug on Callaway II

The first of the new 26 nuclear power, the Callaway II, was suspended indefinitely last Thursday because the company financing it, AmerenUE, couldn’t secure financial stability from the state of Missouri before it began construction. According to KOMU and the New York Times, what really killed the plant was that the energy company couldn’t raise the electricity rates now to help pay for construction because of a law passed in 1976. AmerenUE had placed a bill in congress to overrule the law but withdrew it because it wouldn’t cover the cost of the new plant. The plant would have cost $6-$8 billion dollars and would have been the largest development in Missouri history. In this sort of economic turmoil, it’s no wonder that a project as big as this would be put on hold. On average, a new power plant costs $3600 to $4000 per installed kW. Companies have been financing this by charging customers 30 cents per watt the first thirteen years and then18 cents per watt for the remaining lifetime of the plant (the average resident pays about 10 cents/kWh.)

In the end though, it sounds like it’s all about politics. Those opposed to the bill thought it would raise the energy prices too much and they would be passing ‘the risk of a failed construction project onto the customer’ (Powering Down, 2009). The Sierra Club, a group strongly opposed the bill, said they will oppose any new proposals for power plants in Missouri. They would rather meet Missouri’s energy demands with renewable sources such as wind or solar. Ginger Harris, chair of the executive committee of the Missouri Sierra Club, thinks that if the money for the Callaway II project was put towards solar, that Missouri could reach a lot more customers and create a lot more jobs. But AmerenUE argues that there isn’t enough wind or solar in Missouri to meet the rising energy demands. Ameren UE Communications Executive Mike Cleary says that the only option the company was considering was nuclear, coal or natural gas. Now that nuclear is off the table, the only alternatives are energy sources that are more pollutant, exactly the kind of things that the Sierra Club hoped to avoid.

Correlation: Energy and Quality of Life

Recently I was reading an interesting chapter from the book Energy at the Crossroads written by Vaclav Smil. The chapter is named Energy Linkages. In here I found an interesting study about Energy and quality of life.

Smil mentions that “all the commonly used measures of energy use are just handy indicators of the performance and the dynamics of processes whose aim should not be merely to secure basic existential needs or to satisfy assorted consumerist urges but also to enrich intellectual lives and to make us more successful as a social and caring species” (Smil, 2008). With this Smil suggests that the we, the society, should find ways to be less disruptive to the maintenance of irreplaceable environmental services. In addition, Smil mentions that high quality of life, physical and mental, is the goal; rational energy ise is the means of its achievement.

Furthermore, I got interested in how the author links and correlates critical measures of human well-being in 57 of the most populous countries. These correlations are based on nutrition, health care, and education. Each one of these countries analyzed had more than 15 million inhabitants, account for nearly 90% of the world’s population.

First, Smil studied the infant mortality and life expectancy. He found that during the late 1990s the lowest infant mortalities were in the most affluent parts of the world. For example, Japan showed only 4/1, 000 live births; Western Europe, Northamerica and Oceania 5 to 7 deaths for every 1000 persons; and the highest infant mortality was found in African countries with 100/1000 inhabitants. These findings were correlated with the amount of energy consumed by each region or country. The acceptable infant mortality corresponded to annual per capita energy use of 30 to 40 GJ. But in those countries were consumed 60 to 110 GJ were with among lowest countries with less infant mortality. The correlation was -.67.

In second place Smil related the Energy consumption and the Female life expectancy at birth. He found that during the 1990s the average female life expectancy in Africa was 45 years where most of the poor countries are located. In contrasts, in wealthy nations like Japan, Canada or European nations, the average female life expectancy at birth was 80 years. Here, countries with energy consumption of 45- 50 GJ p/p had female life expectancy of 70 years old. And, in those countries with average energy consumption of G0 – 110 GJ p/p were around 80 years old. The correlation was .71

In third place, I got interested with the correlation founded between energy consumption and average food availability. Here Smil states that “effective food rationing can provide adequate nutrition in a poor nation even as the variety of foodstuffs remains quite limited while high per capita food supplies in rich countries are clearly far beyond any conceivable nutritional needs and dietary surveys shows that as much 40% of all food available at retail level is wasted” (Smil, 2000 cited in Smil, 2003). He found that minimum adequate supply of food and good variety of 12MJ/day was on those countries with per capita energy consumption between 40 to 50 GJ.

These correlations make people think of the increasing disparity among nations and how energy is correlated directly to their quality of life. I believe that public policies of any country should be oriented to improve the quality of life of its citizens covering the basic needs. It also makes people think how fortunate they might be in comparison to others and how one person could start taking actions to save energy and help others as well.

Literature reviewed
Smil, Vaclav, Energy at the crossroads, The MIT Press, London, England, 2003.

Energy and the German Perspective

Earth Day with Obama

So Earth Day just passed us by not too long ago…I was wondering if President Obama was going to cease the opportunity to try and give the nation a sense confidence in our time of pressing energy and economic concerns.  He delivered.

Obama made blanket comments at times during his speech, such as, "The choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy -- the choice we face is between prosperity and decline," he added. "We can remain the world’s leading importer of oil, or we can become the world’s leading exporter of clean energy.”  I thought it was genius of him to grab the attention of everyone by first relating energy to the economic crisis.  I honestly have never thought of the U.S. as being the big exporter of clean energy.  This proposal can do nothing but give hope to everyone…saving our country by creating jobs that help the environment.  He takes it a step further by proclaiming that the U.S. will lead the 21st century global economy.  Hopefully his words of such confidence and hope are all realistic. 

The mindset that should be maintained throughout the next several decades is: how do we solve our nation’s energy needs without compromising jobs or the wellbeing of our environment?  I believe Obama is on target so far.  He proposes green energy ideas and continuously supports his proposal with calculated effects.  For instance, on Earth Day he said that federal waters would be opened to significant investments in clean energy – offshore wind turbines.  And coastal states in the region of the offshore wind farms would receive almost 30% of the royalties generated from the production of electricity. 

Obama wants $15 billion to be allocated over the next 10 years for developing wind farms, solar energy, and geothermal energy.  He also wants to boost clean coal technology, similar to the British efforts, which are allowing large percentages of carbon to be captured and stored in the ground (read more here). 

There is one industry that probably found the Earth Day propositions vital but disappointing…the oil industry.  "As part of this comprehensive policy, we must crack down on the corporations that pollute the water we drink and the air we breathe […] tackle global warming and its potentially catastrophic effects.”  We all know that the petroleum industry is responsible for a large chunk of the carbon emissions produced every day.  It is only a matter of time before regulations become more strict on the effects of producing petroleum products. 

Overall, Obama’s message was sent loud and clear, that he is not going to sit back and watch our nation spin its wheels when there are so many opportunities involved with green energy – a message that was much needed and hopefully not taken lightly. (more…).

Harnessing the Power of the Mighty Mississippi

Hydrokinetics can be defined as: “the branch of hydrodynamics that deals with the laws governing liquids or gases in motion.” [1] It is not a newly devised concept. Works discussing this topic date back ages, such as George Minchin’s 1892 work, Hydrostatics and Elementary Hydrokinetics.

Currently, there are numerous methods being used to harness the energy of moving fluids—including hydro-, wind-, and wave power. The use of in-river turbines, however, is a relatively young field and one that has been gaining some interest as of late. The first in-river hydrokinetic project just got off the ground within the last year. [3, 4]

The Mississippi River and its tributaries constitute one of the largest river systems in the world. As many as 31 US states and 2 Canadian provinces contribute watershed. Near the end of the river system, in New Orleans, the average flow rate of the Mississippi River is roughly 600,000 cubic feet per second—an equivalent of 166 semi-trailer truckloads of water each and every second. [2]

This massive volume of river water quietly roars by the Crescent City 24 hours per day 7 days per week, going unnoticed by many. In the last few years, though, numerous groups of people have tossed around the idea that the Mighty Mississippi may actually be capable of providing a very potent source of energy to be tapped. There are multiple proposed sites for hydrokinetic projects along the Mississippi River between St. Louis, MO, and New Orleans, LA. [5]

One of the proposed benefits to this alternative energy source is the lack of intermittency—the river is constantly flowing, albeit at varying flow rates. This is in contrast to the sometimes unpredictable stagnations in winds. There are ecological concerns, however, about what massive turbines could potentially do to local wildlife and fisheries in the river. Ultimately, however, not enough is known yet about this young field as to its viability as a clean, alternative source of energy.

[1] "hydrokinetics." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 26 Apr 2009. Link.
[2] “Mississippi River Facts.” National Park Service, US Dept of the Interior. 23 Feb 2009. Link.
[3] “Hydropower – Industry Activities.” Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. 10 April 2009. Link.
[4] Thapaliya, R. “A MN city seeks approval to operate first in-river hydrokinetic project.” Hydropower Reform Coaltion. 27 June 2008. Link.
[5] Thapaliya, R. “In-river Hydrokinetics – Frequently Asked Questions.” Hydropower Reform Coalition. 21 August 2008. Link.

Revolutionizing US Transportation

US transportation sector is one of the most oil exhaustive of all oil consuming end use areas in US. It consumes almost 70% of the total oil consumption in US, of which 3/4th is consumed on highway transportation. Highway transportation in US is very energy intensive, though technology has advanced in the areas of safety and fuel economy, but the overall oil consumption in the sector has increased over the years. It seems almost imperative now, that to reduce oil consumption (energy consumption) in transportation, railways will prove to be a viable option. 

Recently, in a press release on 16th April, the US President announced his plans for a high speed passenger trains. 

“The report formalizes the identification of ten high-speed rail corridors as potential recipients of federal funding. Those lines are: California, Pacific Northwest, South Central, Gulf Coast, Chicago Hub Network, Florida, Southeast, Keystone, Empire and Northern New England. Also, opportunities exist for the Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston to compete for funds to improve the nation’s only existing high-speed rail service.

According to the release, $ 13 billion would be provided from the Federal funds to develop this mass transit system ($ 8 billion from the stimulus bill and $ 1 billion each year for 5 years), which is basically regional in nature, as can be seen in the figure above. The investment will drip in with $ 1 billion every year for 5 years to give a jump start to the project. It is quite clear from such an initiative that the government plans to develop a good efficient energy saving system for transportation. President Obama went on to say “My high-speed rail proposal will lead to innovations that change the way we travel in America.  We must start developing clean, energy-efficient transportation that will define our regions for centuries to come.” The point in question is that, this project would equate to remove 1 million cars from roads, which would not only save a lot of fuel, but also contribute towards reduce CO2 emissions.

Even after such a huge impetus to roll out these high speed passenger trains, with the launch of plug in hybrids and electric cars in general, I wonder if this rail transit system would prove as economical and as energy efficient as plug-in hybrids are ? Initial capital investment is heavy in both, but which one proves to be more economical will hold the key for America’s future way of transportation. For PHEV’s we already have a well developed highway infrastructure, while the infrastructure for such high speed rails is being built now. I guess, speed holds the key in this case, present rail transportation has two problems 1. It is not as economical as driving a car and 2. It has speed limitation imposed. With high speed passenger trains rolling in, speed problem is almost solved but nothing can be said about how economical would  it prove eventually.


Clean Coal Revolution

Most of us involved in energy know that coal is a vital source of energy for the world. It provides
for at least one third of the world’s electricity, and more will be used as population continues to
increase. However, coal is considered to be one of the dirtiest sources of energy. There are several types of coal, each type varying in carbon composition. Some coal contains 97% carbon. When coal is burned, the carbon is released into the air along with several other pollutants. Countries today are trying to regulate this process due to the obvious negative effects it has on the environment.

Britain has recently set a huge precedent in carbon regulations with its energy policies pertaining to coal-fired power stations. Ed Miliband announced Thursday that no more power stations powered by coal would be built in the UK unless 25% of their greenhouse gases can be captured and buried. By the year 2025, all coal-fired power stations built in the UK will have to capture 100% of their greenhouse gases. Installing carbon capture capabilities on all carbon plants will cost about £1bn for each plant. This cost will be supplemented levies on fossil fuel electricity generation. Residents of Britain could in turn see a 2% rise in electricity bills, which would be well worth the money.

It seems that Britain takes great pride in leading this revolution of stern regulation on carbon
capture. New government leaders have impressed many people with their strong attention to detail when dealing with environmental issues. It’s kind of funny to see organizations like Greenpeace agreeing with and applauding government decisions dealing with the degree of concern for our environment. “At last Ed Miliband is demonstrating welcome signs of climate leadership in the face of resistance from Whitehall officials and cabinet colleagues. He is the first minister to throw down the gauntlet to the energy companies and demand they start taking climate change seriously," said John Sauven, Greenpeace UK's director.

Miliband does give a disclaimer stating the reason for the new regulation not requiring 100% capture of the carbon released from the coal plants. He says that it is not reasonable to expect this new technology to be that efficient from the start. The carbon capture process has to prove itself in large-scale processes before regulations can be pushed even further. Reports say that these new carbon regulations will not stop all environmentalist and climate change activists from protesting, as it shouldn’t. But I’m sure they can’t help but be a little pleased by the progress they are seeing.

I think it is extremely responsible for the “leader of this revolution” to not only set high standards for the present, but to set even higher standards of 100% carbon capture for the future. This move, tactic, (whatever you want to view it as) will have great influence on others countries around the world, especially the U.S.

My driveway is Ferrari-ready!

I just had to share this recent piece, "Can Coal be Earth-Friendly?" from one of my favoritest shows. The pieces are always quite well-done, but this one is worth watching for that one great new favorite quote!

April 22, 2009: EARTH DAY

As everyone should know, last week was Earth Week 2009. UT was definitely active in recruiting student participation, with events like Plant a Tree Releaf Ceremony or Meet Captain Planet and get your picture taken! Here is the full list of UT's Earth Week Activites.

Similarily, Austin schools of all levels participated in some form or fashion to celebrate Earth Week and increase student awareness of environmental issues. Many elementary and middle and high schools' efforts were mentioned in Thursday's Austin American-Statesman, Commuting to school, the Earth Day way.

The article focused on children from Doss Elementary bicycling, scooting, skating or walking to the school instead of having their parents drive them. Apparently, the effort was a big success. At Highland Park Elementary, a teacher figured about 85percent of students walked at least part-way to school Wednesday. Doss Elementary also organized "Black Out Monday", where teachers turned their lights off for a full hour, and "Trash Free Tuesday", where students brought their lunches in reusable bags and ate with reusable utensils.

Many others were also recognized in the article. A first grade class at Allison Elementary cleaned a park playground. Ridgeview Middle School accepted old computers to be refurbished and donated to children. The nonprofit group Keep Austin Beautiful taught fourth graders at Kiker Elementary School about litter clean up. Sixth graders at O. Henry Middle School built a campus garden, and Seniors at Akins High School left on Friday for a weekend-long beach clean-up in Galveston.

It was nice to read about the numerous ways students of all ages gave so much of themeselves to Earth Day this year, and how fun they had doing it. Now, if only Earth Day could happen every day!


Texas Senate approves solar energy incentive program

By Terrence Stutz, The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN: Legislation that would create a $100 million-a-year state program to encourage use of solar energy and require homebuilders in new subdivisions to offer solar energy to home buyers won approval from the Senate on Tuesday.

The measure, which would also set up a loan program for public schools to install solar systems, would be funded through a fee on all energy bills in the state. Homeowners would pay a fee of 20 cents a month, while large businesses would pay $20 a month.

"We take pride in the fact that Texas is recognized as the national leader in renewable energy, especially wind generation," said Sen. Troy Frasier, R-Horseshoe Bay, author of the bill.

"This legislation allows our state to become more energy dependent and meet our renewable energy goals through the installation of solar generation."

Senators voted 26-4 to approve the measure, which now goes to the House.

Fraser said the $100 million-a-year incentive program, which would operate for at least five years, would provide a "jump start" for the use of solar energy in homes and businesses.

The Public Utility Commission will decide how to distribute the incentive money, which will be used to pay for up to one-third the cost of installation of solar panels and related technologies.

When combined with existing federal tax credits of up to 30 percent, the legislation would make solar energy more feasible for thousands of Texas families, according to experts.

"This bill would put Texas on the map when it comes to solar power," said Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger. "We have the sun, we have the technological know-how. Now we'll have a market that that can make Texas a world leader in solar power."

Besides requiring that home buyers in new subdivisions be offered the option of solar energy, the bill also would prohibit homeowners associations from having policies that ban the installation of solar panels on residences.

The bill also would provide rebates for solar products manufactured in Texas and establish net metering policies that require customers to receive real-time market price for energy that is exported from them by a retail electric provider.

Metzger said with Texas' tremendous amount of sunlight, the state could become a world solar leader, creating thousands of manufacturing, engineering and installation jobs, and attracting billions of dollars of investment to the state.

"Texas can have a great deal of control over how rapidly solar power becomes cost competitive," he said. "By getting in on the ground floor of this new market, Texas can also benefit economically."

Source: Dallas Morning News

Cold Fusion Redux?

As we all were preparing our podcasts and papers over the past month, I believe an interesting bit of news may have passed by the class undetected. It appears the specter of cold fusion has reared it's head again, twenty years to the day after Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons made their infamous annoucement that they had achieved cold fusion at room temperature.

Navy researchers have appeared to replicated Fleiscmann and Pons results from two decades ago, and announced their results to an American Chemical Society conference in Salt Lake City in March. Their research focused around an electrochemical experiment using palladium chloride and deuterium. When an energized electrode was placed in solution, neutron particles were observed for no explainable reason. The particles appear to have a signature "track" that could only be explained by some sort of nuclear process.

So why is this important? Nuclear fusion is the process by which stars like our sun provide almost limitless energy. Humans have replicated the process here on earth (think of the the Hydrogen Bomb). The problem is that to sustain a controlled nuclear reaction is very difficult with temperatures reaching millions of degrees Fahrenheit. If a room-temperature mechanism could be discovered to fuse heavy water, the world's energy problems would basically cease to exist. Basically this is the holy grail of energy technology.

So is this the real deal? Not exactly. Physicists are still skeptical that this is a low energy nuclear reaction phenomenon. According to Rice University physicist Paul Bradley the study "fails to provide a theoretical rationale to explain how fusion could occur at room temperatures. And in its analysis, the research paper fails to exclude other sources for the production of neutrons." Still, something strange is appears to be going on and futher research could be warranted to explain the presence of neutrons in these experiments.


A green house?

The election of Obama opened a new era for energies and pollution associated with it. There are around 112 millions houses in the US [1], and less than 1% of them are enough well insulated. A lot of saving can be made for the houses as for the buildings as Dr Lang presented to us during the lecture on green building. Fossil fuels are getting more expensive than before

First, an energy audit needs to be done on the house to see if the insulation is good, if there is any leak because of the door, the windows or the attic. This is what Tom Zeller from the New York Times did with his house [2]:

Make a house more efficient can cost a lot of money, so priorities have to be taken. The main sources of energy consumption must be removed which consist of air sealing door, windows, attic, basement etc. A good insulation in a house can save a lot of money by reducing the consumption of heating or air-conditioning. Typically, 25% of heating or cooling is lost in nature and is not used to heat the house [3]. in the case of Tom Zeller, just to make the insulation of windows, door, basement and attic is costing around $4,000. That's a lot of money that you will get back by a smaller heating consumption.

If you got more money, you can spend it also by creating electricity with solar panels on your roof. Some states will have some incentives as rebates, low-interest loans, state tax credits and exemptions [4], so it might not cost you so much to install these panels and starting to save money.

To have a really efficient house, the best is to build it this way; it is hard and maybe impossible to make a house after its construction zero-emission greenhouse gas. The conception has to be good from the beginning and especially the choice of materials to maintain a good insulation. Of course, all houses in the US cannot be destroyed and built again, but in my opinion, everybody owning a house can start reducing emissions and saving money by having a better insulation in its house.





Future Proof Jobs for Today's Market

I read an article on Popular Mechanic last week. The title of the article is “ 10 Future Proof Job You Can Get Right Now”. Here is the Link. (
It is a very interesting article. The article shows 10 different jobs that are currently hot in the market and the companies that associate with those jobs will continue to grow even during the financial crisis today. It is not surprising that 5 out of 10 jobs are directly related to energy. Here are the descriptions of them.
1) Zero-Energy Home Architect: combine sustainability methods with architect design to enable home of building to have a zero net energy.
2) Heat and Power Mechanic: Saving energy by using the excessive heat developed by the power plant for additional water heating or reheating and climate control.
3) Energy Engineer: Redesign by increasing system efficiency and reducing overall energy consumption.
4) Wind Explorer: Wind turbine installation in the U.S. and developing country. Research and development opportunity in wind turbine technology in varies University.
5) Battery Engineer: Design the next generation battery for hybrid cars for U.S. car manufactures.
President Obama’s energy plan perhaps has a lot to do with the popular job demand is energy sectors. Here are some of his programs that are currently involved.
1) President Obama is currently developing a program to lease the federal water for wind energy and ocean current energy.
2) President Obama’s tax credit on PHEV cars. He plans to put over 1 million PHEV cars on the road by 2015.
3) The adoption of zero-net energy homes and building in California that could become a model for rest of the states and the world.

Perhaps the economic crisis that we face today is actually beneficial to the researches and developments in sustainable energy sector. By seeing this trend, I believe that the future development in sustainability technology program will continue to flourish.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Oil Giants forgetting Green ideas

Oil Giants forgetting Green ideas

US Government plans to spend $150 billion in the next ten years on the quest for a clean energy future. However, Giant oil companies have forgotten their Green initiatives: Shell stopped its projects related to wind, solar and hydrogen. Shell’s only efforts in renewable energy will focus on Biofuels. British Petroleum has significantly reduced its renewable energy research.

Green energy seems to be only a PR/advertising tool for Oil Giants. Since 2004, Shell invested $1.7 billion on alternative energy sources but its investment in oil and gas sum $87 billion. The top five oil companies have contributed with about 10% of the total amount spent on renewable sources, the remaining 90% was invested by corporate investors and capital funds.

In my opinion, Federal Government is doing a good job providing funds to provide incentives for the development of clean energy alternatives. In my opinion, it would be more effective to establish a price on CO2 emissions: Oil companies would really focus its efforts towards clean energy sources because their profits could be damaged if they don't avoid pollution.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Battery Swapping Robot Stations: An Alternative to Plug-in Hybrids?

A company called Better Place out of California thinks it has a good alternative to plug-in hybrids or traditional all-electric vehicles. Rather than having to always plug in a vehicle to charge the battery, the company will set up a series of "refueling" stations whereby the battery can be swapped out and replaced with a fully-charged battery in the same amount of time it takes to fill up on gas. The batteries will be mounted underneath the vehicle using the same type of hooks used to hold bombs onto military aircraft and a robot will be able to swap batteries in about 45 seconds at these Better Place battery stations. It's an interesting premise that has managed to get significant funding, $300 million worth, as well as Renault-Nissan to agree to produce vehicles that use a battery system compatible with Better Place's robots.

If a large enough customer base were established it could conceivably be cheaper than plug-in hybrids or all-electric vehicles as it would avoid the expense of having the internal combustion engine and associated hardware while possibly requiring less batteries than standard all-electric vehicles, if customers are willing to accept less electric range with battery swap capability.

Alternatively, if battery prices are too expensive, then plug-in hybrid vehicles would be more economical and if battery prices are too inexpensive (a smaller risk), then electric vehicles with non-swappable batteries with longer electric ranges may be more cost effective. In the end it will come down to a combination of customer utility and cents per mile.

One of the challenges would seem to be the chicken and the egg problem that plagues any type of new fueling infrastructure whether it be hydrogen or battery swapping robot stations. For the system to be economical it seems that a large number battery swap stations would need to be in place and a large number of customers paying to use these stations. To minimize this issue, Better Place is starting off in smaller countries such as Denmark and Israel, which require a smaller number of stations. Customers do also have the option to charge at home.

Another factor potentially impacting the long term commercial viability of this system is energy storage technology. If breakthroughs in ultra-capacitors or high rate capability batteries allow for electric vehicles that can be charged in minutes instead of hours then using a robot to change the battery becomes unnecessary. Although this type of technology may be available in the lab, it is likely a ways away from making it onto vehicles and so is probably not a near-term threat to their business model.

A more pressing question is whether customers will spend tens of thousands of dollars on a vehicle from a start-up company that at any point could go bankrupt, leaving them with a vehicle and no robot swapping stations in which to change their battery.

Thompson, Clive "Batteries Not Included" NY Times, 16 April 2009.

Better Place

LaMonica, Martin "Q&A: Better Place's Electric Car Plan, Brilliant or Nuts?" CNET 24 April 2009

Wildfires are Another Source of Greenhouse Gases

            As summer approaches, most of us are thinking about relaxing and going to the pool. But, there is something else that comes with the summer months: wildfires. Wildfires are a cause of climate change that doesn’t get much notice. They are speeding up global warming because greenhouse gases, as well as other pollutants, are released when vegetation and trees burn. We can only expect forest fires to grow as an environmental problem; forest fires pollute, causing global warming. In turn, global warming dries out the climate causing more forest fires.

Forest fires emit a great deal of carbon dioxide. A study by researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and at the University of California estimated that fires in the U.S. release about 290 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, which is about 4-6 percent of the total amount of carbon dioxide that the nation releases through fossil fuel burning (Live Science). There are also other pollutants that are produced by wild fires such as black carbon soot and mercury. Black carbon soot absorbs the sun’s radiant energy and heats the ground, adding to global warming (San Francisco Chronicle). Mercury from forest fires in the U.S. contributes 30% as much as the nation’s mercury as the nation’s industrial resources, according to scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (SOP). Mercury is very toxic, so there are concerns about it infiltrating the water system and harming the ecosystem (SOP).

Jennifer Balch of UC Santa Barbara pointed out that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has limited the role of wildfires in its assessments of climate change in the past (San Francisco Chronicle). But now the effects of forest fires are starting to get more attention and scientists are recommending that forest fires be taken into account in global warming calculations (San Francisco Chronicle).

            Researchers at Texas Tech and the University of California, Berkeley, have predicted that wildfire patterns across the globe will gradually shift due to climate change (Lubbock). They predict that wild fires will start occurring in states other than California, Texas, and Oklahoma, and other areas such as Nevada, Idaho, Montana, and the western Great Lakes region will become more susceptible to wildfire outbreaks from 2010 to 2039 (Lubbock Avalanche Journal). They also predict that the frequency of wildfire outbreaks in Texas will decrease or change little within this time frame, but will increase after, especially in the Texas Panhandle.

It is important to realize that forest fires are not secluded to the U.S. Thousands of acres are deliberately burned in tropical areas each year to make room for farms. This accounts for about 1/5 of all the human-caused greenhouse gas emissions every year! (San Francisco Chronicle)

It’s good to know that researchers and scientists are starting to become more serious about accounting for greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions due to forest fires. Unfortunately deforestation and wildfires will be hard to control and prevent. Many of the countries practicing deforestation have unstable governments and according to Misty Wilburn of the Texas Forest Service, about 90% of the fires in Texas are caused by humans (Lubbock Avalanche Journal). Without limiting ourselves to nature, how can we control ourselves?