Archive for February, 2008


Regarding the previous post on “The French Chernobyl”, it has caused some unfortunate confusion. The title of that post was coined by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to refer to the extremely serious PCB contamination of the Rhone river in France. These chemicals are or were used as coolants and insulators for industrial (and some consumer) transformers and capacitors. The massive extent of the pollution and its poisoning of local fish (for human consumption) led to the rather dramatic quote from WWF. This unfortunate situation in France is not a recipe for sustainable development!

Please read the comment on the preceding post from reader rengler and my response, which I also used as the basis for text added at the end of an edited, improved version of the article- I wasn’t clear enough with the first version. Thanks, JKB.


Note:  please see also my Feb 24 post, which clarifies this article a bit more.

“Years of unchecked pollution in France’s Rhone River have taken their toll with the recent discovery of PCB levels 10-12 times the safe limit in the river’s fish.” The World Wildlife fund has called this the “French Chernobyl”. Please read the comments for important clarification.

Given the recent comment about French responses to power and energy needs (with nuclear power) by a reader on this site, and my sense that French policy has been carried out without regard for the environment in some cases, I thought I would add this to the picture of an industrial situation that is seriously dangerous in France. Industrial chemicals used in generators and other electrical equipment have been leaking toxic PCB chemicals into the Rhone river for a long time. The fish are unsafe to eat.

We have plenty of problems with the environment in the USA, resulting from our own companies and from government choices (or abdication of responsibility). I am simply not in favor of energy policies that make environmental problems worse, which is why I do not see nuclear power as a viable answer to our energy needs.

The first version of my blog entry on this story had some inaccuracies, for which I apologize.

© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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Clarification from my response to the comment by rengler:

As I mentioned, the term “French Cherbonyl” came from the WWF, and I was merely reporting this.

My point in the first place was to respond with more information to a previous comment by a reader, where a laundry list of countries that handle energy in supposedly better ways than we do in the US was presented. One example was how the French use nuclear power. I objected that these countries are often ruining their own environments with these approaches. I also mentioned that the French have to use the army to force construction of nuclear plants and transportation of waste through their own country.

The article cited in this post was meant to be an example of how French environmental policy is not necessarily something to hold up as a shining example, while at the same time trying to point out that this can be said for US practices and policies (which aren’t necessarily in agreement, as my reports of the need to sue the Federal government to obey Federal law and Federal court rulings indicate, for example in the case of pesticide use affecting Northwest salmon).

The use of PCBs is not linked to nuclear power, as you state: it is linked in a nonessential way to a wide range of cooling and insulating applications in electrical transformers, capacitors and other industrial electrical equipment, as you well know. People who want to read more on the subject can look at this summary sheet: http://www.fisherenvironmental.com/faq_pcb.html

I certainly agree that the term “French Chernobyl” is hyperbole, for the reasons you state. This in itself underscores the insidious dangers of nuclear power, dangers which can’t be equaled by even the worst industrial disasters from other industries.

…Thanks for helping to clarify things so effectively.

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“Just a great video from CBS that covers the high and low end of electric cars. There’s tremendous promise that these vehicles will help us achieve (sustainable) energy independence,” sustainable products, and sustainable design, helping the environment and society at the same time. The video also presents the most challenging part of the sustainable technology.. the battery.  Originally brought to my attention by dougschi on DIGG.

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It is important to note that sustainable electric car technology is not imaginary: it is real, as shown in the video from CBS news. See also Phoenix electric motor cars.

Coupling electric cars with solar panels allows very green, sustainable transportation to be possible, today. However, important changes in the power grid are needed to reap the full benefits of solar panels or other types of distributed, renewable energy sources. Car batteries and individual’s solar panels can help power individual homes and the electrical grid, especially if proper credit is given for this contribution to our electrical power systems. We don’t need to wait, as a nation, to implement many of these changes, though the participation by individuals and companies will be largely dependent on financial issues, including much-needed, significant Federal tax rebates for use of renewable energy and electric cars.

© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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CTSI, the Clean Technology and Sustainable Industries Organization, is organizing CTSI Policy Day in Washington D.C. on March 5, 2008. CTSI is a non-profit organization that acts in support of sustainable technologies and “reduced footprint” technologies, including a wide range of topics.

Not every technology supported by CTSI is one that would be on my personal list of favorites. However, the CTSI platform doesn’t leave out any technologies that I place great importance on.

What is CTSI?

The Clean Technology and Sustainable Industries Organization (CTSI) is a not-for-profit membership organization with offices in Cambridge Massachusetts, San Francisco California, Detroit Michigan, Geneva Switzerland and Washington DC.

Mission Statement of CTSI:

The CTSI’s core purpose is to provide a cross industry community to promote clean technology development, profitable commercialization and global integration of sustainable industry practices, enabling the transformation of businesses, governments and society towards a more sustainable global economy. The CTSI develops programs and advocacy towards:

  • Public funded research advocacy
  • Private funded grand challenges
  • Education & media programs
  • Technology publication and dissemination
  • Industry & Policy Leadership programs
  • Community development and networking
  • IP and early stage company matching with investment & corporate partners

From the CTSI website about March 5th, 2008:

Why Should You Attend?

The voice of Clean Technology must be clearly heard in Congress. As campaign platforms are launched and appropriations are made, it is critical that our elected representatives understand the economic impact of clean & sustainable technologies and how federal policy affects your business!

Come share your stories, your needs, and give support to the clean technology policy agenda which includes:

  • Increasing funding for clean and sustainable technology applied research and deployment.
  • Providing for long-term renewable energy tax incentives and implementation policies.
  • Developing tax incentives/capital depreciation mechanisms that encourage investment in efficiency upgrades, clean technology implementations, and life-cycle product management.
  • Encouraging clean & green federal procurement policies.
  • Supporting efforts to remove barriers to public market capital.

Who Should Attend?

Congress wants to hear from the companies and organizations that are changing the energy, water, and environmental landscapes through innovative technologies, processes, or just straight-forward implementation! If you are a senior-level executive at a clean technology company, a clean or sustainable expert or director at a Fortune 1000 company, an investor or financing agent, or another member of the clean technology community that wants to have a seat at the policy table, please contact us for an invitation.
Note: There is NO CHARGE to attend this event, but SPACE IS LIMITED!

The kind of activism shown by CTSI is truly needed to make it possible for clean and sustainable technology to be taken beyond the research stage and into the market place where it can have real impact.

Conventional or traditional technologies have long benefited from Federal support for research, development and commercialization. Often this support starts with grants to academic researcher groups, and the support can progress through a variety of mechanisms, from peer-reviewed grants to both small businesses and small business/university collaborations, to government contracts and other means. While these mechanisms are available for clean technologies and are being used to support considerable research, energy policy and environmental technologies need to be considered matters of national security and treated with appropriate seriousness. Serious commitment includes significantly increased budgets, tax incentives and other support.

Germany has recently made a big push towards solar energy, for example, and this is showing returns today. The US need to follow suit, with major financing and planning by Federal and State governments. As a nation, the US wouldn’t have to borrow l;arge sums of money to pay for oil every day if we could get these new technologies up and running!

Thanks to Steve B., Sam Carana and Rich for helpful discussions and information used in this post.

© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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Original story by Alexis Madrigal of the Wired Blog network (click on “read more” below).

If we made the globe warm, we can make the globe cool. That’s the premise and promise of geoengineering, the name given to intentional attempts to alter the climate.

“Ken Buesseler a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute spoke on the science of this process, known as ocean iron fertilization…His talk came a week after Planktos, one of two iron fertilization startups, indefinitely suspended its operations…the leading scientists in the field don’t have enough confidence to say that ocean iron fertilization could have any real impact on stopping or even slow climate change.”

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As reported by Environmental News Service and noted on DIGG by carbonneutral and rhedhed, the “New York City Council passed legislation Wednesday that makes New York the first major municipality in the nation to tackle the rising tide of discarded electronics in the waste stream. Manufacturers of computers, TVs and MP3 players will have to take responsibility for the collection of their own electronic products.”

This is an important step and will help the city deal with with huge amount of discarded electronics it sees every year while preventing much of the current pollution of landfill sites.  We need to avoid circumstances like those found in China, where illegal electronics recycling is causing far more harm than good.

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An environmentally friendly technology using temperature differentials in the Tropical Ocean combined with other technologies could enable global Hydrogen distribution, by Mahesh Basantani for Inhabitat.

“Ocean waves are already being used as a source of renewable energy, but could differences in water temperatures in the sea be our next source of green power? A decade old idea to generate renewable electricity for the globe with offshore, floating ‘Energy Islands’ could soon become a reality. The concept – creating artificial islands to collect wind, wave and solar power in the tropics – is based on the work of Jacques-Arsène d’Arsonval, a 19th-century French physicist, who envisioned the idea of using the sea as a giant solar-energy collector.”

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While considering this story, I also urge you to read Sam Carana’s articles on the distributed electrical grid, a hydrogen economy and electric cars.  He offers compelling arguments to do away with liquid fuels, coal and nuclear power as soon as possible, and to invest in solar, wind, and geothermal power industries that are supplemented by the use of biomass to generate hydrogen (the cleanest of fuels, I would say).

© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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Steven Chen has started a discussion on Treehugger.com that encourages people with environmental blogs to write in and describe their sites. I recommend that you take a look at the wide variety of blogs represented.  My blog roll also has a list of relevant sites, but it isn’t comprehensive. OneWorldUS is well worth a look, too!

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The Antarctic Sciences Division of the National Science Foundation (NSF) provided a grant to author Kathleen Keeley to visit the Antarctic and write a novel that helps improve the scientific literacy of young adults. Ms. Keeley writes fiction for a target audience aged 10-13, more specifically for girls in this age group, and has a series of books about the fictional character Molly Finn. Three Molly Finn novels have been published so far, and NSF is funding Keeley’s work on the fourth novel, “Molly Finn and the Southern Ocean”.

Quoting from the NSF site that describes Keeley’s grant,

Through Molly’s imaginary adventures, readers come to understand the delicate balance of life under the sea, the challenges sea creatures face as they struggle to survive in the ocean, the impacts of man on the environment, and the importance of scientific discovery to conservation and the responsible use of our planet’s resources.

In case you are unfamiliar with the NSF grant process, it is highly competitive, and the grants are awarded only to a fairly small percentage of applicants. Furthermore, even “pure science” awards typically have a significant outreach component to them, requiring cutting-edge research scientists to work with local schools and to provide a serious, well-conceived description of their plans to do so. This is very consistent with NSF’s mission to support science education, to contribute to science literacy of the country, and to train scientists for future teaching and research positions. It is now generally required that grantees also provide for some form of assessment, so the impact of their outreach can be determined. The impact of the scientific research itself is also assessed, of course, as part of the process that is required for final reports and new grant applications.

With Ms. Keeley, we find an author who traveled to the Antarctic to view the ecosystem first-hand, so that she could weave observations and important science into her fictional account. The real life adventures Ms. Keeley is experiencing are documented on her blog. In addition to a great photo-diary of her trip to the Antarctic, you’ll find tips on picking fiction for young adults and teens, and many other useful links.

Ms. Keeley has a publisher lined up for the fourth volume of the Molly Finn series, and before long, the new volume will be on the shelves and in classrooms, inspiring children and specifically young girls to explore the world around them, be aware of the environment, and open their eyes to the possibilities that scientific work can provide.

I’m sure that school children around the world will be also be inspired by the author’s real-life adventures as well as the fiction that Ms. Keeley writes, and I certainly hope that Ms. Keeley will be able to visit schools and interact with children personally, because both the books and the author will provide a thrill for pre-teens and more.

© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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It is nice to see that Air Products has discovered a way for removing mercury and acid rain components from coal-fired electrical plants and other coal-burning facilities. I wonder how practical this will be? Air Products is certainly a very capable and innovative company. From Yahoo News:

“Air Products is a world leader in the development of oxyfuel technology. World scale air separation units (ASU) are required for oxyfuel CO2 capture projects, and Air Products is a proven supplier of this scale of cryogenic air separation plants. Additionally, Air Products’ CO2 purification process uniquely removes sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and mercury during the compression process. CO2 purification and compression is important for the transport and geological storage of CO2 capture projects. The CO2 purification and compression system must be designed to minimize power consumption while meeting the purity specifications for the CO2.”

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I would welcome any discussion of the merits of this system for cleaning up the products of burning coal. It purports to clean up much more than CO2 emissions. While there have been plenty of stories about how “clean coal” is a myth, I’d like to think that each case will be judged on its merits. So, what do people think? Thanks for reading.

© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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