Archive for the ‘science’ Category


Global warming ‘irreversible’ for next 1000 years.

As reported by AFP, NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) scientists have released a study saying that current levels of global warming will cause irreversible damage, no matter what is done in the future to decrease CO2 and other related emissions.  I will add a link to the primary scientific article when the link is published.

“NOAA senior scientist Susan Solomon said the study, published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, showed that current human choices on carbon dioxide emissions are set to “irreversibly change the planet.” Researchers examined the consequences of CO2 building up beyond present-day concentrations of 385 parts per million, and then completely stopping emissions after the peak. Before the industrial age CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere amounted to only 280 parts per million. The study found that CO2 levels are irreversibly impacting climate change, which will contribute to global sea level rise and rainfall changes in certain regions. The authors emphasized that increases in CO2 that occur from 2000 to 2100 are set to “lock in” a sea level rise over the next 1,000 years.”

This is certainly well past a wake-up call, if anybody still needed one. Here’s where the relentless optimist meets the original cynic: I refuse to accept that it is worthless to make the biggest changes possible to head off increased global warming. Am I denying science? No, I’m just clinging to hope.

Original text copyright © 2009 James K. Bashkin

See futher discussion of this post here at Gather.com.

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Originally published in a somewhat different form on my Squidoo solar power lens and Sustainability group. Please note that Sam Carana has written a lot about the hydrogen economy, and he covered this same story, but with more technical information about the new science and catalysts, here.

Hydrogen and oxygen gases can be used in fuel cell technology to provide energy to a home, and these gases can be produced by the action of electricity on water. Hydrolysis can also be carried out by the action of sunlight on water, with the help of certain types of solar cells, or photovoltaics. Electrolysis often requires caustic conditions, or high pH (or a lot of electricity is wasted), but the caustic requirements, and most wasted electricity, can be overcome with the use of additional components known as catalysts. The result is that solar energy can be used to power a home during the day by generating electricity, and consumers would have a variety of options to store excess electricity:

Batteries are typically thought of for storage of electricity, but another option is offered by the power of sunlight: energy storage through generation of hydrogen and oxygen by electrolysis. Gernation of hydrogen and oxygen under acceptable and convenient conditions has become just more possible with the discovery of a new, breakthrough catalyst for electrolysis:

As described by Mariella Moon of ExtremeTech, “… one catalyst would be responsible for producing oxygen gas from water, while another would produce hydrogen. The hydrogen and oxygen could be recombined in a fuel cell to power the home at night where solar energy isn’t readily available…”

Hydrogen and oxygen would accumulate during the day from excess electricity generating capacity of a solar cell system, and then these gases would serve as the fuel for a fuel cell that would power a house overnight. The byproduct of the fuel cell, water, could then be re-used for water splitting (electrolysis) the next day.

Illustrations of the idea and video from principle scientist D. Nocera of MIT is shown at the GoodCleanTech site, the Green Blog of pcmag.com, as posted by Mariella Moon.

The key to the new catalyst for electrolysis is that, unlike the catalytic converter in your car, it does not require expensive metals like platinum or rhodium, yet it works at atmospheric pressure, room temperature and moderate pH, thus providing hydrogen and oxygen that can feed a fuel cell with minimal environmental impact.

Original text copyright © 2008 James K. Bashkin


Volkswagen announced the Golf Twin Drive Concept, a step toward a diesel plug-in hybrid. Jalopnik.com reports that the concept car runs in electric-only mode up to 30 miles, using an electric motor that makes 82 hp. In addition, there’s a 2.0 liter 122 hp turbodiesel. The two engines combine for 174 hp. Regenerative braking to charge the batteries, engine turns off while stopped in traffic- the benefits of many good technologies. Only particulates from diesel exhaust remain a concern, but most people will run off the battery most of the time, given the short distance of the average car trip and the ability to charge the battery from the braking system. Volkswagen will work with the German government on a fleet of 20 Twin Drive Golfs for 2010. Much clean electricity is available in Germany from Wind and Solar power stations. No plans to export to the US at this time. Why don’t we request it?

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PINEDALE, WYO. — As reported by the L.A. Times, Federal land managers are recommending companies be allowed to drill almost 4,400 new natural gas wells in western Wyoming, where energy development already is blamed for a spike in air and water pollution. Shell, Ultra Resources and Questar want to relax drilling restrictions meant to protect wildlife “so they can tap into an estimated 20-25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That’s equivalent to about a year’s supply for the entire country.”

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The website 1sky.org reports that

Congress is now deciding which federal programs will be funded in 2009. Among those programs are the Green Jobs Act, which would invest $125 million in green-collar job training programs, and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant, which would authorize grants to local communities to help improve their energy efficiency and increase renewable energy. Now we must make sure that Members of Congress keep their promise and fully fund these programs.

If you wish to write to Congress to voice your support for Green Jobs and Grants, this link will help.

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By BASHARAT SHAH, MD, published on eHow.

Fuel prices may vary from station to station. But, there is a way of knowing which gas station is selling gas cheapest (other than, of course, roaming through the whole town). So, before you hit the road to fill in your tank, follow these steps to learn how to find the best gas deal in your town.

To use just the internet (more sophisticated methods are also described):

Log on to http://www.gasbuddy.com. Enter your zip code. Gasbuddy uses google maps to display the results of most gas stations located in your area. You may also drag the map to see prices in surrounding areas. Gasbuddy also gives you the list of gas station in the order of low to high gas prices. The best thing about gasbuddy is that you have access to it even while you are on the road. Just text a message to the number with the zip code you are driving in and you will receive an automated text message giving you the list of top 5 cheapest gas stations close to you.

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An article about the release of Toyota’s plug in Hybrid scheduled for release in 2010:

It’s no secret Toyota’s been working on a plug-in hybrid to compete against the forthcoming Chevrolet Volt, but Wednesday’s announcement sets a firm deadline and makes it clear Toyota has no plans of ceding the green mantle to General Motors. It also underscores how quickly the race to build a viable mass-market electric car is heating up.

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Nigel Hunt of Reuters reports that

Corn prices rose to record highs on Monday and looked set to climb further as torrential rains threatened to reduce further U.S. crop prospects in a market already facing tight supplies and surging demand.

Strong demand for corn from U.S. biofuel producers has contributed to supply tightness in the corn market. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has forecast about a third of this year’s crop will be consumed by the biofuel sector.

“I am still very bullish. I think $7, $8, $9 corn is well within reach,” said Commerzbank analyst Edward Hands.

Unfortunately, the combination of a foolish corn ethanol program with rising gas prices and rising transportation costs are all conspiring to drive up the price of food. With the additional effects of the recent heavy storms and rain in the Midwest, including flooding in some areas and frequent tornadoes, corn prices are skyrocketing. One simple action that should be taken immediately is to halt all corn ethanol subsidies and programs, so that food and fuel are no longer in competition with each other.

Original text copyrighted © 2008 James K. Bashkin

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Addendum. Devastated US corn crop sends ethanol producer shares into freefall.” The Associated Press reported the following financial news:

The values of ethanol producers hemorrhaged Thursday as the price of their key feedstock, corn, climbed to record levels because U.S. floods have devasted this year’s crop.

“In the last 10 days the world has changed in the corn market with massive flooding causing irreparable damage to this year’s crop and pushing corn prices up $1 over this time frame,” Citi Investment Research analyst David C. Driscoll wrote in a client note.

“As a result of this unprecedented weather event which has happened only twice in the last 25 years, ethanol margins have plummeted over the same ten day time span with small and mid size ethanol producers now running at substantial losses against cash costs.”

He expects such small and mid-sized producers to halt operations.

Unfortunately, these financial and farming problems will increase food prices in the near term, but they may help lower food prices in future growing seasons, as long as the corn ethanol producers stay shut down. Repeal of the tax credits for corn ethanol would help keep corn ethanol from once again driving food prices up.

Original text copyrighted © 2008 James K. Bashkin

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Diesel used to be cheaper than gas (petrol) in the U.S., but now it’s more expensive. Matthew L. Wald of the New York Times analyzes and explains why diesel’s price is rising in the article “So You Think Gas Costs A Lot?“. Basically, it comes down to demand, and the demand for diesel is rising fast, but there are many other complicating factors for diesel, and Wald reports several interesting aspects of this complexity, including

  • the increased production of ethanol was also pushing up diesel prices by offsetting some of the need for gasoline, because as refiners make less gasoline they produce less diesel
  • Terry Slocum, director of the energy program at Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy organization founded by Ralph Nader, said the problem was that the oil industry, despite record profits, had not invested enough in refining capacity for diesel fuel. “There’s really no excuse why we’ve got this shortage of capacity, which in turn is driving prices far higher than for gasoline,” he said.

So, we learn of yet another way that ethanol production harms the US and global consumer. However, if you factor in the better gas mileage of modern diesel engines vs. gasoline engines, diesel is still a better deal according to Jim Henry of BusinessWeek Online. Furthermore, according to Wald,

Shifting to diesel engines had been promoted as one way to save oil and meet coming fuel economy standards; because diesel engines operate at higher cylinder pressures, they deliver more power for each B.T.U. of energy they use (and each gallon has more B.T.U.’s than gasoline).

Unfortunately, the advantages of diesel are shrinking as the cost of diesel fuel increases, making recent advances in diesel efficiency even more important. It is also relatively recent that high mpg diesel cars have been able to meet emissions standards in all 50 US states, though more such cars are on the way (see here for 60 mpg). In order to provide sufficient power, many modern diesel cars use a turbo engine design. Some diesel cars are reported to reach over 100 mpg, though these tend not to be production models and may not meet the toughest U.S. emission standards.

A comparison of the design and convenience of diesel and gas car engines is given by Simon Byholm in “Diesel Or Gas – Loud Smoking Dinosaur Or Fuel Gulping Monster“. In spite of the impressive efficiency of diesel engines and their improved emissions, a few environmental concerns remain. Diesel is still a carbon-based fuel, for one, so CO2 emissions still occur when diesel fuel is burned. There is another emission to be concerned about with diesel fuel, however: small particulates. You’ll recognize the particulates, and how real an issue they are, from the black smoke that is a familiar sight in the wake of diesel-powered cars and trucks.

So, we can be excited about the advent of high mpg, relatively low-priced turbodiesel cars for the US market like the upcoming JettaBlue from VW, but I wonder about the severity of health problems from diesel smoke and the relative cost of diesel and gas in the future. Certainly, improved fuel efficiency is something to celebrate while we wait for even greener options, like plug-in electric hybrid vehicles, to show up in US dealerships.

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James K. Bashkin © 2008


As reported by Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post Staff Writer:

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson favored giving California some authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks … before he consulted with the White House and reversed course, congressional investigators said yesterday.

As the article describes:

An extensive congressional investigation into Johnson’s conduct relied on more than 27,000 pages of EPA documents; interviews with top EPA officials served as other sources of information. The results of the investigation were just announced.

According to the agency’s documents and depositions by staff members, EPA officials unanimously endorsed granting California the waiver, and Johnson initially agreed. EPA Associate Deputy Administrator Jason Burnett testified under oath that Johnson “was very interested in a full grant of the waiver’ in August and September of 2007 and later thought a partial grant of the waiver ‘was the best course of action.”

The White House claims it did not influence Johnson’s decision but has ordered Johnson not to answer questions about White House involvement in the process. Seemingly at odds with his refusal to allow California a waiver of the Clean Air Act that would have imposed more stringent emissions standards on cars and trucks, Johnson did admit to reporters that he considers CO2 to be a pollutant.

Groups including the California Air Resources Board and the Natural Defense Resources Council (NRDC) are poised to show courts how tainted Johnson’s decision was, and how it ignored internal EPA science and external scientific advisers. The NRDC and other advocacy groups will submit a brief to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in an attempt to overturn the EPA administrator’s decision.

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As reported in the related story here at OhMyGov.com,

A briefing prepared by the lead staff lawyer for EPA’s General Counsel stated: “After review of the docket and precedent, we don’t believe there are any good arguments against granting the waiver. All of the arguments … are likely to lose in court if we are sued.”

In fact, the EPA staff interviewed by the Committee were unable to identify any agency documents that argued in favor of denial prior to December 19, 2007, the day California’s petition was denied.

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