By Harry {doc} Babad, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.


Jest a bit of preachin’

I do have an attitude and am seldom politically correct, only well referenced in my sources and always biases to evidence, grey as it might be, in my opinions.  

Note, many of the technologies I share are in various stage of first, development, and are often far from being a commercial success. Their inventors and supporters still have to prove that they are reliable, durable and scalable, Remember There Ain’t No free Lunch and silver bullets too often turn to lead.

When and if you Google the topics in depth, you will find studies saying the inventions/ideas are capable of being commercialized and often as many other studies that are more skeptical because there is no easy way to for them to become reality in our political-economic systems.

Most inventions die at the proof of principal stage, however the ones that count to make a difference survive as commercial success. Even the Chinese government knows that, however they chose to ignore such realty. Government as choosers are almost always losers.

A reminder, conditions, both technical and geopolitical continuously change – So if you’ve made up your mind about either the best way to go, or about its all a conspiracy, move on to the next article in our blog. Today’s favorite is tomorrow unintended consequence and our globe replaced the flat earth.

However, that’s better than sticking one’s head in the sand or believing in perpetual motion. Remember, there’s no free lunch and as a taxpayer and consumer you must always end up paying the piper!

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Titles, As Usual, in No Formal Order, for the New Snippets and Topics

  • ‘Solar Highways’ Transform Our Crumbling Infrastructure Into Something Useful
  • The Rare Earth Elements — Meet the Obscure, Useful Metals Lurking in Products All Around You
  • As Ecosystems, Cities Yield Some Surprises
  • Radioactivity Released in Petroleum or Natural Gas Production — The brave new world of natural gas.

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 ‘Solar Highways’ Transform Our Crumbling Infrastructure Into Something Useful

This is a collation/abstract of several articles dealing to both the potential advantages of Super Highways, aka Solar Highways, and the Western states endeavoring to install them.

At the end of the References on reports of achievements, I share a quick list of the most recent trade war associated references between US solar cell manufactures’ and those in China.

Unfortunately there are two significant problems with what many economist see in this trade challenge before the WTO/WTF.

First in the US and Europe it pit the many installers of solar powered services against the US manufacturers of such panels. These my hundreds of businesses use Chinese crystalline solar panels because not only are they less expensive but also at times reported to be higher in quality and durability then those made by older technology, made in America.

 The second reason this song and dance seems to be farcical, sound and fury signifying nothing, is that it is unlikely the World Trade Federation, will be able to reach a decision in this complex matter, in less that 18 months according to experts at Bloomberg’s. I’ve provided a few references at the end of the main solar related list that provide insight into this mess.

One of the great things about photovoltaics is that all they need is an unobstructed piece of ground, and some basic maintenance, and they pump out electricity all day long. But finding a piece of ground that can be devoted solely to solar collectors can be a challenge, especially in the populated areas that need the power the most, so you will often find solar panels perched atop some structure, where they are exposed to higher winds, and are more difficult to maintain. But the solution to this problem might be on your way to work every day, in the unused spaces that surround our national grid of highways.

Up north in Oregon, as I share below they have been building a some test examples of ‘solar highways‘ that are using the empty space around and alongside roads to generate electricity, and this has been a successful experiment. The solar highways are already supplying a considerable portion of the power that is needed to light a highway around Portland from light that falls on the highway itself. That project, having proven itself, has now spawned more in the area.

But, really, doesn’t it make more sense to build projects like this in places that have a bit more sun than overcast Oregon? What about places like California? If Republic Solar Highways has it’s way, this sensible plan can become a reality, and soon. They plan to use 65 acres of unused roadside land around highway 101 to build a 15-megawatt solar collection network, and with the backing of the California Department of Transportation the project seems on track to break ground within the next year.

Hopefully, this will be just the beginning. There is so much unused land around our nation’s roads that could be supplying a generous flow of electrons to the people around them, rather than just being a money sink. After all, most of this unused space has to be cleared and mowed regularly to prevent fires from breaking out and making a mess of travel. And, looking forward, there are multiple proposals for using the roads themselves as solar collectors. In fact, our roads are currently acting as such efficient solar collectors that they are changing the environment around them by putting off so much heat. There are certainly better uses for that energy, and it’s time we started collecting it.

Okay, we know YOU ride your bike everywhere. But the country’s 4 million miles of roads, and 50,000 miles of interstate highway, probably aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Isn’t there anything productive we can do with this giant car playground? Well, we can cover it with solar photovoltaic panels, so it’s at least providing some energy.

Oregon’s already is testing the idea, installing panel arrays along highway shoulders. Others want to embed the solar panels directly into the road surface, and have already received funding to test the idea. California wants to try it along parts of Route 101.

If you think about it, roads are a perfect place to put solar: They’re already public land, they’ve already been cleared and graded, they’re adjacent to infrastructure like towns and power lines, and they’re super accessible for repair and upgrades. Also, they’re already sitting out in the sun all day.

Mathew Preusch also reports “Here’s another benefit  of today’s sunny weather: The new solar power array at the intersection of Interstates 5 and 205 is breaking power generation records”.

You can track the Oregon “Solar Highway” project’s power output at its nifty home page. As of this afternoon, the site said the 8,000-square foot array was generating about 58 kilowatts, but at mid-day production peaked at closer to 85 kilowatts.

The first of its kind in the country project, installed last year by the Oregon Department of Transportation Portland General Electric, feeds into PGE’s grid. But it is only designed, for now, to supply about a quarter of the power needed to illuminate the interchange.



Solar Highways Turn Public Liabilities into Assets, by Aaron Fown, July 18, 2011 Clean Technica Blog.

Solar Highways Transform Our Crumbling Infrastructure Into Something Useful|
BY CHRISTOPHER MIMS, 20 JUL 2011. For the GristList Blog.

Oregon’s “Solar Highway” Breaking Records Today. Published: Wednesday, July 01, 2009, By Matthew Preusch, The Oregonian

Oregon Installs First Highway Solar Project. Update: Friday, August 08, 2008, 8:04 AM, by Dylan Rivera, The Oregonian

Oregon Monitoring Data (PGE/OR-DOT) on America’s First Solar Highway

Republic’s Super Highways Projects; California Here We Come:

Solar Photovoltaics  – Wikipedia, 2011.


U.S. Solar Manufacturers Request Duties on Chinese Imports, by Mark Drajem and Eric Martin, October 20, 2011, in Bloomberg Business Week.

A Trade War With China Over Solar Panels Will Burn US, by Vahid Fotuhi, Oct 30, 2011 I n the National.

Solar Execs Wary Of Trade War With China, CNET News & Reuters, October 20, 2011.

Solar Panel Trade War, by Tim Worstall, Forbes Contributor, October 23, 2011.

Solar Trade War Officially Starts Today, by Eric Wesoff: October 19, 2011 at GreenTech Solar

U.S. Solar Manufacturers Request Duties on Chinese Imports, by Mark Drajem and Eric Martin, October 20, 2011, in Bloomberg Business Week.

PS: Not only does this involve China and the US, but also pits a small group American and other non-Asian manufacturers of crystalline solar cell against American would be users of such cells. KISS is not a geopolitical concept. It does not protect our national security interests, but governments mostly make bad technological business decisions. Look what happened solar panel maker Solyndra that follows similar bankruptcy actions by Evergreen Solar and SpectraWatt. It’s a great Google topic!

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The Rare Earth Elements

— Meet the Obscure, Useful Metals Lurking in Products All Around You

Without the rare earths, there would be no iPods and no hybrid cars. But who has even heard of erbium or ytterbium?

The name rare earths made sense to the 19th-century mind:  rare because it seemed at first that they came only from Scandinavia, and earths because they occurred in an earthy oxide form from which it was exceptionally hard to obtain the pure metal.

Today it is clear that the rare earths are hardly rare. The most common of them, cerium, ranks 25th in abundance in the earth’s crust, one place ahead of homely copper. Yttrium is twice as abundant as lead; all of the rare-earth metals (with the exception of radioactive promethium) are more common than silver. The “earths” part is also misleading. These elements are actually metals, and quite marvelous ones at that. The warm glow of terbium is essential to high-efficiency compact-fluorescent bulbs. Europium is widely exploited to make vivid displays for laptop computers and smart phones. Rare earths also pop up in more unexpected places like baseball bats, European currency, and night-vision goggles.

With their growing popularity comes new value, and even political notoriety. Terbium and europium recently overtook silver in price, reaching $40 an ounce. The growing demand for rare earths has become the subject of numerous government reports and a bill that passed in the House of Representatives. The reason these elements are causing such a stir is not their scarcity but their inaccessibility. Rare earths tend to occur in hard rock such as granites, where they lump together in a uniform way that makes them difficult to extract.

Separating out the desired elements demands a toxic and dangerous process, and China has the best infrastructure for doing so economically. China holds about 36 percent of the world’s 110 million tons of recoverable rare-earth ores, with the rest scattered worldwide, principally in the United States, India, Australia, and Russia. Yet China currently produces as much as 97 percent of the world’s rare-earth oxides, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Pekka Pyykkö, a professor of chemistry at the University of Helsinki, puts it this way: “Not all the deposits are in China, but the processing capacity right now is.”

Supply would not matter if not for demand, and the demand comes  from the unusual electrical properties of the rare earths—or lanthanides, as chemists prefer to call them, because they mostly follow lanthanum in the periodic table of elements. The lanthanides share similar chemical properties because they all react similarly, mostly with their three outer electrons. (An atom’s arrangement of electrons is what determines most of its physical and chemical attributes.) Like copper, iron, cobalt, and other more familiar metals, lanthanides form many colored compounds. The magic happens when those outer electrons change energy states and release visible light. But the rare earths are especially valuable for their property of fluorescence: They can absorb light or ultraviolet rays and re-emit the energy as an eerie glow of certain colors specific to each element. The brilliant emission of red and green is the reason why lanthanides are indispensable components of today’s television sets and compact fluorescent bulbs.

From a technological perspective, a more intriguing trait of the rare earths is that some of them are highly magnetic. Alloyed with other metals, they make extraordinarily strong and compact magnets: perfect for computer hard drives, cordless power tools, microphones, and headphones. An iPod takes a triple sip of rare earths: to store digital music, to re-create it in ear-buds, and to display what is playing. An iron alloy containing terbium and dysprosium has a particularly useful property: It expands and contracts efficiently in the presence of a magnetic field. Sensors, actuators, and injectors commonly use such materials, for instance to regulate the flow of gasoline into an automotive engine.

Okay, ‘nuff said, click though and read on. The last reference I provide focuses on the geopolitics of the rare earth elements, one more global trade conflict to worry about. The previous topic discussed solar cells for energizing our sunnier highways; there to a trade was is underway.


The Rare Earth Elements By Hugh Aldersey-Williams. From the July-August special issue; Discover Magazine

The Rare Earth Elements, Wikipedia, 2011,

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As Ecosystems, Cities Yield Some Surprises

In Boston, scientists measuring the city’s greenhouse gas emissions have found what they call a “weekend effect,” a clear drop-off in the amount of carbon dioxide entering the city’s atmosphere on Saturdays and Sundays. In Fresno, researchers have discovered that backyard water use increases with wealth, as does backyard biodiversity. And in Los Angeles, ecologists studying the city’s “ecohydrology” have calculated that planting a million new trees, an idea with fairly universal appeal, would have the drawback of increasing water consumption by 5 percent.

The researchers, who presented their findings this week at the  Ecological Society of America’s annual meeting in Austin, Tex., are all involved in a nascent program to understand the nation’s cities, home to 80 percent of the population, as functioning ecosystems. The goal is to educate urbanites about their environment and how they can act to make it more sustainable.

The program, called Ultra, for Urban Long-Term Research Area, is a joint effort of the National Science Foundation and the Forest Service. A total of 21 projects are under way, including two in New York City. In establishing financing (known as Ultra-Ex grants) for exploratory sites in 2009, the science foundation called urban sustainability one of “the greatest challenges to the long-term environmental quality of the nation.”

At a research site in Fresno, Calif., overseen by Madhusudan Katti, an ecologist at California State University’s campus there, the aim is to untangle the interactions between city water policy, outdoor water use at homes and biodiversity to help inform policy. On the average, wealthier households in Fresno use more water in their yards, yet not because the water is more affordable for them: the city has no metering system, so residents pay a fixed monthly rate.

Reducing water use is considered crucial to guaranteeing long-term sustainability, yet Dr. Katti found that using less water could cause local bird diversity to decline.

“Half the population globally lives in cities, but we don’t have a conceptual understanding of how cities work as dynamic systems,” Dr. Katti said. “We need to generate that understanding.”

Nathan Phillips, an ecologist at Boston University who runs one of the city’s two Ultra-Ex sites, told the audience at the conference that his project, which includes rooftop plant experiments both in and outside the city as well as measurements of greenhouse gases, had revealed a “pulsing type of urban metabolism. However, Just as these research sites are beginning to reveal how such urban ecosystems function, federal budget cuts are calling their future into question. There’s more details and a few reference links, online.

Why is such research necessary?
Well Cities are growing like Topsey or Jack’s Bean Stalk according to published references, by international agencies, university demographers, national governments and international charitable organizations. Although estimates vary depending on the grown (migration plus birth-death rations) assumptions made by the demographers and the boundaries used in the predictive models the increase is almost beyond belief.

In 2008 according to the United Nations, half the people in the world lived in cities.

In the 20th Century citied grew 10-forld from 250 million people to 2.8 billion. The UN predicts that by 2050 the world population is expected to surpass nine billion with six billion living in cities.

Cities, not villages or towns, which seem to be defined as urban communities large than one million people.

Many of these urban areas already exceed ten million people or more. For a list of the 20-cities that exceed 10-million in population check Wikipedia (2100) which contains links to the demographic studies.

One would hope that understanding the environmental impacts of urban areas and how to modify them for the better should matter, if not to all of our present readers, then perhaps to their children’s, children.


As Ecosystems, Cities Yield Some Surprises, By Hillary Rosner, August 11, 2011 for the New York Times for the New York Times

What Drives Cities’ Runaway Growth? By Felicity Barringer, August 22, 2011 for the New York Times.

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Radioactivity Released in Petroleum or Natural Gas Production

— The brave new world of natural gas.

An After thought – Doc’s jest scratchin’ an itch.

Perhaps I’m just a dumb chemist, not a philosopher, or politician, but based on demonstrated reality, The Dose Makes the Poison. A fine book with this title by Patricia Frank and M. Alice Ottoboni can be obtained from Amazon

There are assorted run of the Internet Quotes and Clips I collected in 2010-2011

Radium and other naturally occurring isotopes are a common  concern with any petroleum or gas mining operation.   Radium is a daughter product of uranium and thorium, so they obviously will naturally occur in nature.   The existence of the uranium itself is not the primary concern.

Radium is water-soluble and its salts can concentrate in pipes, valves and other mining equipment generating measurable radiation doses.   Levels can be high enough to set-off radiation detectors at local landfills.  In rare cases, they may approach levels, which require radiation monitoring of the workers … though mainly it requires radiation surveys to ensure that further controls are not necessary.  Since this is a form of Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (TENORM), it is subject to control at the discretion of the specific state radiation protection agency.   It does not come under the jurisdiction of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. There indeed is uranium, not enough for use an an ore, but high enough to be of health concerns under some condition in Marcellus Shale

While he uranium concentrations in the geologic formations are too low for economically feasible removable, the concentrating effect of the radium disposition, in addition to its mobilization for a subsurface to surface location, can produce radiological concerns which do not exist in the naturally occurring material. Processes such a fracking to recover natural gas provide an excellent escape route. However, the radiological aspects of the process is definitely not the most significant environmental concern for the process, but it should be addressed as minor part of overall regulation. “Anthony DeAngelo, CHP” 10-28-10; Written Pre the current natural gas recovery bonanza

In response, Charles Barton, a knowledgeable and well-respected Philosopher of Science and Technology and science history author responded on Oct 28, 2010 [ANS SocialMedia.] He is also the author of the Nuclear Green blog, which serves as a forum for separate ng science fro m mere belief,

“Uranium found in Marcellus shale.] Note these deposits are also one of the potential premier sources of natural gas by fracking.

Michael, I (Barton) discussed the potential role of fracking shake,  in Uranium extraction last March in a post titled ‘Radon as harbinger of a cornucopia.”  I wrote: A November 2009 story in Pro-Publica, titled Is New York’s Marcellus Shale Too Hot to Handle. It states, …The information comes from New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, which analyzed 13 samples of wastewater brought thousands of feet to the surface from drilling and found that they contain levels of radium-226, a derivative of uranium, as high as 267 times the limit safe for discharge into the environment and thousands of times the limit safe for people to drink.”

To which I added; So it is clear that the presence of radon indicates the presence of uranium and/or thorium, and since radon has no other natural source, finding a lot of radon, enough to be dangerous means that a lot of uranium and/or thorium must be around.

And then I pointed to the implications of fracking for uranium mining:

A major limitation to the in situ approach would seem to be that while there is a whole lot of uranium and thorium locked up in shale rock, shale is not permeable, and thus not currently seen as a candidate for in situ mining. That is where fracking comes in.     – Charles Barton

Doc Sez: Google “Marcellus Shale + Natural Gas” It’s not just uranium that of interests in these tight shale deposit.  Perhaps the purveyor of this misinformation should be invited to drink “purified” bottled water, from fracking for natural gas. After all turn about is fair play.

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Copyright Notice: Product and company names and logos in this review may be registered trademarks of their respective companies.

Some of the articles listed in this column are copyright protected – their use is both acknowledge and is limited to educational related purposes, which this column provides. Since they are likely covered by the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.

Sources & Credits:  — Many of these items were found by way of the links in the newsletter NewsBridge of ‘articles of interest’ to the national labs library technical and regulatory agency users. NewsBridge is electronically published by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, in Richland WA.  If using NewsBridge as a starting point, I follow the provided link to the source of the information and edit its content (mostly by shortening the details) for information for our readers. I also both follow any contained links, where appropriate, in the actual article, and provide you those references as well as those gleaned from a short trip to Google-land. Obviously if my source is a magazine or blog that the material I work with.

In addition, when copying materials that I cite, I do not fill the sourced ‘quoted’ words with quotation marks, the only place I keep quotes intact is where the original article ‘quotes’ another secondary source external to itself.  Remember, when Doc sticks his two bits in, its in italics and usually indented.

Article selection (my article – my choice} are obviously and admittedly biased by my training, experience and at rare times my emotional and philosophical intuitive views of what works and what will not… But if you have a topic I neglect, send me feedback and I’ll give it a shot. … And yes I trust Wikipedia, but only if I’ve checkout most of an articles references for bias and accuracy! Since my topic segments are only a partial look at the original materials, click on-through the provided link if you want more details, as well as <often> to check out other background references on the topic(s).

In Closing

Readers please read about my paradigms views, prejudices and snarky attitudes at:

I always find it appropriate, as 75 year old iconoclast and cynic, to step back as I read and WIIFT – No it’s not something new to smoke; just the compulsion to ask what’s in it for them. It’s okay to have a hidden agenda, but agenda’s too hidden discomfort me. In addition, most have no relationship to solving the problem that is being bragged about. “What’s in it for Thee

Yes there will be pain, whatever changes we need to make to get our energy, health, climate, and security system to work, for all Americans and the other effected citizen of the world. Vested interests will scream about require transparency in their claims to truth and the benefits (to whom) their proposals. Casting the light, creating Transparency of their WIIFT is in part key, as is science literacy. I’d rather not have my children and grandchildren grow up either in a slow cooker, or dry roaster oven or go bankrupt staying healthy.

As an example, as alas sea level continues to rise slowly  for now… Tomorrow – tomorrow and a mere decade of tomorrows; perhaps good-bye New York, Seattle, New Orleans and even Los Angeles. I’m too uptight about this to talk about India, China and the flood plains of Africa… extinction is not, in America, a ‘socially acceptable’ subject.

One perspective, mine, is that the Dutch can and do continue protect their land with massive gates and dikes, and the British so far can do so for London. However Yankee ingenuity could not protect New Orleans from what will seem historically as a relatively small and temporary rise in sea level caused by a hurricane named Katrina. Hmmm!


QUOTE de Mois

A Computer Lets You Make More Mistakes Faster Than Any Invention In Human History – with the possible exceptions of a handguns and tequila.

Shucks I do love both Patron Tequila straight shots {also Cognac) and my iMac! Anguish, woe is me… I’m doomed to Murphy … Happy Halloween.

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