Archive for the ‘Academia’ Category

— Three National Academies Recent Studies

An Op-Ed Piece; doc’s eclectic views November 1, 2011

By Harry Babad, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved  — Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License


Introduction

As is my want, I periodically check the National Academies Press web pages for workshop notes/articles/reports that appeal to me, not as nuclear waste and energy expert. Rather I explore the various issues at times only ripples and at times tidal waves related to public policy in both American society and that of the world.

Hence this Op-Ed piece. Herein I COPY the prefaces or abstracts from three reports I found both distress and challenging. Unusual for me, I do not editorialize on them, that’s up to you, the reader. I do however highlight sections that made a deep impression on me by either underlining the (if short) or by enclosing them in a text box. I also could not resist my genetic editors syndrome so I split a few sentences in two, or added in italics, a linking word or two. Remember, my stuff is in italics.

Also the graphics are my idea, the NRC reports a captained extensive tables and figures, good technical stuff, but are not into Flesch–Kincaid readability test  levels for their narratives or illustrations. But my friends in the academies will not disinherit me because its all for an educational purpose. _        Doc.

…Read on!

A Renewable Biofuel Standard — America’s Quandary

Scientific Legal Evidence Revisited – Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence: Third Edition

Essential Health Benefits — Balancing Coverage & Costs

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Setting a Biofuels Renewable Fuel Standard

— Choosing an alternative, an all American Quandary [A NRC Study of the Potential Economic and Environmental Effects of U.S. Biofuel Policy]

“In the United States, we have come to depend upon plentiful and inexpensive energy to support our economy and lifestyles. In recent years, many questions have been raised regarding the sustainability of our current pattern of high consumption of nonrenewable energy and its environmental consequences. Further, because the United States imports about 55 percent of the nation’s consumption of crude oil, there are additional concerns about the security of supply. Hence, efforts are being made to find alternatives to our current pathway, including greater energy efficiency and use of energy sources that could lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions such as nuclear and renewable sources, including solar, and (also their) environmental consequences of increasing biofuels production. The statement of task asked this committee to provide “a qualitative and quantitative description of biofuels currently produced and projected to be produced by 2022 in the United States under different policy scenarios …

“The United States has a long history with biofuels. Recent interest began in the late 1970s with the passage of the National Energy Conservation Policy Act of 1978, which established the first biofuels subsidy, applied in one form or another to (mostly) corn-grain ethanol since then. The corn grain ethanol industry grew slowly from early 1980s to around 2003. From 2003 to 2007,ethanol production grew rapidly as methyl tertiary butyl ether was phased out as a gasoline oxygenate and replaced by ethanol. Interest in providing other incentives for biofuels increased also because of rising oil prices from 2004 and beyond. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 established a new and much larger Renewable Fuels Standard and set in motion the drive towards 35 billion gallons of ethanol-equivalent biofuels plus 1 billion gallons of biodiesel by 2022. This National Research Council committee was asked to evaluate the consequences of such a policy; the nation is on a course charted to achieve a substantial increase in biofuels, and there are challenging and important questions about the economic and environmental consequences of continuing on this path.

The National Research Council committee brought together expertise on the many dimensions of the topic. In addition, we called upon numerous experts to provide their perspectives, research conclusions, and insight. Yet, with all the expertise available to us, our clearest conclusion is that there is very high uncertainty in the impacts we were trying to estimate. The uncertainties include essentially all of the drivers of biofuel production and consumption and the complex interactions among those drivers: future crude oil prices, feedstock costs and availability, technological advances in conversion efficiencies, land-use change, government policy, and more.

“The U.S. Department of Energy projects crude oil price in 2022 to range between $52 and $177 per barrel (in 2009 dollars), a huge range. There are no commercial cellulosic biofuels plants in the United States today. Consequently, we do not know much about growing, harvesting, and storing such feedstocks at scale. We do not know other than for ethanol how well the conversion technologies will work nor what they will cost. We do not have generally agreed upon estimates of the environmental or Green House Gases [GHG] impacts of most biofuels. We do not know how landowners will alter their production strategies. The bottom line is that it simply was not possible to come up with clear quantitative answers to many of the questions. What we tried to do instead is to delineate the sources of the uncertainty, describe what factors are important in understanding the nature of the uncertainty, and provide ranges or conditions under which impacts might play out.

“Under these conditions, scientists often use models to help understand what future conditions might be like. In this study, we examined many of the issues using the best models available. Our results by definition carry the assumptions and inherent uncertainties in these models, but we believe they represent the best science and scientific judgment available.

“We also examined the potential impacts of various policy alternatives as requested in the statement of work. Biofuels are at the intersection of energy, agricultural, and environmental policies, and policies in each of these areas can be complex. The magnitude of biofuel policy impacts depends on the economic conditions in which the policy plays out, and that economic environment (such as GDP growth and oil price) is highly uncertain. Of necessity, we made the best assumptions we could and evaluated impacts contingent upon those assumptions. Biofuels are complicated.

“Biofuels are controversial. There are very strong advocates for and political supporters of biofuels. There are equally strong sentiments against biofuels. Our deliberations as a committee focused on the scientific aspects of biofuel production—social, natural, and technological. Our hope is that the scientific evaluation sheds some light on the heat of the debate, as we have delineated the issues and consequences as we see them, together with all the inherent uncertainty.”

Why No Conclusions or Recommendations? — “The statement of task calls on the committee to refrain from recommending policies but to provide an objective review of the policy instruments available, including an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of each in affecting long-term trends in transportation energy use and emissions. Because of the multitude of ways in which individual policy instruments can be designed, targeted, and applied, it was not possible to examine all of their possible variations and outcomes for a sector as large and diverse as U.S. transportation. For example, how fast and by how much fuel taxes or vehicle efficiency standards are raised will profoundly influence the relative prospects of such options for implementation and their effects on energy use and emissions and on other areas of interest to policy makers such as transportation safety, the environment, and the economy. This study is not a modeling exercise aimed at projecting and quantifying the effects of many policy instruments, each designed and structured in alternative ways and applied across one or more modes. The more realistic study goal is to compare the main types of policy options with respect to the main energy- and emissions-saving responses they induce and the challenges and opportunities they present for implementation.”

There is much in this report to stretch you mental muscles. Too, often what we read is distorted by either the silver bullet or golden goose syndrome or by WIIFT. As is usual with NAS reports, there are occasional places where I differ from the conclusions of this consensus report; but consensus is just that — not perfect, just hopefully workable. Indeed where panel members are friends or colleagues, I’ve often argued particular points with them. However, over-all the reports are a very good source of information.

National Academy of Science-National Academies Press <2011> The PDF download is free!  PREPUBLICATION COPY – document is subject to editorial changes only.

Biofuel – Wikipedia, 2011 — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biofuels

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Scientific Legal Evidence Revisited – Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence: Third Edition

On many occasions I have gripped about courts treatment of scientific evidence and at times written in praise of revising the tort system with the wider scale implementation science courts using well-trained certified peer accredited combinations legal experts and scientists, to assist the judge. Cases would not go to juries until the underlying scientific evidence had been evaluated. Why — just on example,  chrysotile based asbestos fibers are relatively low in toxicity so should not be painted with the same brush as Amphibole asbestos.

 This NAP document sings the songs I love to hear; belief and science have their own place.

Only then could a case enter the fault finding juried phase. I would much rather give jury applicants tests in scientific methodology and broad knowledge, but I suspect very few potential jurors would pass such a test. Yes, I hear the screams from lawyers deprived of their cut, civil libertarians and educators.

The NRC Report Summary

“Supreme Court decisions during the last decade of the twentieth century mandated that federal courts examine the scientific basis of expert testimony to ensure that it meets the same rigorous standard employed by scientific researchers and practitioners outside the courtroom. Needless to say, this requirement places a demand on judges not only to comprehend the complexities of modern science but also to adjudicate between parties’ differing interpretations of scientific evidence.

“Science, meanwhile, advances. Methods change, new fields are born, new tests are introduced, the lexicon expands, and fresh approaches to the interpretation of causal relations evolve. Familiar terms such as enzymes and molecules are replaced by microarray expression and nanotubes; single-author research studies have now become multi-institutional, multi-author, international collaborative efforts. No field illustrates the evolution of science better than forensics.

“The evidence provided by DNA technology was so far superior to other widely accepted methods and called into question so many earlier convictions that the scientific community had to reexamine many of its time-worn forensic science practices. Although flaws of some types of forensic science evidence, such as bite and footprint analysis, lineup identification, and bullet matching were recognized, even the most revered form of forensic science—fingerprint identification—was found to be fallible. Notably, even the “gold standard” of forensic evidence, namely DNA analysis, can lead to an erroneous conviction if the sample is contaminated, if specimens are improperly identified, or if appropriate laboratory protocols and practices are not followed.

“Yet despite its advances, science has remained fundamentally the same. In its ideal expression, it examines the nature of nature in a rigorous, disciplined manner in, whenever possible, (in) controlled environments. It still is based on principles of hypothesis generation, scrupulous study design, meticulous data collection, and objective interpretation of experimental results. As in other human endeavors, however, this ideal is not always met. “Feverish competition between researchers and their parent institutions, fervent publicity seeking, and the potential for dazzling financial rewards can impair scientific objectivity. In recent years we have experienced serious problems that range from the introduction of subtle bias in the design and interpretation of experiments to overt fraudulent studies. In this welter of modern science, ambitious scientists, self-designated experts, billion dollar corporate entities, and aggressive claimants, judges must weigh evidence, judge, and decide.

“As with previous editions of the Reference Manual, this edition is organized according to many of the important scientific and technological disciplines likely to be encountered by federal (or state) judges. We wish to highlight here two critical issues germane to the interpretation of all scientific evidence, namely issues of causation and conflict of interest. Causation is the task of attributing cause and effect, a normal everyday cognitive function that ordinarily takes little or no effort. Fundamentally, the task is an inferential process of weighing evidence and using judgment to conclude whether or not an effect is the result of some stimulus. Judgment is required even when using sophisticated statistical methods.

“Such methods can provide powerful evidence of associations between variables, but they cannot prove that a causal relationship exists. Theories of causation (evolution, for example) lose their designation as theories only if the scientific community has rejected alternative theories and accepted the causal relationship as fact. Elements that are often considered in helping to establish a causal relationship include predisposing factors, proximity of a stimulus to its putative outcome, the strength of the stimulus, and the strength of the events in a causal chain.

“Unfortunately, judges may be in a less favorable position than scientists to make causal assessments. Scientists may delay their decision while they or others gather more data. Judges, on the other hand, must rule on causation based on existing information. Concepts of causation familiar to scientists (no matter what stripe) may not resonate with judges who are asked to rule on general causation (i.e., is a particular stimulus known to produce a particular reaction) or specific causation (i.e., did a particular stimulus cause a particular consequence in a specific instance). In the final analysis, a judge does not have the option of suspending judgment until more information is available, but must decide after considering the best available science. Finally, given the enormous amount of evidence to be interpreted, expert scientists from different (or even the same) disciplines may not agree on which data are the most relevant, which are the most reliable, and what conclusions about causation are appropriate to be derived.

“Like causation, conflict of interest is an issue that cuts across most, if not all, scientific disciplines and could have been included in each chapter of the Reference Manual. Conflict of interest manifests as bias, and given the high stakes and adversarial nature of many courtroom proceedings, bias can have a major influence on evidence, testimony, and decision making. Conflicts of interest take many forms and can be based on religious, social, political, or other personal convictions. The biases that these convictions can induce may range from serious to extreme, but these intrinsic influences and the biases they can induce are difficult to identify. Even individuals with such prejudices may not appreciate that they have them, nor may they realize that their interpretations of scientific issues may be biased by them.

“Because of these limitations, we consider here only financial conflicts of interest; such conflicts are discoverable. Nonetheless, even though financial conflicts can be identified, having such a conflict, even one involving huge sums of money, does not necessarily mean that a given individual will be biased. Having a financial relationship with a commercial entity produces a conflict of interest, but it does not inevitably evoke bias. In science, financial conflict of interest is often accompanied by disclosure of the relationship, leaving to the public the decision whether the interpretation might be tainted. Needless to say, such an assessment may be difficult. The problem is compounded in scientific publications by obscure ways in which the conflicts are reported and by a lack of disclosure of dollar amounts.

“Judges and juries, however, must consider financial conflicts of interest when assessing scientific testimony. The threshold for pursuing the possibility of bias must be low. In some instances, judges have been frustrated in identifying expert witnesses who are free of conflict of interest because entire fields of science seem to be co-opted by payments from industry. Judges must also be aware that the research methods of studies funded specifically for purposes of litigation could favor one of the parties. Though awareness of such financial conflicts in itself is not necessarily predictive of bias, such information should be sought and evaluated as part of the deliberations.

“The Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, here in its third edition, is formulated to provide the tools for judges to manage cases involving complex scientific and technical evidence. It describes basic principles of major scientific fields from which legal evidence is typically derived and provides examples of cases in which such evidence was used. Authors of the chapters were asked to provide an overview of principles and methods of the science and provide relevant citations.

“We expect that few judges will read the entire manual; most will use the volume in response to a need when a particular case arises involving a technical or scientific issue. To help in this endeavor, the Reference Manual contains completely updated chapters as well as new ones on neuroscience, exposure science, mental health, and forensic science. This edition of the manual has also gone through the thorough review process of the National Academy of Sciences.

“As in previous editions, we continue to caution judges regarding the proper use of the reference guides. They are not intended to instruct judges concerning what evidence should be admissible or to establish minimum standards for acceptable scientific testimony. Rather, the guides can assist judges in identifying the issues most commonly in dispute in these selected areas and in reaching an informed and reasoned assessment concerning the basis of expert evidence. They are designed to facilitate the process of identifying and narrowing issues concerning scientific evidence by outlining for judges the pivotal issues in the areas of science that are often subject to dispute.

“Citations in the reference guides identify cases in which specific issues were raised; they are examples of other instances in which judges were faced with similar problems. By identifying scientific areas commonly in dispute, the guides should improve the quality of the dialogue between the judges and the parties concerning the basis of expert evidence. In our committee discussions, we benefited from the judgment and wisdom of the many distinguished members of our committee, who gave time without compensation.”

http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13163

The PDF download is free!  PREPUBLICATION COPY – document is subject to editorial changes only.

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Essential Health Benefits — Balancing Coverage & Costs <2011>

The academy committee, all volunteers, albeit knowledgeable, managed to stay clear of politicizing, an accomplishment I’m not sure I could equal.

“A critical element of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the set of health benefits—termed “essential health benefits” (EHB)—that must be offered to individuals and small groups in state-based purchasing exchanges and the existing market. If the package of benefits is too narrow, health insurance might be meaningless; if it is too broad, insurance might become too expensive. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee on Defining and Revising an Essential Health Benefits Package for Qualified Health Plans concluded that the major task of the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) in defining the EHB will be balancing the comprehensiveness of benefits with their cost.

“Not surprisingly, the work of this committee drew intense public interest. Opportunity for public input was offered through testimony at two open hearings and through the web. The presentations at the hearings reinforced for the committee the difficulty of the task of balancing comprehensiveness and affordability. On the one hand, groups representing providers and consumers urged the broadest possible coverage of services. On the other, groups representing both small and large businesses argued for affordability and flexibility. The committee thus viewed its principal task as helping the Secretary navigate these competing goals and preferences in a fair and implementable way.

“The ACA sets forth only broad guidance in defining essential health benefits, and that guidance is ambiguous—some would say contradictory.

First, EHB “shall include at least” ten named categories of health services per Section 1302 Second, the scope of the EHB shall be “equal to the scope of benefits provided under a typical employer plan.”
Third, there are a set of “required elements for consideration” in establishing the EHB, such as balance and nondiscrimination.
Fourth, there are several specific requirements regarding cost sharing, preventive services, proscriptions on limitations on coverage, and the like.

Taken together, these provisions complicate the task of designing an EHB package that will be affordable for its principal intended purchasers—individuals and small businesses.

“The committee’s solution is this: build on what currently exists, learn over time, and make it better. That is, the initial EHB package should be a modification of what small employers are currently offering. All stakeholders should then learn enough over time—during implementation and through experimentation and research—to improve the package. The EHB package should be continuously improved and increasingly specific, with the goal that it is based on evidence of what improves health and that it promotes the appropriate use of limited resources. The committee’s recommended modifications to the current small employer benefit package are:

(1) To take into account the ten general categories of the ACA;
(2) to apply committee-developed criteria to guide aggregate and specific EHB content and on the methods to determine the EHB; and
(3) to develop an initial package within a premium target.

“Defining a premium target, which is a way to address the affordability issue, became a central tenet of the committee. Why the Secretary should take cost into account, both in defining the initial EHB package and in updating it, is straightforward: if cost is not taken into account, the EHB package becomes increasingly expensive, and individuals and small businesses will find it increasingly unaffordable. If this occurs, the principal reason for the ACA—enabling people to purchase health insurance, and covering more of the population—will not be met. At an even more fundamental level, health benefits are a resource and no resource is unlimited. Defining a premium target in conjunction with developing the EHB package simply acknowledges this fundamental reality. How to take cost into account became a major task.

“The committee’s solution in the determination of the initial EHB package is to tie the package to what small employers would have paid, on average, for their current packages of benefits in 2014, the first year the ACA will apply to insurance purchases in and out of the exchanges. This “premium target” should be updated annually, based on medical inflation. Since, however, this does little to stem health care cost increases, and since the committee did not believe the DHHS Secretary had the authority to mandate premium (or other cost) targets, the committee recommends a concerted and expeditious attempt by all stakeholders to address the problem of health care cost inflation.

“An additional task related to that part of the committee’s charge directing it to address “medical necessity.” Medical necessity is a means by which insurers and health plans determine whether it is appropriate to reimburse a specific patient for an eligible benefit. For example, the insurance contract may specify that diabetes care is a covered benefit; whether it is paid for depends on whether that care is medically necessary for the particular patient—whether, for example, the patient has diabetes.

‘The committee believes that medical necessity determinations are both appropriate and necessary and serve as a context within which the EHB package is developed by a health insurer into a specific benefit design and that benefit design is subsequently administered. The committee favored transparency both in the establishment of the rules used in making those determinations and in their application and appeals processes. Indeed, since the design and administration of health benefits rather than the scope of benefits themselves are what appear to differentiate small employer plans from each other and from large employer plans, monitoring benefit administration is an important step in the learning process and updating of the EHB.

“Further, the committee stated that a goal of the updated EHB package is that its content becomes more evidence-based. The committee wishes to emphasize the importance of research about the effectiveness of health services and to emphasize that the results of this research, including costs, should be taken into account in designing the EHB package. New and alternative treatments, in the view of the committee, should meet the standard of providing increased health gains at the same or lower cost.

“Since the committee saw balancing comprehensiveness and affordability as the Secretary’s major task, it also recognized that any such balancing affected, and was affected by, individual and societal values and preferences. Thus, the committee recommends that both in the determination of the initial EHB package and in its updates, structured public deliberative processes be established to identify the values and priorities of those citizens eligible to purchase insurance through the exchanges, as well as members of the general public. Such processes will enhance both public understanding of the tradeoffs inherent in establishing an EHB package and public acceptance of what emerges.

“The committee recommended that the Secretary develop a process that facilitates discovery and implementation of innovative practices over time. A key source for this information will come from what states are observing or enabling them in their own exchanges. Moreover, the committee recommends that for states that operate insurance exchanges, requests to adopt alternatives to the federal essential health benefits package be granted only if these are consistent with ACA requirements and the criteria specified in the report and they are not significantly more or less generous than the federal package. State packages also should be supported by meaningful public input. The committee hopes that its work will be useful in assisting the Secretary of HHS to determine and update the essential health benefits and that its deliberations will be informative to the public. As with most issues of importance, the committee’s work involved balancing tradeoffs among competing interests and ideas. We hope this work is a positive step toward effective implementation of a key provision of the ACA.”

Since, in America the Litigative, the recommendations and implementation practices recommended by the EHB will be challenged in court, I recommend you read, if you skipped it, the previous topic on ‘Scientific Legal Evidence”.

A Reference and a Note

Essential Health Benefits — Balancing Coverage & Costs, 2011

http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13234

The PDF download is free!  PREPUBLICATION COPY – document is subject to editorial changes only.

A Note ASIDE:

Recent articles and studies on Implicit Prejudice, holding belief based and deeply buried prejudices, which daily affect your decisions. See: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ and Scientific American: The Implicit Prejudice 06/09/2006 Article [http://www.sciam.com/print_version.cfm?articleID=0004B0F0-7813-146C-ADB783414B7F0000] The implications of these hidden workings of our brains add much to how we make de3cision and ‘judge’ truth individually or in court.

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General References

The National Academies Press

Recent NAP Releases  [http://www.nap.edu/new.html]

NAP—Environment and Environmental Studies [http://www.nap.edu/topics.php?topic=285&t=p]

NAP—Energy and Energy Conservation | Policy, Reviews and Evaluations   [http://www.nap.edu/topics.php?topic=358]

Other recent NAS/NAE/NAP topics I skimmed and found interesting and at times quite troubling.

  • Chemistry in Primetime and Online — Communicating Chemistry in Informal Environments <2011>
  • Environmental Impacts Of Wind-Energy Projects <2011>
  • Informing the Future — Critical Issues in Health, Sixth Edition <2011>
  • Relieving Pain in America — A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention Care Education & Research <2011>
  • On Being a Scientist — A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research, Third Edition <2009>

Wikipedia for Background MaterialsYes I trust Wikipedia, but only if I’ve checkout most of an articles references for bias and accuracy! My Wikipedia checks are no different that my checking websites for whom their publishers represent and what causes they favor.

U.S. Government Accountability Office [GAO]   [http://www.gao.gov/]
Recent Reports and Studies. The GAO is the non-partisan 90-year old investigative arm of congress. In a similar manner, to my learning from NRC/NAP reports, many of the technology reports published by the Government Accountability Office make facilitating, if troublesome reading. NAS committee’s to which I have provided expert knowledge specifically in the nuclear waste area are thorough, relatively unbiased and always accurate in using reference materials.

Congressional Research Service [CRS]

The CRS is known as “Congress’s think tank” is the public policy research arm of the United States Congress. As a legislative branch agency within the Library of Congress, CRS works exclusively and directly for Members of Congress, their Committees and staff on a confidential, nonpartisan basis. CRS reports are highly regarded as in-depth, accurate, objective, and timely, but as a matter of policy they are not made directly available to members of the public. There have been several attempts to pass legislation requiring all reports to be made available online, most recently in 2003, but none have passed. Instead, the public must request individual reports from their Senators and Representatives in Congress, purchase them from private vendors, or search for them in various web archives of previously released documents.

The CRS is joined by two other congressional support agencies. The Congressional Budget Office provides Congress with budget-related information, reports on fiscal, budgetary, and programmatic issues, and analyses of budget policy options, costs, and effects. The Government Accountability Office assists Congress in reviewing and monitoring the activities of government by conducting independent audits, investigations, and evaluations of federal programs. [Partial Wikipedia Quote]

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End Notes:

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

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

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Software: Tides Calculator
Vendor: Wolfram Research (www.wolfram.com)
Price: $.99

Wolfram’s Mathematica (now version 8.0.4) is a mature product used by many professionals and academics, and the past couple of years Wolfram has started getting developing mobile applications. I’ve already reviewed their Astronomy and Chemistry course assistant apps, which are excellent and inexpensive products for students. This review is on Wolfram’s Tides Calculator, one of their new Reference apps for the iPhone/Touch and iPad.

The tides are relevant to many people around the world that live on or near the coast, or that make a living on the sea. Wolfram provides a low cost ($.99) app that is easy to transport and provides good information about the tides, including Current Tide, High Tide, Low Tide, Average Tide, Tide Forecast/History, and Extras.

Getting Started

I downloaded the Tides app from the iTunes store and it was a typically easy install onto my iPod Touch. I selected the first option (Current Tide), and and the default location was set to Current Location (handy of you are on the go and want the tide info for your current site. As tides are not as much of an issue for us in Minneapolis, MN, I entered Maine for the Location and pressed the Compute button. In a couple of seconds, the app displayed a chart for the tides covering 24 hours, with the time and height of high and low tides for Maine. As I entered the search in the afternoon, the returned results covered the current and next days which is better than forcing one to go to a different path to get the tide info for the next day. One thing to note: this data was computed based on historical data and did not include weather-influenced factors like hurricanes, so take this into consideration if you need current information and bad weather impacts your location.

There is other useful data on the same screen. The tide reporting station for Maine is at Bangor, at the Penobscot River, and the coordinates of the station are included (good for using with Google Earth), along with the relative position of the station in relation to the state of Maine. Another bit of useful information on the screen is sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and moonset. Not all of the screen information is visible at the same time, but it is easy to move around or zoom out as needed.

Next I checked out the High Tide and Low Tide information. I again used Bangor Maine as the location and essentially saw the same information displayed as I saw at the Current Tide screen, although the graphs highlighted the high and low tides respectably. I used Bangor again for the Average Tide option, and there were a few extra bits of information (range of tide, average high tide, average of high and low tides, and average low tide), but had mostly the same information as was shown at the Current Tide screen.

The next option I tested was Tide Forecast/History. Using my favorite (Bangor, Maine) location, I retrieved the tides forecast for 11/24/2011 (Thanksgiving Day in the US) and saw a nice 24 hr graph of the expected tides, with times/heights of high/low tides along with sun/moon rise/set times. Good data for a forecast. Next I left the location alone and changed the date to 11/24/2010 and the app downloaded the historical tide data for last year – also, good data.

Finally I checked out the Extras options and they were: Sunrise and Sunset, Sun Exposure, UV Forecast, Weather and Forecast, Moon Phase, and Properties of Oceans. For Sunrise and Sunset, I retrieved the information for my current location (Minneapolis, MN) for tomorrow and saw the data, plus the duration of daylight (good to know as we edge closer to the shortest day of the year), the altitude and azimuth for my location, a nice graph of the sun path for tomorrow, some cool (to amateur astronomers) star properties, an image of the current Earth/Moon/Sun configuration (science teachers, paying attention?), and the 10 closest stars (including Wolf 359, mentioned once or twice in Star Trek: The Next Generation). Excellent information for educators and astronomers.

Another Extras option is Sun Exposure, where you can enter your location, date, and skin type to compute the most appropriate sun tan lotion needed to protect your body. Nice. With my skin type, I will need an SPF 15 if I head outdoors tomorrow. I like the UV Forecast option too – it gave the current UV conditions, along with a map of most of the country that showed this data, along with the expected time to get a sunburn (based on skin type and exposure), and the recommended SPF factor for sun tan lotion.

The next Extras item I checked out was the weather forecast. I regularly check weather when I fly, and I’m just as interested in the weather when driving in Minnesota in January and February, so this is one of my favorite extras.The forecast for the current day and next day is useful, and the graph for the temperatures for the upcoming week is also good to know (especially as the highs and lows for each day is also included). I also find the precipitation rate and wind speed forecast graphs to be very useful and both enhance this aspect of the app. I should add you can get weather forecasts for other locations than current location, so this could be a nice assistant when planning a vacation.

The next option in Extras is Moon Phase, which provides good info if you’re wanting to look at the Moon. The last Extras option is Properties of Oceans and it provides Ocean Information, Ocean Properties, Speed of Sound in the Ocean, and Pressure Under Water data. Good information for planning a dive, don’t you think?

Likes

  • The price is excellent, and the UI is simple yet functional.
  • This is a good tool to use to help plan a vacation.
  • The app does what good apps do – it retrieves information over the internet (from Wolfram servers), reducing the footprint of the downloaded/installed app.
  • I like how the locations default to the current location (great for lazy mobile device owners like myself).
  • The amount of information in Extras is excellent and really expands the app. Weather is my absolute favorite option in this app.

Dislikes

  • Didn’t like seeing the same information in Current Tides duplicated in the High, Low, and Average Tide screens. I’d rather have buttons at the Current Tide screen that would provide the additional information. I think it might have been better to release a Weather App, which includes Tide information, that a Tides App with weather information.

Conclusion

The information is useful to a lot of people, not just sailors. As a fiction writer, I may need to know past or future tides that affect the characters in some of my stories, and this inexpensive app would be an excellent resource. While I know many people (including me) prefer free apps, it is hard to argue with the low price for this app.

Recommendation

Buy it. Skip the burger on the McDonald’s value menu and buy this app. It is interesting information, and good, inexpensive apps need to be purchased to encourage vendors to continue to provide quality apps at a low price. Wolfram currently has another 8 Reference Apps available, and the next one I’ll review is their Fractals App.

Please let our readers know if you’ve tried this app and your impression of the software. Sharing experiences on expensive apps is important, but so is telling others about good, low cost applications.

Be well.

By Harry {doc} Babad, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.  Revision 2 (corrected 1/2/2012)

Introduction

Over the years there has been On-N-Off again interest in using thorium rather then uranium to fuel our energy needs. The interest came in part because of the greater availability and more widely distributed quantities of thorium in the earths crust. In addition the a thorium based fuel cycle seem to be significantly, despite nay-sayers, more resistant to diversion to weapons production (proliferation.) Recent studies, both at design phase and pilot plant size demonstrations have demonstrated that in an appropriate rector, the thorium based fuel cycle can both grow its own fuel, and burn up uranium fuel cycle based spent fuel treated as waste.

There are also detail assessments of the costs of such alternative technology, which I’ve ignored in this article. Why? For the most part in my studies, all such cost studies overestimate the end costs. This is in part due to the use of pessimistic values of input data and the use of conservative modeling assumptions.

Figure 1. The (simplified) Thorium Fuel Cycle

The discussions that follow are encapsulated gleanings from the main articles I reference, all published in the last several years. In addition, I skimmed my collection 60+ document collections on the thorium fuel cycle reference that, go back to 2005.

I attempted, within the time I had available, to determine whether any of the older ‘paradigm’ basic assumptions had been wrong in their conceptualization of thorium use for energy production. I found none, however many of the earlier documents differed by their use of then less accurate state-of-the art models. Such models continuously evolve, get challenged and improve  to get more accurate. Technologically, we both get smarter mathematically and computing power grows in accord to Moore’s Law.

In parallel to computational development, more realistic definition of model inputs and available experimental data based on the physics, and chemistry of elements of the thorium fuel cycle have occurred.

The Basic Historical Nuclear Energy Facts as I Know Them

Nuclear energy worldwide is based on a Uranium Fuel cycle.

The non-Thorium elements in this article can be either researched in Wikipedia or just googled. They are no a part of my normal reference practices which tend to focus heavily on the main topics under discussion in these blogs. I do suggest to stick with engineering and science oriented sites or those of the much larger international site that under obsessive peer review by anti-nuclear types. It is better to check out facts than to fight the belief battle with those who have received guidance from small voices in their heads or they’re under technology educated neighbors or media fear mongers.

Uranium fuel use for electrical energy generation is a legacy of US and German weapons development during WW II. At that time the US goal was to beat Nazi German to the super weapon punch. The allies won in Europe against Adolf Hitler and the Nazis by convention means including carpet-bombing of bother German cities, factories and infrastructure.

However to win the parallel war with Japan, our leaders decided to use these newly developed atomic bombs against Hiroshima an Nagasaki. This is not the place to deal with this history — its issues, geopolitical and moral. There are library full of such analysis. I include this background to give our less history minded readers a sense of the past.

The use of nuclear science and engineering newly discover during the US’s weapons program evolved rapidly. This was a result of initially, of general then President Eisenhower’s, Atoms for Peace program. It was paralleled or closely followed by a shared US and UN sponsored program to support the growth of nuclear energy for electricity generation with the nations of the world. There was at the time a hope for low cost, perhaps not needing to be metered, electricity.

The lead agency for doing so internationally is the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA.]

Again, this is beyond the scope of this article, this did not happen. As a result of a combination of accidents, some deadly, some just scary and a growing sense of nucleophobia, especially in the United States and more recently in Germany, nuclear energy became a dirty word. France, China, India do not think so. Apparently neither do Brazil, Russia and Saudi Arabia and it’s neighbors.

For them electricity from highly regulated and proven ‘catastrophe’ safe, nuclear energy remains a reasonable alternative to their options to deal with population growth, middle class aspirations for standard of living related energy shortages, and with energy security.

Even, when the sound and fury and fear factors die down, Japan will have trouble killing off its nuclear program. On the other hand heads should roll for their intuitional and corporative neglect. While the rest of the world made progress in understanding less frequent accident risks such as natural forces (tornedos – tsunamis – earthquakes) the Japanese corporations in bed with their regulators had their heads in the sand. It’s a time honored tradition — They have shamed the nation; perhaps Seppuku would be honorable.

Thorium Fuel Cycle Pro Arguments

Figure 2 - The Thorium Decay Chain

Enough said as background. Despite problems and issues that temporarily shut down nuclear energy programs and projects, almost all the nations of the world are seeking, if not publicly, to make nuclear electricity usually from uranium and a bit from thorium. In that effort, the Thorium Fuel cycle can perhaps play a key longer term role if I understand that ‘energy’ system.It appear to have been well documented, if not yet fully proven to the naysayer’s or for that matter to regulators around the world,Thorium Fuel Cycle is:

  • Safer
  • Cheaper
  • Proliferation Proof,
  • Creates Minimal high-level Waste
  • Eases recycling existing uranium spent fuel, and of course
  • Aiding the effort to become self reliant in Energy for their industry and transpiration needs.

One could now add:

  • Minimizing Greenhouse Gas production
  • Assuring low cost means of purifying sea or recycled and brackish or polluted water for drinking and agricultural purposes.
  • Lowering Transportation and its associated pollution costs

All of these uses have high-energy demands, usually in the form of inexpensive, reliable, safe electricity

For balance, most of the cons of using a Thorium Fuel Cycle have been specifically leveled the Liquid-fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) or the to early for it’s time (funding) Pebble Bed reactors.

Therefore I cover both positive and negative aspects of these specific solutions to using a thorium-based thorium, in the section below. Had Pebble Bed not happened in parallel to our recent economic meltdown, it might also have been an alterative.


Future Potential Path(s) Forward

Overview

  • Focus on spent fuel recycling by proven available chemical processing to recover uranium/plutonium for reuse, while minimizing waste and proliferation risks.
  • Progress with Advanced Reactor Design that initially creates intrinsically safe and ultimately inherently safe nuclear energy generation facilities.
  • Make significant International Progress with controlling the various aspects of the fuel cycle (mining though either waste disposal or reuse, to minimize costs to present and future generation, and of course maximize safety.
  • Expedite designing, testing and deploying alternate fuel cycles that avoid the problems caused by our use of uranium or uranium-plutonium fuel  [MOX] to generate electricity.

That’s where Thorium comes into play. In the section that follows I share the pros and cost of developing and ultimately relying on a Thorium based electrical generation cycle for our electrical needs.

The information below, shared at a summary level, described the myriads of pros & cons in slowly switching to a thorium based fuel cycle. These of course have been heavily discussed in both the scientific-engineering literature including the Internet, and on pro-and-con blogs on the issue. Of course adoption, all thing being equal, will likely happened faster in India, and China, … than in the US.

Unfortunately for clean energy advances which include energy independence and closed cycle nuclear power, since we seem to be a ‘fourth world’ (Doc’s New Label) nation with respect to tackling major global problems such as energy independence, climate change, and low-cost abundant safe energy to boot strap our economy and stamp out poverty.

Low cost sustainable energy will play an important role in economic development, especially approaching 2050 or after. India and China are planning very ambitious programs of nuclear power development. Both countries are planning rapid deployment of significant numbers of traditional Light Water and Heavy Water power reactors, while projecting the further development both Fast Liquid Metal Reactors [FLMR]] and Thorium cycle breeder reactors. (Barton I)

More below about thorium based aspects of these reactors types.

 

Liquid-fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) Pros)

  • From the nuclear physics standpoint, they are potentially, passively safe,
  • Past and present designs, and demonstration plants show that they are mechanically simple
  • These reactor types can be quite compact in size allowing them to used in the manner projected for other modular nuclear reactors or small stand alone factory built rechargeable battery style nuclear reactors/power generator systems.
  • They can in principal be deployed virtually anywhere and protected more ealy han large reactor facilities.
  • In preparing to build LFTRs we will recover valuable medical radioisotopes that could provide early financial return.
  • Operating LFTRs will generate electricity, desalinated water, and generate valuable radioisotopes for NASA and the medical sector where ever it is needed, requiring minimal expensive complex grid systems.
  • The possibility of utilizing a very abundant resource which has hitherto been of so little interest that its abundance has never been quantified properly seems worth investigating fully.
  • The production of power that creates fewer long-lived transuranic elements in the waste.
  • They, based on their nuclear physics, produce significantly reduced radioactive wastes.
  • Although I could not document this statement, I believe (yep the belief word) that the amount of radiation spread if battle hardened reactor is hit, would be about the same magnitude of the spent uranium ammunition were spreading now. If a war situation used nuclear weapons – shells – missiles or bombs…all bets are off. You are dead, end the environment doesn’t master. Gaia will recover in a millennia or two.

LFTR Cons

  • At the current state of knowledge, they have a high cost for fuel fabrication [e.g., due to the presence of 233-Uranium]
  • There are similar problems in recycling thorium itself due to highly radioactive Th-228 (an alpha emitter with two-year half life) is present.
  • There is some concern over weapons proliferation risk of U-233 (if it could be separated on its own), although many designs such as the Russia’s Radkowsky Thorium Reactor addresses this concern. There appear to be safe-cost effective solution to this issue.
  • The technical problems (not yet satisfactorily solved) in reprocessing solid fuels. However, with some designs, in particular the molten salt reactor (MSR), these problems are likely to largely disappear.

Much development work is still required before the thorium fuel cycle can be commercialized This is being done in India and China, The effort required seems unlikely while (or where) abundant uranium is available. In this respect, recent international moves to bring India into the ambit of international trade might or may not result in the country ceasing to persist with the thorium cycle, as it now has ready access to traded uranium and conventional reactor designs

Nevertheless despite the negative aspects that would limit, universally, switching to a thorium fuel cycle, the thorium fuel cycle, with its potential for breeding fuel without the need for fast neutron reactors, holds considerable potential in the long-term. It is a significant factor in the long-term sustainability of nuclear energy.

Gen IV reactor History and Safety Features

These have been universally claimed to be passively safe; that is, they remove the need for redundant, active safety systems. This is in part due to obviating the need for electro-mechanical safety-fail safe feature and any part for human action – The nuclear physics does the job. This is a result of the reactor is design allowing it to both safely handle high temperatures {No melt-down scenario.} The reactor can cool itself by natural circulation and still survive in accident scenarios, which may raise the temperature of the reactor to 1,600 °C.

LFTR type reactors will offer safe, sustainable and efficient nuclear power at a potentially low cost. LFTR and Pebble-bed reactors can also theoretically power vehicles. Why, they would be fail-crash safe, and there is no need for a heavy pressure vessel for containment. Furthermore, the pebble bed heats gas that could directly drive a lightweight gas turbine.

The use of the advanced thorium cycle in a fusion-fission hybrid could potentially bypass the stage of designing and building fourth generation breeder reactors in that the energy multiplication in the fission part allows the satisfaction (achievement) of energy breakeven point and the in magnetic and inertial fusion reactor designs. I have not discussed this somewhat still academic alternative lack of time,

Historically, in the United States, the thorium-fission fuel cycle, which I have not discussed for was investigated over the period 1950-1976 both in the federally funded Molten Salt Breeder 1976 in the Molten Salt Breeder Reactor Studies (MSBR) at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Reactor (MSBR) at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) as well as in the pilot (ORNL) as well as in the pilot Shippingport fission reactor fission reactor plant.

It has also been used in the High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactor (HTGR) in a pebble bed and a prismatic moderator Reactor (HTGR) in a pebble bed and a prismatic moderator and fuel configurations. General Atomics Corporation (GA) did a large amount of documented-peer review-published work, which the US has ignored but not so the rest of the world.

The General Atomics (GA) Company built two prototype thorium reactors over the1960-1970’s period. The first was a 40 MWeMWe prototype at Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania operated by Philadelphia Electric. The second a 330 MWeMWe at Fort St. Vrain for the Public service of Colorado which operated between 1971 and 1975.

It now appears that the effort to building a Pebble Bed reactor [PBMR ] that was planned in South Africa failed because of lack of Investors/customers, rather then the albeit, large technical and regulatory challenge.

Figure 4. Molten Salt Reactor

.

Because India was outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty due to its weapons program, it was for 34 years largely excluded from trade in nuclear plant components or materials that had hampered its development of civil nuclear energy until 2009. Due to these trade bans and barriers, and the lack of indigenous sources of uranium, India has uniquely been developing a nuclear fuel cycle to exploit its reserves of thorium.

Indeed its expertise has made it the premier source of potential thorium fuel cycle expertise, technology and soon workable-licensable reactor designs. Will building thorium based reactor systems come next?

The Molten Salt Reactor [MSR]

The MSR is an advanced breeder concept, in which the coolant is a molten salt, usually a fluoride salt mixture. This is thermally quite hot, but not under pressure, and does not boil below about 1400°C. The higher temperatures enhance the efficiency of energy generation.

Much of this research has focused on lithium and beryllium additions to the salt mixture to enhance safety. The fuel can be dissolved enriched uranium, thorium or U-233 as fluoride salts. Recent international discussion has been focused on the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor, utilizing U-233 which has been bred in a liquid thorium salt blanket and continuously removed to be added to the core.

The MSR concept and design was studied in depth in the 1960s, and is now being revived because of the availability of advanced technology for the temperature-radiation resistant materials and components. There is now renewed interest in the MSR concept in China, perhaps in Japan, Russia, France and even in the USA, and one of the six Generation IV designs selected for further development by DOE’s advanced reactor program is the MSR.

The Anti-MSR View — In his 2009 article, my colleague Arjun Makhijani, entitled Thorium Fuel: No Panacea for Nuclear Power reiterates the widely published concerns about with implementing a commercial thorium fuel cycle. I agree with the listing of problems, so dies the rest of the nuclear engineering community both engineering and commercial.

I do ask, Arjun, what’s new other then trying to involve the public in another nucleophobic red herring. This is an IEER fault that I can seldom find in studies by the staff of the Union of Concerned Scientists who’s work on nuclear and other energy issues I also follow.

 

Conclusions

I leave it to the reader, especially the scientist, engineers, economists and science-educated politicians to think about this. I for one would rather pay a short term penalty (cost) for a safer cost effective, proliferation resistant fuel cycle that released except in mining, no green house gases, than the alternatives and comes closer to solving the HLW disposal problem than to throw that valuable asset away.

If wishes were horses (beggars would ride)and I could perhaps:

  • Convince the City of Richland (WA) and Oak Ridge (TN) to set up a municipal ‘battery reactor’ – Ups, NRC is mostly ignoring the licensing of this reactor, and will doubtless prevent us importing them from the UK.
  • If I were not risk adverse, I could invest heavily in thorium mines. However, by the time that licensing anywhere in the world occurs, these ores would become as inflated as gold, palladium or rare earth element ores are now.
  • Buy a real stake (ownership) of the iron and uranium mines that underground repositories create.

I would seriously consider investing my children’s-grandchildren’s future inheritances – what’s left after my wife and I pass on, or at least half of that amount in such a “certified and licensed’ and default insured ventures.


A Final Thought
— Over the many years I’ve know him, I’ve been troubled by my colleague Arjun Makhijani ongoing finding of problems in nuclear and other energy areas that for the most part can be dealt with minor tuning of the design of a project. Most of which has nuclear concerns when reviewed 3-5 years later, have been proven to be technical challenges rather that fatal flaws or perhaps unconventional red herrings. WIIFT anyone?

Doc

REFERENCES

The Thorium Fuel Cycle, Wikipedia, 2011 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium_fuel_cycle/

All About Thorium, The World Nuclear Association, March 2011.
http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf62.html/

Thorium Costs, http://www.thorium.tv site; Undated       http://www.thorium.tv/en/thorium_costs/thorium_costs.php/

Nuclear Power in India, The World Nuclear Association, October 2011
http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf53.html/

The Fusion Fission Hybrid Thorium Fuel Cycle Alternative <A Slide Presentation, Feb 2010>. University of Illinois. http://www.intechopen.com/articles/show/title/thorium-fission-and-fission-fusion-fuel-cycle/

Thorium Fission and Fission-Fusion Fuel Cycle, Nuclear Power – Deployment, Operation and Sustainability, by Magdi Ragheb (2011), Pavel Tsvetkov (Ed.), ISBN: 978-953-307-474-0, InTech
http://www.intechopen.com/source/pdfs/19682/InTech-Thorium_fission_and_fission_fusion_fuel_cycle.pdf/

Thorium Fuel: No Panacea for Nuclear Power, By Arjun Makhijani and Michele Boyd, dated for the Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research [IEER.]            http://www.ieer.org/fctsheet/thorium2009factsheet.pdf/

Safeguards Approaches for Fast Breeder Reactors and Associated Fuel Cycle Facilities, Nuclear Security Science Policy Institure, 2010         http://nsspi.tamu.edu/topical-subsections/research/research-projects/safeguards-instrumentation-fast-breeder-reactors   

The Thorium Fueled Molten Salt Reactor News [MSR] Blog   http://thoriummsr.com/

Nuclear Batteries (e.g., Small Nuclear Reactors) By Eben Harrell Monday, Feb. 28, 2011, Time Magazine.http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2050039,00.html/

Pebble Bed Reactor — Wikipedia 2011.     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pebble_bed_reactor/

Uranium-233 {formed in Thorium Reactors } – Wikipedia. 2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium-233/

Sidebar Notes

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

Some of the articles cited or quoted in this column are copyright protected – their use is both acknowledged and is limited to educational related purposes, which this column provides.

The author considers, as do many experts, Wikipedia a reliable and accessible site for technical information, provided that the reference cited in the Wikipedia article meets the following standard.

My Standards for References Checks Are the references provided essentially complete or representative of the literature, and relevant?  Do they include both precedent and present work, including any referenced disagreement with any of the article author’s assumptions, methods or views?In addition I always try to glean WIIFT <what’s in it for them?> WIIFT is a neutral characteristic that sets the authors paradigm, some the reader needs to be aware of. It’s like who actually sponsors research, a political add, or ant means of trying to sway you viewpoint – OKAY enough preaching.

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

Introduction

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!

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

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.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

 ‘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.

REFERENCES

ABOUT SOLAR HIGHWAYS

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. http://www.grist.org/list/2011-07-20-solar-highways-transform-our-crumbling-infrastructure-into-somet

Oregon’s “Solar Highway” Breaking Records Today. Published: Wednesday, July 01, 2009, By Matthew Preusch, The Oregonian http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2009/07/oregons_solar_highway_breaking.html

Oregon Installs First Highway Solar Project. Update: Friday, August 08, 2008, 8:04 AM, by Dylan Rivera, The Oregonian http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2008/08/oregon_installs_first_highway.html

Oregon Monitoring Data (PGE/OR-DOT) on America’s First Solar Highwayhttp://www.live.deckmonitoring.com/?id=solarhighway

Republic’s Super Highways Projects; California Here We Come: http://www.cloverleafsolarhighways.com/sites/

Solar Photovoltaics  – Wikipedia, 2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photovoltaics

SOLAR TRADE WAR REFERENCES ADDENDUM

U.S. Solar Manufacturers Request Duties on Chinese Imports, by Mark Drajem and Eric Martin, October 20, 2011, in Bloomberg Business Week.
http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-10-20/u-s-solar-manufacturers-request-duties-on-chinese-imports.html

A Trade War With China Over Solar Panels Will Burn US, by Vahid Fotuhi, Oct 30, 2011 I n the National.   http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/industry-insights/energy/a-trade-war-with-china-over-solar-panels-will-burn-us/

Solar Execs Wary Of Trade War With China, CNET News & Reuters, October 20, 2011.  http://news.cnet.com/8301-11128_3-20123327-54/solar-execs-wary-of-trade-war-with-china/

Solar Panel Trade War, by Tim Worstall, Forbes Contributor, October 23, 2011.
http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2011/10/23/solar-panel-trade-war/

Solar Trade War Officially Starts Today, by Eric Wesoff: October 19, 2011 at GreenTech Solar   http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/solar-trade-war-officially-starts-today/

U.S. Solar Manufacturers Request Duties on Chinese Imports, by Mark Drajem and Eric Martin, October 20, 2011, in Bloomberg Business Week.
http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-10-20/u-s-solar-manufacturers-request-duties-on-chinese-imports.html

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.

REFERENCES

The Rare Earth Elements By Hugh Aldersey-Williams. From the July-August special issue; Discover Magazine         http://discovermagazine.com/2011/jul-aug/12-meet-obscure-metals-that-lurk-products-all-around-you.

The Rare Earth Elements, Wikipedia, 2011, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rare_Earth_Elements

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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.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_metropolitan_areas_by_population

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.

REFERENCES

As Ecosystems, Cities Yield Some Surprises, By Hillary Rosner, August 11, 2011 for the New York Times for the New York Times
http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/11/as-ecosystems-cities-yield-some-surprises/

What Drives Cities’ Runaway Growth? By Felicity Barringer, August 22, 2011 for the New York Times. http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/22/the-city-limits-are-expanding-everywhere/

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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 http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=The+dose+makes+the+poinson&x=0&y=0

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” ardeangelo@aol.com 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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 Endnotes

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:

https://mhreviews.wordpress.com/2010/05/23/the-greening-continues-a-column-intro-may-23-2010/

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!

Doc.

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.

http://celebrationgoddess.wordpress.com/2010/05/19/a-computer-lets-you-make-more-mistakes-faster-than-any-invention-in-human-history-with-the-possible-exceptions-of-handguns-and-tequila/

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

Introduction

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 them in depth, you will find studies saying they are capable of being commercialized and often as many other studies that are more skeptical because there is no easy way to for them into our systems.

I always, as 75 year old cynic, find it appropriate, 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.

I know, perhaps even truly believe, is this. For green energy related items, if we put a simple price (tax) on carbon (greenhouse gases) and gave out no subsidies, these new technologies would have a better chance to blossom. With American ingenuity, Indian and Chinese too, thousands more ideas would come out of innovators’ garages. America still has the best innovation culture in the world. But we need better policies to nurture it, better infrastructure to enable it and more open doors to bring others here to try it.

Remember, 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. 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

  • Abu Dhabi Plans to Go Nuclear — The UAE capital, undaunted by Fukushima, says it will proceed with plans for a civilian reactor
  • Climate Benefits of Natural Gas May Be Overstated
  • Vertical Farming in the Windy City and Elsewhere
  • Food vs. Fuel, Redux: The Biofuel Dilemma
  • Electric Motors — Nikola Tesla’s Revenge
  • Rocks on The Menu — Mineral-munching bugs to extract metals
  • Climate Change – It’s Complicated, But It’s Real
  • Would You Buy A $40 Light Bulb and Other Lighting Options
  • The Thorium Fuel Cycle is Catching On
  • QUOTE de Mois — Correlation is NOT Necessarily Causation

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Abu Dhabi Plans to Go Nuclear

— The UAE capital, undaunted by Fukushima, says it will proceed with plans for a civilian reactor

Even as radiation leaks from crippled plants at Fukushima,  countries from China to the Middle East are forging ahead with nuclear power. On Mar. 28, Abu Dhabi confirmed it would proceed with plans for a civilian reactor despite the Japan disaster. “It’s a technology we should bring to the region,” said Abdulla Saif al-Nuaimi, director general of Abu Dhabi Water & Electricity Authority, at the Arabian Power & Water Summit. Nuclear generation remains the most realistic option, says Jarmo Kotilaine, chief economist at National Commercial Bank in Saudi Arabia: “It’s cost competitive, addresses some of the environmental risks involved in burning crude, and can be built on a large scale.”

Power demand in Abu Dhabi is rising at about 10 percent a year, and nuclear energy is necessary to help make up for a lack of natural gas to burn in new generators, says al-Nuaimi: “With a shortage of natural gas here, we need to find other ways to produce power.” Plans are for a reactor to be operational in 2017.

Efforts to increase power from sources such as solar energy aren’t likely to be sufficient to meet demand. The sheikdom wants to generate about 7 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2020. That would require 1,500 megawatts from projects such as wind and solar plants, says Bruce Smith, an adviser to the Abu Dhabi Water & Electricity Authority.

The bottom line: Far from backing away from nuclear power, Abu Dhabi plans to build its first civilian nuclear plant to meet rising energy demand.

Folks, this is about power for the people (homes) industry, desalinization, and of course ultimately electric cars… read the rest of the article.

Anthony DiPaola, Bloomberg Business Week, March 31, 2011.

PS: 6 More Arab States Announce Plans To Go Nuclear. The countries involved were named by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia. Tunisia and the UAE have also shown interest…

Nuclear momentum accelerates in MENA [Middle East and North Africa], Nuclear Industry Insight, 11 August 2011

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Climate Benefits of Natural Gas May Be Overstated

Pro Publica Fracking Background Introduction

The country’s push to find clean domestic energy has zeroed in on natural gas, but cases of water contamination have raised serious questions about the primary drilling method being used. Vast deposits of natural gas, large enough to supply the country for decades, have brought a drilling boom stretching across 31 states. The drilling technique being used, called hydraulic fracturing, shoots water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release the gas. The Environmental Protection Agency has declared the process to be safe, but water contamination has been reported in more than a thousand places where drilling is happening. Gas companies, exempt from federal laws protecting water supplies, may conceal the identities of their chemicals as trade secrets, making it difficult to determine the cause of contamination.

The EPA is now conducting a deeper study of the drilling, New York State has blocked drilling in New York City’s watershed, and lawmakers are pushing for closer oversight of the industry. The industry — in the form of millions of dollars spent on lobbying, a slew of court cases, and a robust public relations campaign — is pushing back.

 

Abstracted From Abrahm Lustgarten’s Article


The United States is poised to bet its energy future on natural gas as a clean, plentiful fuel that can supplant coal and oil. But new research by the Environmental Protection Agency—and a growing understanding of the pollution associated with the full “life cycle” of gas production—is casting doubt on the assumption that gas offers a quick and easy solution to climate change.

Advocates for natural gas routinely assert that it produces 50 percent less greenhouse gases than coal and is a significant step toward a greener energy future. But those assumptions are based on emissions from the tailpipe or smokestack and don’t account for the methane and other pollution emitted when gas is extracted and piped to power plants and other customers.

The EPA’s new analysis doubles its previous estimates for the amount of methane gas that leaks from loose pipe fittings and is vented from gas wells, drastically changing the picture of the nation’s emissions that the agency painted as recently as April. Calculations for some gas-field emissions jumped by several hundred percent. Methane levels from the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas were 9,000 times higher than previously reported.

There’s a whole lot more information on fracking and the potential of environmental damage vs the use of home ‘drilled’ nominally low cost hydrocarbons with the lowest potential greenhouse emissions. The detailed reader comments are also information full, I call them to your attention.

By Abrahm LustgartenPro Publica, Jan. 25, 2011

 

A Few Interesting Fracking Related References

Keep in mind there’s a wart on fracking fact sheets, but until the peer reviewed R&T and characterization is done, both side are shooting PR loaded blanks and media pyrotechnics. Doc!

Hydraulic Fracturing, Wikipedia, 2011

Hydraulic Fracturing 101, Earthworks, an Environmental Blog,Undated but ca. 2006

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting from the Petroleum and Natural Gas Industry – The latest emissions tally from the EPA (November 2010)

Baffled About Fracking? You’re Not Alone, By Mike Soraghan of Greenwire Published: May 13, 2011; Source — The New York Times

About Hydraulic Fracturing  – Facts by Chesapeake Energy Company, April 2011

Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks – An April 2010 EPA greenhouse gas report, now outdated

Preliminary Assessment of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Natural Gas Obtained by Hydraulic Fracturing – Cornell University

Comparative Life-Cycle Air Emissions of Coal, Domestic Natural Gas, LNG, and SNG for Electricity Generation – Paulina Jaramillo, Carnegie Mellon University

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Vertical Farming in the Windy City and Elsewhere

 Vertical farming is a concept that argues that it is economically and environmentally viable to cultivate plant or animal life within skyscrapers, or on vertically inclined surfaces. Despite contemporary notions of vertical faming, there is a long history of ‘vertical farming’ that can be divided into three categories. Check out the Wikipedia article for more background information.

Doc sez, this is sort of a left hand take on Robert Heinlein’s teen-readers book, “Farmer in the Sky” which was doomed because space became an unfocused virtual frontier rather than a goal for mankind. The current concepts of vertical farming seem more appropriate to our times. Reality, alas, populations grow become urbanized, farmland gets destroyed by population growth and climate changes or just plain natural forces become more destructive. Vertical (upwards) growth in urban populations is a fact – Megacroplis’ are on their way… It’s either urban sprawl or up in the wide blue yonder’. Therefore, they appear much more relevant to urban ecology and living modes.

A WAG scenario — New York City as a breadbasket of the East Coast — How? I suggest that the combination of vertical farming, nuclear powered water desalination, and all combustible residues be converted to biodiesel and electricity for car.  It would take a combination of a Bloomberg a Bill Gates and T. Boone Pickens to kick start this, although it might be faster if done in the Middle East, say by Abu Dhabi.

In Chicago’s meatpacking district, developer John Edel  hopes to reinvent the urban food supply with a $4 million, four-story indoor produce and fish farm called The Plant. Edel and his colleagues have already planted 3,000 square feet of hydroponically grown lettuce and other greens and installed 1,400 tilapia fish in tanks.

The fish farm and gardens are connected by a 9,000-gallon water circulation system: Wastewater from the tilapia tanks, rich in nitrogen-based nutrients, flows into the hydroponic beds, where it irrigates and fertilizes the lettuce. The crop roots then filter that water before it returns to the fish. Edel and student collaborators at the Illinois Institute of Technology are also building a custom-designed digester that will turn the project’s leftover vegetable and fish waste into fertilizer and biogas to power a heating, cooling, and 280-kilowatt electrical system. The Plant will offer its first bounty for sale this fall, supplying greens, mushrooms, and tilapia to farmers’ markets and local restaurants.

The Plant is part of a growing push to bring farms into metropolitan areas. Small-scale, multilevel farms have sprung up in Britain and Wisconsin, and an organization called Growing Power hopes to break ground on a five-story project in Milwaukee within 18 months. Such efforts make fresh food more accessible to inner-city residents and could help to reduce the cost and energy of shipping produce. According to an analysis from Iowa State University, conventional produce travels about 1,500 miles on average to its destination, causing the release of 5 to 17 times more carbon dioxide than food from regional and local farms.

Stan Cox, a plant-breeding researcher at the Land Institute in Kansas, points out that while leafy vegetables grow fairly well indoors, staples like wheat and corn require far more light energy. But Columbia University ecologist Dickson Despommier says large-scale projects can still have a big impact: He calculates that a 50-story building occupying one New York City block could feed 50,000 people.

By Christina Couch, for Discover Magazine, May 2011.

 

Other Related References

 Vertical farming, Wikipedia, 2011

Vertical Farming Studies in El Paso By BRYAN WALSH Thursday, Dec. 11, 2008, TIME Magazine.

Vertical Farming – Does it really stack up? The Economist, Print Edition, December 9, 2010.

Growing Skyscrapers: The Rise of Vertical Farms, By Dickson Despommier for Scientific American. November 16, 2009.

Can Urban Agriculture Feed a Hungry World? By Fabian Kretschmer and Malte E. Kollenberg, The Spiegel Online, July 22, 2011.

Vertical Farming — Advantages – Disadvantages – Barriers, Climate Lab Wiki, 2010.

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Food vs. Fuel, Redux: The Biofuel Dilemma

 

A Straight Paste – No ad-libs, just (err) food for Thought The references are click through if you want more to stratify your curiosity cravings. – Doc.

 

Today’s Washington Post includes a noteworthy opinion piece from Tim Searchinger of Princeton University concerning the impact of expanding biofuel production on global food prices and availability. Food vs. fuel competition made headlines in 2007 and 2008 but then subsided during the recession and financial crisis. This year, with global crop yields down and food demand up, and with food-derived biofuel production at record levels, the issue has returned. The relationship between biofuel output and food prices is certainly complex, but it is significant, particularly for those who spend much of their incomes on unprocessed grains and vegetable oils. And both population and biofuels demand will continue to increase from today’s levels.

You might recall Mr. Searchinger’s name in conjunction with a high-profile scientific paper in 2008 casting doubt on the value of crop-based biofuels in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “Global land use impact” entered the lexicon of environmental consequences as a result of his and his collaborators’ work, and it had a significant influence on the EPA’s updated Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) regulation, even if the agency’s final version of the rule softened its application in constraining the least efficient corn ethanol facilities. So you might say that Mr. Searchinger is no great friend of first-generation biofuels in general. However, the issue that he’s writing about today, while no less controversial in energy and policy circles, is much more straightforward to understand than the carbon debt of newly cultivated cropland.

As he notes in his op-ed, numerous studies have demonstrated a link between biofuel production and food prices in 2007-8, even in the US, where the basic inputs subject to this kind of price competition constitute a small portion of the retail prices of the processed foods we eat. It affects US food price inflation, but mainly indirectly through routes such as raising the price of livestock feed. Among others, the Congressional Budget Office looked at this issue in 2009. Most of the studies I saw also showed a significant effect on food prices from rising energy prices, another phenomenon that has reappeared in the last year. However one interprets all this, it is inescapable that a bushel of corn turned into ethanol is not available for export to countries that are experiencing a combination of rising demand and disappointing harvests.

As long as US harvests were increasing at a rate that  kept pace with the growth of ethanol output, thanks to increased cultivation and better yields, that wasn’t a zero sum game. Until recently, the corn that went into making ethanol was corn that might not otherwise have been grown. But in a year like this one, when annual ethanol consumption set to rise by another billion gallons while the corn harvest is 5% smaller than the previous year’s, something has to give. In fact, the US Department of Agriculture expects that ethanol plants will take 40% of this season’s crop, compared to just 23% in the 2007-8 “market year.” That exerts a lot more pressure on corn prices, which are pushing $7 per bushel for the first time since 2008.

If anything, the conclusion of Mr. Searchinger’s op-ed downplayed the risks ahead. With output from the nascent cellulosic ethanol industry still minuscule, the EPA will be under tremendous pressure to allow corn ethanol to continue to expand beyond its current 15 billion gallon per year limit under the RFS. That’s one reason the industry was pushing so hard to increase the maximum allowable percentage of ethanol in gasoline from 10% to 15%; it needs that headroom to continue expanding output beyond last year’s 13 billion gallons. At 20 billion gallons per year–a quantity that I heard one USDA expert suggest several years ago was achievable–ethanol would require the equivalent of 55% of 2009-10’s record US corn crop. It’s hard to envision that happening without concerns about food vs. fuel rising to a much higher pitch.

Posted February 11, 2011 by Geoffrey Styles for the Energy Collective Blog

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 Electric Motors — Nikola Tesla’s Revenge

  — The car industry’s effort to reduce its dependence on rare-earth elements has prompted a revival

 ONCE again, worrywarts are wringing their hands over possible shortages of so-called “critical materials” crucial for high-tech industries. In America the Department of Energy is fretting about materials used to manufacture wind turbines, electric vehicles, solar cells and energy-efficient lighting. The substances in question include a bunch of rare-earth metals and a few other elements, which—used a pinch here, a pinch there—enhance the way many industrial materials function.

It is not as though the rare-earth elements—scandium, yttrium and lanthanum plus the 14 so-called lanthanides—are all that rare. Some are as abundant as nickel, copper or zinc. Even the two rarest (thulium and lutetium) are more abundant in the Earth’s crust than gold or platinum.

A decade ago America was the world’s largest producer of rare-earth metals. But its huge open-cast mine at Mountain Pass, California, closed in 2002—a victim mainly of China’s drastically lower labor costs. Today, China produces 95% of the world’s supply of rare-earth metals, and has started limiting exports to keep the country’s own high-tech industries supplied.

The rare-earth element that other industrial countries worry about most is neodymium. It is the key ingredient of super-strong permanent magnets. Over the past year the price of neodymium has quadrupled as electric motors that use permanent magnets instead of electromagnetic windings have gained even wider acceptance. Cheaper, smaller and more powerful, permanent-magnet motors and generators have made modern wind turbines and electric vehicles viable.

That said, not all makers of electric cars have rushed to embrace permanent-magnet motors. The Tesla Roadster, an electric sports car based on a Lotus Elise, uses no rare-earth metals whatsoever. Nor does the Mini-E, an electric version of BMW’s reinvention of the iconic 1960s car. Meanwhile, the company that pioneered much of today’s electric vehicle technology, AC Propulsion of San Dimas, California, has steered clear of permanent-magnet motors.

Clearly, a number of manufacturers think  the risk of relying on a single source of rare-earth metals is too high.

Read on about Toyota’s efforts to replace rare earths in it’s electric motors and the re-discovery of tech ology invented by Nicolas Tesla an American inventor, back in 1888. Check out Tesla’s own automobile A Tesla Engine Drive Piece Arrow. In addition the article also discussed the topic “Who needs a gearbox” in an electric car.

The Economist, Technology Quarterly, Jun 2nd 2011.

Tesla Roadster, Wikipedia 2011

Tesla Electric Car, Wikipedia 2011

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 Rocks On The Menu

— High commodity prices have encouraged the use of mineral-munching bugs to extract metals from waste or low-grade ore.

 

Bioleaching is the extraction of specific metals from  their ores through the use of living organisms. This is much cleaner than the traditional heap leaching using cyanide. Bioleaching is one of several applications within biohydrometallurgy and several methods are used to recover copper, zinc, lead, arsenic, antimony, nickel, molybdenum, gold, silver, and cobalt.

EVEN the sleekest gadget depends on the mucky business of digging stuff out of the ground. Mobile phones and computers use copper for their wiring and rely on cobalt, germanium, lithium, nickel, platinum and tantalum for other components. Electric motors need magnets made of “rare earth” elements such as neodymium. But rising metal prices and China’s tightening grip on supplies of rare-earth elements (it accounts for 97% of production) have heightened the appeal of finding other sources of supply. The result is growing interest in the use of rock-eating bacteria to extract metals from low-grade ores, mining waste or industrial effluent.

Rock-eating bacteria such as Acidithiobacillus and Leptospirillum are naturally occurring organisms that thrive in nasty, acidic environments. They obtain energy from chemical reactions with sulfides, and can thus accelerate the breakdown of minerals. Base metals such as iron, copper, zinc and cobalt occur widely as sulfides, and more valuable metals such as gold and uranium are also present in the same bodies of ore. With a little help from the mineral-munchers, these metals can be released in a process called bioleaching.

This approach has its pros and cons. To recover large quantities of metals quickly from ores with a high metal content, smelting remains the most profitable route. Bioleaching is slower, but it is also cheaper, making it well suited for treating ores and mining wastes with low metal concentrations. It is also generally cleaner. Material containing poisonous elements such as arsenic is unsuitable for smelting because of the risk of pollution.

For many years bioleaching has been used to recover gold from ores that are hard to break down using heat treatment (known as “roasting”). The bacteria are set to work in huge stirred tanks, called bioreactors, containing ground-up rocks and dilute sulfuric acid. The bacteria change one form of iron found within the ore (ferrous iron) to another (ferric iron) and tap the energy released. In acidic solutions ferric iron is a powerful oxidizing agent. It breaks down sulfide minerals and releases any associated metals.                       …

Interest in bioleaching shows no sign of abating. As part of a European project called ProMine, geologists are mapping Europe’s mineral resources to a depth of 5km (3.1 miles) in an effort to stimulate the mining industry and reduce dependence on imports. Integral to the project is further development of biological metal-recovery methods. In Europe, at least, mineral-munching microbes can expect long-term employment—and lunch.

Read on — There’s Lot’s more!

Bioleaching References

Bioleaching, Wikipedia 2011.

What is Bioleaching — A tutorial, Talvivaara Publications. May 6, 2010.

Bioleaching technology in minerals processing, By John Neale, BioMine Wiki, September 2006

What is Bioleaching? – Includes mechanisms – InovateUS Blog, 2011.

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Climate Change – It’s Complicated, But It’s Real

 

So, the engineers at GPS mission control need to use Einstein’s relativistic theories to make sure your iPhone tells you precisely where you are, whenever you want to know. Similarly, neither Newton’s or Einstein’s equations allow scientists to properly predict the subatomic interactions within the electronics of satellites or iPhones. For that, you need to reference the weird world of quantum mechanics.

Each of these model systems – Newtonian, Einsteinian  and Quantum physics – produces some contradictory predictions, and gaps in understanding remain. The theories have not yet been unified, for instance, to the lament of Einstein and his successors.

Yet the vast majority of us – the average Joe and Josephine Public – are not confused or worried about GPS and iPhones, for the simple matter that we don’t try too hard to understand how they work. After all, it’s plain enough to our eyes, immediately and incontrovertibly, that they do! So we just accept it, like we do for most forms of technology.

Climate science is now treated rather differently, however. This is because although the stochastic and chaotic systems involved are, in their own way, just as complex as relativity and quantum theory, many people just don’t want to take the underpinning science and evidence for granted.

They WANT to know and understand this stuff (which is good, from a science education perspective), and their motivation usually comes about because they feel threatened by it, or guilty about it, or whatever. Dylan’s example of not wanting to be responsible for suffering poor people underscores the point.

Yet, at its core, much of the math, physics, chemistry, models, theory, and so on, which together make up the many fields of climate science, can be really difficult stuff. It takes a lot of learning time, and lots exposure to the many lines of scientific evidence and the general practice of doing science and dealing with uncertainty, to appreciate the complexities and nuances involved.

So when people don’t ‘get’ the science and are left confused by media sound bites, it’s typically because they haven’t got the time, experience or training to really grasp the interconnections, feedbacks and apparent contradictions.

The other obvious problem is that climate model forecasts are not tangible and deterministic – unlike the GPS or iPhone, there is no simple, repeatable test of whether they ‘work’ or not. Climate change is also not being painted on a ‘blank canvas’ – extreme weather has always been with us, for instance, so how to tell what can be attributed to natural versus human-caused effects?

It’s tough, no doubt about it, and there is a huge scientific effort dedicated to identifying the ‘fingerprints’ of human activity amongst the many ‘smudges’ caused by ever present natural influences on weather and climate. There’s more – click trough

Well we can always do the ostrich thing, or we can at least insist that our decision makers demonstrate a competency in the scientific method, and understand science is grey, and each new set of data changes our knowledge base. Our and their jobs are to do no evil (they Hippocratic oath), and be protective — Katrina and the Gulf Spill did not need to happen, and 8if you buy land in a flood plain w/o insurance tough — We neither evolved in a welfare state or a wimp-fare state, mankind kind got where they are now be out toughing nature, and all their enemies.

Article by Barry Brook, The Energy Collective, Posted February 12, 2011.

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Would You Buy A $40 Light Bulb and Other Lighting Options

 

Now don’t think I’m biased against politicians, trying to stem energy use growth, here and abroad. After all there are the folks who deny climate change, manmade or not, while sea levels rise and weather, for now and predicted for the next half-decade, worsens. They also gave us a 15% corn ethanol limit despite auto manufactures plea that that would corrode engines and lower overall fuel efficiency. It also continues raise food prices without doing much, if anything about green house gasses. Another case of WIIFT.

However, life would be so much simpler if a carbon tax, for light bulbs as a low risk example, were implemented.  Tax these by wattage, assigned to all new light bulbs sold starting in 2012 or 2013; obviously much lower for  not to compact fluorescents, LEDs or other low energy alternatives.

The tax rate should be gradated say starting at 10-15% per bulb and rising to the prohibitive level in ca 10 years, increasing the way auto efficiency standards do. This would allow the industry to accommodate the change, allow individuals an alternative on what lights they want to use and how energy efficient. As I’ll share in the next column, the Scandinavian Countries have effectively started doing so, with none of the awful consequences preached by our technically undereducated lobbyist bought, politicians.

Furthermore, The US Government’s aim to ‘outlaw {aka phase out} incandescent bulbs, starting with 100 Watt models in 2012 and they will be mostly gone by 2014, will just create a black market. It’s done so for every other government introduced PROHIBITION around the world.

I’ve wondered whether once Europe and perhaps China adopt more stringent green house gas rules, perhaps by adopting a workable, a gradually imposed and flexible carbon tax, whether they could impose a VAT on US products? None of my economist-international scholar friends know how the Europeans (e.g., Court of Justice of the European Free Trade Association States) would deal with America exporting pollution, albeit indirectly?

Now the rest of the story…

Would You Buy A $40 Light Bulb?

Maybe you should.

This week, Philips Lighting said that its Ambient LED 12.5 watt bulb  — which, just to confuse you, is also sold under the Philips Endura LED brand — has qualified for an EPA’s Energy Star rating. That means that it’s an efficient and, quite possibly cost-effective alternative to the 60-watt bulb, even with a $39.97 list price at Home Depot. <No price listed for Amazon.com yet… jest you all wait!>

Here’s how the math works, at least according to Philips: A conventional 60-watt bulb lasts about 1,000 hours, uses 60 watts of electricity (duh) and costs $180 to run for 25,000 hours. The LED equivalent lasts 25,000 hours (nearly three years if you left it on 24/7), uses 12.5 watts and costs $37.50 to run for 25,000 hours.

That assumes electricity costs of 12.5 cents/kwh, slightly higher than average across the US but a lot less that you pay in high-cost states like California. Practically a bargain, no? {Doc Sez Perhaps?}

The Energy Star rating matters because it means that the bulb, which is evidently the first LED bulb in its category to qualify, can earn you a rebate from your local utility. There’s more on the rebates here from the U.S. Department of Energy. Each state has its own rebate program, forms to fill out, etc. Fun. Better news is that for now Phillips is offering a $10 cash rebate on the bulb.

There’s more — it’s not a silver bullet, but this makes it easier to see the light and lower overall energy costs.

Posted February 15, 2011 by Marc Gunther for The Energy Collective

Once-Scorned C. F. L. Light Bulbs Are Advancing

–It’s amazing how technology improves given an incentive, and profit has always been a better stick, in America, than regulation, when it is written intelligently. No WIIFT!

In my Pragmatist column in Thursday’s Home section, I describe the latest advancements in energy-efficient light bulbs in response to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, part of which takes effect next January. Much of that discussion focuses on so-called C.F.L.’s, or compact fluorescent light bulbs. While they have improved in recent years, the technology continues to be hampered by worries about its environmental impact in landfills because C.F.L.’s contain mercury.

Environmentally minded consumers who hope to shave a few dollars from their electric bills by using C.F.L.’s can take solace in the fact that some groups consider C.F.L.’s greener than the bulbs they replace. In 2008, for instance, the Natural Resources Defense Council published a paper suggesting that C.F.L.’s do less environmental harm than standard incandescent bulbs.

For example, C.F.L.’s require one-quarter the energy from coal-fired power plants that incandescents do, the council wrote. If all consumers changed to C.F.L.’s, the group argued, those plants would send less pollution into the air. The council’s paper cites research by the Northeast Waste Management Officials’ Association into toxic waste levels from C.F.L.’s.

If you choose to buy fluorescents, you’ll still need to dispose of your old C.F.L.’s properly when they die or break. Home Depot and Lowe’s both accept C.F.L.’s for recycling, and you can find more information about disposal locations, among other topics, here.

Safety, of course, is another issue, since light bulbs are so easy to break. The amount of mercury contained in a C.F.L. is roughly equivalent to the amount of ink on the tip of a ballpoint pen and about one-fifth the amount in a watch battery, the council’s paper says. But the bulbs can leak mercury vapor when broken, so ventilation is important when cleaning a broken bulb, the council says in its paper. Some manufacturers now produce C.F.L.’s with protective coating; the EcoSmart Shatter-Resistant C.F.L. is one example.

By Bob Tedeschi, For The New York Times, August 11, 2011

The New Law — “The End Of The Light Bulb As We Know It” By Marianne Lavelle, For US News And World Report December 19, 2007

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Thorium Fuel Cycle

In the beginning… India got it, now China is getting on board

All of a sudden the pro nuclear professional media is asking the question  “Thorium: the miracle cure for a new nuclear backbone? … And in case anyone asks, both Uranium and Thorium are Naturally-Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM)

“You can run a civilization on thorium for hundreds of thousands of years, and it’s essentially free,” says Kirk Sorensen, former NASA engineer and one of today’s forward looking nuclear technologists. This week we look at the progress that has been made in developing thorium-based nuclear reactors, global stores, and why China and India believe this ‘miracle metal’ could be the next best thing.

Thorium versus Uranium — A tonne of thorium – the slow-decaying, slightly radioactive metal – produces as much energy as 200 tonnes of uranium, or 3,500,000 tonnes of coal. Besides being much cheaper, thorium is three times more abundant than uranium, so much that miners treat it as a nuisance. After all it is a radioactive by-product when they are digging up rare earth metals.

Unlike uranium, thorium is a low-carbon metal, and although not fissionable, it can be used as a nuclear fuel through breeding to fissile uranium-233 (U-233). Thorium decays its own hazardous waste and can expel the plutonium left by uranium reactors. Also, thorium cannot melt down and does not produce reliable fuel for bombs.

Both uranium and thorium are mined as ore and then detached from the rock, but thorium is four times more prevalent in Earth’s crust than uranium.

“Thorium has the potential to be the backbone of our energy future, and we need to move quickly towards it,” says Kirk Sorensen, a former NASA rocket engineer and now chief nuclear technologist at Teledyne Brown Engineering.

Typical nuclear power stations use uranium as their fuel source, but thorium reactors can offer greater safety, vastly reduced waste and much higher fuel efficiency. While only 0.7% of uranium’s energy is extractable, energy from thorium is 100% extractable.

“Once you start looking more closely, it blows your mind away. You can run a civilization on thorium for hundreds of thousands of years, and it’s essentially free. You don’t have to deal with uranium cartels,” says Sorensen.

The article goes on to discuss

  • What if thorium was used to power nuclear reactors?
  • Economy leaders race to thorium
  • Locating the world’s thorium reserves (aka the US and Australia)

By Heba Hashem, Middle East Correspondent, Nuclear Energy Insider, February 17, 2011.

http://analysis.nuclearenergyinsider.com/industry-insight/thorium-miracle-cure-new-nuclear-backbone?utm_source=http%3a%2f%2fcommunicator.nuclearenergyinsider.com%2flz%2f&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=eBrief+nuclear+17+Feb+11&utm_term=Thorium%3a+the+miracle+cure+for+a+new+nuclear+backbone&utm_content=537963

Other Thorium Fuel Cycle References

Thorium Fuel Cycle, From Wikipedia, 2011.

John Ritch, World Nuclear Association: “Nuclear Waste Is The Duty Of Governments,” Nuclear Energy Insider, August 20, 2010.

An Academic Take On The Future Of Nuclear Energy, By Elisabeth Jeffries, for the Nuclear Energy Insider, October 4, 2010.

The Fusion Fission Hybrid Thorium Fuel Cycle Alternative, by Magdi Ragheb, University of Illinois, Feb 2010

About Thorium, World Nuclear Association, March 2011.

Uranium Is So Last Century — Enter Thorium, the New Green Nuke, By Richard Martin for Wired Magazine, December 21, 2009.

Drive to Build Thorium Reactor Prototype Launched In U.K., Posted September 8, 2011 by Dan Yurman for The Energy Collective

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Endnotes

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.

On occasion, where it irritates me, I change British spelling to the US alternative, but not for words like Tonne, which is a difference unit that the US Ton.

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.

In Closing

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

https://mhreviews.wordpress.com/2010/05/23/the-greening-continues-a-column-intro-may-23-2010/

The materials I share in the topical snippets that follow come from the various weekly science and environmental magazines and newsletters, both pro or anti any given subject’s focus or technologies; as well as excerpts from blogs and ‘lists’ to which I subscribe.

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.

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).          Doc.

… And yes I trust Wikipedia, but only if I’ve checkout most of an articles references for bias and accuracy!

QUOTE de Mois — “Correlation is NOT Necessarily Causation”,  although you’d not know it from the gab of the nation’s talking heads and would be US Presidents. Science IQ, as a means testing for public office? A corollary to this is the demonstrated finding that you can’t change the beliefs of a true believer, fortunately they are only about 10% of our population; I do exclude water boarding and brain washing.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correlation_does_not_imply_causation

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

Introduction

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 them in depth, you will find studies saying they are capable of being commercialized and often as many other studies that are more skeptical because there is no easy way to for them into our systems.

I always, as 75 year old cynic, find it appropriate, 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.

I know, perhaps even truly believe, that for green energy related items, if we put a simple price (tax) on carbon (greenhouse gases) and gave out no subsidies, these new technologies would have a better chance to blossom. With American ingenuity, Indian and Chinese too, thousands more ideas would come out of innovators’ garages. America still has the best innovation culture in the world. But we need better policies to nurture it, better infrastructure to enable it and more open doors to bring others here to try it.

Remember, conditions, both technical and geopolitical continuously change – So if you’ve made up your mind about either the best way to control climate or its effects, or about that your sure its all a conspiracy, move on to the next article in our blog. By the way, I do agree, it’s all a conspiracy — Gaia and the Good Lord!

Stay tuned; today’s favorite is tomorrow unintended consequence. However, that’s better than sticking one’s head in the sand or believing in perpetual motion. Remember TAMIFLU; there’s no free lunch; as a taxpayer and consumer you must and will always end up paying the piper!

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

  • China Reportedly Plans Strict Goals to Save Energy —The Yin and Yang of US and Chinese Energy Polices.
  • Solar Energy Faces Tests On Greenness — The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
  • Energy Payoffs —In search of Radical Solutions by Vinod Khosla
  • Are You Ready for More Baaad Weather? —In a world of climate change, freak storms are the new normal. Why we’re unprepared for the harrowing future.
  • Solid-State Batteries – The Power Of The Printing Press.

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China Reportedly Plans Strict Goals to Save Energy

The Yin and Yang of US and Chinese Energy Polices.

Inertia, one of the few serious limitations of our Western Democratic systems, let’s hope it does kill us all.

 

As the title of this topic and the reference contain therein implies:

  1. The Chinese believe there is a global warming problem
  2. The governments realized that hurting their people lead to Social Unrest
  3. Smoggy cities, drastic unexpected and larger than predictable weather patterns, durations and incidents. Then there’s the increase of temperature/humidity related diseases we’ve begun to document in both the government and it’s policies for a Greater China at risk.

So, according to this article and others I’ve studied they are willing to put their resources where the mouths and platitudes of western politicians now are. You know the three wise monkeys.

HONG KONG — With oil prices at their highest level in more than two years because of unrest in North Africa and the Middle East, the Chinese government plans to announce strict five-year goals for energy conservation in the next two weeks, China energy specialists said Friday.

Beijing’s emphasis on saving energy reflects concerns about national security and the effects of high fuel costs on inflation, China’s export competitiveness and the country’s pollution problems.

Any energy policy moves by Beijing hold global implications, given that China is the world’s biggest consumer of energy and largest emitter of greenhouse gases. And even the new efficiency goals assume that China’s overall energy consumption will grow, to meet the needs of the nation’s 1.3 billion people and its rapidly expanding economy.

As a net importer of oil, China tends to view its energy needs as a matter of national security. And so, even as Beijing tries to quell any signs of the Arab world’s social unrest striking a political chord with Chinese citizens, the government is also intent on not letting similar upheaval impinge on its energy needs.

Although, China, as part of the new five-year plan, has placed a big bet on renewable energy, emerging as the world’s biggest and lowest-cost manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels. But the country remains heavily reliant on coal and nuclear for its electricity. And its oil imports are surging after auto sales have surpassed the American market in each of the last two years.

An important feature of the five-year plan is its call to double the share of natural gas in Chinese energy consumption, to 8 percent in 2015 from 4 percent last year, according to Fatih Birol, the chief economist of the multilateral International Energy Agency in Paris. This will make China a natural buyer of large quantities of Russian gas, making it a competitor to Europe, which already relies heavily on gas from Russia.

The goals in China’s new five-year plan are consistent with the International Energy Agency’s “new policies” plan for climate change, a middle course that represents an improvement from current policies, Mr. Birol said. But he noted that the Chinese goals did not go far enough to meet what the agency considers necessary to prevent world temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius, an increase that many scientists fear as potentially leading to very broad environmental changes.

There’s more, promoting electric cars, building 20 new state of the art Generation III+ nuclear reactors, localizing local energy use by setting enforceable consumption and pollution targets. Click though and read the rest of the details.

Keith Bradsher Article References and Notes

Article by Keith Bradsher for the New York Times, Published: March 4, 2011

How does China’s 12th Five-Year Plan address energy and the environment? By the World Resources Institute, 7 Mar 2011.

China’s Five-year Plan & Renewable Energy – A Detailed Explanation, by DeBlock Consulting Ltd, March 2011.

While China Cuts Energy Waste, the U.S. Just Wastes, Posted by Bryan Walsh for Time Magazine, March 4, 2011.

As a Serious Sidebar – for the Chinese, Nuclear Power is both renewable and environmentally protective.

Nuclear Plans in China, the Japanese accident hasn’t stopped the planning and building, and taken a time out for doing enhanced safety analysis factoring in the lessons being learned from Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. “When compared with the 11th Five-year Plan, the 12th Five-year Plan will continue the fast paced development stage; It is estimated that between 2011 and 2015 the rate of increase in China’s installed nuclear capacity will be over 30%, from 2010 levels of 10.8GW to 43GW in 2015. Third generation AP1000 nuclear technology will be an important direction in China’s nuclear development. Currently second generation CPR1000 technology is the most common among completed nuclear projects and nuclear projects under construction, but in planned nuclear projects the third generation AP1000 technology is used much more than CPR1000. Geographical development of nuclear projects will build on the fast paced development in coastal regions such as Liaoning, Shandong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Fujian and gradually move into central regions such as Jiangxi, Hunan and Anhui, forming the “central/eastern nuclear belt”.

Nuclear power in the People’s Republic of China, Wikipedia 2011.

Nuclear Power in China, World Nuclear Association, June 2011.

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 Solar Energy Faces Tests and Challenges on Greenness

— It’s a total life cycle cost thing and crossing all the “t’s” and dotting the “I’s” thing, as I’ve been preaching

KISS Me Once, Kiss Me Twice And Kiss Me Once Again:

  • Fragile Desert Environment adversely affected by large plant footprint.
  • Unsubstantiated and waving of the hand environmental documentation
  • Unsubsidized production costs, even without life cycle costs included, are uncompetitive in most areas
  • Grid Connection and maintenance costs are not reliably factored into the baseline costs
  • Inadequate analyses of the costs of pollution control from toxic conditions and chemicals used for photovoltaic solar cell manufacture; not a factor when assessing solar thermal generation.
  • Unusable for base load production, without major breakthrough, so far under costed, for storage when the sun is not shining.

What follows is an excepts from the latest report by folks assessing the total cost of solar photo voltaic energy as a green alternative to nuclear, off shore other coastal based wind power, and perhaps appropriate located geothermal power generation.

SAN FRANCISCO — Just weeks after regulators approved the last of nine multibillion-dollar solar thermal power plants to be built in the Southern California desert, a storm of lawsuits and the resurgence of an older solar technology are clouding the future of the nascent industry.

The litigation, which seeks to block construction of five of the solar thermal projects, underscores the growing risks of building large-scale renewable energy plants in environmentally delicate areas. On Jan. 25, for instance, Solar Millennium withdrew its 16-month-old license application for a 250-megawatt solar station called Ridgecrest, citing regulators’ concerns over the project’s impact on the Mohave ground squirrel.

At peak output, the five licensed solar thermal projects being challenged would power more than two million homes, create thousands of construction jobs and help the state meet aggressive renewable energy mandates. The projects are backed by California’s biggest utilities, top state officials and the Obama administration.  But conservation, labor and American Indian groups are challenging the projects on environmental grounds. The lawsuits, coupled with a broad plunge in prices for energy from competing power sources, threaten the ability of developers to secure expiring federal loan guarantees and private financing to establish the projects. Only one developer so far, BrightSource Energy, has obtained a loan guarantee and begun construction.

Like so many of this state’s troubles, the industry’s problems are rooted in real estate. However, it grew much broader when apparent flaws in both environmental analyses, a potential for actual public fraud, and lots of what the kind at heart would call misrepresentation of liabilities and gains. This makes an interesting read. When added to the references I’ve listed below make a compelling statement of narrow vision, based on gluttons’ visions of a full trough at the public expense. …And there’s also, all the knock on your door solar home system sales people.

After all we know the courts will decide, but regular readers know my opinions of courts and juries to get science related issue right. Again I plead for a science literacy tests, say the ones they use Europe and Asia for 8th grade students, for all who would serve as juries in science and engineering court cases. That should include the judges too, but I’m being too utopian.

By Todd Woody, for the New York Times, Published: February 23, 2011.

References

Pros And Cons Of Solar Energy, Clean Energy Ideas Blog, Undated.

Environmentalists Weigh Solar Power’s Pros, Cons, SolarPower.Org Blog, Posted June 2, 2006.

Solar Power: The Pros and Cons of Solar Power, About.Com Blog, By Larry West, About.com Guide, 2011.

Solar Power, <and> Solar Energy, “Wikipedia”, 2011 – two articles.

The Solar Power Scam, by Brian Schwarz and Thomas Lifson for the “American Thinker” <a conservative blog>, April 19, 2011.

10-Year Sentence In Solar Energy Scam, “The Healdsburg Patch blog”, May 3, 2100.

Are We Really Going To Let Ourselves Be Duped Into This Solar Panel Rip-Off? By

George Monbiot for the Guardian.co.uk, March 1, 2010

Solar Power Scams, “Energy Matters” an Australian Renewable Energy News Blog, March 26, 2009.

How to Detect a Solar Scam – Here’s a deal for you! “Solar Kismet”, March 2007.

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Energy Payoffs

In search of Radical Solutions by Vinod Khosla, Venture Capitalist

Unusual for me, I’m just providing this topic as a reference link and ultra short SciAm synopsis, enjoy. It was published in Scientific American in January 2011, and due to their access restrictions, the full article may be hard to access outside of a library. But the abstract posted a link is well worth reading.

In Brief,

Radical innovation, not incremental improvement, is needed to make dean, efficient energy technologies that can compete, unsubsidized, in big markets.

Mainstream technologies such as air conditioning and automobile engines may be the best targets for breakthroughs that change the energy game.

More people with  Ph.D.’s in technical disciplines are needed to create true breakthroughs.

Students are beginning to flock to these areas. A low-carbon-electricity standard, not renewable energy standards or cap and trade would most encourage cleaner technologies, including for fossil fuels.

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Are You Ready for More Baaad Weather?

—In a world of climate change, freak storms are the new normal. Why we’re unprepared for the harrowing future.

Not only did I find the article detailed and factual, I was also amazed by the amount of Ostrich Heads in the Sand Flaming it produced. It matters not whether this is global warming, or just out turn in the weather cycle, the damage is real and the incidence of more aggressive and destructive weather incidents, worldwide is increasing. We’ve tow choices. The first is to rescue those victimized by bad weather until governments run out of money. Alternative, start slowing and globally to take a chance that climate change theory is good, if incomplete science, caused by green house gasses and other aggressive environmental damage caused by man (e.g., deforestation) and start to do something about it.

 An Excerpt

Joplin, Mo., was prepared. The tornado warning system gave residents 24 minutes’ notice that a twister was bearing down on them. Doctors and nurses at St. John’s Regional Medical Center, who had practiced tornado drills for years, moved fast, getting patients away from windows, closing blinds, and activating emergency generators. And yet more than 130 people died in Joplin, including four people at St. John’s, where the tornado sucked up the roof and left the building in ruins, like much of the shattered city.

Even those who deny the existence of global climate change are having trouble dismissing the evidence of the last year. In the U.S. alone, nearly 1,000 tornadoes have ripped across the heartland, killing more than 500 people and inflicting $9 billion in damage. The Midwest suffered the wettest April in 116 years, forcing the Mississippi to flood thousands of square miles, even as drought-plagued Texas suffered the driest month in a century. Worldwide, the litany of weather’s extremes has reached biblical proportions. The 2010 heat wave in Russia killed an estimated 15,000 people. Floods in Australia and Pakistan killed 2,000 and left large swaths of each country under water. A months-long drought in China has devastated millions of acres of farmland. And the temperature keeps rising: 2010 was the hottest year on earth since weather records began.

From these and other extreme-weather events, one lesson is sinking in with terrifying certainty. The stable climate of the last 12,000 years is gone. Which means you haven’t seen anything yet. And we are not prepared.

Picture California a few decades from now, a place so hot and arid the state’s trademark orange and lemon trees have been replaced with olive trees that can handle the new climate. Alternating floods and droughts have made it impossible for the reservoirs to capture enough drinking water. The picturesque Highway 1, sections of which are already periodically being washed out by storm surges and mudslides, will have to be rerouted inland, possibly through a mountain. These aren’t scenes from another deadly-weather thriller like The Day After Tomorrow. They’re all changes that California officials believe they need to brace for within the next decade or two. And they aren’t alone. Across the U.S., it’s just beginning to dawn on civic leaders that they’ll need to help their communities brave coming dangers brought by climate change, from disappearing islands in Chesapeake Bay to dust bowls in the Plains and horrific hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. Yet only 14 states are even planning, let alone implementing, climate-change adaptation plans, says Terri Cruce, a climate consultant in California. The other 36 apparently are hoping for a miracle.

The game of catch-up will have to happen quickly because so much time was lost to inaction. “The Bush administration was a disaster, but the Obama administration has accomplished next to nothing either, in part because a significant part of the Democratic Party is inclined to balk on this issue as well,” says economist Jeffrey Sachs, head of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. “We [are] past the tipping point.” The idea of adapting to climate change was once a taboo subject. Scientists and activists feared that focusing on coping would diminish efforts to reduce carbon emissions. On the opposite side of the divide, climate-change deniers argued that since global warming is a “hoax,” there was no need to figure out how to adapt. “Climate-change adaptation was a nonstarter,” says Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center. “If you wanted to talk about that, you would have had to talk about climate change itself, which the Bush administration didn’t want to do.” In fact, President Bush killed what author Mark Hertsgaard in his 2011 book, Hot, calls “a key adaptation tool,” the National Climate Assessment, an analysis of the vulnerabilities in regions of the U.S. and ideas for coping with them. The legacy of that: state efforts are spotty and local action is practically nonexistent. “There are no true adaptation experts in the federal government, let alone states or cities,” says Arroyo. “They’ve just been commandeered from other departments.”

The rookies (functionally science illiterate) will struggle to comprehend the complex impacts of climate change. The burning of fossil fuels has raised atmospheric levels of heat-trapping carbon dioxide by 40 percent above what they were before the Industrial Revolution. The added heat in the atmosphere retains more moisture, ratchets up the energy in the system, and incites more violent and extreme weather. Scientists disagree about whether climate change will bring more intense or frequent tornadoes, but there is wide consensus that the 2 degrees Fahrenheit of global warming of the last century is behind the rise in sea levels, more intense hurricanes, more heat waves, and more droughts and deluges. Even if the world went carbon-neutral tomorrow, we’d be in for more: because of the CO2 that has already been emitted, we’re on track for another 5 degrees of warming. Batten down the hatches. “You can no longer say that the climate of the future is going to be like the climate of today, let alone yesterday,” says Judi Greenwald, vice president of innovative solutions at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. “In all of the plausible climate scenarios, we are going to have to change the way we do things in ways we can’t even predict.”

So what lies behind America’s resistance to action? Economist Sachs points to the lobbying power of industries that resist acknowledgment of climate change’s impact. “The country is two decades behind in taking action because both parties are in thrall to Big Oil and Big Coal,” says Sachs. “The airwaves are filled with corporate-financed climate misinformation.” But the vanguard of action isn’t waiting any longer. This week, representatives from an estimated 100 cities are meeting in Bonn, Germany, for the 2nd World Congress on Cities and Adaptation to Climate Change. The theme is “Resilient Cities.” As Joplin, Mo., learned in the most tragic way possible, against some impacts of climate change, man’s puny efforts are futile. But time is getting short, and the stakes are high. Says Daniel Sarewitz, a professor of science and society at Arizona State University: “Not to adapt is to consign millions of people to death and disruption.”

Check it out, there’s lots more facts, links to disaster TV footage, it’s real… will likely get worse… who cares the cause.

 

By Sharon Begley for Newsweek, May 29, 2011.

References On a comparable Theme

Piecemeal Possibilities and Climate Change – Paying attention to alternative ways of cooling the planet is a good idea; ignoring carbon emissions isn’t, The Economist, February 17, 2011.

A Fistful Of Dust and Climate Science — The true effect of windblown material is only now coming to be appreciated, The Economist, Jan 6th 2011.

Acute Climate Change in the Arctic: Fighting Air Pollution May Slow Warming, Stockholm Environmental Institute, June 9, 2011.

Carbon Flows, The Omitted Emissions — The usual figures ignore the role of trade in the world’s carbon economy, The Economist, Apr 28th 2011.

References — Samples of Denial and Flaming

Newsweek’s Global Warming Fear-Mongering Isn’t Science; It’s Science Fiction, The Ace of Spades HQ Blog, May 31, 2011.

Cooler Heads Prevail Against Climate Panic, June 01, 2011|By Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe Columnist

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Solid-State Batteries – The Power of the Printing Press

The power of the press; a new process will make solid-state rechargeable batteries that should greatly outperform existing ones. Electronics made a huge leap forward when the delicate and temperamental vacuum tube was replaced by the robust, reliable transistor. That change led to the now ubiquitous silicon chip. As a consequence, electronic devices have become vastly more powerful and, at the same time, have shrunk in both size and cost. Some people believe that a similar change would happen if rechargeable batteries could likewise be made into thin, solid devices. Researchers are working, and succeeding on, various ways to do this and now one of these efforts is coming to large-scale fruition. That promises smaller, cheaper, more powerful batteries for consumer electronics and, eventually, for electric cars.

The new development is the work of Planar Energy of Orlando, Florida—a company spun out of America’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in 2007. The firm is about to complete a pilot production line that will print lithium-ion batteries onto sheets of metal or plastic, like printing a newspaper. “Thin-film” printing methods of this sort are already used to make solar cells and display screens, but no one has yet been able to pull off the trick on anything like an industrial scale with batteries. Paradoxically, though thin-film printing needs liquid precursor chemicals to act as the “ink” which is sprayed onto the metal or plastic substrate, it works well only when those precursors react to form a solid final product. Most batteries include liquid or semi-liquid electrolytes—so printing them has been thought to be out of the question. Planar, however, has discovered a solid electrolyte it believes is suitable for thin-film printing.

Lack of range is reckoned one of the main obstacles to the widespread use of electric cars. If solid-state batteries could overcome such range anxiety that would, indeed, be a revolution on a par with the silicon chip.

Okay, this is a teaser, so click though and enjoy the rest of the article.

Published in the Economist, Jan 27th 2011.

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Endnotes

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.

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.

In Closing

The materials I share in the topical snippets that follow come from the various weekly science and environmental magazines and newsletters, both pro or anti any given subject’s focus or technologies; as well as excerpts from blogs and ‘lists’ to which I subscribe. 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).          Doc.

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 ˆThe name of my game!”

https://mhreviews.wordpress.com/2010/05/23/the-greening-continues-a-column-intro-may-23-2010/

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Software: General Astronomy Course Assistant
Vendor: Wolfram Research (www.wolfram.com)
Price: $4.95

Many modern students use their smart phones in school, and Wolfram understands this so they are releasing a series of course assistant applications for smart phones and devices like the Apple iPhone and iPod touch. I’ve already looked at Wolfram’s Course Assistant for Astronomy, and I wanted to look at Wolfram’s General Chemistry Course Assistant when it was released since I initially majored in Biochemistry when I first started my undergrad degree.

This Course Assistant is sold through the Apple Apps store for $4.95, and I downloaded and installed the app through iTunes, which was flawless. The data (just like in the Astronomy Course Assistant) was organized by categories:

  • Atoms, Molecules, Ions
  • Atomic Structure & Periodicity
  • Reactions & Stoichiometry
  • Gases
  • Chemical Bonding
  • Liquids & Solids
  • Acids & Bases
  • The Nucleus
  • Units & Chemical Properties

Atoms, Molecules, Ions

This category has these subcategories: Find an Element. Find an Isotope, Atomic Properties of Elements, Abundance of Elements, Properties of Monoatomic Ions, and Ion Groups.

I went to the ‘Find an Element’ subcategory and entered 8, and then pressed ‘Compute’ to see the information on Oxygen, which displayed the element name,the location in the periodic table, an image of the element, some basic element properties (symbol, atomic number, electron configuration, block, group, period, and atomic weight), thermodynamic properties (melting point, boiling point – in centigrade and fahrenheit – critical temperature and pressure, molar heat of fusion, heat of vaporization, specific heat at STP, and adiabetic index), material properties (density, molar volume, refractive index, sound speed, and thermal conductivity), electromagnetic properties, reactivity (valence, electronegativity, electron affinity, ionization energies, atomic properties (term symbol, atomic radius, covalent radius, and van der Waals radius), abundance (universal, crust, and human), nuclear properties (half-life, isotopes), and identifiers (CAS and PubChem numbers).

In addition to searching for elements by atomic number, you can also use the number of protons and electrons. My favorite subcategory of this category of the course assistant was the ‘Atomic Properties of Elements’, because the search criteria you can use to find information include atomic number/weight/radius, number of protons/electrons.neutrons, and the Lewis structure.

Atomic Structure & Periodicity

This category has four subcategories: Light & Matter, Electron Configuration, Periodic Properties of Elements, and Ionic Radii.

The ‘Light & Matter’ subcategory lets you compute EM Radiation, the energy of a photon, and photon energy. The ‘Electron Configuration’ subcategory lets you compute configuration information for atoms or ions. The ‘Periodic Properties of Elements’ calculates information for elements and element groups. The ‘Ionic Radii’ subcategory computes radii for monoatomic and polyatomic ions.

Reactions & Stoichiometry

This category has eight subcategories to Solve for Mass/Volume, Convert Mass/Volume, Calculating Molar Mass, Composition of Compounds, Concentration and Solutions, and Equations and Reactions. My favorite subcategory was Equations and Reactions, which lets you plug in data to compute Reaction Enthalpy, the Reaction Equilibrium Constant, balance chemical equations, and calculate theoretical yields. Each section lets you specify 1 to 4 reactants and 1 to 4 products. Very useful.

Gases

This category has nine subcategories to solve for Avogadro’s Law (V or n), Boyle’s Law (V or P), Charles’s Law (V or T), Gay-Lussac’s Law (P or T)/Density or Molar Mass, the Ideal Gas Law (P, V, n, and T), Graham’s Law, Average Kinetic Energy, and RMS Velocity.

Chemical Bonding

This category has two subcategories: Bond Properties of Chemicals and Lewis Structures of Elements. The ‘Bond Properties’ include dipole moment, bond types and bond lengths for water, ethanol, acetic acid, acetone, and chloroform.

Liquids & Solids

This category has three subcategories: X-ray Analysis of Solids (Bragg Equation), Boiling Point of Liquids, and Liquid Vapor Pressure. I really liked how the second subcategory lets find boiling points based on city, elevation or mountains.

This was the only area of the app that I saw an error. I went into all three subcategories and all were blank, even though I waited 10 minutes. I quit the app and after I went back into it I was able to see each subcategory, but then the app locked up for a minute. I was able to restart the app, but I have notified Wolfram about this issue and will update this review as soon as I hear back from them.

Acids & Bases

This category lets you look up properties of acids and bases, calculates the ionization percentage of a solution, determine acidity and basicity of solutions (calculate pH and pOH, H+ and OH-, and look up the pH of a chemical), calculate pKa, and solve for pH or pKa.

The Nucleus

This category lets you look up information on isotopes (get element isotopes, look up nuclear properties, and find isotope half-life), as well as compute carbon-14 dating (if you believe that the earth is actually older than 6400 years). I went into the ‘Isotopes’ subcategory and looked up the isotopes for Oxygen, which showed all of the stable and unstable O isotopes. My favorite subcategory of this section was the ‘Isotope Half-Life’, as you can easily use element name or mass numbers to compute the half-lives of elements, which was interesting considering the reactor problems currently being experienced in Japan (as well as in Chernobyl).

Units & Chemical Properties

This category contains five subcategories: Unit Conversions, Physical Properties, Thermodynamic Properties, Element Properties, and Chemical Properties. The ‘Unit Conversion’ subcategory allows conversions based on length, mass, temperature, and volume. The four types of ‘Physical Properties’ are molecular weight, density,boiling point, and melting point. The types of properties found using ‘Thermodynamic Lookup’ are enthalpy of formation, entropy, free energy, heat capacity, enthalpy of fusion, and combustion heat.

I liked the ‘Element Properties’ subcategories, because it returns a ton of information for each element (the element name, periodic table position, an image, basic element properties, thermodynamic properties, material properties, electromagnetic properties, reactivity, atomic properties abundances, nuclear properties, and identifiers), but that seems to be the same as the data returned in the ‘Find an Element’ subcategory option in the ‘Atoms, Molecules, Ions’ category of the app.

Conclusion

Wolfram has expanded their offerings beyond the first 6 course assistant apps available for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. I tested this app using my iPod touch and was satisfied with the amount of useful information as well as the content layout. I did have a problem at one point and had to exit the app, but it then functioned normally.

As much as I enjoyed this app on my iPod touch, I’d love to be able  to retrieve all of the ‘Element Properties’ (in the ‘Units & Chemical Properties’ category) using a GUI image of the periodic table instead of the keyboard that was implemented in the app. To select elements not included on the keyboard, you just need to highlight the element that begins with the same first letter of the alphabet, then select the desired element. Preferring a GUI for this UI is a person preference and not a bug or error, but it might be more appropriate on the larger screen on the iPad.

Recommendation

A good value. Good data that will preclude the need to look up technical information in a textbook, which is handy for high school or college students.