Archive for the 'Energy' Category

DOE/BES Proposes Energy Frontier Research Centers

February 16, 2008

To build a future of energy security, we must trust in the creative genius of American researchers and entrepreneurs and empower them to pioneer a new generation of clean energy technology.- President George W. Bush, 2008 State of the Union Address

All is not bad in Washington. The DOE Office of Basic Energy Sciences is seeing a big budget increase in the FY09 budget, and is proposing spending a large portion of that increase on creating a number of Energy Frontier Research Centers, each having a budget of $2M-$5M per year. Seems extremely well thought-out from both a scientific and a social level. The amount is enough to allow centers to think big, but not so big that many different solutions can be funded and tried out. And they seem to have a good range of problems in mind.

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Is There a Plan for Life After Peak Oil?

February 15, 2008

AlterNet has a good article entitled: Is There a Plan for Life After Peak Oil? Good article, bad title. Of course there isn’t a plan…

AlterNet has noted similar results to ones I blogged on last week, that biofuels aren’t the carbon savior they claim to be, in that they actually increase the net carbon released into the environment, since land would have to be cleared to make way for switch grasses and the like that previously held other carbon-consuming plants.

I like the way the article opens:

Now they might start sitting up. They wouldn’t listen to the environmentalists or even the geologists. Can governments ignore the capitalists?

A report published last week by Citibank, and so far unremarked by the media, proposes “genuine difficulties” in increasing the production of crude oil, “particularly after 2012.” Though 175 big drilling projects will start in the next four years, “the fear remains that most of this supply will be offset by high levels of decline”.

The situation has gotten so bad that the mere mention here of politicians and capitalists taking the energy shortage seriously gives me a feeling of comfort!

The Wild Shore – Kim Stanley Robinson

February 10, 2008

The Wild Shore is the first volume of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Three Californias Trilogy. I read the book because, perhaps because after reading The Long Emergency I was in the mood for dystopia. What was a wonderful surprise, though, was that The Wild Shore tells a beautiful, sad story of life in 2047, after the US has been attacked and isolated by the other world powers.

Although Robinson wrote the story in 1984, other than a few references to the Soviet Union and the Cold War, it feels very contemporary and new. The book tells the story of Henry Aaron Fletcher, a teen-aged boy who lives with a handful of other survivors in a small fishing village in what is now San Onofre, California, as he and the others are contacted by a larger settlement in San Diego, and have to decide whether to join with the San Diegans in uniting in an American rebellion and facing the other countries, or continue by smaller measures.

There is real beauty in the story. The most compelling character is Tom Barnard, the oldest person in town, and one of the few who remembers the world before the fall of America. Tom is a teacher in the town, and tries to guide his community in a better way. At one point he realizes that “[y]ou can’t teach what the world has taught you,” that, despite trying to help his villagers preserve the literary and cultural heights of the old America while living peacefully and pastorally, he can’t convince them not to rail against the rest of the world for their poor plight.

There’s a sadness in the inevitability of such a realization, and a real sadness in the events of the story. But there’s also a hope in seeing the world persist, seeing people band together and survive, seeing love and community and deliberate living succeed on even a small level. I was surprised how much I liked this book, and look forward to reading the rest of the stories in the trilogy.

Destroying native ecosystems for biofuel crops worsens global warming

February 8, 2008

This article will certainly not be the last word on the subject, but physorg posts a study (to be published in Science magazine later this week) that claims destroying native ecosystems for biofuel crops worsens global warming. From the report

The carbon lost by converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands outweighs the carbon savings from biofuels. Such conversions for corn or sugarcane (ethanol), or palms or soybeans (biodiesel) release 17 to 420 times more carbon than the annual savings from replacing fossil fuels, the researchers said.

I obviously haven’t read the soon-to-be-published paper, but here’s why I think it worth mentioning:

  1. It is likely that biofuel won’t become competitive energetically and economically until we learn how to make fuel out of waste. Converting waste fry oil into diesel might supply the fuel needs of several hundred people, but it’s hardly a national strategy. And converting food into fuel is simply not a solution in a world where many people do not get enough food. Only by deriving a set of industrial strength enzymes that can break down the cellulose in corn stalks can we make practical use of biomaterial.
  2. The factors that go into the environmental and economic impact are subtle. It’s not that you necessarily need a Ph.D. before you’re qualified to comment, it’s that it is best to study the problem carefully for a while before declaring the problem solved.
  3. There is a very good chance that Americans will have to change their consumption habits in the future. I find very few statements as poisonous as the Bush administration’s comment that “The American Way of Life is not Negotiable.” And the hope that goes along with that that we can all continue to commute 50 miles per day in giant SUVs, and that we just have to find another way of fueling them, one that is carbon neutral, one that is renewable, whatever. I certainly can’t see the future. Perhaps nuclear fusion really will save us all, but, were I a betting man, I would say that the odds are pretty small, and that very likely the American Way of Life will most likely change qualitatively in the next two decades.