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Oil-by-rail project gets derailed

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It’s tough to find good things to write about on the climate change front these days, especially with the abomination that is Scott Pruitt in charge of the EPA, and Trumpola still around…has it been only one year?

Anyway, something positive did happen recently when Washington Governor Jay Inslee rejected a permit that was required for Tesoro-Savage to build the Vancouver Energy oil-by-rail facility, the largest such project in the nation, at the Port of Vancouver. Inslee explained the basis of his decision, which followed a several years long process, in a letter to the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council:

“When weighing all of the factors considered against the need for and potential benefits of the facility at this location, I believe the record reflects substantial evidence that the project does not meet the broad public interest standard necessary for the Council to recommend site certification.”

Inslee’s action on 29 January followed the Vancouver Port Commissions’ action earlier that month when it voted to not renew the company’s lease if the project did not have all required permits and licenses by March 31. This move effectively ended the project.

According to DeSmog Blog, momentum for the vote “began in November when Don Orange joined the port commission after a resounding victory against a challenger who was heavily funded by the oil industry. Orange, on the other hand, promised to oppose Vancouver Energy’s planned construction of the largest oil-by-rail facility in the country.” Washington State’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council recommended in November that the governor should reject the proposed project.

“We will not become just another polluted oil town,” said Rebecca Ponzio, director of the Stand Up To Oil Campaign. “This should be a signal for communities across the country, the oil industry does not get to decide your future. Together, people are always more powerful than the money of oil companies.”

In a written statement issued 30 January, Vancouver Energy officials said Inslee’s endorsement of the council’s “faulty recommendation” sets an “impossible standard for permitting new energy facilities in the state.” In addition Inslee’s decision sends an “anti-development” message that will have far-reaching consequences for industries across the state, Vancouver Energy officials added.

It doesn’t ever have to be development versus the environment…

Image is from the Stand Up To Oil website.

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Things in the wind

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Recent news on the environmental front is full of wind chimes.

Did you know, for example, that Mars Inc. is making M&Ms with wind power? In fact Mars has engaged two popular spokespersons from its M&M entourage, ‘Red’ and ‘Yellow,’ Red, the self-proclaimed leader and Yellow, his faithful sidekick, have become the latest advocates for renewable wind-powered energy, tackling climate change in the launch of M&M’s Fans of Wind energy crusade.

“We want to make sure that everyone understands that climate change is a real issue,” said Berta De Pablos-Barbier, president of Mars Wrigley Confectionery U.S., in a recent interview for TheStreet. “A wind turbine spinning for one second produces the energy equivalent to what’s needed to make eight packs of M&M’S,” she said. Here’s her video.

The Fans of Wind campaign is part of Mars’ Sustainable in a Generation Plan that includes $1 billion investment over the next few years to tackle climate change and the scarcity of resources.

Microsoft has signed a 15-year power purchase agreement (PPA) for 100% of the electricity from GE’s new 37-megawatt Tullahennel wind farm in County Kerry, Ireland. Microsoft said the deal will help support an expansion of its cloud computing services offerings in the country.
 As part of the deal, Microsoft also signed an agreement with the Dublin-based energy trading company ElectroRoute to provide energy trading services to Microsoft.

In addition to producing energy, the project will produce valuable data on energy storage. Each turbine will have an integrated battery; Microsoft and GE will test how these batteries can be used to capture and store excess energy, and then provide it back to the grid as needed. “This provides more predictable power to an increasingly green Irish grid, by smoothing out peaks and valleys in wind production. This will better enable intermittent clean power sources like wind energy to be added to the Irish grid,” Microsoft said. This will be the first deployment of integration into wind turbines to store energy in Europe.

Then, according to a Washington Post article last month, “there’s enough wind energy over the oceans to power human civilization, scientists say.”

The article cites National Academy of Sciences findings that there is so much wind energy potential over oceans that it could theoretically be used to generate “civilization scale power” — “assuming, that is, that we are willing to cover enormous stretches of the sea with turbines, and can come up with ways to install and maintain them in often extreme ocean environments. ”

That sounds very theoretical, expensive and probably extremely unlikely, but it’s nice to know the potential is there if we need it — and we probably will someday.

We might as well try and catch the wind.

Image: Turbine B W by richardghawley via Flickr CC

It’s not nice to ignore Mother Nature

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A new book by Geoffrey Heal, professor at Columbia Business School, makes a trenchant point that’s ignored by those currently in power: our prosperity depends on protecting the planet.

Heal did a Q&A interview about his book, Endangered Economies, in the current issue of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ magazine Catalyst. (Heal is also UCS board member and an expert on economics and the environment.)

“The natural world provides everything we depend on,” Heal says. “We get our food from the natural world, we get our drinking water and our oxygen from the natural world, and we evolved as part of it. We simply can’t live without it. Plants create food, and they need pollination from insects and they need rain and they need soil. We can’t synthesize these things. So we really are totally dependent on the natural world in the end. Read the rest of this entry »

Foxes guarding the henhouse

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scott-pruitt_gage-skidmoreThe emerging Trump administration/cabal is taking shape, and it’s not looking good for the environment and climate change. What is emerging, for the most part, is a group of rich people in tune with the “president-elect’s” version of business intrusion, anti-regulation and crony capitalism.

With respect to the environment, and specifically the Environmental Protection Agency, DJT selected a puppet of the fossil fuel industry, Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, to head the EPA. According to the New York Times report on the nomination, it signals a “determination to dismantle  President Obama’s efforts to counter climate change — and much of the EPA itself.” Pruitt is actually suing the EPA for its “regulatory overreach” in his oil and gas intensive state.

The transition team press release announcing Pruitt’s selection, (quoted in a Washington Post report) said, “For too long, the Environmental Protection Agency has spent taxpayer dollars on an out-of-control anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs, while also undermining our incredible farmers and many other businesses and industries at every turn,” the release quoted Trump as saying. Pruitt “will reverse this trend and restore the EPA’s essential mission of keeping our air and our water clean and safe.” Trump added, “My administration “strongly believes in environmental protection, and Scott Pruitt will be a powerful advocate for that mission while promoting jobs, safety and opportunity.”

More evidence that we are in Orwellian 1984 territory. Get ready for four years of doublethink.

Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, said: “Having Scott Pruitt in charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is like putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires. He is a climate science denier who, as Attorney General for the state of Oklahoma, regularly conspired with the fossil fuel industry to attack EPA protections. “Nothing less than our children’s health is at stake. Scott Pruitt, whose own bio describes him as ‘a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda’ cannot be trusted to head the EPA, an agency charged with protecting all Americans from threats to their water, air, and health. We strongly urge Senators, who are elected to represent and protect the American people, to stand up for families across the nation and oppose this nomination.”

Senate Democrats have signaled they will fight this nomination—this could be an early battle, and test, for the Dems.

Image: Scott Pruitt by Gage Skidmore via Flickr CC

Written by William DiBenedetto

9 December, 2016 at 7:15 am

Bionic leaf beats photosynthesis, creates liquid fuel

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bionic-leaf_orig_1 (1)Now this from Harvard University researchers: “bionic leaf 2.0,” which turns sunlight into liquid fuel, introduced in the academic journal Science earlier this month.

In what is called an artificial version of photosynthesis in plants, the study says the “bionic leaf 2.0” “aims to make use of solar panels for splitting molecules of water into oxygen and hydrogen. On separation of the water compounds, hydrogen is moved into a chamber for consumption by bacteria. A specialized metal catalyst and carbon dioxide in the chamber then helps generate a liquid fuel.”

Daniel Nocera, the Patterson Rockwood Professor of Energy at Harvard University, and Pamela Silver, the Elliott T. and Onie H. Adams Professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School, have developed a system that uses solar energy to split water molecules and hydrogen-eating bacteria to produce liquid fuels. What’s cool about this is that using sunlight to convert it into liquid fuels would reduce the vast areas of land usually used for producing plants that generate biofuels. According to a study by the University of Virginia, about 4 per cent of the world’s farmland is currently under crops for fuel rather than crops for food.

The paper, whose lead authors also include postdoctoral fellow Chong Liu and graduate student Brendan Colón, is described in a June 3 paper published in Science.

“This is a true artificial photosynthesis system,” Nocera said in a Harvard Gazette article. “Before, people were using artificial photosynthesis for water-splitting, but this is a true A-to-Z system, and we’ve gone well over the efficiency of photosynthesis in nature.” While the study shows the system can be used to generate usable fuels, its potential doesn’t end there, said Silver, who is also a founding core member of the Wyss Institute at Harvard University.

“The beauty of biology is it’s the world’s greatest chemist — biology can do chemistry we can’t do easily,” she said. “In principle, we have a platform that can make any downstream carbon-based molecule. So this has the potential to be incredibly versatile.”

The new system builds on previous work by Nocera, Silver, and others, which — though it was capable of using solar energy to make isopropanol — faced a number of challenges. Chief among those, Nocera said, was the fact that the catalyst used to produce hydrogen — a nickel-molybdenum-zinc alloy — also created reactive oxygen species, molecules that attacked and destroyed the bacteria’s DNA. To avoid that, researchers were forced to run the system at abnormally high voltages, resulting in reduced efficiency.

“For this paper, we designed a new cobalt-phosphorous alloy catalyst, which we showed does not make reactive oxygen species,” Nocera said. “That allowed us to lower the voltage, and that led to a dramatic increase in efficiency.” Read the rest of this entry »

Safe battery tech prevents “thermal runaway”

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150108-stanford-battery-1-100637348-largeIf it gets too hot, get out of the battery! Researchers at Stanford University have developed a lithium-ion battery that shuts down automatically as it begins to overheat.

Lithium-ion batteries are used in nearly all portable electronics. They’re light, can store a lot of energy and are easily recharged, but they are also susceptible to overheating if damaged. A short circuit in the battery often leads to fire. A recent article in Nature Energy by a team of Stanford researchers reveals a safe battery design that features “a fast and reversible thermoresponsive polymer switching material that can be incorporated inside batteries to prevent thermal runaway.”

The new Stanford battery uses a polyethylene film that has embedded particles of nickel with nanoscale spikes. Researchers coated the spikes with graphene, a conducting material, so that electricity can flow over the surface. When the temperature rises the film expands, and at about 70 degrees Celsius (160 degrees Fahrenheit) the conducting spikes no longer touch each other, breaking the circuit – causing the battery to shut down.

Once the battery shuts down, the runaway thermal reaction is avoided and the battery cools; eventually the nickel spikes are brought back into contact and the electricity flow resumes.

“We can even tune the temperature higher or lower depending on how many particles we put in or what type of polymer materials we choose,” said Zhenan Bao, a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford and a member of the research team.

The Nature Energy article [Nature Energy 1, Article number: 15009 (2016) doi:10.1038/nenergy.2015.9] says: “Batteries with this self-regulating material built in the electrode can rapidly shut down under abnormal conditions such as overheating and shorting, and are able to resume their normal function without performance compromise or detrimental thermal runaway. Our approach offers 103–104 times higher sensitivity to temperature changes than previous switching devices.”

This has the potential of averting the catastrophic fires seen in hoverboards, laptops and aircraft.

The article was written by the researchers Zheng Chen, Po-Chun Hsu, Jeffrey Lopez, Yuzhang Li, John W. F. To, Nan Liu, Chao Wang, Sean C. Andrews, Jia Liu, Yi Cui and Zhenan Bao.

Image: Stanford researchers use a polyethylene film in lithium-ion batteries to shut down the battery if it gets too hot. Credit: Stanford University/IDGNS

Written by William DiBenedetto

9 February, 2016 at 5:30 am

Pope Francis: Care for our common home (4)

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Laudato Si'_cover_ Thomas CizauskasHere’s the next installment of our close read of Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter on climate change, Laudato Si’.

(Note: emphasis added by me)

Climate as a common good

The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity. Concentrated in the atmosphere, these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the earth to be dispersed in space. The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system. Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes. (Para. 23) Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

5 October, 2015 at 6:00 am

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