Double Trouble  

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It seems this is the year we need to endure the tedium of 2 elections, with Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull engineering a double dissolution election for the middle of the year as a predecessor to the awful spectacle unfolding in the United States.

I did have high hopes for Malcolm, as whenever he isn't in charge of the party he acts and talks like an intelligent, decent man. And I must admit I did greatly enjoy his revenge on his utterly incompetent predecessor Tony Abbott last year (Abbott having stabbed Turnbull in the back over the carbon tax several years earlier).

However Turnbull seems to have squandered all of his political capital trying to avoid any conflict with the far right of his own party, thereby dashing the hopes of the moderate centre of the country who provided him the poll support he needed to topple Abbott, and now trails in the polls after having a massive lead 6 months ago.

Climate is starting to figure in the election campaign, with Labor's support for a new emissions trading scheme and renewed funding for renewable energy institutions, provoking another hysterical campaign from the government (egged on by the morons at The Daily Terror).

ReNew Economy notes the government's policy on renewables is one step forwards, two steps back and quotes some interesting comments from Ray Kurzweil (good to see someone understands exponential growth - I've been baffled at how many "experts" still seem to think fossil fuels will be important in 20 years time).

Ray Kurzweil, the futurist who has made a host of noteworthy predictions, including the uptake of the internet, says he expects solar to become the dominant energy source within 12 years, pointing to the repeated doubling of solar’s share of energy production every two years.

“In 2012 solar panels were producing 0.5% of the world’s energy supply. Some people dismissed it, saying it’s a nice thing to do but at a half percent is a fringe player. That’s not going to solve the problem,’” Kurzweil said at a recent forum. “They were ignoring the exponential growth — just as they ignored the exponential growth of the internet and human genome project. Half a per cent is only 8 doublings away from 100%.

“Now, four years later solar has doubled twice again. Now solar panels produce 2 per cent of the world’s energy, right on schedule. People dismiss it saying ‘2 per cent is nice, but a fringe player. That ignores the exponential growth, which means it is only 6 doublings or 12 years from 100 per cent.”

Not everyone is ignoring it. Oil major Total last week announced it was creating a new division focusing on renewables and “electricity” rather than transport fuels, with a goal to be one of world’s top three solar producers.

As usual, this journal recommends voting for a Green or a feisty independent - neither of the big parties ever do anything meaningful about climate or renewable energy unless they are forced to.

Brown coal: counting the cost of burning mud  

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Michael Pascoe at the SMH has a look at the rapid increase in carbon emissions from Victoria's brown coal power plants (dubbed "museum pieces" by visiting Chinese engineers) since the scrapping of the carbon tax - Brown coal: counting the cost of burning mud. Apparently the state government is now looking to impose it's own coal tax to replace the national carbon tax which might help cap emissions while we wait for these antiquities to be closed down.

March temperature smashes 100-year global record  

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The Guardian reports that "global temperature in March has shattered a century-long record and by the greatest margin yet seen for any month" - March temperature smashes 100-year global record. South west Iceland apparently had a nice cool spell though.

Lithium: An increasingly precious metal  

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While the Australian mining boom is now receding in the rear view mirror, one mining sector that is still attracting enthusiastic investment is the lithium mining industry.

Western Australia currently produces about 30% of the world's lithium supplies, and 20 new companies are scrambling about the state trying to take advantage of the boom in "white oil". WA Business News has an article on the evolving market for the metal, looking at producers in Australia and South America - A Window opens for lithium hopefuls.

The investment frenzy may have already reached a peak locally however, with some investment columnists warning there aren't any bargains left in the sector - Ten years on, lithium may as well be uranium and This 'new gasoline' could burn eager investors.

The Economist also has a look at the soaring demand for lithium, with some interesting tales from Chile as the jostling begins to supply the expanding battery market for electric vehicles and home energy storage - An increasingly precious metal.

SQM, Chile’s biggest lithium producer, is the kind of company you might find in an industrial-espionage thriller. Its headquarters in the military district of Santiago bears no name. The man who for years ran the business, Julio Ponce, is the former son-in-law of the late dictator, Augusto Pinochet. He quit as chairman in 2015, during an investigation into SQM for alleged tax evasion. (The company is co-operating with the inquiry.) Last month it emerged that CITIC, a Chinese state-controlled firm, may bid for part of Mr Ponce’s controlling stake in SQM, as part of China’s bid to secure supplies of a vital raw material.

The focus of CITIC’s interest appears to lie on a lunar-like landscape of encrusted salt in Chile’s Atacama desert. It is a brine deposit washed off the Andes millions of years ago, containing about a fifth of the world’s known lithium resources. (Even more are in adjacent Bolivia but they are mostly untapped). Just weeks before, CITIC had bought a stake in a Hong Kong electric-vehicle maker that uses lithium-ion batteries, indicating its growing interest in clean-energy technologies.

The sleeping giant of lithium production is Bolivia, which by most estimates possesses the largest reserves of the metal. Evo Morales has announced a $1 billion investment push to kick start production, expanding links with Chinese companies to both extract the material and produce lithium ion batteries in the country - Bolivia’s lithium boom: dream or nightmare?.

Lithium production will clearly need to expand given the pre-sales for the Tesla 3 are now approaching 4000,000 vehicles and projected sales would consume all of world's lithium production at current levels - Rising Lithium Prices Threaten to Short-Circuit EV Market. The Chevrolet Bolt is also due out on the market this year, putting further pressure on supplies.

One way to boost production is to improve the efficiency of extraction processes. CleanTechnica has an article on improvements on extracting lithium from brine - New Method Of Extracting Lithium From Natural Brine Yields 99.9% Purity.

Mexico's oil reserves slashed by a fifth  

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Platts has a look at Mexico's declining oil reserves - Mexico's reserves slashed by a fifth. The article also notes that the West's biggest integrated oil companies also failed to replace, on average, their production with new reserves for a second year running, with just half of all production replenished over the year.

"ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP, Shell and Total saw their combined proved oil and gas reserves slip to 84.6 billion boe last year, the biggest year-on-year drop and the lowest level in eight years."

How First Solar Is Avoiding Solar Panel Industry Turmoil  

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Technology Review has a look at First Solar's efforts to improve thin film solar power panels - How First Solar Is Avoiding the Industry’s Turmoil.

They are touting both better solar conversion efficiency (up to 24% in the lab vs 20% for silicon) and lower prices (60 to 70 cents per watt to manufacture vs 69 to 80 cents for silicon) than silicon panels as the reason for their success.

The Economist: Follow the sun  

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The Economist has an article on how "Solar power is reshaping energy production in the developing world" - Follow the sun. The article notes "In sunny places solar power is now “shoulder to shoulder” with gas, coal and wind" in terms of cost - hence the rapid uptake in countries with expanding electricity consumption.

World’s tallest timber skyscraper proposed for London  

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Inhabitat has a post an a rather ambitious proposal to build a gigantic wooden skyscraper over London's Barbican centre (in stark contrast to the concrete brutalism of the other structures on the site) - World’s tallest timber skyscraper proposed for London.

Presumably this is just a concept rather than a serious proposal - but there is a certain attraction to enormous wooden structures arising from the urban jungle.

Greenland ice sheet melt breaking records  

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Climate Change News has a slightly alarming report about the accelerating warming of the Arctic - Greenland sees record-smashing early ice sheet melt - "Even a weather station 1840 metres above sea level recorded a maximum of 3.1C, which data analysts said would be warm for July, let alone April".

The End of The Coal Age In Sight ?  

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Bloomberg has a report on the bankruptcy of the world's largest coal producer - Coal Slump Sends Mining Giant Peabody Energy Into Bankruptcy (much to the delight of the writers at Grist I expect).

In an age where power generation is largely switching to renewable energy (with the remnants opting for gas) there doesn't seem to be much of a future for coal miners.


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