Gone Surfing  

Posted by Big Gav

I'm off for a week - see you next Tuesday.

In the meantime here is a brief link dump (if I had more time I have about 1000 other interesting items, but alas...).

Technology Review has a look at Cellulolytic Enzymes - designing better enzymes for making biofuels from cellulose.

The Lahontan Valley News has an article outlining some of the challenges involved when expanding transmission capacity when building new renewable energy projects - in this case geothermal energy in northern Nevada.

Renewable Energy Access has a look at efforts by German organisation Green Step to teach people in Cameroon how to construct their own wind turbines and hydroelectric plants using local materials. Currently, ninety percent of the people in Cameroon are not connected to the national electricity grid.

TreeHugger has some video from "Six Degrees" looking at the segments on Jamais Cascio's cheeseburger obsession, including the "infamous latex glove scene".

Technology Review has a look at "Reality Mining" and "behaviour logging" - researchers looking at how to use data gathered by cell phones to learn more about human behavior. Frequent tinfoil consumers will no doubt view this sort of thing as a civilian spin-off of military/intelligence research - looking at how to extract some value from all of the monitoring infrastructure that has been set up to collect data on our every move (with the example used of modelling the spread of diseases further adding to the foily alarm bells). The idea of being able to predict human behaviour based on aggregated data is quite an interesting one - I used to watch the electricity grid data quite closely and you can see some mass behavioural patterns from that data quite clearly. Maybe one day when everything we do is monitored, measured, stored and analysed, Asimov's old ideas about "psychohistory" might become realised...

Bruce Sterling has a post on a Compressed Earth Block (CEB) press called "The Liberator" ("(It makes bricks out of dirt. Then you make cheap, open-source houses out of the bricks"), and introduces a new concept - "Neo-commercialization".

Bruce also has an annotated version of the Italian National Anthem and some notes on a simmering water war betwen Georgia and Tennessee.

Fuel From Algae  

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Solazyme are one the companies that seem to be making the most progress in coming up with a viable algae to biofuel process. I'm a little uncertain about their latest innovation (doing away with sunlight and instead feeding the algae sugar - any parent can tell you this is a bad idea when dealing with growing children) but Technology Review says that they produce more oil this way.

Solazyme, a startup based in South San Francisco, CA, has developed a new way to convert biomass into fuel using algae, and the method could lead to less expensive biofuels. The company recently demonstrated its algae-based fuel in a diesel car, and in January, it announced a development and testing agreement with Chevron. Late last year, the company received a $2 million grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop a substitute for crude oil based on algae.

The new process combines genetically modified strains of algae with an uncommon approach to growing algae to reduce the cost of making fuel. Rather than growing algae in ponds or enclosed in plastic tubes that are exposed to the sun, as other companies are trying to do, Solazyme grows the organisms in the dark, inside huge stainless-steel containers. The company's researchers feed algae sugar, which the organisms then convert into various types of oil. The oil can be extracted and further processed to make a range of fuels, including diesel and jet fuel, as well as other products. ...

The process also has significant advantages over a quite different way of using algae to create biofuels--one that makes use of algae's ability to employ sunlight to produce their own supply of sugar, using photosynthesis. In these approaches, the algae are grown in ponds or bioreactors where they are exposed to sunlight and make their own sugar. In Solazyme's approach, the researchers deliberately turn off photosynthetic processes by keeping the algae in the dark. Instead of getting energy from sunlight, the algae get energy from the sugars that the researchers feed them.

Solazyme's process of growing the algae in the dark has a couple of advantages over approaches that use ponds or bioreactors. First, keeping the algae in the dark causes them to produce more oil than they do in the light. That's because while their photosynthetic processes are inactive, other metabolic processes that convert sugar into oil become active.

Just as important, feeding algae sugar makes it possible to grow them in concentrations that are orders of magnitude higher than when they're grown in ponds using energy from the sun, says Eric Jarvis, a biofuels researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in Golden, CO. (Jarvis is not connected to Solazyme.) That's in part because the sugar provides a concentrated source of energy. These higher concentrations reduce the amount of infrastructure needed to grow the algae, and also make it much easier to collect the algae and extract the oil, Jarvis says, significantly reducing costs. High capital costs have so far stymied other attempts to make fuel from algae.

In spite of these advantages over other approaches, Solazyme's method for creating fuel is not yet cheap enough to compete with fuels made from petroleum, Dillon says. Indeed, Jarvis warns that one of the most expensive parts of making fuels from cellulosic sources is processing them to create simple sugars, a part of the process that Solazyme isn't focused on improving. But in the past 18 months, improvements in the amount of oil that the algae produce have convinced the company that competitive costs are within reach. Solazyme hopes to begin selling its fuel in two to three years, Dillon says.

Tapping The Source: The Power Of The Oceans  

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Last year I came across the story of Dutch company Kema and their energy island idea - basically a variant on the usual pumped hydro energy storage concept where water is pumped out of a space below sea level then allowed to flow back in, generating power as it does. The "island" uses wind power to pump water out of the enclosed area. An obvious extension to this idea would be to harness ocean energy as well - letting wave and/or tidal power supplement the output of the wind turbines. An attraction of this concept is that it potentially allows a large amount of new energy storage to be brought online - and this storage would be along the world's coastlines, where most of the population lives.



Another form of energy island has been in the news recently, this one a substantially more ambitious proposal which envisions artificial islands to collect wind, wave, ocean current and solar power in the tropics, along with a more unusual energy source - harnessing the difference in water temperatures between the warm surface and the cold depths using a technique called OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion). These islands are being proposed by architects Dominic Michaelis and his son Alex Michaelin as a response to Richard Branson’s Virgin Earth Challenge, which offers $25 million in prizes for innovative solutions for combating global warming.



While the practicality of these particular proposals has yet to be put to the test, the various forms of ocean power are probably the most overlooked of the big 6 renewable energy sources (along with solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and hydro).

Other forms of renewable energy are sometimes criticised for being more intermittent and less predictable than traditional power generation, however ocean energy is much more reliable - steady ocean currents could provide good baseload power, as could OTEC, tidal power is diurnal and highly predictable and waves are predictable days in advance.

In this post I'll have a look at the amount of energy that could potentially be harvested from these sources and the various projects underway to try and make this a reality.

Tidal and Ocean Current Power

Tidal power stations usually take the form of a dam (or barrage) built across a narrow bay or river mouth. As the tide flows in or out, it creates uneven water levels on either side of the barrier. The water flows through the barrier, turning turbines to generate electricity.

Benefits of tidal barrage power generation include :

* Predictable source of clean energy
* No dependence on foreign fuel sources
* Flood protection
* Transport links for road and/or rail
* Better shipping and boating conditions behind the barrier

Disadvantages include :

* The timing of the tides doesn't often correlate with peak demand times (less of a problem if there are good energy storage options available)
* Existing ecosystems behind the barrage tend to be heavily altered
* Likely to stimulate silting in some areas and coastal erosion in others
* Enhance flood risk on the seaward side
* Shipping would have to navigate locks
* Industrial discharges behind the barrage are less likely to be dispersed out to sea

Variations on this theme include offshore tidal lagoons, which use a water impoundment structure and low-head hydroelectric generating equipment on shallow tidal flats, and tidal fences, which are composed of a number of individual vertical axis turbines mounted within the fence structure, known as a caisson.

Underwater turbines can also be used to harness both tidal power and ocean current power. The turbines (sometimes called aquanators) are similar to wind turbines. In water moving between 6 and 9 km per hour, a 15 m diameter water turbine could generate as much energy as a 60 m diameter wind turbine. Given the smaller amount of infrastructure required and the larger range of possible sites that this technology could be deployed to, it seems likely that underwater turbines will become much more widespread than tidal barrage style generation.



World tidal energy resources have been estimated at around 3000 GW, however less than 3% of this is located in areas considered suitable for power generation (these figures probably don't include ocean current power, which doesn't seem to be well studied).

A 240 MW tidal-barrage power plant has been operating at La Rance in Brittany since 1966. Other operational barrage sites are at Annapolis Royal in Nova Scotia (18 MW), the Bay of Kislaya near Murmansk and at Jangxia Creek in the East China Sea.

The largest tides in the world are found in Canada's Bay of Fundy, which has been earmarked to become a 4-berth test site for tidal power generation next year.

On the west coast of Canada, Marine Current Turbine and BC Tidal Energy Corporation plan to install at least three 1.2 MW tidal energy turbines in Vancouver Island's Campbell River by 2009. This the first step in a plan to develop larger tidal farms off British Columbia's coast, which the company says have a tidal energy potential of up to 4,000 MW.

In the United States, at the southern end of the Bay of Fundy, lies Passamaquoddy Bay, which has long been a target for a tidal power development - first initiated in 1935 by the Public Works Administration under the Roosevelt administration, then halted by Congress a year later. John F Kennedy revived the 550 MW project in 1963, however the plan died with him (spawning one of the stranger JFK assassination conspiracy theories I have come across).

Further south, in the Martha's Vineyard area, two underwater turbine projects are trying to get started - one a 300 MW proposal from Oceana Energy Company and the other from Natural Currents Energy Services. Other projects are being considered in the Cape Cod and New Bedford areas - part of a "gold rush" for good tidal power sites (the most desirable ones usually have hourglass figures, to get maximum force in the incoming tide) which has seen the FERC issue 47 preliminary permits for ocean energy projects (and generated mainstream news coverage on the NBC network).

New York's East River is the location of one of the more high profile tidal power experiments currently underway, with Verdant Power experimenting with underwater turbines there. The first attempt eventually ended in failure, with the strong tides breaking the devices.

The Gulf Stream has also caught the eye of hopeful ocean energy companies, particularly in Florida, with the 30 mile wide current pushing 8.5 billion gallons of water along per second and prompting some observers to consider the prospect of "Infinite Underwater Energy".

Californian utility PG&E is also investigating tapping tidal power in San Francsico Bay, with some observers talking about a plant of up to 400 MW in size.

Another bay famous for its tides is the Severn river estuary in Britain, with a tidal range of 14 metres. Plans for damming the Severn estuary or Bristol channel have existed since the 19th century (with tidal power generation being just one proposed application). The UK government recently proposed a new barrage design, which could produce 5% of the UK's electricity requirements, with a peak rate of 8.6 GW. A feasibility study is expected to be complete by 2010. An alternative proposal, by Tidal Electric, involves a series of lagoons, the first of which would be built in Swansea Bay. Some observers have noted underwater turbines may be more appropriate than a barrage.

Pentland Firth in Scotland is another UK location that is considered to have a large amount of tidal power potential - a DTI study in 1993 indicated that if all potential sites were developed, the total UK tidal stream resource could be about 60 TWh. Of this, almost half (28 TWh) could come from the Pentland Firth. The water depth is 60m or more, making potential energy capture huge but technically difficult - 63% of the tidal stream resource is estimated to be in waters deeper than 40m.

Marine Current Turbines launched the world's first underwater turbine project off north Devon in 2003. MCT also began installing a 1.2 MW "SeaGen" tidal current turbine in Northern Ireland's Strangford Lough in 2007, with the company planning to scale up to build a 10MW tidal power farm off Anglesey in North Wales, and to have 500MW of tidal capacity by 2015. Also in Wales, Lunar Energy and Eon are hoping to build an underwater tidal project off Pembrokeshire.

Another UK tidal power proposal is part of a plan by Metrotidal to build a tunnel under the Thames, currently under fire from environmental groups. There is also talk about regions like the Isle Of Wight and the Humber estuary harnessing tidal power as part of initiatives to become energy self-sufficient (like other "Transition Towns").

Norway has also begun investigating the use of tidal power, with an experimental facility opening in Hammerfest in 2003. The company that developed that technology, Hammerfest Strøm, is working with Scottish Power to develop a project near the Orkney Islands (the islands have also been a test site for another venture by Lunar Energy and Rotech).

There has been no tidal power development in Australia thus far, though the Kimberly region has long been a target for would be developers of tidal power projects, due to its enormous potential (a tidal range of 11 metres). Thus far all of the proposed projects have been stymied by the remoteness of the location from the Western Australian and national electricity grids and by environmental concerns. A number of possible sites have been identified, including Secure Bay, Walcott Inlet, George Water and St. George's Basin.

Liberal backbencher Wilson "Ironbar" Tuckey has been the most vocal supporter of a Kimberly tidal project, pointing out if a link was built to the eastern states grid it would obviate the need for any consideration of nuclear power. Some Kimberly tidal power advocates have also tried to base the idea of a "hydrogen economy" on the resource, though this seems a lot more far-fetched than a grid link (the grid link could also potentially include large scale CSP solar in the western australian deserts, which are one of the best solar resources in the world) .

The Bass Strait area is also considered to have significant potential for tidal / ocean current power generation (one estimate claiming there is potential for 3000 MW of generation in the channel between King Island and Cape Otway).



New Zealand is another country with large tidal resources but without any existing tidal energy generation. According to TVNZ, there are at least 24 wave and tidal power projects currently under development. Trying to get a handle on who might be behind these projects isn't easy - there is an NZ wave and tidal power association, but it doesn't list members or projects - according to their latest newsletter they have 59 members. Crest Energy seems to be the most prominent local company, with a plan for a 200 MW plant in Kaipara Harbour using underwater turbines. Other potential locations include Manukau and Hokianga Harbours, and Tory Strait and French Pass in the Marlborough Sounds. The harbours produce 5 to 6-knot currents and tidal flows of 100,000 cu m a second from the flood and ebb tides, with tidal volumes 12 times greater than the flow in the largest local rivers.

The Phillipines is another potential location for tidal power, with a 2.2GW tidal fence proposed for the Dalupiri Passage using the Davis turbine, from the Blue Energy company and an estimated cost of $US 2.8 Billion is unfortunately on hold due to political instability.



South Korea also has ambitions to generate power from ocean currents, with pilot underwater turbines being installed at Uldolmok, in the country's south-west. Researchers at the Korea Ocean Research and Development Institute (KORDI) chose the site because it has flows up to 12 knots, believed to be among the fastest in Asia. The strong currents have resulted in a number of accidents, hampering progress. KORDI is also trying to improve the efficiency of more conventional barrage-type tidal power plants. The primary project involves building a power plant with a capacity of 250 MW at Lake Sihwa, with another plant up to 520 MW being considered for Garolim Bay.



Taiwan is another Asian nation considering the the possibility of large-scale ocean current power generation. There have been discussions about using the strong Kuroshio current off the east coast of Taiwan to generate up to 1.68 trillion kilowatt-hours per year (compared to Taiwan's current annual demand of electricity of around 98 billion kilowatt-hours).

Wave Power

Surface waves and pressure variations below the ocean's surface can be used by floating buoys or submerged platforms to generate intermittent power. Wave energy sources are widely available, are relatively consistent and predictable and (According to analysts Frost and Sullivan) have the highest energy density among all renewable energy sources. The best resource is found between 40-60 degrees of latitude where the available resource is 30 to 70 kW/m, with peaks of 100 kW/m. The potential global wave power potential has been estimated to be around 8,000-80,000TWh/y (1-10TW), which is the same order of magnitude as world electrical energy consumption.

The UK, for example, is estimated to possess the capacity to generate approximately 87 TWh of wave power per year - equivalent to almost 25 per cent of current UK demand. There are two main research centres in Europe focusing on the development and commercialisation of ocean energy technologies. The first is the European Marine Energy Centre located in Orkney, Scotland, which provides developers with sites to test their prototypes. The other is the Wave Energy Centre in Portugal.

Wave energy ideas are plentiful but real world examples are still rare - there are around 1000 patents for wave energy converters currently on the market and no consensus has emerged yet on which technologies will succeed.

Australian company Oceanlinx (previously known as Energetech) has had a 450 kilowatt wave power unit running at Port Kembla in NSW for a number of years, and plans to connect to the commercial power grid in early 2008. Oceanlinx is also at the advanced permitting stage for a project in Portland, Victoria which would deploy eighteen 1.5MW units for a total capacity of 27MW, which the company claims will be the largest wave energy project in the world.

The company has other projects planned in Rhode Island, Hawaii and Namibia, and intends to participate in the South West of England Regional Development Agency's "Cornwall Wave Hub" in the UK.

The Cornwall Wave Hub aims to create the world's first large scale wave energy farm by constructing a wave hub, or "socket", on the seabed. Oceanlinx is participating along with Ocean Power Technologies, Fred Olsen Renewables and WestWave. Ireland is looking to build a similar grid connected test facility on the Mullet Peninsula in Ireland's County Mayo. While the marine renewables industry in the UK seems to be quite vibrant, government programs to fund the sector have been criticised for not spending the money they have been allocated.

Another Australian company, Carnegie Corp has installed a small array of its CETO II units off Fremantle in WA, and is looking to set up a 50 MW facility in South Australia to desalinate seawater for the Adelaide market and the mining industry. The CETO technology was devised in the 1970s by Carnegie's chairman Alan Burns, a well-known Perth oil man who also founded Hardman Resources. It operates mostly underwater rather than on the surface like many buoy based alternatives, which the company believes will result in a much lower likelihood of damage from storms and rough conditions.

Another Australian company exploring wave (and tidal) power is Sydney based BioPowerSystems, which is trying to is commercialise "biomimetic ocean energy conversion technologies" (an example of "biomimicry", which I'll be doing a post on at a later date). BioPower has been awarded a $5 million grant under the Australian Government's AusIndustry Renewable Energy Development Initiative to test prototypes of the wave energy device (most likely at King Island) and the tidal energy device (at Flinders Island), with each generating around 250 kW.

Pelamis Wave power is a Scottish company that is constructing a 3 MW wave farm off the coast of the Orkney Islands. The company is also involved in the construction of a 2.25 MW plant in Portugal at Aguçadoura, which will soon be expanded to 20 MW, and is providing the technology for the WestWave project in Cornwall. The Pelamis design is a distinctive device resembling a 150m long red snake.

The Scottish government is considering building a connection linking the north and west coasts of Scotland with England, Norway, Germany and the Netherlands by 2020 which could be connected to the proposed European Supergrid, with the aim of harvesting up to 10 GW of wind and wave power.



Spain is also dipping a toe into the waters of wave generation, with a 300 kW "breakwater wave energy plant" being constructed on the north coast, using Wavegen (now owned by Siemens) equipment.

In the US, the wave energy company getting the most attention has been Finavera, which has received preliminary approval to build a 100 MW facility off northern California (and has signed a power purchase agreement with PG&E for part of this). At hasn't all been plain sailing for Finavera however, with a test AquaBuoy device sinking off Oregon late last year.

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) estimated that waves off the Washington, Oregon and California coasts could produce from 250 to 500 terawatt-hours per year - around 12% of US energy demand. Finavera also has approval for a project in Washington state, along with others in South Africa and Canada.

Another US based company is Ocean Power Technologies, which is looking at developing projects in Hawaii, New Jersey and Spain.



OTEC

Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion is not a new idea, it has been around for more than a century. OTEC uses the temperature difference between warm surface water and cold deep water to drive a power-producing cycle. For this to be practical, the temperature difference needs to be at least 20 degrees C, which tends to limit potential application to the tropics. The potential of this energy source has been estimated to be about 10 TW, according to some experts.

The economics of energy production today have delayed the financing of a permanent, continuously operating OTEC plant. However, OTEC is promising as an alternative energy resource for tropical island communities that rely heavily on imported fuel. OTEC plants in these markets could provide islands with power and desalinated water. Other applications that have been considered are aquaculture and mineral extraction.

OTEC plants have been trialled in Nauru and India (along with extensive research in Hawaii). There are also plans to build plants for the US military base on Diego Garcia, and in the Marianas Islands.

One unusual apparent application of this energy source that I came across recently is a robotic "thermal glider" which, at the least, seems like a very interesting tool for environmental monitoring.

Regular news updates on OTEC can be found at OTEC News.

Energy Island Ideas

The thinking behind harnessing ocean power has traditionally focussed on systems built on or near the shoreline. The amount of power available is large, however we are still at the very early stages of learning to harness it, and it is unlikely that ocean power will provide a significant proportion of our energy needs in the next decade or two.

The Energy Island concepts that I began the post with show that people are now beginning to consider harnessing ocean power out at sea as well, which vastly increases the amount of energy that could be tapped.

(The term "energy island" is an overloaded one unfortunately - the Danish island of Samso, for example, calls itself Energy Island as it is completely self-sufficient. There is also a "solar island" being developed off Dubai known as Ras Al Khaima.)

Dominic Michaelis' energy islands are by far the most ambitious plan I've seen for harnessing ocean power in the open seas. These hexagonal islands, are designed to generate electricity using wave, ocean current, OTEC, wind and solar sources. The group estimates that each island complex could produce around 250 MW of power. 50,000 energy islands could meet the world’s energy requirements - ands provide two tons of fresh water per person per day for the entire world population as a byproduct of the OTEC process.

The island design also supports farming seafood in small pens below deck and growing vegetables in shaded areas on the platform. The group is planning to conduct a pilot in the waters off the British Virgin Islands or in the Indian Ocean over the coming year.

Most observers consider the likelihood of energy islands appearing in the near term as remote, however the ideas are thought provoking and put into context just how much energy could be obtained out at sea.

One of the main issues with generating power offshore is how to store or transfer the energy (assuming that the islands don't simply become mobile aquatic arcologies of the sort science fiction writers used to dream about). One possible way of storing the energy would be to produce hydrogen, and to use the islands as refuelling stations for ships that use hydrogen fuel cells. Alternatively, the energy could be used to process raw materials, or to produce materials like ammonia.

A Reprieve For Suburbia ?  

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The SMH has a report on the Solar Cities conference that considers the idea that suburbia may be well suited to a distributed, clean energy future, noting "spacious suburbs are perfect for household electricity generation but there are obstacles".

If it is hard to imagine a future in which the suburban streets of Mosman, or Fairfield, or Parramatta are lined with revolving wind turbines and glinting photovoltaic solar arrays, it's worth remembering that 40 years ago, three-quarters of all Australian homes relied heavily on solar and wind power.

The Hills Hoist, the metaphor for suburbia, dried clothes without so much as a puff of greenhouse gas.

Australia's response to curbing emissions will be decided in the same streets. Suburban sprawl could be the surprisingly green ace in Australia's climate pack, said some of the 800 delegates who gathered in Adelaide this week for the International Solar Cities Congress.

Our preference for large backyards, detached homes and wide streets will allow for local electricity generation, effectively turning each home into a mini power-station. There are huge obstacles - principally the cost of manufacturing, buying and almost certainly subsidising the equipment - but the consensus among local government and the renewable energy industry is that the nation's cities will be transformed within 20 years.

"The suburb is perfect for low-energy development," said the ecologist Herbert Girardet, who helped plan South Australia's first sustainable suburbs and works on Dongtan, a Chinese city next to Shanghai that will be powered exclusively on renewable energy.

"Low density is good for wind and solar power because there's more space to generate locally," Girardet says. "I would like to see the spaces between houses, and the roofs, all being used to power the homes and cars."

The conference presented a curious mix of optimism, because most of the technology needed to slash Australia's greenhouse emissions has been proven to work, and frustration, because far too little money has been allocated to roll it out on a massive scale.

Rapid urbanisation has been the key driver of escalating greenhouse gas emissions. Professor Peter Droege, the chairman of the World Council for Renewable Energy, Asia Pacific, said: "Cities have become humankind's illusory safety blanket, shielding it from grasping the advent of a man-made terrestrial calamity: the climate tipping point … Renewable energy needs to be central to mainstream thinking on infrastructure planning and the very design of cities."

Six cities around Australia, including Blacktown in NSW, are running experimental renewable energy projects designed to both clamp down on energy demand and supply the rest from renewable sources. These projects and others have shown mixed, but generally encouraging, results. ...

The Phoenix Palm  

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AMEE: The World's Energy Meter  

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O'Reilly's ETech Conference in March has some interesting sessions on the agenda. One session which caught my eye is on AMEE - the “Avoiding Mass Extinctions Engine”, which aims to measure the "carbon footprint of everything".

If all the energy data in the world were accessible, what would you build?

The Climate Change agenda has created an imperative to measure the energy profile of everything. As trillions of dollars flow into re-inventing how we consume, we have a unique opportunity to start with open data and open systems. AMEE is an open aggregation platform for energy and CO2 data, algorithms, and transactions. We aim to dramatically accelerate change, because we need to.

AMEE is a neutral aggregator of reliable carbon data, for use by commercial and noncommercial groups. Active users include the UK Government, Google, Morgan Stanley, and The Royal Society for the Arts. Developer API keys are available, and we’ll be showing some of the applications.

Feeling Peaked ?  

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Paul Krugman is feeling a bit peaked.

Peak oil, that is — a dismal theory that keeps getting more plausible.



A curious fact: a couple of years ago the firmly held belief of many right-wing economic commentators (why is this ideological? I’m not sure, but it was) was that the spectacular rise in home prices wasn’t a bubble, but that the rise in oil prices was.
Oil prices are set to crash from this week’s record highs as a speculative market bubble bursts with an impact that could make the hi-tech bust of 2000 ‘look like a picnic’, business publisher Steve Forbes has predicted.

Forbes said the high oil prices currently dampening the US economy, which peaked at more than 70 usd a barrel yesterday as Hurricane Katrina headed for the US Gulf Coast, would fall to 30-35 usd a barrel within a year.

I took oil price and CPI data from FRED, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis database — an incredibly useful resource. I just guessed at 0.3 percent inflation for February, and used an oil price of $100 for the last data point.

Add: Commenter Gufblog asks, “Isn’t it true that at above $40 a barrel Venezuela and Canada can start profitably turning oil sands and other hard-to-get-at sources into petroleum (which together more than double the world’s total supply and elevate Venezuela to the nation holding the greatest reserves)?” Well, people say that — but they’re always saying something like that. My first serious economics work was during the first oil crisis, when I spent many hours with Bureau of Mines publications containing firm estimates of the price of shale oil and oil-from-coal, all of which said that huge alternative supplies should be arriving any day now. Eventually people began talking about “Weitzmann’s Law,” which was that the cost of alternatives to conventional crude is 40% above the current price — whatever the current price is. Seriously, don’t believe the hype: history says that these things always fall short of expectations.

Meanwhile Bloomberg is reporting "Oil at $100 May Look `Cheap' Within Five Years, Alfa Bank Says ".
Crude oil prices of $100 may look ``cheap'' within five years if OPEC production fails to keep pace with global demand growth, according to Alfa Bank. ``We may hit peak oil in the course of the next three, four or five years, in which case $100 oil will look somewhat quaint,'' Alfa Bank's Moscow-based Head of Research Ronald Smith said in an interview with Bloomberg television.

Peak oil is the theory that global crude production is set to decline as new discoveries fail to make up for falling output from older oilfields. Some forecasts indicate Saudi Arabia, the largest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, may be unable to reach sustainable output of 15 million barrels a day and fail to meet an annual demand increase of 1.5 million barrels a day, Smith said.

Global oil demand will ``hold up'' in the event of a U.S. slowdown as consumption growth is led by Asian and Middle East importers, while usage within the U.S. itself ``has not shown much sensitivity'' in the past to weaker economic activity.

Over at the BBC the question is "Who knows why oil prices are so high" ?. What happened to Adam Porter ?

Virgin Flight Not As Green As Hoped  

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Green Car Congress points to a report that Virgin Atlantic's Biofuel Flight Demo is to Use First-Generation Biofuel.

Flight reports that Virgin Atlantic will likely use a first-generation feedstock-based biodiesel or hydrogenated vegetable oil in its test flight this month. The airline is due to fly one of its Boeing 747s between London Heathrow and Amsterdam using a 20% blend of biofuel to power one of four GE CF6-80C2 engines, and has been working with Boeing and engine manufacturer GE Aviation on the initiative since last April.
Virgin has remained tight-lipped about the choice of biofuel, claiming it intends to use a “truly sustainable type” that did not compete with food and fresh water resources.

Boeing now admits that it will not be an algae or halophyte-derived alternative, second-generation biofuels that come from renewable and sustainable feedstocks. Rather, it will be a first-generation biofuel whose feedstock is generally understood to compete with either land and water use for food crops or carbon sinks such as rainforests.

Speaking to Flight at the Singapore air show, Boeing energy and emissions technology leader Dave Daggett said the Virgin flight would definitely not use algae-derived fuel, using instead what he called a first-generation feedstock, ie soy, canola, babassu or palm oil.

Green Freedom: Turning Greenhouse Gas Into Gasoline ?  

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The award for most bizarre piece of nuclear power advocacy I've seen in a while goes to this proposal from some scientists at the Los Alamos Laboratory reported on by the New York Times - constructing nuclear power plants to power the conversion of CO2 into petrol. Of course, you could use the nuclear power for electric vehciles instead, and use less than 20% of the energy this process requires. Or you could just skip the nuclear option entirely and plug your electirc vehicles into a clean energy grid instead (hat tip Engineer Poet).

If two scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory are correct, people will still be driving gasoline-powered cars 50 years from now, churning out heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — and yet that carbon dioxide will not contribute to global warming. In a proposal by two scientists, vehicle emissions would no longer contribute to global warming.

The scientists, F. Jeffrey Martin and William L. Kubic Jr., are proposing a concept, which they have patriotically named Green Freedom, for removing carbon dioxide from the air and turning it back into gasoline.

The idea is simple. Air would be blown over a liquid solution of potassium carbonate, which would absorb the carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide would then be extracted and subjected to chemical reactions that would turn it into fuel: methanol, gasoline or jet fuel.

This process could transform carbon dioxide from an unwanted, climate-changing pollutant into a vast resource for renewable fuels. The closed cycle — equal amounts of carbon dioxide emitted and removed — would mean that cars, trucks and airplanes using the synthetic fuels would no longer be contributing to global warming.

Although they have not yet built a synthetic fuel factory, or even a small prototype, the scientists say it is all based on existing technology. “Everything in the concept has been built, is operating or has a close cousin that is operating,” Dr. Martin said.

The Los Alamos proposal does not violate any laws of physics, and other scientists, like George A. Olah, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist at the University of Southern California, and Klaus Lackner, a professor of geophysics at Columbia University, have independently suggested similar ideas. Dr. Martin said he and Dr. Kubic had worked out their concept in more detail than previous proposals.

There is, however, a major caveat that explains why no one has built a carbon-dioxide-to-gasoline factory: it requires a great deal of energy.

To deal with that problem, the Los Alamos scientists say they have developed a number of innovations, including a new electrochemical process for detaching the carbon dioxide after it has been absorbed into the potassium carbonate solution. The process has been tested in Dr. Kubic’s garage, in a simple apparatus that looks like mutant Tupperware.

Even with those improvements, providing the energy to produce gasoline on a commercial scale — say, 750,000 gallons a day — would require a dedicated power plant, preferably a nuclear one, the scientists say.



Cleantech.com has a report on the reborn, ex-Xerox PARC and its new focus on clean technology - including an interest in creating "liquid fuels from the air" - but using renewables rather than vast farms of nuclear power plants.
Formerly Xerox's R&D center, Silicon Valley-based PARC is using its new status as an independent business to leverage its almost 40-year history in IT, mass production, microfluidics and other scientific expertise for a variety of mostly corporate clients—unlike the government focus of other research institutes. And now, there are a number of interesting cleantech-specific initiatives underway at the sprawling hillside complex, a stone's throw from Stanford University and the VCs of famed Sand Hill Road. ...

The center's most visible cleantech-related initiative in recent years has been helping incubate solar concentrating startup SolFocus, which resided in and operated from PARC's labs until August of 2007. PARC scientists helped the company develop a second generation of its solar concentrator, which is now smaller, lighter and less expensive to make (see photos below.) PARC drew directly on its expertise in laser printing. The success of the partnership inspired PARC to institute a formal incubation program, which it calls Startup@PARC. Fledgling cleantech and other companies can leverage PARC staff and facilities in exchange for cash, royalties, equity compensation, or a combination.

We received a tour of the facility, and learned about the center's current cleantech-related projects, including:

Printing for solar PV - Gridlines on the front of most manufacturers' silicon cells for collecting current tend to be relatively wide, hiding much of the substrate beneath from the sun. PARC developed a new extrusion method for printing narrower yet taller gridlines on silicon with the same conductivity, but less "shadow".

The new technique apparently boosts the power output of a solar cell by 6 percent. "We invented the print head; we're looking at commercializing in a reasonably short timeframe," said Elrod.

LED lighting - Could PARC's optics and thermal management experience translate into differentiated designs? Researchers pursued phosphor-based solid state lighting that has proven to be 10-20 percent more efficient than LEDs, PARC claims. The technology has been developed, and the center is now interested in engaging commercial partners.

Membrane-less water filtration - A novel design inspired by years of toner manipulation through apertures has lead to what appears to be a high volume water filtration process not requiring a membrane. PARC scientists leveraged the centrifugal force of contaminants in water to direct them through an alternative path in a spiral flow. The technique requires little power, and appears to hold promise for wastewater treatment, according to PARC's Elrod.

Liquid fuels from the air - Perhaps the most ambitious project underway at PARC is an investigation into the practicality of generating liquid fuels from simply water and carbon present in the air.

PARC scientists are looking into using renewable energy to power large scale electrolysis, combining hydrogen from water with large volumes of carbon extracted from the atmosphere to produce hydrocarbon-based fuel.

Admittedly, carbon would be released back into the atmosphere when the fuels combusted, Elrod acknowledged. But using the atmosphere for carbon "transport," as described on a PARC briefing slide, would guarantee fuel could be made anywhere, even on small islands.

"This is speculative, high risk and potentially high reward," said Elrod. "We're not putting a lot of people on this; this still has to pass the sanity test. But we don't know of anyone else doing this."

Other cleantech projects underway at PARC include demand response-like adaptive control technologies for data centers and power grids, new manufacturing techniques for small form-factor fuel cells that take advantage of PARC's print head expertise, biofuel from algae and reusable paper.

The Water Bridge  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , ,

I came across this picture of a canal overpass in Germany today, completed in 2003 at a cost of 500 million euros. While the benefits of cross-country shipping are obvious, apparently the environmental cost is also high.

In what’s being hailed as an engineering masterpiece, two important German shipping canals have been joined by a giant kilometer-long concrete bathtub. The new waterway near the eastern town of Magdeburg opens Friday.

Public infrastructure projects are notorious for taking longer than expected, but Germany’s new water bridge tying the Elbe-Havel canal to the important Mittelland canal, which leads to the country’s industrial Ruhr Valley heartland, was over 80 years in the planning.

Engineers first dreamt of joining the two waterways as far back as 1919. Construction to bridge the Elbe river near Magdeburg actually started in the 1930s, but progress was halted during the Second World War in 1942. After the Cold War split Germany the project was shelved indefinitely, but things were put back on track following reunification in 1990.

Taking six years to build and costing around half a billion euros, the massive undertaking will connect Berlin’s inland harbor with the ports along the Rhine river. At the center of the project is Europe’s longest water bridge measuring in just shy of a kilometer at 918 meters. The huge tub to transport ships over the Elbe took 24,000 metric tons of steel and 68,000 cubic meters of concrete to build.

The water bridge will enable river barges to avoid a lengthy and sometimes unreliable passage along the Elbe. Shipping can often come to a halt on the stretch if the river’s water mark falls to unacceptably low levels.

Planktos Sinks To The Bottom Of The Ocean  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Grist sentimentally reports that Planktos' plan to combat global warming by seeding the ocean with iron has run out of funds.

Planktos, the company that proposed fending off global warming by seeding the ocean with iron dust, has failed to get enough funding to go forward with planned tests. Under the Planktos business plan, iron fertilization would encourage phytoplankton blooms, which would suck up extra CO2, allowing the company to sell carbon offsets. But it was not to be: According to the Planktos website, "A highly effective disinformation campaign waged by anti-offset crusaders has provoked widespread opposition to plankton restoration in the environmental world." We can just see 'em, shaking their iron fists at us.



Alex Steffen has a much more detailed look at the event in "Planktos, Geo-Engineering and Politics".
A great fluttering has arisen out there around the news that Planktos, the company which aimed to make a killing by selling carbon offsets from fertilizing ocean algal blooms with iron dust, has pulled the plug on their field tests, but not before grumbling that they'd been done in by a “highly effective disinformation campaign waged by anti-offset crusaders.”

The Planktos failure ought to draw our attention even more clearly to what I am starting to think is a question we just need to get settled: should geo-engineering be part of our tool chest for confronting climate change, and under what conditions?

Though I feel strongly about the issue, I recognize that opinions differ. As the debate over my last piece Why Geo-Engineering is an Idea Whose Time Has Gone showed, smart and credible people can clearly differ on this question, and some believe in the necessity of the Big Fix.

In the comments, Andy Revkin said:
So, at least as a backstop, they say (and this group includes the likes of Ralph Cicerone, the president of the National Academy of Sciences), why not include significant research along this path as part of a menu of responses to global warming -- including mitigation of emissions, adaptation to unavoidable change (and garden-variety climate threats), and a concerted quest for next-generation energy options?

to which Alan AtKisson added:
If "tipping points" are for real, and it simply doesn't prove feasible to get the world moved off of carbon energy (while also keeping people fed and employed) quickly enough, then every humane solution that *is* feasible must be on the table for serious review, including the family of interventions called "geo-engineering". ...No one is saying "start the pre-fab volcanos." But *not* to research the options for stabilizing possible runaway climate change would at this point be inethical.

So, it seems to me there are two main positions held by credible people that run counter to my argument, nicely typified by our allies here. The first is that geo-engineering is part of a menu of responses, and we ought to explore the range of our options, perhaps incorporating massive engineering as part of those responses. The second is that we need a backstop, some sort of last-ditch proposal should we at some point find that we have already pushed the climate past catastrophic tipping points.

There are two giant problems with these positions as I see it.

The first is that existing proposals won't work, not the way we want them to. Both the two main contenders -- seeding the oceans (ala Planktos) and filling the upper atmosphere with sulfate particles (what some call the artificial volcano approach, best presented by David Keith in his TED video) -- run up against the same problem: they have the potential to wreak unholy havoc on the chemistry of the oceans, with dire consequences for pretty much all life on Earth.

That's because seeding the ocean would take CO2 out of the atmosphere by encouraging giant slicks of algae to grow and suck into the water, where it would raise the acidity of the ocean itself, while the artificial volcanos approach wouldn't actually take any CO2 out of the atmosphere at all -- it'd merely temporarily shield us from the heat effects of what we've already put up there, and much of that CO2 would in turn find its way into the ocean as well. That acidity, in turn would kill off all sorts of critters, disturb all sorts of unseen-and-yet-vital natural processes, and quite potentially cook our goose just as thoroughly as climate change itself... not to mention that acidification would generate massive GHG emissions feedback loops, thus worsening the very problem we sought to solve in the first place.

What's more, the really is very little evidence that any planetary interventions on the scale we're talking about here will actually work. Space mirrors are a joke; hacking plants to make them suck more carbon out of the air could impoverish the topsoil and lead to more invasive species; the list goes on.

John Holdren, President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science has said,
"The 'geo-engineering' approaches considered so far appear to be afflicted with some combination of high costs, low leverage, and a high likelihood of serious side effects."

That's why talking about geo-engineering as a means to "reboot" the planet's ecosystems is so off-base. We don't actually know that much about the planet, its natural systems and their workings at these scales (if any massive, centralized research project is called for, a much more complete biological survey of the Earth is probably it). What, for instance, might the impacts be on the critical ecosystem services provided by other natural systems?

Here's the other problem: not only is geo-engineering unlikely to work, but we don't need it and discussing it as a fantasy option is, I think, politically dangerous at a time when so much of the debate about the crisis we face already floats in a mist of surreality. Put another way, discussion of geo-engineering offers a distant, quite likely illusory benefit in exchange for a real and immediate political harm.

We've known for at least twenty years that climate change demanded action; we've had a high degree of certainty for at least ten, and for at least the last couple years, the scientific alarms have been ringing at a deafening volume. Yet we have very little real action on the ground -- indeed, per global CO2 emissions have continued to rise -- precisely because those who benefit most from the status quo have waged an entirely intentional (and fairly well-documented) campaign to cast doubt on the science of climate change, raise the specter of economic crisis, question the need for speedy action and, most recently, to question whether or not such action can succeed even if we undertake it (moving, as Al Gore quipped, straight from denial to despair).

So we're left with a political struggle which pits those who believe we must act, can act in time and can do so in a way that leaves us better off against those who don't really want us to act at all, and will drag their heels until rising seas wash the ground out from underneath their feet. That's climate politics, circa 2008. To believe otherwise is to set yourself up to get played for a sucker. (You can guess which side I'm on.)

To meet this crisis, we need a tidal wave of innovation, of clever policy, of entrepreneurial thinking and new technologies. There are a huge number of important niches where we need real egineering breakthroughs -- greening air travel and putting out coal fires spring immediately to mind. But none of these things alone will be enough.

Our biggest challenge is not technological. It is not a question of policy. It requires no further scientific validation to address. Our biggest challenge is to change our own thinking and the thinking of our fellow citizens. We need to encourage widespread planetary thinking; we have to start preparing people to take actions commensurate to the scope of the emergency.

And that's precisely where talking about geo-engineering as if it were a proven option becomes so dangerous. It is already being spoken of in mainstream media sources as the solution for our failure to adequately cut CO2:
Geo-engineering cannot replace emissions reductions. The less CO2 you have to balance with sulfates, the more effective geo-engineering would be. But reducing CO2 emissions by, say, substituting solar and nuclear for coal will only delay climate change. Any net emissions will eventually tip the atmosphere into dangerous territory.

This argument, of course, dovetails nicely with the latest spin from those benefitting from the status quo: "A sane climate policy? Too expensive, too slow, too late bound to fail. But don't worry, we've got our best people working on a backup plan." Or, as the Guardian reports the Bush administration's position:
"The US has also attempted to steer the UN report, prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), away from conclusions that would support a new worldwide climate treaty based on binding targets to reduce emissions... The US response, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, says the idea of interfering with sunlight should be included in the summary for policymakers, the prominent chapter at the front of each IPCC report. It says: 'Modifying solar radiance may be an important strategy if mitigation of emissions fails. Doing the R&D to estimate the consequences of applying such a strategy is important insurance that should be taken out. This is a very important possibility that should be considered.'"

But the reality is that we already know how to dramatically reduce emissions. Many of the things we need to do to fight climate change, even to launch a full-scale war against it, are things we'd want to do anyways, and done properly, at the right scales, with transparency and democratic oversight, the offer very little risk (compared to any of the geo-engineering proposals currently topping the charts) and a high degree of reversibility

Even acknowledging that our goal must be very soon be carbon-negative economic growth and an environmentally-beneficial ecological handprint, the technological and social innovations needed are entirely within our scope, given our current capacities. It's even quite likely that many of the steps we'd need to take to get there are economically beneficial, especially when the true costs of our current patterns (and their future consequences) are taken into account.

What we lack is the political will.

I can't see how geo-engineering will change that. Even if one of these proposals could work, the politics around them make Bali look like a diplomatic cake-walk. I've already written quite a bit about the naive assumption that governments which lack the political will to follow comparatively simple scientific counsel and take comparatively safe actions can be trusted to properly oversee mega-scale centralized engineering projects. But the political minefields don't end there. Just as a for instance, who, under international law, actually has the authority to deliberately change the chemistry of the world's oceans, with unpredictable results?

As Scott Saleska of the University of Arizona asks:
Let's say air capture, or any of the many geoengineering options being widely discussed... ends up being feasible in a few decades. And let’s say we actually reach the point where we can, as Roger Pielke suggested, tune the atmosphere’s CO2. What level do we tune it to? And who gets to decide that level? The "worst off" individual (to follow Rawls famous "Theory of Justice")? Then we probably let the Maldivians decide, since under current projections, sea level rise could completely wipe them off the map. Places like Russia, on the other hand, would probably prefer to have some moderate global warming, because that probably would give them better agriculture in Siberia, and ice-free ports on the north Atlantic.

And here we are led to what may be to me the most damning shortcoming of geo-engineering: These proposals are not actually very smart or cutting edge. They are a set of 20th century proposals kitted out in 21st century drag. This is the response you'd get if you took a bunch of 1950s scientists with slide rules and crew cuts, put them in a room, and showed them An Inconvenient Truth. "First, we build a space mirror, then, if that doesn't work, we'll fall back to the artificial volcano... it may be a long shot, but nothing else will save the American way of life!"

Many of the scientists who are being cited by the chattering classes as proponents of geo-engineering are worried about the idea moving beyond the thought-experiment stage. Take Paul J. Crutzen, of Germany's Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, who, though often cited as a proponent of geo-engineering, is "not enthusiastic about it":
"It was meant to startle the policymakers... If they don't take action much more strongly than they have in the past, then in the end we have to do experiments like this."

Or as the folks at RealClimate put it:
The problem is that geoengineering a sunshade is being sold as insurance long before anybody has any dea whether it would work and what the unintended consequences would be. It's not really insurance. It's more like building a lifeboat, but a lifeboat based on a design that has never been used before which has to work more or less perfectly the first time the panicked passengers are loaded into it. The problem is that by the time we know enough to have any confidence at all in this lifeboat, CO2 may have risen to the point where the lifeboat becomes not just a backup, but a necessity. Would diverting 1% of the world's climate research funds into this problem clarify the issues in time? I doubt it. Would devoting 10% a year to the problem be worth it? I doubt that, too, in comparison to more pressing research needs.

A number of marine scientists have called for a ban on any geo-engineering of the oceans. Climate scientist Raymond Pierrehumbert's proposed 10 year moratorium on geo-engineering efforts goes farther still. I'd like to propose a further step: what if we table all discussion of geo-engineering as a strategy for 10 years, primarily by instituting a moratorium on funding research into any specific geo-engineering interventions.

We can -- and should -- increase funding into climate and biological sciences; we can and should increase funding into all manner of green technologies and innovations; we can even have serious discussions about how we might evaluate and design geo-engineering approaches in the future. But for the next ten years, we ought to concentrate on the business at hand: building a prosperous, fair and carbon-negative society as quickly as we possibly can.

Before we call out "to the lifeboats!" let's both try to stop the ship from sinking, and make sure that the lifeboats actually exist.



Of course, the dream of large scale carbon sequestration in the ocean will never die - Energy Daily has a look at another idea - this time to pipe CO2 straight into the ocean depths - "Into The Abyss: Deep-Sixing Carbon".
Imagine a gigantic, inflatable, sausage-like bag capable of storing 160 million tonnes of CO2 - the equivalent of 2.2 days of current global emissions. Now try to picture that container, measuring up to 100 metres in radius and several kilometres long, resting benignly on the seabed more than 3 kilometres below the ocean"s surface.

At first blush, this might appear like science fiction, but it"s an idea that gets serious attention from Dr. David Keith, one of Canada"s foremost experts on carbon capture and sequestration. Keith will talk on the subject at the 2008 Annual Conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston at a session entitled Ocean Iron Fertilization and Carbon Sequestration: Can the Oceans Save the Planet?

"There are a lot of gee-whiz ideas for dealing with global warming that are really silly," remarks Keith, an NSERC grantee and director of the Energy and Environmental Systems Group at University of Calgary-based Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy.

"At first glance this idea looks nutty, but as one looks closer it seems that it might technically feasible with current-day technology." But, adds Keith, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Energy and the Environment, "it"s early days and there is not yet any serious design study for the concept."

The original idea of ocean storage was conceived several years ago by Dr. Michael Pilson, a chemical oceanographer at the University of Rhode Island, but it really took off last year when Keith confirmed its feasibility with Dr. Andrew Palmer, a world-renowned ocean engineer at Cambridge University.

Keith, Palmer and another scientist at Argonne National Laboratory later advanced the concept through a technical paper prepared for the 26th International Conference on Offshore Mechanics and Arctic Engineering in June 2007.

Keith sees this solution as a potentially useful complement to CO2 storage in geological formations, particularly for CO2 emanating from sources near deep oceans.

He believes it may offer a viable solution because vast flat plains cover huge areas of the deep oceans. These abyssal plains have little life and are benign environments. "If you stay away from the steep slopes from the continental shelves, they are a very quiet environment."

For CO2 to be stored there, the gas must be captured from power and industrial point sources, compressed to liquid, and transported via pipelines that extend well beyond the ocean"s continental shelves. When the liquid CO2 is pumped into the deep ocean, the intense pressure and cold temperatures make it negatively buoyant.

"This negative buoyancy is the key," explains Keith. "It means the CO2 wants to leak downwards rather than moving up to the biosphere."

The use of containment is necessary because CO2 will tend to dissolve in the ocean, which could adversely impact marine ecosystems. Fortunately, says Keith, the cost of containment is quite minimal with this solution. He and his colleagues calculate that the bags can be constructed of existing polymers for less than four cents per tonne of carbon.

The real costs lie in the capture of CO2 and its transport to the deep ocean. "If we can drive those down," he notes, "then ocean storage might be an important option for reducing CO2 emissions."

Ice Sculptures  

Posted by Big Gav

Totally off topic, but some nice images at this link.



Also off topic :

* Bush's popularity rating at 19% - lowest in history.
* Woman saves Lion's life - this is how he greets her.

Waiting For Garnaut: Solar Cities Update  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

The Solar Cities conference is on in Adelaide, with the event getting lots of press attention.

AUSTRALIA has the know-how and the industrial capability to become a solar nation, but needs government and individuals to take action, the country's largest producer of solar energy products says. BP Solar regional director Brooke Miller said Australia could install three gigawatts of peak energy, enough to provide solar power to more than one million homes and thousands of businesses. That would make the country a benchmark solar nation and a world leader in alternative energy.

She also told the third international Solar Cities Congress in Adelaide the drive towards a sustainable energy future would also produce more than 9000 new jobs and save four million tonnes of greenhouse gases each year. "We have an enthusiastic and engaged market,'' Ms Miller said. "Australian families and householders are embracing the technology like never before and the Australian business community is awakening to opportunities to turn their roofs into power plants.''

Ms Miller said what was needed now was action from governments around Australia to adopt feed-in legislation, to make switching to solar power more economical for individuals and companies. Last week the South Australian Government introduced into state parliament the first feed-in laws in Australia, which will allow consumers to sell back electricity they produce in their homes or businesses to the grid at a profit.

More links on solar cities :

* SMH - Australia could become a 'solar nation'
* SMH - NSW deflects calls for solar subsidies
* Adelaide Advertiser - Off-grid solar power station worth $7.1 million for Coober Pedy
* Herald Sun - When you're hot you're hot
* The Age - Murray must not die urges Kennedy Jr
* ABC - Nuclear energy expensive: Kennedy
* Scribd - Geothermal Energy In Australia: An Overview. Petratherm presentation to Solar Cities. Some good maps of SA geothermal prospects and wind power sites.

Ross Garnaut also spoke at the conference, saying that "emissions cuts are needed now to curb global warming
SIGNIFICANTLY larger cuts in greenhouse gas emissions will need to be made almost immediately if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change, the Federal Government's architect on greenhouse policy will say in a report to be released today.

Ross Garnaut's interim report will recommend to the Commonwealth and state governments a much tougher and speedier response to climate change, arguing that the cost of action is much less than the cost of inaction.

"The world is moving towards high risks of dangerous climate change much more rapidly than has generally been understood. Without strong action by both developed and major developing countries alike between now and 2020, it will be impossible to avoid high risks of dangerous climate change. The show will be over," Professor Garnaut told a conference in Adelaide yesterday.

Preliminary work carried out by Professor Garnaut's review suggests global greenhouse gas emissions must start to decline almost immediately if the world is to stabilise the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at a level scientists believe would give the planet a reasonable chance of preventing dangerous levels of climate change. To stabilise the atmosphere even at levels that give less chance of preventing this, global emissions would need to start slowing now before declining no later than 2030, Professor Garnaut's research has found.

Although the Federal Government has set a long-term target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent by 2050 it is yet to set an interim target. It has promised to do so this year.

Professor Garnaut was commissioned by state and territory governments to examine the effect of climate change on the economy last year. The Federal Government has joined the review, which was inspired by a landmark report by Sir Nicholas Stern for the British Government in 2006. Although Professor Garnaut's final report is not due until later this year he will release an interim report today. State and territory leaders will be briefed on the report this morning.

Professor Garnaut urged the Federal Government to take a leadership role in future international negotiations by encouraging the United States to commit to greenhouse pollution reduction targets. He warned that the international negotiations for an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol must include persuading developed countries to take on emissions reduction targets.

"Waiting until 2020 - potentially the starting time for an agreement to follow the one currently being negotiated - would be to abandon hope of achieving climate stabilisation at moderate levels," Professor Garnaut said.

To achieve this Professor Garnaut suggested Australia follow the lead of the European Union, which has committed to a reduction in emissions of 20 per cent by 2020, and 30 per cent if other developed countries commit to comparable reductions.

Crikey's take was entitled "Garnaut talks tough -- and looks north", noting the implications for our relationship with PNG and Indonesia.
Many Australians view PNG as a nation propped up by Australian aid dollars, but in last night's curtain-raiser to today's release of his interim report, Professor Ross Garnaut highlighted the nation could come to our rescue as we look for massive, low cost carbon abatement.

Garnaut told an Adelaide public forum that Australia should explore a regional trading scheme involving PNG (first up) and Indonesia – both of which have massive greenhouse gas emissions due in large part to deforestation. The bold proposal is particularly significant because of two other statements made last night by Garnaut.

One was his call for Australia to show it would be ready to make cuts greater than 60% by 2050 if negotiators broker a truly effective global agreement involving all major developing countries. The other was his response to a question in which he indicated "contraction and convergence" – the concept of equal per capita emission entitlements – will play a key role in determining how nations share the global burden of reducing carbon emissions. Developing countries are unlikely to commit to a deal that "doesn't emphasise this", he said.

But a tougher target and burden-sharing involving some form of equal per capita emissions entitlements would pose an extraordinary challenge for Australia without access to some very cheap abatement – like the sort you can potentially get from avoided deforestation. Garnaut said he has no views at this stage on the detail of what any regional trading scheme involving Australia and its northern neighbours should look like. But he made it clear in the Q & A that he means much more than just project-based investment in PNG of the type encouraged through the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism.

Garnaut wants Australia to approach both countries – starting with PNG – seeking their participation in some form of scheme involving their acceptance of binding national abatement targets. "Developing country adoption of national targets and participation in a regional trading scheme ... would be a world first and would have substantial demonstration impact," he said. "In addition to large gains through emission reductions, it could help generate momentum towards the adoption of binding targets by developing countries by demonstrating that it could be in their financial interests to do so."

Garnaut pointed out Indonesia's annual emissions – three quarters of which are thought to be related to deforestation -- are estimated to be about five times Australia’s. Papua New Guinea's forestry-related emissions might exceed a quarter of Australia's total CO2 emissions, he said. The prospect of pushing for such a scheme will no doubt seem foolhardy to some. But it shows no-one can accuse Garnaut of not being able to see the wood for the trees.

The interim report is now up at the Garnaut Climate Change Review web site - no doubt we'll see plenty of spin in the press tomorrow...

Financial Doombattery And Kennan's "Quotation"  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

I came across the latest installment of extreme financial doomerism from the Leap 2020 guys this week (whom you will hopefully remember got the starting slot in my "Day Of The Doombats" post back in the day).

According to LEAP/E2020, the end of the third quarter of 2008 will be marked by a new tipping point in the unfolding of the global systemic crisis. At that time indeed, the cumulated impact of the various sequences of the crisis (see table below) will reach its maximum strength and affect decisively the very heart of the systems concerned, on the frontline of which the United States, epicentre of the current crisis. In the United States, this new tipping point will translate into a collapse of the real economy, final socio-economic stage of the serial bursting of the housing and financial bubbles (1) and of the pursuance of the US dollar fall. The collapse of US real economy means the virtual freeze of the American economic machinery: private and public bankruptcies in large numbers, companies and public services closing down massively (2),

A revealing harbinger: from March 2008 onward, the US government will stop a service publishing its economic indicators due to budget restrictions (3). Those who read the GEAB N°2 (02/2006) and included Alert certainly keep in mind our anticipation which connected the upcoming fall of the US dollar with the US Fed's decision to cease publishing the M3 indicator. This new decision is another clear sign that US leaders are now anticipating a very bleak economic outlook for their country.

In this 22nd issue of the GEAB, LEAP/E2020's experts try in particular to anticipate very specifically what will come out of the collapse of the US real economy for the United States themselves and for the other regions of the world. Meanwhile our team presents five sets of strategic and operational recommendations helping to protect oneself from the upcoming deterioration of the global systemic crisis.

While the LEAP 2020 guys are Europeans, I occasionally wonder if some of the "Long Emergency" style doomerism emanating from the US is a reaction to the ongoing demise of George Kennan's post war "pattern of relationships" for maintaining the enormous position of economic "disparity" the US found itself in after the second World War.

I sometimes think of the outcome of this as a form of the "Dutch Disease" - instead of being dependent on income from a single depleting resource, the US became dependent on (and wasteful in its use of) a number of depleting resources. Now that period of dominance is waning with the rise / resurrection of Europe, China, India and Russia, and the financial costs of maintaining oil dominance via the Iraq war and the associated "war on terror" help to cripple the US economy, this dependence has become a huge liability. Resource depletion, particularly in the case of oil, makes the situation even worse.

The end result of this is that US based doomers may see through their looking glasses much more darkly than those elsewhere - because the adjustment the US faces will most likely be more severe.

In its favour however, the US still has a large, well educated and creative population (there are some exceptions to this of course), and a reasonable endowment of native resources which should still make for a prosperous economy once a number of adjustments have been made.

The neo-marxist article I linked to yesterday, theorising about dominant capital groups within economies and noting the strange cycles that the oil industry goes through in terms of its dominance relative to other sectors (I'd love to see an overlay of the same data for the military-industrial complex on that chart), made me wonder what will happen if the Democrats - largely beholden to a different set of capital groups - manage to seize control in the US elections later this year. It may well spark a clean tech boom, which would help initiate a lot of the adjustments required, and greatly weaken the capital groups that have been wreaking so much havoc at the same time.

Anyway - enough rambling - when I went to look up the famous Kennan quote about his institutionalised system of disparity, my Google query popped up another one of those fascinating essays from Gilles at Swans - this one noting that Kennan has usually been taken out of context.
"We have about 50% of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of its population. ... In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity. ... To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. ... We should cease to talk about vague and ... unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better."
—George F. Kennan, Policy Planning Study 23 (PPS23), Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), 1948

You've all seen this quotation cited countless times on Web sites, listservs and other mailing lists, from the left to the right, and everything in between. Simply google George Kennan, PPS23, and you'll get an idea... Problem is, it's a truncated quotation, patched together from various parts of the original text with ellipses, and taken out of context. It is more than time to debunk this little assemblage. One should not have to resort to this kind of fabrication, either out of sloppiness or willfulness, to elaborate on conjectural analysis. To use and reuse this misquotation does a disservice to all. Please, people, can you check your sources?

George F. Kennan recently died (March 17, 2005). He was 101 years old. Kennan, whether one endorsed his view of the world or not, had a sharp and honed mind; he was a prolific writer with literary skills rarely encountered at foggy bottom (see "George F. Kennan on the Web"); and he was credited for having fathered the containment strategy of the former Soviet Union, which may be giving the man too much credit -- the entire US power apparatus was in the containing mode -- but it appears that Kennan did coin the word "containment" (though I can't certify this contention) and he wrote, aside from PPS23, two important secret (at the time) documents: the February 22, 1946 Telegram from Moscow and "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," published in the July 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs under the name X -- documents that greatly contributed to shaping the US strategy after WWII. These documents have long been analyzed, discussed, parsed, deconstructed and interpreted by legions of historians and political pundits.

Mr. Kennan was a realist (and some suggest a pessimist) as opposed to faith-based neocon Wilsonianism. He eventually left the State Department to pursue a scholarly career at Princeton; was generally opposed to the Vietnam War; and even managed to express his dissatisfaction with Bush's Iraq crusade (again, he was a realist). Upon his death, obits ran large in the mainstream media as well as in the "alternative press" (honestly, I'm having a harder and harder time figuring out the alternatives offered by the majority "alternative press," but this is a story for another time...). Anyhow, the alternative press made ample use of this "quotation" (these are not scare quotes; simply the proposition that one can make up a "quotation" by assembling bits and pieces of what someone actually said, or wrote, in order to further one's line of thinking, a.k.a. ideological preferences according to one's frame of references).

Alexander Cockburn posits ("The Passing Show," AVA, March 23, 2005) that Kennan "will be best remembered for his self-consciously 'realistic' assessment in those postwar years, in State Department PPS23 that, [enter quotation]." In his latest Anti-Empire Report (#19, March 21, 2005) the ever-sharp Bill Blum has an entry on Kennan that includes the PPS23 quotation (see my Blips #15). Even Louis Proyect posted the NYT obit on Marxmail, beginning with the quotation... (See Marxmail archives.) The source is properly indicated, but then, how many people go the source...? And so like some kind of a meme, the "citation" propagates all over Cyberspace...and not just in Cyberspace...but in books, and special reports like that of John Pilger's "Breaking the Silence: Truth and Lies in the War on Terror." ...

What did Kennan actually write? (Note, I've bolded the passages used in the quotation) ...

Once the full quotation is read, one can engage in interpretating, parsing the text according to the historical context and one's own intellectual inclinations. (It is worth noting, especially in light of the current US strategy in the region -- e.g. pushing Japan to re-arm...besides encircling China, and supposedly wanting to elevate India to medium superpower status -- that Kennan's recommendation in regard to Japan has been followed almost to the letter for half a century, while his recommendation regarding Taiwan has been ignored.)

The issue here is not to defend George Kennan, or what he actually meant, but the accuracy of one's sources. While Kennan eventually regretted some of the positions he had taken and the strategies he had advised, one cannot forget that he initiated, or was an ardent proponent of, the covert operations launched by the CIA during the Cold War and thus carried a moral responsibility for the deaths or overthrow of many courageous leaders, from Iran's Mohammad Mossadegh to Chile's Salvador Allende... A brilliant thinker, blessed with the ability to doubt and acknowledge his mistakes, he was nevertheless a cold warrior, deeply conservative, and a supporter of the status quo. But there is no reason, besides sloppy research or willingness to assemble a "quotation" for ideological purposes (here, I'm convinced that it has more to do with the former than the latter), to misquote an author, any authors...

Moving on, Martin Wolf at the Financial Times is also spreading financial fear and loathing in "Twelve steps to meltdown" - although he has a somewhat soothing conclusion.
“I would tell audiences that we were facing not a bubble but a froth – lots of small, local bubbles that never grew to a scale that could threaten the health of the overall economy.” So wrote Alan Greenspan in The Age of Turbulence.

That used to be Mr Greenspan’s view of the US housing bubble. He was wrong, alas. So how bad might this downturn get? To answer this question we should ask a true bear. My favourite one is Nouriel Roubini of New York University’s Stern School of Business, founder of RGE Monitor.

Recently, Professor Roubini’s scenarios have been dire enough to make the flesh creep. But his thinking deserves to be taken seriously. He first predicted a US recession in July 2006. At that time, his view was extremely controversial. It is so no longer. Now he states that there is “a rising probability of a ‘catastrophic’ financial and economic outcome”. The characteristics of this scenario are, he argues: “A vicious circle where a deep recession makes the financial losses more severe and where, in turn, large and growing financial losses and a financial meltdown make the recession even more severe.”

Prof Roubini is even fonder of lists than I am. Here are his 12 – yes, 12 – steps to financial disaster.

Step one is the worst housing recession in US history. House prices will, he says, fall by 20 to 30 per cent from their peak, which would wipe out between $4,000 billion and $6,000 billion in household wealth. Ten million households will end up with negative equity and so with a huge incentive to put the house keys in the post and depart for greener fields. Many more home-builders will be bankrupted.

Step two would be further losses, beyond the $250 billion-$300 billion now estimated, for sub-prime mortgages. About 60 per cent of all mortgage origination between 2005 and 2007 had “reckless or toxic features”, argues Roubini. Goldman Sachs estimates mortgage losses at $400 billion. But if home prices fell by more than 20 per cent, losses would be bigger. That would further impair the banks’ ability to offer credit.

Step three would be big losses on unsecured consumer debt: credit cards, auto loans, student loans and so forth. The “credit crunch” would then spread from mortgages to a wide range of consumer credit.

Step four would be the downgrading of the monoline insurers, which do not deserve the AAA rating on which their business depends. A further $150 billion writedown of asset-backed securities would then ensue.

Step five would be the meltdown of the commercial property market, while step six would be bankruptcy of a large regional or national bank.

Step seven would be big losses on reckless leveraged buy-outs. Hundreds of billions of dollars of such loans are now stuck on the balance sheets of financial institutions.

Step eight would be a wave of corporate defaults. On average, US companies are in decent shape, but a “fat tail” of companies has low profitability and heavy debt. Such defaults would spread losses in “credit default swaps”, which insure such debt. The losses could be $250 billion. Some insurers might go bankrupt.

Step nine would be a meltdown in the “shadow financial system”. Dealing with the distress of hedge funds, special investment vehicles and so forth will be made more difficult by the fact that they have no direct access to lending from central banks.

Step 10 would be a further collapse in stock prices. Failures of hedge funds, margin calls and shorting could lead to cascading falls in prices.

Step 11 would be a drying-up of liquidity in a range of financial markets, including interbank and money markets. Behind this would be a jump in concerns about solvency.

Step 12 would be “a vicious circle of losses, capital reduction, credit contraction, forced liquidation and fire sales of assets at below fundamental prices”.

These, then, are 12 steps to meltdown. In all, argues Roubini: “Total losses in the financial system will add up to more than $1,000 billion and the economic recession will become deeper more protracted and severe.” This, he suggests, is the “nightmare scenario” keeping Ben Bernanke and colleagues at the US Federal Reserve awake. It explains why, having failed to appreciate the dangers for so long, the Fed has lowered rates by 200 basis points this year. This is insurance against a financial meltdown.

Is this kind of scenario at least plausible? It is. Furthermore, we can be confident that it would, if it came to pass, end all stories about “decoupling”. If it lasts six quarters, as Roubini warns, offsetting policy action in the rest of the world would be too little, too late.

Can the Fed head this danger off? In a subsequent piece, Roubini gives eight reasons why it cannot. (He really loves lists!) These are, in brief: US monetary easing is constrained by risks to the dollar and inflation; aggressive easing deals only with illiquidity, not insolvency; the monoline insurers will lose their credit ratings, with dire consequences; overall losses will be too large for sovereign wealth funds to deal with; public intervention is too small to stabilise housing losses; the Fed cannot address the problems of the shadow financial system; regulators cannot find a good middle way between transparency over losses and regulatory forbearance, both of which are needed; and, finally, the transactions-oriented financial system is itself in deep crisis.

The risks are indeed high and the ability of the authorities to deal with them more limited than most people hope. This is not to suggest that there are no ways out. Unfortunately, they are poisonous ones. In the last resort, governments resolve financial crises. This is an iron law. Rescues can occur via overt government assumption of bad debt, inflation, or both. Japan chose the first, much to the distaste of its ministry of finance. But Japan is a creditor country whose savers have complete confidence in the solvency of their government. The US, however, is a debtor. It must keep the trust of foreigners. Should it fail to do so, the inflationary solution becomes probable. This is quite enough to explain why gold costs $920 an ounce.

The connection between the bursting of the housing bubble and the fragility of the financial system has created huge dangers, for the US and the rest of the world. The US public sector is now coming to the rescue, led by the Fed. In the end, they will succeed. But the journey is likely to be wretchedly uncomfortable.

Continuing the credit crunch doomer march, Gary Shilling at Forbes is also spreading a relatively mild form of financial doomerism, predicting that likely the US recession will be a global one (no friend of the decoupling theory either, he), and that commodity prices are due to plummet.

His peak oil analysis is devoid of reasoning - prices will fall because of new output from tar sands, coal liquefaction and "maybe shale". Plus substituting nuclear for liquid fuels. And Petrobras' "enormous" find offshore Brazil (presumably he means Tupi). This sort of amateur analysis in supposedly reputable journals (ignoring Steve Forbes' faux pas a couple of years ago when he got caught publically saying oil prices will fall while at the same time telling clients in his private newsletter to buy) drives me nuts.

The flow from tar sands is subject to a lot of constraints, coal prices are soaring, shale oil has yet to be proven economically practical (and will also be subject to flow limits), the Tupi field is apparently complex and a long way off producing anything, let alone large quantities of oil (I'd bet the jump in production from Iraq over the next 5 years is far larger than that from Brazil), and all of these will be appalling carbon emitters, likely to run into strong interference as the world economy attempts to decarbonise. The only saving grace here is that he isn't a fan of corn ethanol.
What to do? Sell or short commodities, perhaps via exchange-traded funds, stocks in companies that produce them or futures. Commodity prices, still high, are poised to fall hard as the worldwide recession takes hold.

Chinese demand, terrorism and talk of peak oil drove crude prices. Agricultural prices were hyped by biofuel's popularity, droughts and the prospect of a shift in demand in poorer countries from grain to meat. So institutional investors rushed into commodities, believing they are a relatively stable asset class like stocks and bonds. Individuals bought commodity-backed ETFs. That enthusiasm will soon be history.

With global recession, demand for industrial commodities and oil will fade. It will become clear that much of China's demand for commodities was not primarily to supply its citizens but to supply its export market.

No one will be talking anymore about how oil production is peaking. Look at Petrobras' huge oilfield discovery off Brazil and consider the gigantic energy supplies that will come from tar sands, nuclear, coal liquefaction and maybe shale. More supply equals lower prices.

Good weather and weak ethanol prices may knock down ag prices. A recent report in Science magazine has discredited many biofuel schemes as environmental salvations. We're going to stop fueling our cars with taco ingredients.

The WSJ's Environmental Capital blog points to a Richard Branson video up at Grist, with Dick expressing regret for having jumped on the first generation biofuel bandwagon.

They also point to reports about the new carbon tax being introduced in British columbia. I wonder when Alberta will follow suit ?
British Columbia broke ranks with the rest of Canada and announced its own carbon tax of $10 per ton, reports the Toronto Star. The plan, which won’t be levied on petroleum producers but on businesses and consumers, could hit the poor the hardest, notes the Globe and Mail. That’s exactly what some groups in California are afraid will happen with an emissions cap-and-trade scheme favored by Gov. Schwarzenegger, reports the L.A. Times. None of that has deterred Japan, notes Reuters: The country will consider replacing its voluntary emissions caps with a mandatory cap-and-trade scheme like Europe’s.

Finally, Richard Branson says he regrets supporting first-generation biofuels, in a video at Grist.

ABC (the US version) has an article on the peak oil / resource wars war game "Frontlines: Fuel Of War" (long time readers should remember tinfoil from both RI and Cryptogon at various stages regarding the use of video games as a desensitisation / propaganda / recruiting tool for these scenarios).
Sometime in the near future, gas will cost about $20 a gallon. It gets worse: China and Russia will form a military alliance that threatens the security of the United States and Europe.

Amid hunger, water scarcity and power outages, the two sides will go to war. Soldiers will descend upon bombed-out cities and abandoned villages, where rusting appliances and old car engines litter the streets. But don't let that get you down. "What you're trying to deliver in the game is fun," said Luis Cataldi. "We don't want someone to come in and become depressed."

Cataldi, an art director at New York-based KAOS Studios, is one of dozens of minds behind the dystopian vision presented in Frontlines: Fuel of War, a new video game inspired in part by contemporary fears about oil, war and, yes, war over oil.

The game, which cost about $15 million to produce, is set in the year 2024. It is a time when, according to Frontlines' "speculative fiction," the Western Coalition (the U.S. and Europe) are at war with the Red Star Alliance (Russia and China) over the world's last oil reserves on the Caspian Basin in Turkmenistan. Taking on roles as American troops, gamers use futuristic weapons and vehicles to battle their way across Central Asian oil fields, ghost towns and crumbling cities. In the game's multi-player version, gamers can also assume the identities of Red Star troops.

While Cataldi and KAOS emphasize the game's graphics, fast pace and technical prowess — in the game's "open world" setting, just about any object, structure or person you see can be shot at, blown up or otherwise annihilated — they're also passionate about Frontlines' fraught premise.

Conflict over oil "is a very resonant story in the world. It's a global issue that everyone's very much aware of, but it's also fascinating," Cataldi said. He spoke breathlessly of oil's role in World Wars I and II, of the Peak Oil theory – the idea that the world's oil production is on the brink of falling — and of reported military exercises between China and Russia aimed at protecting their oil interests. "You don't have to dig very deep to realize that it isn't a new problem," he said. "There are some great pieces of research that suggest that the world is in a very sensitive place."

Envisioning War

To devise the game's geopolitical context, he said, developers "read everything we could get our hands on." That included the books "The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies," by Richard Heinberg, and "Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict," by Michael Klare.

Heinberg, a senior fellow at the California-based Post Carbon Institute, was surprised but pleased to learn that his book helped to inspire a video game. "I think anything that helps people understand the situation that we're facing is, in general, good," he said. "My hope would be that people who play the game then take the time and trouble to actually research some of these issues and look both into the science of oil depletion and the implications for our economy and our future."

Klare, a professor at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, called the prospect of a world war over oil "very plausible" and said he saw potential for the game to raise awareness of the issue among young people. "If you want to have an impact on young people on important issues, it's important to reach them outside the classroom as well as inside the classroom," he said, "Therefore entertainment has to be part of the mix."

Klare is hoping another form of entertainment will turn more people on to his research: movies. His book "Blood & Oil" is being made into a documentary. "I know the power of visual imagery," he said.

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