Drilling The UK  

Posted by Big Gav in

The BBC has a report on efforts to explore onshore areas in the UK for oil - Rush for oil reaches Britain's fields.

At first glance Britain's green fields and ancient woodlands have little in common with deserts of Saudi Arabia or the Texas plains - but the oil deep beneath parts of the UK could be the next frontier in the bid to beat the energy crisis.

A record number of prospectors are scouring scores of sites across the East Midlands, Yorkshire and a swathe of southern England. The dizzying rise in oil prices over the past year to above $147 a barrel has made even the smallest pockets of oil and gas commercially viable.

Environmentalists fear drilling for oil will ruin some of Britain's most beautiful landscapes but the government and oil companies say that it will help secure the UK's energy supplies amid a global grab for oil. ...

The UK's onshore oil industry is still tiny compared to production in the North Sea but is attracting the attention of companies from as far afield as the US, Australia and Canada.

In May, the government awarded a record 97 new licences to 54 applicants for onshore oil and gas exploration. Five years ago, only eight licences were granted. Hampshire-based Egdon Resources obtained six of those licences, allowing the firm to prospect for oil and gas in Dorset and the East Midlands.

Mr Abbott says a typical UK oil field will contain one million to 10 million barrels of oil. "It's not Saudi Arabia or even the North Sea. But if we find oil, it's quick and easy to put in small, low-key production facilities and then tanker the oil out to refineries," he says. ...

The UK has a long history of oil production. Onshore drilling in the East Midlands proved vital to the war effort during World War I and the discovery of oil and gas in the North Sea in the late 1960s allowed the UK to become largely self-sufficient in the two resources.

But this is changing. The UK became a net importer of gas in 2004 and is expected to become a net importer of oil by 2010 as production in the North Sea declines from its 1999 peak of about 2.9 million barrels a day. Building and maintaining offshore platforms is costly and as fields mature there are fears that the return will no longer be enough to cover costs and make big profits.

The Guardian has an article on a forest observatory in Northumberland, which may be a good place to watch the rigs pumping away one day - A view with a room.
It is the darkest place in England. The Kielder Forest, occupying 250 square miles and situated just where Northumberland brushes against Scotland, has the lowest levels of light pollution in the country - making it the perfect place to watch the stars. Here, far from towns and cities, where all that artificial light smogs up the skies, Charles Barclay, a young, London-based architect, has designed a gloriously inventive yet low-key observatory. It is a place where amateur stargazers and professional astronomers can share telescopes, viewing platforms, ideas and knowledge, beneath one of the most wonderful sights the country has to offer, as the sun sets on clear days and eyes adjust to the seemingly infinite expanse of stars above.

This really is a remote spot. It is the last great, uninvaded playground of the red squirrel, as well as home to otters, roe deer, six species of bat (happily evident in the hot summer skies) and any number of birds of prey, from goshawks to windhovers. Unless you are prepared to drive, though, the Kielder Observatory, built for the Forestry Commission and the Kielder Partnership, is very hard to get to. The last passenger train stopped at Kielder Forest station in 1956. If trains were running along the route today, they would be busy all summer: there is so much to see, by day as well as by night. There's the vast reservoir, opened in 1982 and almost instantly redundant, designed to quench the thirst of heavy industry along the Tyne, Wear and Tees. There are 155m trees, great stretches of moor and bog, and a cluster of enigmatic artworks, plus numerous other structures - including Japanese architect Kisa Kawakami's Mirage, which features 1,000 steel discs woven between trees - all commissioned over the years by the Kielder Partnership.

And now there's the observatory. I finally got here by the post bus that runs morning and afternoon from Hexham, half an hour from Newcastle upon Tyne by train. The observatory - which is not staffed all the time, so check before you go - is a small wonder, a kind of wooden pier stretching over land. When the doors of the turrets concealing its telescopes glide open, it looks like a child's drawing of a warship. With its decks and galley, its largely timber and steel construction, and great views out across the waters of Kielder Forest, the observatory really does feel like a ship at sea - especially as night settles in and only the ghostly shrieks of barn owls remind you that you are a long way from tidal waters.

Set on concrete stilts, the observatory has two hand-cranked, rotating telescope turrets; between them sits an open-air terrace where amateur stargazers can unfold their telescopes, and a timber retreat called the "warm room". This is where professional astronomers can operate the smaller telescope remotely, by computer. The room is equipped with a stove, and there's a compost lavatory next door. All the energy the observatory needs is generated by a 2.5kw wind turbine and by solar power. This special building touches down on the Kielder landscape as gently as a long-legged fly on the nearby reservoir.

Twin Peaks  

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The SMH has an article on institutionalised timeshifting, splitting the standard workday into 2 shifts to reduce traffic congestion and maximise building usage - Shift to two peaks will save the planet

WORKING 9 to 5, what a way to make a living - and what a waste of greenhouse gases, says one architect and urban planner. James Calder, a director at architecture firm Woods Bagot, said Sydney would be greener and more productive if the working day was split in two: a morning shift of 6am to 3pm and an afternoon shift of midday to 9pm.

"An extreme way of looking at our current workplace situation is that millions of people every day drag themselves to their cubicles, at great cost to the individual, organisation, and environment, so that they can send emails to the next cubicle," Mr Calder writes in his essay, 14-Hour City.

The essay has been published in a book called Connecting Cities: City Regions, launched by Planning Minister Frank Sartor at the urban planning conference 2008 Metropolis Congress.

"It is estimated that buildings contribute more than 30 per cent of global greenhouse emissions and yet they are one of our most underutilised assets," he writes. Mr Calder estimates that most office buildings are only being used for about 18 per cent of the week.

Splitting the day into two shifts would lead to "an increase of around 30-40 per cent in the utilisation of public transport, roads, and office buildings [and] an end to the crushing futility of the morning and evening peak hour rush," Mr Calder said.

AsiaOne has an article claiming the US state of Utah is introducing a 4 day work week - Why Thursday is the new Friday.
Utah is the first American state to institute the four-day work week as a policy. The new policy, a year-long experiment established by executive order, took effect on 4 Aug.

It means that Utah state employees work from Monday through Thursday from 7am to 6pm. They will put in the usual 40 hours spread over four days instead of five - but save on the cost of driving on the fifth.

But employee saving is not the main reason why Utah is taking a new look at alternative work schedules. It expects to save about 20 per cent, or US$3 million ($4.2 million), in energy costs.

Republican Convention In Minneapolis-St Paul Coming Up  

Posted by Big Gav

Glenn Greenwald reports that that Minneapolis police are busy arresting prospective peace demonstrators in advance of the Republican convention - apparently "thought crime" is a valid reason for breaking into people's homes in the "land of the free" nowadays and only genuine fascists are welcome at the convention - Massive police raids on suspected protestors in Minneapolis.

Bob Morris has a set of posts on this and notes this sort of thing started back in Miami in 2003.

Protesters here in Minneapolis have been targeted by a series of highly intimidating, sweeping police raids across the city, involving teams of 25-30 officers in riot gear, with semi-automatic weapons drawn, entering homes of those suspected of planning protests, handcuffing and forcing them to lay on the floor, while law enforcement officers searched the homes, seizing computers, journals, and political pamphlets. Last night, members of the St. Paul police department and the Ramsey County sheriff’s department handcuffed, photographed and detained dozens of people meeting at a public venue to plan a demonstration, charging them with no crime other than “fire code violations,” and early this morning, the Sheriff’s department sent teams of officers into at least four Minneapolis area homes where suspected protesters were staying. ...

Nestor indicated that only 2 or 3 of the 50 individuals who were handcuffed this morning at the 2 houses were actually arrested and charged with a crime, and the crime they were charged with is “conspiracy to commit riot.” Nestor, who has practiced law in Minnesota for many years, said that he had never before heard of that statute being used for anything, and that its parameters are so self-evidently vague, designed to allow pre-emeptive arrests of those who are peacefully protesting, that it is almost certainly unconstitutional, though because it had never been invoked (until now), its constitutionality had not been tested.

There is clearly an intent on the part of law enforcement authorities here to engage in extreme and highly intimidating raids against those who are planning to protest the Convention.

Lew Rockwell has a good image from the Denver Democratic convention as well and wonders if the Ron Paul supporters will get the same treatment the hippies did in Minneapolis (I'd guess not but who knows nowadays).



Cryptogon reports there is now a psychiatric designation for people who think all their communications are being monitored - Culture of Surveillance May Contribute to Delusional Condition. Hands up if you are guilty.
There’s now a psychiatric designation for people who are aware of systems like the NarusInsight Intercept Suite and Siemens’ Intelligence Platform.

Via: IHT:

Psychosis in the 21st century looks something like this: You think your every move is being filmed for a reality television show starring you, and that everyone in your life is an actor. Or you think you are under intense surveillance by an army of spies, whom you refer to as the “www people,” as in the World Wide Web, and they wiretap your furniture and appliances. Or else you refuse to drink water because you fear that another cup drawn from your faucet will, once and for all, deplete the world’s water supply.

Those thoughts are from three case studies of what psychiatrists interested in the intersection of mental illness, culture and society are calling, respectively, Truman Show delusion, Internet delusion and climate change delusion; all of them a window, through madness, into the modern world.

If you have delusions of grandeur in this century, you are probably not Napoleon, but you may be Bill Gates.

The Truman Show delusion, or Truman Syndrome, has drawn attention in recent months, in the United States and Britain, as psychiatrists in both countries describe a small but growing number of psychotic patients who describe their lives as mirroring that of the main character in the 1998 film “The Truman Show.” ...

With Internet delusion, patients typically incorporate the Internet into paranoid thoughts, including a fear that the Web is somehow monitoring or controlling their lives, or being used to transmit photographs or other personal information.

The Rise Of Biomass Power  

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Biomass power is something I'm lukewarm about, but I'm still interested in tracking its (hopefully shortlived) growth as a response to rising energy prices. The New York Times has a report on developments in the US - As Biomass Power Rises, a Wood-Fired Plant Is Planned in Texas.

The city of Austin, Tex., approved plans on Thursday for a huge plant that will burn waste wood to make electricity, the latest sign of rising interest in a long-dormant form of renewable energy.

When completed in 2012, the East Texas plant will be able to generate 100 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 75,000 homes. That is small by the standards of coal-fired power plants, but plants fueled by wood chips, straw and the like — organic materials collectively known as biomass — have rarely achieved such scale.

Austin Energy, a city-owned utility, has struck a $2.3 billion, 20-year deal to be the sole purchaser of electricity from Nacogdoches Power, the company that will build the plant for an undisclosed sum. On Thursday, Austin’s City Council unanimously approved the deal, which would bring the Austin utility closer to its goal of getting 30 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020.

“We saw this plant as very important because it gives us a diversity of fuels,” said Roger Duncan, general manager of Austin Energy. “Unlike solar and wind, we can run this plant night or day, summer or winter.”

More than 100 biomass power plants are connected to the electrical grid in the United States, according to Bill Carlson, former chairman of USA Biomass, an industry group. Most are in California or the Northeast, but some of the new ones are under development in the South, a region with a large wood pulp industry.

The last big wave of investment in the biomass industry came during the 1980s and early 1990s. Interest is rising again as states push to include more renewable power in their mix of electricity generation.

Last week, Georgia Power asked state regulators to approve the conversion of a coal plant into a 96-megawatt biomass plant. An additional 50-megawatt plant in East Texas is expected to be under construction by September.

Mike Whiting, chief executive of Decker Energy International, a developer and owner of four biomass plants around the country, estimates 15 to 20 new biomass plants are proposed in the Southeast, though not all will be built. The region is, he said, “the best part of the U.S. for growing trees.”

In California, which has the most biomass plants in the country, momentum is reviving after years of decline. The number of biomass plants has dropped to fewer than 30, from 48 in the early 1990s, because of the closing of many sawmills and the energy crisis early this decade, said Phil Reese of the California Biomass Energy Alliance. Six to eight of the mothballed plants are gearing up to restart, Mr. Reese said, helping California meet its renewable energy goals.



Renewable Energy Access reports the trend has spread to Hawaii - Hawaiian Coal-Fired Plant Being Converted to Burn Biomass.
U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka and U.S. Representatives Neil Abercrombie and Mazie Hirono helped launch Hawaii's newest renewable energy project at a Hawaiian blessing ceremomy for the Hu Honua Bioenergy Facility in the community of Pepeekeo, on the Big Island's Hamakua Coast.

Financed, operated and majority-owned by MMA Renewable Ventures, the 24-megawatt (MW) power station will convert locally grown biomass into electricity, supporting the state’s target of 20% renewable energy by 2020.

Local union leader Rickard Baker, division director of ILWU 142 Hawaii, said that more than 95% of the area’s residents approached have signed a petition in support of converting the coal-fired plant into a biomass-to-energy facility.

Hugging The ArchDruid  

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I see the ArchDruid has made TreeHugger - their visualisation doesn't match what I would have guessed though - The Archdruid Nails It: Energy Conservation, Not Efficiency, Is Key.

A good read for the eco-serious is The Archdruid Report, a collection of perspective on industrial society which is written by John Michael Greer. The posts are characteristically druid-like - long, thoughtful, laden with wisdom - and although sometimes grim, are superb. The one on "Net Energy and Jevons' Paradox" targets the problem of peak energy and is a charmer.

Greer begins with a whammy; to build the infrastructure to produce a new energy source in meaningful quantities ("the production cost"), a great deal of energy will be needed. Additionally, if the new source can’t be delivered via an existing distribution network ("the system cost"), we'll need to invest even more energy to build this out as well. Immediately, one can see why some alternative energy options are being tried; for example, ethanol and windpower have some production costs but negligible additional distribution costs. In contrast, hydrogen requires both new production and distribution networks, so is proving to be a bust.

How will we come up with the surplus energy to make the transition? The Druid looks at two oft-thought methodologies, conservation and efficiency, lauding the first and laughing the second. Greer acknowledges that both approaches boost the net energy of the system but, unlike conservation, as efficiency goes up it also becomes economically feasible to apply the energy resource to new uses, and so people have reason to use more of it. This is known as the Jevon's Paradox, and just take a lookie 'round to see it in action - multiple TVs per household, the McMansions, more miles driven due to increases in automobile fuel efficiency, meat consumption. In every case advancements in efficiency not only encouraged more use, but also depleted the surplus in energy we require to make the transition to a new energy economy.

Grow your own home  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

MSNBC has an article on "plantware" - coaxing trees to help form habitable structures - Live architecture: Grow your own home.

Tolkien's hobbits would feel right at home in new dwellings made out of living tree roots and designed to protect inhabitants from earthquakes. The homegrown architecture is just one of many eco-structures a new company hopes to roll out worldwide.

The concept of coaxing living trees into useful objects, sometimes called tree shaping, arborsculpture, living art or eco-architecture, isn’t new. But now engineers and plant scientists from Tel Aviv University have taken their leafy designs to the next, and more practical and playful, level.

Pilot projects under way in the United States, Australia and Israel include streetlamps, gates and playground structures made entirely from trees, as well as hospital park benches that grow their own foliage for shade.

"Instead of using plant branches, this patented approach takes malleable roots and shapes them into useful objects for indoors and out," said Amram Eshel of Tel Aviv University in Israel.

A home built from trees, the researchers said, would be a natural storm protector. "After earthquakes and after tsunamis the only structures that still survive are trees," said Yaniv Naftaly, director of operations at Plantware, a company founded in 2002. Naftaly told LiveScience the same sturdiness should apply to tree-made homes.

Eshel and TAU colleague Yoav Waisel are working with Plantware to commercialize the leafy designs. The team found that certain tree species grown aeroponically (in air instead of soil and water) have roots that don't harden. Once the malleable, so-called soft roots grow long enough in the lab, they are molded around metal frames in the shape of a playground or park bench.

Then the root tips get tucked into the ground, a process that triggers so-called lignification in which the roots start to harden and grow thicker and thicker. The leafy buds supported by the roots begin to grow taller and bushier.

There is a more detailed image from Popular Science here.

The Summer Of Shale  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The Globe And Mail has a look at growing North American gas production, with declining natural gas output being more than compensated for by unconventional gas from shale deposits - How the summer of shale changed the natural gas game.

Its important to note that it takes a lot more effort (and money) to extract gas from shale than it does to exploit regular natural gas, so this doesn't invalidate the concept of "peak gas" - however it will make the more pessimistic observers look a little foolish for the time being (just like coal to liquids and other unconventional oil sources will do to people who have repeatedly called the peak oil point in the past 5 years).

As natural gas prices soared last spring, Ontario government officials contacted the province's gas distributors, looking for assurances about price and supply.

Ontario relies on natural gas for 16 per cent of its power, and expects to increase that share significantly to replace coal-fired generation and complement the growth of renewable sources like wind and hydro. But as prices climbed to near-record levels, officials began to fret their natural gas bet would leave the province vulnerable to dramatic price hikes and potential shortages.

In response to these concerns, the province's two biggest gas distributors offered two words: shale gas.

It wasn't so long ago analysts were anticipating declining North American gas supplies. But those gloomy forecasts are being revised to reflect booming development of unconventional gas reserves, notably those trapped in hard-to-tap shale rock.

Driven by sharply rising shale gas volumes, U.S. production of natural gas is on track to rise by more than 6 per cent this year. In a jointly funded report, the gas distributors say North American production is now expected to increase 16 per cent by 2015, and 30 per cent by 2030. The prospect of booming production has triggered a dramatic selloff in natural gas futures, bringing prices 40 per cent below their July peak.

The steep decline may be tested this weekend by the prospect of a hurricane hitting the Gulf of Mexico, but prices are expected to settle in a lower range.

Evacuating New Orleans  

Posted by Big Gav in

The SMH reports that New Orleans Ray Nagin has ordered the city to be evacuated as Hurricane Gustav approaches - Evacuation order as Gustav approaches.

New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin has ordered the city emptied tomorrow in the face of "the storm of the century", warning anyone that stays behind that they are on their own. "I am announcing today mandatory evacuation of New Orleans starting 8am Sunday (2300 Sunday AEST) on the West bank," Nagin said at a press conference. "We want everybody... we want 100 per cent evacuation. If you decide to stay, you are on your own." "This is the mother of all storms," Nagin said. "This storm is so powerful and growing more powerful every day that I'm not sure we've seen anything like it."

Nagin estimated that less than half of the city's population has left despite days of dire warnings. "This is the real deal," Nagin said. "Riding this storm out would be one of the biggest mistakes you could make in your life." Nagin said police, fire and other emergency personnel are being pulled from the city to safer areas. A "skeleton crew" of fewer than 50 city workers will be left behind, according to officials.

Hurricane Gustav is on course to crash ashore near New Orleans. Nagin told anyone planning to stay behind to "make sure you have an axe because you will be busting your way out to get on your roof with waters surrounding you."

As usual, The Oil Drum is keeping a 24 hour watch on progress - Hurricane Gustav, Energy Infrastructure, and Updated Damage Models - Thread #3.



Rigs/Platforms: Blue: evacuated only; Yellow will require inspection before restart; Red: damage requiring repair.

Refineries: Black: operational impact (partial shutdown) Green: Operational impact (full shutdown)
Red: Damage likely

Ports: standard hurricane flags for wind

Hopefully the storm ends up causing a lot less damage than Katrina did - and the Bush administration doesn't repeat its disastrous mishandling of any destruction that does occur.

TOD also has a good graphic from Ace showing GOM oil production - it won't look good cropped so click the linkt o see the full size one.

AccuWeather.com has some great satellite images showing the September hurricane lineup traversing the Atlantic too.

The Death of Planned Obsolescence  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Slate has an article on an emerging trend for consumer electronics devices to have a longer potential lifespan based on periodic software upgrades keeping functionality of the device up to date - The Death of Planned Obsolescence. As the subtitle notes, "Why today's gadgets keep getting better. (At least until the battery dies)", another trend is working against this - the trend for batteries to be embedded within the device and not replaceable by end users (think "iPod").

In 2005, a Southern California start-up named Sonos put out a multiroom digital music system, a gadget that sounds straightforward but was actually ahead of its time. Back then, music had already gone digital, but most digital players were meant to be used on the go, not at home. If the iPod is the modern version of the Walkman, Sonos is the reincarnation of the home stereo. It uses wireless networks to string together small "ZonePlayers," stand-alone devices that pipe stereo-quality sound to different rooms in your house. You control the Sonos through a Wi-Fi remote that sports a big LCD screen and an iPod-like scroll wheel. Together, the system's components add up to something transformative: Sonos frees your songs from tinny computer speakers, bringing music to far-flung corners of your McMansion.

But that was three years ago—an eternity in the gadget world. Last week, Sonos offered its first major hardware overhaul since the product's debut (the company decreased the size and increased the networking capabilities of its ZonePlayers). What's remarkable, though, is that while its hardware has barely changed in three years, the Sonos system has improved tremendously since it went on sale. In 2006, the company issued a software update to every Sonos sold—suddenly, the system could play audiobooks. A few months after that, another update allowed Sonos players to hook into the Rhapsody online music service, which meant that for $13 a month, people could now listen to millions of tracks that they didn't own. Later, Sonos added Napster, Pandora, and Sirius, plus a slew of free Internet radio stations. Last year, the company improved its controller's user interface, adding a function that lets you search your tunes from the device—another feature that every Sonos owner got through a software update. ...

Sonos' approach signals a larger shift in the gadget industry, a business that has long titillated its customers with short-lived thrills—what gadget-lovers derisively call "planned obsolescence." It used to be that a gadget worked the best on the day you bought it; every day afterward, it would fall deeper under the shadow of something newer and more fantastic. But because music players, cell phones, cameras, GPS navigators, video game consoles, and nearly everything else now runs on Internet-updatable software, our gadgets' functions are no longer static. It's still true that a gizmo you buy today will eventually be superseded by something that comes along later.

Landfill Mining - Prospecting For Plastic  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Reuters reports that the high oil price has made old dumps a fertile ground for plastic hunters - Could $100 oil turn dumps into plastic mines?.

Sparked by surging oil, a dramatic rise in the value of old plastic is encouraging waste companies across the world to dig for buried riches in rotting rubbish dumps.

Long a symbol of humanity's throw-away culture, existing landfill sites are now being viewed as mines of potential which as the world population grows could also help bolster the planet's dwindling natural resources.

"By 2020 we might have nine billion people on the planet, we could have a very big middle class driving millions more cars, and we could be in a really resource-hungry world with the oil price climbing and a supply situation in Libya, Russia and Saudi where natural gas is limited," said Peter Jones, one of Britain's leading experts on waste management.

"It is those drivers, those conditions, which will encourage the possibility of landfill mining."

In Britain alone, experts say landfill sites could offer up an estimated 200 million tonnes of old plastic -- worth up to 60 billion pounds at current prices -- to be recovered and recycled, or converted to liquid fuel.

As many oil analysts predict oil prices will stay above $100 a barrel, waste experts in America, Europe and across Asia have been conducting pilot projects to recoup old plastic and other waste materials.

Prices for high quality plastics such as high-density polyethelenes (HDP) have more than doubled to between 200 and 300 pounds ($370-560) per tonne, from just above 100 pounds a year ago, according to experts in the waste industry.

Are Organic Foods Getting Too Pricey for the Middle Class?  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

AlterNet has a look at the impact of rising oil prices on organic food sales - Are Organic Foods Getting Too Pricey for the Middle Class?.

It's no secret that food prices are going up. Bloomberg News reported this month that we are experiencing the highest rate of food inflation in 28 years, and both corn and soy hit record high prices during July.

Consumers are doing what they can to cope with these rising prices -- but does that mean staying away from organic food that may already be pricier? And if so, could a lull in organic sales make farmers and retailers shy away from the organic market as a result?

What better place to look for trends than the poster child for high food prices: my local Whole Foods. Referred to by many as "Whole Paycheck," Whole Foods made headlines in the New York Times this month for seeking to change its high-priced image: "Now, in a sign of the times, the company is offering deeper discounts, adding lower-priced store brands and emphasizing value in its advertising. It is even inviting customers to show up for budget-focused store tours like those led by Mr. Hebb, a Whole Foods employee."

A year ago I left a job in the Whole Foods bakery, where I served coffee, baked bread and scooped gelato. Now, I visited the same store where I worked to discover that the bakery's "Every Day Value" items (whole wheat bread and blueberry bran muffins) rose in price by a dollar each in the last year. I also remembered that the store occasionally put items on sale and frequently posted signs advertising value when I worked there, so I wondered if the New York Times was correct.

Carolyn Kates, the marketing assistant at my local Whole Foods, had some answers. With company profits falling 13 percent in the third quarter this year, Whole Foods sees the need to move away from its "Whole Paycheck" image. And now that even its upper-middle-class customer base is feeling the pinch, the store needs to convince shoppers to try its lower-priced grocery items, particularly its private-label brands, 365 and 365 Organic.

Why the drop in profits?

While the price of oil is apparent when people go to the pump, folks are now beginning to realize that filling up at the grocery store is getting more expensive too, and for similar reasons.

As recent studies such as "Diet, Energy, and Global Warming" by Gidon Eshel and Pamela A. Martin show, we almost literally eat oil. It takes oil to plant, harvest, transport and process the wheat in the wheat bread and bran muffins that rose in price; fertilizers used in conventional agriculture are often petroleum-based as well. When oil prices rise, food prices are soon to follow. This affects consumers, retailers and farmers.

Sure, Whole Foods may have taken a hit last quarter, but will these rising oil and food prices actually keep consumers from organic and health foods?

The myth of the tragedy of the commons  

Posted by Big Gav in

I occasionally wonder if every piece of information out there has some form of political bias embedded in it, with this article from the Monthly Review being a good example - The myth of the tragedy of the commons (via Energy Bulletin, which likes to proffer a bit of Marxist theory from time to time).

Will shared resources always be misused and overused? Is community ownership of land, forests, and fisheries a guaranteed road to ecological disaster? Is privatization the only way to protect the environment and end Third World poverty? Most economists and development planners will answer "yes" -- and for proof they will point to the most influential article ever written on those important questions.

Since its publication in Science in December 1968, "The Tragedy of the Commons" has been anthologized in at least 111 books, making it one of the most-reprinted articles ever to appear in any scientific journal. It is also one of the most-quoted: a recent Google search found "about 302,000" results for the phrase "tragedy of the commons."

For 40 years it has been, in the words of a World Bank Discussion Paper, "the dominant paradigm within which social scientists assess natural resource issues" (Bromley and Cernea 1989: 6). It has been used time and again to justify stealing indigenous peoples' lands, privatizing health care and other social services, giving corporations "tradable permits" to pollute the air and water, and much more. ...

Given the subsequent influence of Hardin's essay, it's shocking to realize that he provided no evidence at all to support his sweeping conclusions. He claimed that the "tragedy" was inevitable -- but he didn't show that it had happened even once.

Hardin simply ignored what actually happens in a real commons: self-regulation by the communities involved. ...

A summary of recent research concludes:
[W]hat existed in fact was not a "tragedy of the commons" but rather a triumph: that for hundreds of years -- and perhaps thousands, although written records do not exist to prove the longer era -- land was managed successfully by communities. (Cox 1985: 60)

Part of that self-regulation process was known in England as "stinting" -- establishing limits for the number of cows, pigs, sheep, and other livestock that each commoner could graze on the common pasture. Such "stints" protected the land from overuse (a concept that experienced farmers understood long before Hardin arrived) and allowed the community to allocate resources according to its own concepts of fairness.

Masdar breaks ground on photovoltaic factory in Germany  

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Nanotechnology Now reports the Masdar initiative has started construction of its first thin film PV factory - Masdar breaks ground on photovoltaic factory in Germany.

The plant will use advanced production technologies to bring PV closer towards grid parity, and enhance a local economy with a rich history of manufacturing and technology.

The US$230 million German plant marks the first phase of Masdar's US$2 billion investment in thin-film PV manufacturing, one of the largest investments ever made in solar. To be opened in third quarter 2009, the plant has a targeted annual production capacity of 70MW, and will create more than 180 green jobs.

It will produce the world's largest (5.7 sqauare metres) and most powerful PV modules, on equipment from the world's leading supplier Applied Materials, to drive the cost reductions necessary to make solar energy an affordable reality.

As a leading global centre for PV technology, Germany was selected as Masdar's first PV plant location. The German plant will act as a blueprint for technology and knowledge transfer to a 140MW Abu Dhabi plant, which will begin initial production by third quarter 2010. Output from both facilities has already been committed to major PV system installers in Europe, and for Masdar's own energy generation needs.

Cleantech.com reports that thin film manufacturer Nanosolar is receiving more funding to expand production of panels - Thin-film gets fat on cash.
Investors pour big money into two thin-film solar companies, along with 14 other deals we spotted over the past week.

Funds flowed into solar this week, but not just any solar — the spotlight was on thin-film, with San Jose, Calif.-based Nanosolar and Fort Collins, Colo.'s AVA Solar both grabbing healthy amounts of cash.

The big winner was Nanosolar, which pulled in a whopping $300 million in equity. This brings the company to nearly half a billion dollars of capital raised. Nanosolar plans to use the funding to expand production of its thin-film solar panels

The Moscow Times reports that solar is hot in Russia too - Investors Bet Millions on the Sun.
The image of Russia as a dark northern country that lives off its fossil fuels might be well-founded. But companies that rely on global demand for solar energy and Russia's scientific base have investors convinced. The next step: convincing their own government.

Nitol Solar, a private company in the east Siberian town of Usolye-Sibirskoye, has raised $600 million in investment since opening five years ago, including $190 million from Alfa Bank on Aug. 12 and $75 million from the World Bank's International Finance Corporation in late July.

The latest investment agreements were signed after Nitol Solar produced its first batch of polysilicon, an energy-intensive raw material that is the main component of solar cells.

Nitol Solar's production of polysilicon was big news in the solar power market, which currently provides about 1 percent of global energy consumption and has been growing rapidly in the past couple of years, fueled by rising energy costs and environmental awareness. The main reason the market is not expanding more quickly is a shortage of polysilicon, which absorbs the sun's photons in order to generate an electric current.

Nitol Solar, based in a restructured Soviet chemical plant in the Irkutsk region, plans to produce 3,700 tons of polysilicon per year, or about 9 percent of last year's global supply, by the end of 2009.

These plans have attracted big players like Chinese solar power holding Suntech Power, the world's third-biggest producer of solar cells with a market capitalization of $6.3 billion. Suntech has signed a seven-year supply agreement with Nitol and has agreed to purchase $100 million worth of newly issued ordinary shares in the Russian company.

Cleantechnica reports an Israeli solar power plant has commenced operation - First Solar Power Station in Israel is Up and Running.
In the department of “How has this not already happened?”, Haaretz reports that Israel’s first solar power station is now functioning. The 50 kW solar array is on a farm in the Negev, and will be hooked up to the national power grid in two weeks.

The reason for the long wait? Israel’s state solar incentives just kicked in on July 1st. They allow home and industrial customers to receive NIS 2.01 per kWh for electricity produced. Household power plants are limited to 15 kW, and business plants are limited to 50 kW.

The new solar station, built by Moshe Tenne, consists of thin-film solar panels on a cowshed roof and an array of multicrystal silicon solar cells that are spread out over the farmland.

Tenne also plans to build small wind turbines on his property even though wind power incentives aren’t yet in effect.

Gustav Heading For The GOM  

Posted by Big Gav

Gulf of Mexico hurricane season seems to have commenced, with The Oil Drum providing its usual comprehensive coverage - first up to bat this year is Hurricane / Tropical Storm Gustav - .

By now most people know that by this weekend there will likely be a hurricane spinning its way somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico. There are possibly three more storms behind it. Below is an aggregate resource thread including updates by Chuck Watson/KAC/UCF--click through for models.



Khebab also has an update on the latest oil production numbers at TOD - Peak Oil Update - August 2008: Production Forecasts and EIA Oil Production Numbers.

Interest In CNG Powered Vehices Increasing  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Grist reports that interest in CNG fuelled vehicles in the US is increasing - Revolution by 'Natural' Selection. This isn't really a sane response to peak oil, but no doubt it will last as long as the current shale gas boom continues - I think oil services (drilling) businesses may have a very bright future for the next decade or two...

High oil prices, increased domestic natural-gas production, and a well-publicized push from a former oil man have all boosted interest in natural-gas vehicles in the United States lately. This spring, the natural-gas equivalent of a gallon of gasoline was selling for about $1.50 less than gasoline on average nationwide. And in some places like Utah, where vertical integration of natural-gas utilities keeps prices unusually low, the difference is even larger. Energy independence enthusiasts in and out of Congress are (naturally) gassed about the possibilities.

Right now, the U.S. only imports some 2 percent of its natural-gas supply and new drilling techniques that extract natural gas from shale deposits have analysts predicting a sustained boom in domestic production for years to come. However, a dearth of natural-gas pumps at gas stations is a major hurdle to increased use of the cleaner cars; less than 1 percent of U.S. gas stations carry natural-gas pumps for vehicles. Another infrastructure problem is the lack of commercially available natural-gas vehicles. Honda's Civic GX is the only model currently available, though GM has said it might also get into the biz.

Arctic Sea Ice At Second Lowest Level On Record  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

While the shrinking skeptic community (and the contrarian climate doomers who think a solar sunspot cycle driven ice age is about to commence) continue to come up with all sorts of random hypotheses about global warming having reversed because of lower temperatures courtesy of the latest la Nina episode, its not making any difference to the disappearing polar ice cap, with AP reporting we could still possibly beak last years record - Arctic sea ice drops to 2nd lowest level on record.

More ominous signs Wednesday have scientists saying that a global warming "tipping point" in the Arctic seems to be happening before their eyes: Sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is at its second lowest level in about 30 years.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that sea ice in the Arctic now covers about 2.03 million square miles. The lowest point since satellite measurements began in 1979 was 1.65 million square miles set last September.

With about three weeks left in the Arctic summer, this year could wind up breaking that previous record, scientists said.

Arctic ice always melts in summer and refreezes in winter. But over the years, more of the ice is lost to the sea with less of it recovered in winter. While ice reflects the sun's heat, the open ocean absorbs more heat and the melting accelerates warming in other parts of the world.

Sea ice also serves as primary habitat for threatened polar bears.

"We could very well be in that quick slide downward in terms of passing a tipping point," said senior scientist Mark Serreze at the data center in Boulder, Colo. "It's tipping now. We're seeing it happen now."

Within "five to less than 10 years," the Arctic could be free of sea ice in the summer, said NASA ice scientist Jay Zwally.

The Jaded Greenie's Translation Service  

Posted by Big Gav

We do a (almost) daily roundup of Australian and New Zealand energy news at TOD ANZ which I hope antipodean readers are aware of. I quite enjoyed kiashu's paraphrasing of some of today's set of news items.

"Business New Zealand is labelling the emissions trading bill badly thought out and economically damaging."

Translation: "Give us more money."

"NSW Liberal Party leader Barry O'Farrell's decision to block planned energy privatisation has handed more negotiating power to NSW trade unions, threatened the state's fragile economy and cast serious doubt on his own ability to govern."

Translation: "Poopyhead! Why didn't you vote the way our paper's advertisers wanted you to?!"

"Councils are opposed to Government plans to fast-track Contact Energy's application to build a gigantic $1 billion wind farm along the isolated Te Akau coast."

Translation: "Not in my backyard!"

"Climate Change Minister Penny Wong and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese heard these concerns at a special meeting with the transport industry yesterday, where the aviation, shipping and railway sectors complained that the Government's [emissions trading] scheme would put them at a competitive disadvantage."

Translation: "Give us more money."

Sigh.

Move Over Silicon, Here Comes Asphalt  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

EcoGeek has a post on using the heat collection capacity of roads as a way of capturing solar energy- Hot Asphalt as Better Energy Collector than Solar Panels?.

Researchers in Massachusetts are working on a technique to turn heat gathered by asphalt into useable energy via water pipes. Their paper, released this week at the International Symposium on Asphalt Pavements and Environment in Zurich, posits that asphalt roads could be better than solar panels in gathering energy.

They say that all the parking lots and roads that sit there baking in the sun all day are basically already solar energy collectors, and that the sheer amount of useable asphalt offsets the lower efficiency factor. We just need a way to transfer that heat into energy on a large scale. The researchers point out how asphalt stays hot even after the sun goes down, which anyone in the Southwest can attest to, and so could continue to generate energy when solar panels can’t. A system of heat exchangers could become part of road construction projects and improvements, and the system could help out the issue of heat islands.

While my mind instantly goes to a slew of issues that could exist for places with cold winters, the Netherlands, an unarguably arguably cold place in winter, has already done something like this on a very small scale and it has been a success. The idea sounds viable, but I have a hard time thinking that it would surpass solar panels as energy collectors; however, I’d love to see it tried out in a place like Phoenix, where the heat gathered could be used to run homes’ AC units. How’s that for a loop?

A Dress Rehearsal For An Attack On Iran ?  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , ,

Cryptogon is pointing to a British report on Russian objections to NATO providing military assistance to Georgia, noting a comment from a Russian Colonel about the recent action being practice for an attack on Iran - Russia to NATO: Military Help for Georgia Is a ‘Declaration of War’. Given the outcome of that one I'm not sure the Iranians have much to worry about (unless the purpose was to get troops on the ground on Iran's northern border).

Moscow has issued an extraordinary warning to the West that military assistance to Georgia for use against South Ossetia or Abkhazia would be viewed as a “declaration of war” by Russia.

The extreme rhetoric from the Kremlin’s envoy to NATO came as President Dmitry Medvedev stressed he will make a military response to US missile defence installations in eastern Europe, sending new shudders across countries whose people were once blighted by the Iron Curtain. And Moscow also emphasised it was closely monitoring what it claims is a build-up of NATO firepower in the Black Sea. …

Top military figure Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, president of the Academy of Geopolitical Studies in Moscow, alleged that the US and NATO had been arming Georgia as a dress rehearsal for a future military operation in Iran.

“We are close to a serious conflict - U.S. and NATO preparations on a strategic scale are ongoing. In the operation the West conducted on Georgian soil against Russia - South Ossetians were the victims or hostages of it - we can see a rehearsal for an attack on Iran.”

He claimed Washington was fine tuning a new type of warfare and that the threat of an attack on Iran was growing by the day bringing “chaos and instability” in its wake.

Cryptogon also points to a couple of reports on T Boone Pickens' water interests in Texas, colocated with his planned wind farms - The T. Boone Pickens Water Swindle.
Roberts County is a neat square in a remote corner of the Texas Panhandle, a land of rolling hills, tall grass, oak trees, mesquite, and cattle. It has a desolate beauty, a striking sparseness. The county encompasses 924 square miles and is home to fewer than 900 people. One of them is T. Boone Pickens, the oilman and corporate raider, who first bought some property here in 1971 to hunt quail. He’s now the largest landowner in the county: His Mesa Vista ranch sprawls across some 68,000 acres. Pickens has also bought up the rights to a considerable amount of water that lies below this part of the High Plains in a vast aquifer that came into existence millions of years ago.

If water is the new oil, T. Boone Pickens is a modern-day John D. Rockefeller. Pickens owns more water than any other individual in the U.S. and is looking to control even more. He hopes to sell the water he already has, some 65 billion gallons a year, to Dallas, transporting it over 250 miles, 11 counties, and about 650 tracts of private property. The electricity generated by an enormous wind farm he is setting up in the Panhandle would also flow along that corridor. As far as Pickens is concerned, he could be selling wind, water, natural gas, or uranium; it’s all a matter of supply and demand. “There are people who will buy the water when they need it. And the people who have the water want to sell it. That’s the blood, guts, and feathers of the thing,” he says.

In the coming decades, as growing numbers of people live in urban areas and climate change makes some regions much more prone to drought, water—or what many are calling “blue gold”—will become an increasingly scarce resource. By 2030 nearly half of the world’s population will inhabit areas with severe water stress, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development. Pickens understands that. And while Texas is unusually lax in its laws about pumping groundwater, the rush to control water resources is gathering speed around the planet. In Australia, now in the sixth year of a drought, brokers in urban areas are buying up water rights from farmers. Rural residents around the U.S. are trying to sell their land (and water) to multi- national water bottlers like NestlĂ© (BW—Apr. 14). Companies that use large quantities of the precious resource to run their businesses are seeking to lock up water supplies. One is Royal Dutch Shell, which is buying groundwater rights in Colorado as it prepares to drill for oil in the shale deposits there.

Into this environment comes Pickens, who made a good living for a long time extracting oil and gas and now, at 80, believes the era of fossil fuel is over. So far he has spent $100 million and eight years on his project and still has not found any city in Texas willing to buy his water. But like many others, Pickens believes there’s a fortune to be made in slaking the thirst of a rapidly growing population. If he pumps as much as he can, he could sell about $165 million worth of water to Dallas each year. “The idea that water can be sold for private gain is still considered unconscionable by many,” says James M. Olson, one of America’s preeminent attorneys specializing in water- and land-use law. “But the scarcity of water and the extraordinary profits that can be made may overwhelm ordinary public sensibilities.”

Survivalists At The Bottom Of The Garden  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The SMH has a report on the strong level of interest in growing food in the garden - It's survival of the fittest.

At this year's Gardening Australia Expo - which is to be his last - Cundall will be showing visitors how to plot and plant their own little "survival crop" in a freshly hoed replica of Pete's Patch, based on the garden used on the popular ABC-TV show.

"One of the tiny gardens I have created is only the size of a bloomin' big room, yet it can keep a family in all the vegetables it needs for most of the year and that is very encouraging for people to see first-hand," Cundall says.

"I want to show people that they can produce their own food even if they live in a small, inner-city area. Gardens can thrive anywhere where there is a bit of sun and the amount of production from a small area is phenomenal. If you don't have a balcony or your garden doesn't get any sun, then find your nearest community garden.

"With food prices going up and food riots going on in different countries, humans need to go back to basics. We need to know how to survive the looming food crisis. That is the whole point of calling it a survival crop. It's serious stuff," he says.

At 81, Cundall is the embodiment of good health, an example to all of us that grubbing about in the dirt and growing things is "absolutely bloody marvellous" for our physical and mental wellbeing.

"I look at myself in the mirror and I am amazed. The last time I went to a doctor was 1951. It's so lovely to go decade after decade with no medical bills. I don't even use glasses. It's lovely.

"Most of the ills haunting the human race can be traced back to what we are consuming. If people want to get away from the madness of society then go out into a garden. It's there that you are back to the truth," he says.

Rat Meat Prices Quadruple  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

It was only a couple of days ago that I was talking about eating rats but I was still surprised to see this Reuters report on Cambodian rat meat prices - Rat meat in demand in Cambodia as inflation bites. I wonder how the fried spider market is going ?

The price of rat meat has quadrupled in Cambodia this year as inflation has put other meat beyond the reach of poor people, officials said on Wednesday.

With consumer price inflation at 37 percent according to the latest central bank estimate, demand has pushed a kilogram of rat meat up to around 5,000 riel (69 pence) from 1,200 riel last year. Spicy field rat dishes with garlic thrown in have become particularly popular at a time when beef costs 20,000 riel a kg.

Officials said rats were fleeing to higher ground from flooded areas of the lower Mekong Delta, making it easier for villagers to catch them.

"Many children are happy making some money from selling the animals to the markets, but they keep some for their family," Ly Marong, an agriculture official, said by telephone from the Koh Thom district on the border with Vietnam. "Not only are our poor eating it, but there is also demand from Vietnamese living on the border with us."

He estimated that Cambodia supplied more than a tonne of live rats a day to Vietnam.

US Geothermal Power On The Rise  

Posted by Big Gav in

TreeHugger has a report on the rapid growth of geothermal power in the US - 4000 Megawatts of US Geothermal Power in Development, Sector Has Grown by 20% This Year.

There’s been a good deal of geothermal energy news in the past few weeks—less than solar and wind perhaps, but that’s more a function of publicity and popularity rather than the potential of the resource—and the latest US Geothermal Power Production and Development Update from the Geothermal Energy Association shows just how much geothermal power has grown so far this year.

New Developments Will Nearly Double Current Capacity

According to the new report, geothermal power has grown by 20% since January of this year, with 103 project currently underway in 13 states for a combined capacity of nearly 4,000 megawatts. The GEA says when completed these projects will be able to meet the electric needs of about 4 million homes.

Currently, installed geothermal power capacity in the United States is nearly 3,000 megawatts, with 2555 MW of that in California alone.

California, Nevada Lead the Way

By state, this is what’s on tap geothermally: Alaska, 5 projects/53-100 MW; Arizona 2/2-20 MW; California 21/928-1037 MW; Colorado 1/10 MW; Florida 1/0.2-1 MW; Hawaii 2/8 MW; Idaho 6/251-326 MW; Nevada 45/1083-1902 MW; New Mexico 1/10 MW; Oregon 11/297-322 MW; Utah 6/244 MW; Washington 1/(unspecified capacity); Wyoming 1/0.2 MW.

Just so everyone’s clear on this, the geothermal power being talked about in this report is a different thing entirely than ground source heat pumps, which are sometimes called geothermal heat pumps. While both utilize the heat of the planet, the two really shouldn't be confused.

The Creaking US Power Grid  

Posted by Big Gav in

The New York Times has a look at another critical problem facing the US - the need to upgrade another creaky old piece of infrastructure, the electricity grid - Wind Energy Bumps Into Power Grid’s Limits.

When the builders of the Maple Ridge Wind farm spent $320 million to put nearly 200 wind turbines in upstate New York, the idea was to get paid for producing electricity. But at times, regional electric lines have been so congested that Maple Ridge has been forced to shut down even with a brisk wind blowing.

That is a symptom of a broad national problem. Expansive dreams about renewable energy, like Al Gore’s hope of replacing all fossil fuels in a decade, are bumping up against the reality of a power grid that cannot handle the new demands.

The dirty secret of clean energy is that while generating it is getting easier, moving it to market is not.

The grid today, according to experts, is a system conceived 100 years ago to let utilities prop each other up, reducing blackouts and sharing power in small regions. It resembles a network of streets, avenues and country roads.

“We need an interstate transmission superhighway system,” said Suedeen G. Kelly, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

While the United States today gets barely 1 percent of its electricity from wind turbines, many experts are starting to think that figure could hit 20 percent.

Achieving that would require moving large amounts of power over long distances, from the windy, lightly populated plains in the middle of the country to the coasts where many people live. Builders are also contemplating immense solar-power stations in the nation’s deserts that would pose the same transmission problems.

The grid’s limitations are putting a damper on such projects already. Gabriel Alonso, chief development officer of Horizon Wind Energy, the company that operates Maple Ridge, said that in parts of Wyoming, a turbine could make 50 percent more electricity than the identical model built in New York or Texas.

“The windiest sites have not been built, because there is no way to move that electricity from there to the load centers,” he said.

The basic problem is that many transmission lines, and the connections between them, are simply too small for the amount of power companies would like to squeeze through them. The difficulty is most acute for long-distance transmission, but shows up at times even over distances of a few hundred miles.

Demand Destruction And Brittle Systems  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Jeff Vail has an interesting post on the demand destruction profile, noting that once the low hanging fruit has been picked off by rising oil prices, what is left can be a very brittle system waiting to collapse in the event of an oil supply shock - Demand Destruction & Brittle Systems.

I've seen a number of comments, both at The Oil Drum and elsewhere, suggesting that the US is now less susceptible to supply disruptions because we have reduced our demand for oil by several hundred thousand barrels per day over the past year. In general, I get the sense that people think we can insulate ourselves from supply disruptions, from our dependence on potentially unreliable foreign sources of oil, by improving our efficiency and eliminating "unnecessary" oil consumption. In my opinion, this is backward.

In this post, I will argue that, because the demand that is destroyed first in a free market is the demand that is easiest to eliminate, the resulting consumptive system is more inelastic, more brittle, and more susceptible to systemic shock from supply disruption. I will approach this argument by outlining what makes a system either resilient or brittle and why market-driven demand destruction creates a more brittle system. I will conclude with a few thoughts on how we can increase the resiliency of our energy-driven economy in a future environment of declining energy supplies. ...

When an economic or financial system is brittle, it is less able to absorb the impact of a shock or ongoing stress--say, a geopolitical disruption to oil supplies, or the ongoing, grinding problem of geological peak oil. When a system is resilient it tends to be able to absorb such impacts, giving the underlying system time to reorganize to eliminate or mitigate the stress event. When a system is brittle, however, it is more likely to shatter, after which point it can no longer bounce back to its original shape. When an economic system shatters, we call it "collapse"--the system enters a downward spiral into depression and dissolution. This is one of the "worst case scenarios" for the impact of peak oil--that it will overstress a brittle global economic system and act as the catalyst for economic, even societal collapse.

For this reason, it is important to understand what makes our economic system brittle or resilient, and how our personal economic choices and political/policy choices can influence the character of the system. In this post, I will look specifically at the how crude oil demand destruction changes the systemic elasticity of demand for oil, and how this makes our economic system more brittle.

China In Iraq Oil Deal  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The SMH reports that the Chinese are re-establishing their foothold in the Iraqi oil industry - China hails $US3b oil deal with Iraq.

China has hailed a $US3 billion ($A3.5 billion) oil agreement with Iraq as a win for both nations, as it sought to reassure the rest of the world that it should not be concerned by the deal. Becoming the first foreign firm to enter such an agreement since the end of Saddam Hussein's regime, state-owned China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) this week won the right to develop the Al-Ahdab oil field south of Baghdad.

"The cooperation between the relevant oil companies from China and Iraq is mutually beneficial," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters after the Iraqi embassy in Beijing said the deal had been reached. "It will be conducive to the economic development of Iraq, and will meet China's demands in the oil field as well, and is also conducted according to market rules and will not harm any interests of any third parties."

The agreement, reached during a visit to China by Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani, revives a 1997 contract that granted China exploration rights to the Al-Ahdab oil field in the province of Wassit.

After China won the rights to the al-Ahdab field in a deal then valued at $US700 million ($A816.1 million) over 23 years, activities were suspended due to UN sanctions and security issues following the US-led war in 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Planned oil production was then 90,000 barrels per day (bpd), and CNPC had been expected to win the new exploration rights. ...

For China, the deal is another potential success in its sometimes controversial global quest for oil that has seen it sign a flurry of contracts in Africa and the Middle East in recent years.

China's demand for oil has grown markedly in recent years, as its economy has grown at double-digit pace and its population of more than 1.3 billion people has grown richer.

"This is certainly a breakthrough," said Liu Youcheng, a Beijing-based analyst with Hongyuan Securities. "With oil prices surging, the global contest for oil resources is becoming ever fiercer. Many governments have realised this and have become unwilling to sell their oil resources cheaply to the multinationals."

The Al-Ahdab oil field deal is a service contract, which gives oil companies a flat fee for their efforts rather than a share of the profits from the exploitation of oil resources. In this light, the deal may not be as attractive to China as it could have been.

However China, a net importer of oil since the 1990s, is so desperate for energy that it is prepared to make significant concessions to secure oil supplies, according to Hongyan Securities' Liu. "Since it has become more and more difficult to obtain equity and exploit rights in oil fields, it's good for China to participate in the development through a service contract. It diversifies our oil sources and helps guarantee China's oil supplies," he said.

Redrawing The Coastline Of West Africa  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

AFP has a report on grim predictions about the future of coastal regions in West Africa - West Africa's coastline redrawn by climate change: experts (via Idleworm who gets a special award for the first time I've seen the word "doomerverse" used).

Rising sea levels caused by climate change will brutally redraw a 4,000-kilometre (2500-mile) stretch of west African coastline from Senegal to Cameroon by century's end, experts told AFP Friday. "The cost of Guinea will cease to exist by the end of this century," said Stefan Cramer, a marine geologist and head of German green group Heinrich Boll Stiftung's operations in Nigeria. The countries most threatened by this looming environmental disaster are Gambia, Nigeria, Burkina Fasso and Ghana," he told AFP on the sidelines of a major UN climate conference in the Ghanaian capital Accra.

Cramer said sea levels were set to rise up to two centimetres (0.8 inches) per year, enough to devastate large swathes of fragile coastline, especially in low-lying and densely populated deltas.

Last year UN climate change experts initially predicted more modest rises of 18 to 59 centimetres (7.2 to 23.2 inches), but in a final version of their report left the upper limit open-ended due to mounting scientific evidence that levels might climb much higher.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had not taken into account the potential impact of runoff from the 3,000-metre (1.9 mile) thick Greenland ice cap, which covers an areas three times the size of Nigeria. Recent studies have suggested the continent-sized ice block could be melting far more quickly than once thought.

Among the cities worst hit would be the Gambian capital Banjul and Lagos, Nigeria's economic capital and home to 15 million. Some parts of Lagos lie below sea-level today and it is already subject to frequent flooding. The Niger delta's income-generating oil fields are especially vulnerable, Cramer said.

In Ghana, "up to 1,000 kilometres of land may be lost in the Volta Delta owing to sea-level rise and inundation," Yvo de Boer, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said at the meeting.

The devastation wrought by rising sea levels is amplified by increasingly violent tropical storms, which can create sea surges up to three metres (10 feet) high.

In August 2007 a storm 5,000 kilometres off the coast of Lagos destroyed protective beach barriers, highlighting the vulnerability of the entire African west coast.

The unblinking universal eye  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The Guardian has a look at Gordon Brown's latest plans to implement total surveillance in the UK - Safe In Our Cages.

In the Queen's speech this autumn Gordon Brown's government will announce a scheme to institute a database of every telephone call, email, and act of online usage by every resident of the UK. It will propose that this information will be gathered, stored, and "made accessible" to the security and law enforcement agencies, local councils, and "other public bodies".

This fact should be in equal parts incredible and nauseating. It is certainly enraging and despicable. Not even George Orwell in his most febrile moments could have envisaged a world in which every citizen could be so thoroughly monitored every moment of the day, spied upon, eavesdropped, watched, tracked, followed by CCTV cameras, recorded and scrutinised. Our words and web searches, our messages and intimacies, are to be stored and made available to the police, the spooks, the local council – the local council! – and "other public bodies".

This Orwellian nightmare, additionally, is proposed for a world in which leading soi-disant liberal democracies run, and/or permit rendition flights to, Guantanamo Bay. How many steps separate an innocent British citizen from some misinterpretation or interference or error in the collected and 'made accessible' data of text messages and emails, and a forthcoming home-grown version of Guantanamo Bay for people whose pattern of phone calls does not fit the police definition of acceptable?

Two things have made this ghastly development possible: the technology, and politicians. The technology is way ahead of the game: Siemens of Germany are already supplying 60 countries with a device that monitors and integrates data from phone, email and internet activity; its software establishes patterns of uses and alerts monitoring staff to deviations from the patterns. As New Scientist reports, the system is already known to throw up huge numbers of false positives; that could have been predicted by a rudimentary acquaintance with human nature and human life. But it is a fact that has to be added to the brilliance and reliability of government and law enforcement agencies in keeping data secure, unhackable and unlosable.

The second point concerns the quality of our politicians. They say they are putting us all under suspicion for our own good. They wish to protect us against terrorists and criminals, and to make bureaucracy more efficient. The efficiency of bureaucracy has one of its finest moments in the neat and sorted piles of false teeth, hair and spectacles at the gas chamber doors. Oh no: better the milling crowd than the police-disciplined queues of bureaucratic efficiency; better the irritation of dealing with human fallibility than the fear of dealing with jack-booted gendarmes whose grip on one's arms follows stepping out of the queue.

But as to the first matter: protecting us – by making us all suspects, all potential criminals and terrorists – from terrorism and criminality. Well: the first duty of our politicians should be to protect our liberties, and to encourage us to see that liberty carries risks, which we should be trusted to understand and accept so that we can make our own lives our own way. But no: these politicians – Brown and Labour, once the party of the people – are going to keep us safe by not keeping our liberties safe; they are going to keep us safe by making us unfree. Yet the putative benefit of protecting us from terrorism and crime is unattainable. They themselves say 'there is no 100% guarantee of safety': but they are going to spy on us all anyway! In fact they are going to create crime: a huge new criminal industry awaits for stealing, copying, falsely creating and manipulating that newly-created precious commodity, "identity". A huge new impetus awaits for techno-crime to disrupt the monitoring and data storage systems on which the government intends to spend billions of our tax money, creating its unblinking eye in our bedrooms. As surely as night follows day, the new surveillance society will do more harm than good.

The potential for profoundly negative uses of technology has escaped us. It is with despair that I conclude that we have to start all over again with the demos and resistance, the campaigns and arguments, to roll back this huge and ultimately destructive assault on our civil liberties. Once upon a time the authorities worked at frightening everyone into thinking that the unblinking eye of a deity exercised surveillance and data-gathering over them. Now we have Gordon Brown and Siemens, the real thing, not a myth: the unblinking eye of the security services, the local council, "other public bodies", in our bedrooms, our text messages, our emails, our internet searches. Torquemada and Stalin would have given their right arms for what Gordon Brown will tell us in this autumn's Queen's speech he is intending to introduce. Brown has not even thought of that comparison, shame and double shame upon him. Might it help to read the glutinous websites of the Home Office on surveillance and protection of our liberties? Enjoy, if you can: or weep.

Is this adequate to today, before the new universal surveillance comes on stream? Is it adequate to future developments in surveillance technology, to future even less benign governments, to increased "security" powers in actual or alleged future states of emergency? What new crimes, new criminals, new threats to society, will need to be plucked from the watched masses? Smokers? Readers of unauthorised books? Will old crimes return - homosexuality, Catholicism, Jewishness, atheism, adultery, pre-marital sex? Will every individual have to be a tight-lipped, right-thinking, timid, dutiful, obedient, queue-forming clone to escape the censure of the unblinking eye now being opened by the state upon us?

We need to stop this assault on civil liberies going further, we need to roll back the attritions they have already suffered, and we need a rock solid written consitution to protect us from those who aim to make us all suspects in the gaze of the unblinking universal eye.

Bioplastic - Better Living Through Green Chemistry ?  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , , , , , , , ,

The New York Times recently had an editorial on Samsung's "Corn Phone", which is being heavily promoted as environmentally friendly as the casing is made from bioplastic. Somewhat to my surprise, they point out that it is neither - firstly because the bioplastic is made from corn (and is thus contributing to the problems that corn based ethanol is causing) and secondly because phones have become nearly throw away items that are rarely recycled.

The electronics industry has been a major polluter, from the manufacturing end to the landfill. The dizzying pace at which consumer electronics become obsolete (What, you're still using that old phone?) compounds the problem. And increasingly rich countries are offloading the disposing, and often the incinerating, of phones and computers to poorer countries.

Unfortunately Samsung's new cellphone relies on a flawed equation: corn equals green. It is really time to throw out this formula for good. Bioplastic derived from corn requires special handling in recycling, and the difficulty of those processes makes them energy inefficient. Bioplastic also creates another market for corn, a much smaller market than the ethanol market, but growing nonetheless. New industrial demands for corn are driving up world food prices and are increasing the pressure to convert more nonagricultural land to corn production.

The truly green solution for electronics makers is to close the loop between manufacturing and recycling: reusing the plastics we so quickly and happily toss away to make new cellphones.

While Samsung's phone doesn't seem to have passed the "greenwash" test, peak oil poses a problem for plastic production for which bioplastic could be one potential solution, so in this post I'll have a look at what is happening in the industry and how our desire for plastics could perhaps be satisfied in a post oil world.

Plastic and peak oil

Chemicals and plastics are an integral part of peak oil concerns, as oil is the primary raw material used in their production, leading to the conclusion that as we pass the peak the shrinking availability and rising price of oil will cause a reduction in supply of these products.

There are 3 basic approaches to dealing with this scenario in a positive way:

1. Substitution: Use other materials - cardboard or paper packaging for example, or going back to using metal eating utensils instead of disposable plastic ones. Many other items currently made with plastic can also be made with wood, glass or metal (or even popcorn).

2. Recycling: Some plastics can be recycled - or converted back to oil for that matter, though the net energy benefit of this is debatable. Plastic recycling is already widely practiced though we have a long way to go before all recyclable plastics reach the correct destination. Recycling plastic not only reduces the amount of feedstock required to make the material, it also reduces the energy required in manufacturing by around 70%.

3. Bioplastics: Use carbohydrates to create plastics instead of hydrocarbons, an endeavour which was historically known as "chemurgy".



By and large, subsititution would often seem to be a good thing in terms of reducing the amount of waste that ends up in our landfills (and the number of nurdles floating around in the oceans), though there are drawbacks like the extra effort and cost required to make objects out of materials that can't simply be injection moulded the way plastics can.

As a result, while substitution and recycling will often be the best way of dealing with the decline in availability of oil as a feedstock for plastic manufacture, we will likely still want to make new quantities of plastic each year - which leads us to bioplastics.

Bioplastic in Context

At this point bioplastics still comprise just a tiny fraction of the overall market, though one growing at an impressive rate of over 20% per year. The European Bioplastics Association says 1.5 million tonnes of bioplastics will be manufactured annually by 2011.

In comparison, according to the NZ plastic industry, 150 million tonnes each year of petroleum based plastics are produced (estimates for total production vary wildly unfortunately - BusinessWeek recently quoted a number of 500 million tons, while Biopact quotes a number of 200 million tonnes).

Plastic production is estimated to consume around 5% of global oil production each year (again, estimates vary quite a lot, and depend on if just feedstock is counted or if the energy to produce the plastic is also included) which represents the largest use outside the transport and energy sectors.

Developments in Bioplastic

Bioplastic developments have been appearing in the news with great regularity in recent years - The Economist recently noted that the number of patents granted for industrial biotechnology now exceeds 20,000 per year - with the rising price of oil increasing interest in them.

While bioplastic is often considered "green", this isn't necessarily true. Even if we ignore the problems associated turning food into packaging (in the case of corn based bioplastics), there are still many forms of bioplastic which aren't biodegradable. There is also the energy required to power farm machinery used in growing biomass feedstock, to produce fertilisers and pesticides, to transport biomass to processing plants, to process the biomass and ultimately to produce the bioplastic - most of which currently comes from non-renewable sources (though this could eventually be remedied, in time).

The best approach for dealing with the limits on bioplastic production (besides the substitution and recycling options) is similar to the approaches Amory Lovins talks about for dealing with the biofuels problem - redesign products so they need less bioplastic, and produce the bioplastic by harvesting from polyculture, perennial crops like switchgrass grown on non-agricultural land.

Designer Phillippe Starck, a recent high profile convert to green thinking (dubbing all his previous work "unnecessary") recently explained his choice of environmentally unfriendly polycarbonate as the material for a new chair design, which should give you an idea of some of the trade-offs currently facing designers considering alternatives to plastics:
Wired: Recently, you have begun to look at the environmental impact of your designs. How does a plastic chair fit in?

Starck: The stupidity of the ecological movement is that people kill trees for wood. It's ridiculous. The best ecological strategy is to make products of a very high creative quality, so you can keep them for three generations. I prefer to make a very good chair in the best polycarbonate than make any shit in wood that will be in the trash one year later.

Wired: Why not use recycled plastic?

Starck: It's a little joke of a material. You can do almost nothing with it. And I also refuse bioplastic, which comes from something that people can eat. Scientists agree that we have a real food problem, a famine approaching. It's a crime against humanity to take something you can eat and make a chair — or use it as gas for your SUV.

There are also some concerns about greenhouse gas emissions, though these seem questionable.

Some examples of bioplastic producers and uses include:

* US company Metabolix, manufacturer of a biodegradable bioplastic called Mirel, has announced that they have genetically engineered a way to generate "significant amounts" of bioplastic by growing it in directly in the fast growing perennial plant switchgrass. Metabolix is also looking to use a technology developed in Queensland to produce plastic from sugarcane (without affecting sucrose production) at a cost of $1 to $2 per kilogram.



* Mazda is looking to use cellulose based bioplastic in cars from 2013.

* Australian firm Plantic produces a biodegradable bioplastic from corn starch which is used in packaging, using a technology developed by the CSIRO.

* US firm NatureWorks (a subsidiary of agribusiness giant Cargill) has opened a factory in Nebraska, producing 140,000 tonnes of a biodegradable plastic known as PLA, using corn starch. Wal*mart is a major customer, using the material for food containers.

* Dow (the world's largest producer of conventional plastics), is building a factory in Brazil that will produce polyethylene using ethanol made from sugarcane. It is due to open in 2011 and will produce 350,000 tonnes of the material a year. The Times quotes a Dow spokesman as saying that using sugarcane to make polyethylene (rather than the usual naptha-based crude oil or natural gas) is economic with oil prices even when they are at $45 per barrel.

* Brazilian company Braskem is also aiming to produce 200,000 tonnes of polyethylene a year from ethanol.

* NEC has developed a recyclable bioplastic which remembers its shape

* Researchers at New York's Polytechnic University have genetically engineered a bioplastic that can be converted into biodiesel after it has been used, resulting in funding from DARPA and interest from the US military.

* A process developed at the University of Waikato in New Zealand will allow animal waste like blood meal and feathers to be turned into a biodegradable plastic.

* Researchers at Iowa State University and Cornell are looking at using nanoclay particles and nanotechnology techniques to make bioplastics that biodegrade faster and have improved mechanical properties (such as strength).

* Novomer is trying to commercialise a process developed at Cornell for producing bioplastic from carbon dioxide and orange peels (a rare useful example of carbon sequestration).

* Canada's National Research Council is researching the use of bacteria that produce bioplastic from maple syrup and sap, harnessing the large surplus of syrup.

* Fabric manufacturer Interface is looking to make plastic from potatoes in Maine.

* Japanese firm NTA is looking to produce bioplastic from Kenaf grown in Queensland.

* The rising price of polyurethane is causing some surfboard manufacturers to turn to plant based biofoam.



Summary

The 5% of oil consumption that is related to plastic production seems to be a form of low hanging fruit that we could dispense with fairly easily, with a combination of mandating the use of recyclable plastics and/or bioplastics and making sure that materials are recycled wherever possible, while also looking to be more efficient in our usage of the stuff in the first place.

Bioplastics aren't a silver bullet in this respect but they are a useful tool for helping to eliminate one form of oil usage, so I think they should be encouraged and promoted - particularly biodegradable versions manufactured from non-food crops or waste.

Cross-posted from Our Clean Energy Future.

Solar Powered Ships And Planes  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , , ,

Reuters has a report on a Japanese plant o increase shipping fuel efficiency by installing solar panels on board - Japan firms to work on solar-powered ship.

The race to go green has taken to the high seas with two Japanese companies saying they would begin work on the world's first ship to have propulsion engines partially powered by solar energy.

Japan's biggest shipping line Nippon Yusen KK and Nippon Oil Corp said solar panels capable of generating 40 kilowatts of electricity would be placed on top of a 60,000 tonne car carrier to be used by Toyota Motor Corp.

The solar panels would help conserve up to 6.5 percent of fuel oil used in powering diesel engines that generate electricity at any given moment.

The BBC has an article (and video) on a solar power plane - unfortunately it seems to be destined for the service of big brother - Solar plane makes record flight. Interestingly the craft uses lithium sulphur batteries.
A UK-built solar-powered plane has set an unofficial world endurance record for a flight by an unmanned aircraft. The Zephyr-6, as it is known, stayed aloft for more than three days, running through the night on batteries it had recharged in sunlight.

The flight was a demonstration for the US military, which is looking for new types of technology to support its troops on the ground. Craft like Zephyr might make ideal platforms for reconnaissance. They could also be used to relay battlefield communications.

Chris Kelleher, from UK defence and research firm QinetiQ, said Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) offer advantages over traditional aircraft and even satellites. "The principal advantage is persistence - that you would be there all the time," he told BBC News. "A satellite goes over the same part of the Earth twice a day - and one of those is at night - so it's only really getting a snapshot of activity. Zephyr would be watching all day." ...

At first sight, the propeller-driven Zephyr looks to be just another model aircraft, and it is even launched by hand. But this "pilotless" vehicle with its 18-metre wingspan incorporates world-leading technologies.

Its structure uses ultra-lightweight carbon-fibre material; and the plane flies on solar power generated by amorphous silicon solar arrays no thicker than sheets of paper. These are glued over the aircraft's wings.

To get through the night, the propellers are powered from lithium-sulphur batteries which are topped up during the day.

"A lot of effort has gone into power storage and light-weighting the systems," explained Mr Kelleher. "Lithium sulphur is more than double the energy density of the best alternative technology which is lithium polymer batteries. "They are an exceptional performer. We've worked with the Sion Corporation. They've had them in development for years. We're actually the first application in the world for them."


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