Show me your anthrome  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Word of the day is "anthrome" (a manmade biome), coming from this article at Wired on "Mapping the Humanized World".

Researchers are proposing an incisive way of looking at ecological systems by including humanity's reshaping of natural environments.

Drawing on the standard concept of a biome (a regional ecosystem like grassland), McGill and University of Maryland, Baltimore County researchers, propose to remap the world according to "anthromes". You can think of these as the manmade ecological communities in which we live -- for example, dense urban settlements, residential rangeland, rice villages. Traditional ecologists would could call Phoenix a desert, but that wouldn't take into account all the green grass that human beings have pressed into service around their homes. Or the surprising number of other ecological changes that urbanization has wrought on the area.

The idea that humans impact the environment obviously isn't new, but there has been a major disconnect between conservationists who want to preserve wilderness, and the rest of humanity, which has primarily been engaged in hacking, mutating, irrigating, cutting down, or otherwise changing that environment. We're not even talking carbon emissions or industrialization, we're talking irrigation. The very project of civilization (capital C, actually) has involved reshaping the natural environment to fit human needs.

Alan Weisman recently wrote a book called, The World Without Us, that envisioned how the Earth would return to its regularly scheduled programming without human meddling. Worldchanging's Alex Steffen countered with a critique called The World With Us in which he wrote, "It's not that hard to imagine the natural world recovering it's health in our absence: it's more difficult, and more necessary, to imagine it recovering its health in our presence."

Towards that end, anthromes are important. Having a map of the humanized ecological world can help us imagine how to change that world. We can look at our world as it is, not as we would like it to be. Imagine an anthrome of Phoenix, showing water usage, say, and then overlay that with how much water would actually be there. Then, imagine showing where that water came from, and how that's affected the anthromes (and biomes) of outlying areas.

We can hope that we match-up our anthromes to our biomes, and that harmony will be reflected in energy and water efficiency. That's the buried treasure that we might be able to find with these maps.

The Observer has an article on the Desert TREC idea (which I like to refer to as "Deserts of gold") - powering Europe with solar thermal power plants in north Africa (obviously you need a lot of pumped hydro storage along with wind and wave power as well to fully implement this) - "How Africa's desert sun can bring Europe power".
Europe is considering plans to spend more than £5bn on a string of giant solar power stations along the Mediterranean desert shores of northern Africa and the Middle East.

More than a hundred of the generators, each fitted with thousands of huge mirrors, would generate electricity to be transmitted by undersea cable to Europe and then distributed across the continent to European Union member nations, including Britain.

Billions of watts of power could be generated this way, enough to provide Europe with a sixth of its electricity needs and to allow it to make significant cuts in its carbon emissions. At the same time, the stations would be used as desalination plants to provide desert countries with desperately needed supplies of fresh water.

Last week Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan presented details of the scheme - named Desertec - to the European Parliament. 'Countries with deserts, countries with high energy demand, and countries with technology competence must co-operate,' he told MEPs.

The project has been developed by the Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Corporation and is supported by engineers and politicians in Europe as well as Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Jordan and other nations in the Middle East and Africa.

Europe would provide initial funds for developing the solar technology that will be needed to run plants as well as money for constructing prototype stations. After that, banks and financial institutions, as well as national governments, would take over the construction programme, which could cost more than £200bn over the next 30 years.

'We don't make enough use of deserts,' said physicist Gerhard Knies, co-founder of the scheme. 'The sun beats down on them mercilessly during the day and heats the ground to tremendous temperatures. Then at night that heat is radiated back into the atmosphere. In other words, it is completely wasted. We need to stop that waste and exploit the vast amounts of energy that the sun beams down to us.'

Scientists estimate that sunlight could provide 10,000 times the amount of energy needed to fulfil humanity's current energy needs. Transforming that solar radiation into a form to be exploited by humanity is difficult, however.

One solution proposed by the scheme's engineers is to use large areas of land on which to construct their solar plants. In Europe, land is costly. But in nations such as Morocco, Algeria, and Libya it is cheap, mainly because they are scorched by the sun. The project aims to exploit that cheap land by use of a technique known as 'concentrating solar power'.

A CSP station consists of banks of several hundred giant mirrors that cover large areas of land, around a square kilometre. Each mirror's position can be carefully controlled to focus the sun's rays onto a central metal pillar that is filled with water. Prototype stations using this technique have already been tested in Spain and Algeria.

Once the sun's rays are focused on the pillar, temperatures inside start to soar to 800C. The water inside the pillar is vaporised into superhot steam which is channelled off and used to drive turbines which in turn generate electricity. 'It is proven technology,' added Knies. 'We have shown it works in our test plants.'

Only small stations have been tested, but soon plants capable of generating 100 megawatts of power could be built, enough to provide the needs of a town. The Desertec project envisages a ring of a thousand of these stations being built along the coast of northern Africa and round into the Mediterranean coast of the Middle East. In this way up to 100 billion watts of power could be generated: two thirds of it would be kept for local needs, the rest - around 30 billion watts - would be exported to Europe.

An idea of how much power this represents is revealed through Britain's electricity generating capacity, which totals 12 billion watts.

But there is an added twist to the system. The superheated steam, after it has driven the plant's turbines, would then be piped through tanks of sea water which would boil and evaporate. Steam from the sea water would piped away and condensed and stored as fresh water.

'Essentially you get electricity and fresh water,' said Knies. 'The latter is going to be crucial for developing countries round the southern Mediterranean and in north Africa. Their populations are rising rapidly, but they have limited supplies of fresh water. Our solar power plants will not only generate electricity that they can sell to Europe, they will supply drinkable water that will sustain their thirsty populations.'



There is a CSP conference coming up in San Francisco in January - Concentrated Solar Power Summit 2008, in San Francisco, January 28 and 29.
You will hear from Acciona, Sener, BrightSource Energy, Ausra, Solel, Schott, Worley Parsons, SMUD and many more, everything that you need to know on How to build - and run - a profitable Concentrated Solar Power plant; from cost reduction, heat storage, technology update, regulatory framework, state by state breakdown, utilities renewable portfolio, financial risk management , land and water securitisation, efficient construction and red tape.

Fortune has an update on the electric vehicle market in the US - "Putting the zoom into electric cars".
Fambro was driving 36 miles a day, during rush hour, to and from his biotech job in La Jolla, Calif. As traffic slowed to a crawl, motorcycles whizzed past in the carpool lane. He wanted to do the same, and after trying a motorbike and becoming worried about his safety, he decided he wanted to do the same in an enclosed vehicle. He bought a hybrid, but as an engineer he still yearned for a vehicle that got even better fuel economy.

That left electric cars. The selection was discouraging: tiny, boxy vehicles with a short range that took a long time to charge. "Anything you could buy looked as if it was designed in the 1970s," says Fambro.

So he decided to start his own car company. In November 2008, Fambro will begin selling the Aptera. That means "wingless" in Greek, but don't think this car won't fly. It's a sleek two-seat, three-wheel electric vehicle with a top speed of 95 miles an hour, and it comes in two versions: all electric and hybrid.

Made of a Space Age composite material, the hybrid gets 300 miles per gallon, while the electric goes 100 miles on a single three- to six-hour charge. And it looks great in the carpool lane.

For the first time since the early 20th century, America is seeing a flowering of entrepreneurship in the auto industry. Today at least 11 new electric car companies, each working on a wide range of technologies, have launched or plan to launch models. Several of the startups are clustered around Silicon Valley, drawing on the brainpower and pocketbooks of high-tech engineers and venture capitalists. These upstarts are not modest. They believe they can do what major automakers have failed to do: bring an electric car to the mass market. ...

So why does today's new breed of small, renegade car company think it can succeed where so many other auto startups have failed? The entrepreneurs and investors behind the firms point to four factors: consumer desire for measures to address global warming, an abundance of investment capital, new breakthroughs in fiber composite body material, and the availability of cheap computing power and software that help simulate design challenges long before new cars hit the road.

By taking aim at many markets, the electric auto makers are multiplying their chances of success. Tesla Motors of San Carlos, Calif., will sell in early 2008 a speedy $98,000 electric roadster for the Hollywood and hedge fund set (George Clooney and the Google guys have mailed in their down payments).

Entrepreneur Ian Wright, based in Burlingame, Calif., is also aiming at the sports market with the Wrightspeed X1, which he hopes to sell in about two years for about $100,000. The X1 prototype's three-second acceleration from zero to 60 mph makes it one of the fastest autos in the world - second only to the French-made Bugatti Veyron, a 16-cylinder gas-gulping beast that is just half-a-second faster and goes for $1.25 million.

If the Tesla and Wrightspeed give you sticker shock, don't worry. Phoenix Motorcars of Ontario, Calif., is aiming at businesses, and in early 2008 plans to sell a $47,000 electric pickup truck that can be recharged in ten minutes. For those looking for an affordable commuter car, Aptera's gas hybrid will be available in 2008 for $27,000, with an all-electric version for $30,000 (you'll have to plug it into a regular household socket for a few hours after driving 100 miles).

A Toronto company called Zenn sells an electric car and is counting on a radical new kind of power pack from a Cedar Park, Texas, startup called EEStor to next build an Aptera rival. And in 2006 a Norwegian investment firm bought Think, an electric car company once owned by Ford. It plans to launch the Think City commuter car in Europe in 2008 and in the U.S. market in 2009.

Dean Kamen, the Manchester, N.H.-based inventor of the Segway scooter, is working with Think to adapt his Stirling engine to the car, which would extend its 110 mile range. GM has hired A123, a Watertown, Mass., startup to supply lithium batteries for its Volt hybrid, due to launch in 2010. Former SAP executive Shai Agassi has raised $200 million for Project Better Place, a firm that plans to build a network of stations to recharge all these electric cars.

Driving this global network of entrepreneurs is a very global problem. In the U.S., cars and trucks are responsible for some 20% of humanity's emissions of greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide. Switching from internal-combustion engines to electric-powered vehicles will seriously mitigate the effects of global warming. ...

Venture capital firms are betting big on that outcome too. Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal, used part of the fortune he made selling his company to eBay (Charts, Fortune 500) to help bankroll Tesla Motors. Besides Vantagepoint, investors include Google (Charts, Fortune 500) founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and Silicon Valley VC firm Draper Jurvetson. Tesla has raised more than $100 million. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byer, along with other investors, has put $7 million into EEStor.

What has these investors excited is that technology is helping small companies rethink the dynamics of car design. Take the Aptera: This aerodynamic, low-slung commuter car has a composite body, made of carbon fiber, fiberglass, and Kevlar, that looks like the cockpit of a jet yet can fit two adult passengers and a child in a baby seat. It weighs 1,500 pounds, compared with the U.S. industry average of 3,455 pounds. Because it has only three wheels, the Aptera will be classified as a motorcycle in most states. But it's beefier than it looks. One inch shorter than a Toyota Prius, the Aptera can still fit a surfboard in the trunk after folding down the passenger seat. The vehicle has passed slalom tests for stability and handling.

Odd, delightful features abound. A solar-assisted air-conditioning system will run on sunny days even when the car is turned off, keeping the interior cool for the driver's return. The covered wheels hang on the ends of protruding axles, leading one auto industry wag to remark that the vehicle looks like "Batman's girlfriend's car." Fambro makes no apologies: "Most auto designs put styling first and function second," he says. "The way cars are designed, half the energy they need is just to push the air out of the way."

Fambro's aim was to change the styling to reduce the drag of the car as much as possible. He succeeded: The Aptera will have a drag one-third that of a today's average car and less than half that of the Prius, the industry champion of low wind resistance.

Fortune also has an article on AL Gore's move to Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers - Al Gore's next act: Planet-saving VC.
It's lunchtime on Sand Hill Road, and Al Gore wants answers. "How does the efficiency decline with latitude?" he asks. "What size community could be served by one plant? If a manufacturer like GE wanted to make smaller turbines, would the technology support a smaller scale?"

We're sitting in the giant conference room at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, where the partners hold their weekly meetings. After loading his plate with Chinese food from a buffet, Gore is firing detailed questions at the management team of Ausra, a Kleiner-backed company in Palo Alto whose technology uses mirrors the width of a flatbed truck that focus the sun's energy to generate electricity.

Once Gore is satisfied -- sunlight lags north of South Dakota, an Ausra plant can serve 120,000 homes, and yes, smaller turbines will work fine -- he shifts from inquisitor to fixer. He was chatting with California Senator Barbara Boxer "on the way over," he reports, and he isn't optimistic that Congress will extend the tax credits Ausra has been relying on. On the upside, he offers on the spot to organize a summit highlighting the company's solar thermal technology to educate lawmakers and other policymakers on its potential. He also thinks a powwow at General Electric would be beneficial, even though Ausra is a tiny customer. ...

According to Doerr, by 2009 more than a third of Kleiner's latest fund, which was raised in 2006 and totals $600 million, will be invested in technologies that aim to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. Already Kleiner has invested more than $270 million from various funds in 26 companies that make everything from microbes that scrub old oil wells to electric cars to noncorn ethanol. Twelve of Kleiner's 22 partners now spend some or all of their time on green investments.

In turn, Doerr, the master networker whose greatest hits include initial investments in Netscape, Amazon (Charts, Fortune 500), and Google (Charts, Fortune 500), will join the exclusive advisory board of Generation Investment Management. That's the $1 billion investment company Gore started three years ago in London with David Blood, the former head of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, to analyze and invest in publicly traded "sustainable" companies. Over the past five weeks Gore, Doerr, and Blood agreed to give Fortune an exclusive look at their new alliance.

Already they've begun to pool information. Generation came across a small company engaged in carbon trading that Kleiner is analyzing, and Kleiner has shared intelligence about which startups could threaten the established companies in Generation's portfolio. In the long term, though, they want to help drive something much larger, "bigger than the Industrial Revolution and significantly faster," as Gore puts it.

They argue that to halt global warming, nothing less will be required than a makeover of the $6 trillion global energy business. Coal plants, gas stations, the internal-combustion engine, petrochemicals, plastic bags, even bottled water will have to give way to clean, green, sustainable technologies. "What we are going to have to put in place is a combination of the Manhattan Project, the Apollo project, and the Marshall Plan, and scale it globally," Gore continues. "It'd be promising too much to say we can do it on our own, but we intend to do our part."

Biodiversist at Gristmill has an entertaining annihilation of the arguments of some corn based ethanol enthusiast - "Gristmill community chastised!".
This is my formal rebuttal to Brooke Coleman (director of the Renewable Energy Action Project), specifically to comments found in Tom Philpott's latest corn ethanol article. I'm using my access to the bully pulpit to pull it out of comments, like I did the last time a corn ethanol enthusiast joined the discussion.

Welcome to the best environmental blog on the planet, Brooke. You don't seem to have a very high opinion of this community, but maybe you'll warm up to us. I don't speak for the whole community of course, I'm just one of the many who come here to learn and engage in reasoned debate.

You seem to think that anything is better than oil. But believe it or not, in the real world, we sometimes have to pick between the lesser of two evils, at least until something better comes along.

Plowing under the world's remaining grasslands and forests to grow industrial agrofuels dwarfs the damage done by oil spills. What happens when you take grain off the world food market and stuff it into American gas tanks? I'll tell you. Someone somewhere on this planet takes advantage of the high prices to plant more of it to fill the hole in the human food chain. Where is the arable land they need to do that? It is under an existing carbon sink or has another crop on it already. The second leading cause of global warming is deforestation. How hard is that concept to understand? Global warming is global. What we do here screws everybody.

Using less oil is not the same as replacing it with ethanol. Using less oil is a better strategy than replacing it, because corn ethanol is worse than oil for the environment. My family has reduced its use of liquid transport fuel about 80% in the last few years while improving our standard of living. Simplistic, myopic viewpoints do not cut the mustard in today's world. Corn ethanol is a horrifically wasteful use of natural resources, tax dollars, energy, and effort, just to reduce oil consumption a fraction of a percent. You could obtain the same goal by simply using less oil. Last time I looked, the Prius fleet alone saves more gas annually than all the ethanol produced in 2001.

Instead of lobbying the government to stop subsidizing competing energy schemes, one group after another lobbies the government to support their favored energy scheme -- corn ethanol, cellulosic, soy biodiesel, hydrogen, nuclear, coal, and on and on it goes. ...

Celsias has an interesting (and long) look at the genetically modified food industry in "Pandora’s Pantry" (top marks for the title of the next installment too - "farmageddon").
There is a great deal of controversy about the safety of genetically engineered foods. Advocates of biotechnology often say that the risks are overblown. “There have been 25,000 trials of genetically modified crops in the world, now, and not a single incident, or anything dangerous in these releases,” said a spokesman for Adventa Holdings, a U.K. biotech firm. “You would have thought that if it was a dangerous technology, there would have been a slip up by now.” Similarly, during the 2000 presidential campaign, then-candidate George W. Bush said that “study after study has shown no evidence of danger.” And the secretary of agriculture during the Clinton administration, Dan Glickman, said that “test after rigorous scientific test” had proven the safety of genetically engineered products.

Is this the case? Unfortunately not, according to a senior researcher from the Union of Concerned Scientists, Dr. Jane Rissler. With a Ph.D. in plant pathology, four years of shaping biotechnology regulations at the EPA, and a dozen more in biotech science and policy, she is one of the nation’s leading authorities on the environmental risks of genetically engineered foods. Dr. Rissler has been closely monitoring the trials and studies. “The observations that ‘nothing happened’ in these . . . tests do not say much,” she and her colleague Dr. Margaret Mellon (a member of the USDA Advisory Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology) write. “In many cases, adverse impacts are subtle and would almost never be registered by scanning a field. . . . The field tests do not provide a track record of safety, but a case of ‘don’t look, don’t find.’”

When scientists actually look, what they see can be terrifying. A few years ago, a German biotech company engineered a common soil bacterium, Klebsiella planticula, to help break down wood chips, corn stalks, wastes from lumber businesses and agriculture, and to produce ethanol in the process. It seemed like a great achievement. The genetically engineered Klebsiella bacterium could help break down rotting organic material and in the process produce a fuel that could be used instead of gasoline, thus lessening the production of greenhouse gases. And, it was assumed, the post-process waste could afterward be added to soil as an amendment, like compost. Everybody would win. With the approval of the EPA, the company field-tested the bacterium at Oregon State University.

As far as the intended goals were concerned—eliminating rotting organic waste and producing ethanol—the genetically engineered bacterium was a success. But when a doctoral student named Michael Holmes decided to add the post-processed waste to actual living soil, something happened that no one expected. The seeds that were planted in soil mixed with the engineered Klebsiella sprouted, but then every single one of them died.

What killed them? The genetically engineered Klebsiella turned out to be highly competitive with native soil micro-organisms, and to suppress activities that are crucial to soil fertility. Plants are only able to take nitrogen and other nourishment from the soil with the help of fungi called “mycorrhysal.” These fungi live in the soil and help make nutrients available to plant roots. But when the genetically engineered Klebsiella was introduced into living soils, it greatly reduced the population of mycorrhysal fungi in the soil. And without healthy mycorrhysal fungi in soils, no plants can survive.

To me, it is testimony to the amazing powers of science that researchers were able to track the mechanism by which the genetically engineered Klebsiella prevented plants from growing. There are thousands of different species of micro-organisms in every teaspoon of fertile soil, and they interact in trillions of ways.

But the scientists discovered something else in these experiments, something that sent chills down their spines. They found that the genetically modified bacteria were able to persist in the soil, raising the possibility that, had it been released, the genetically engineered Klebsiella could have become established—and virtually impossible to eradicate. ...

Links:

* Salt Lake Tribune - Utah's energy outlook is clean. "Geothermal, solar, wind resources may turn state into a major powerhouse"
* Christian Science Monitor - Clogged by plastic bags, Africa begins banning them. If you've ever travelled through the wilds of Africa and been astounded by the weedy little plastic bags that seem to infest every bush and tree, you'd understand why.
* The Guardian - Micro-wind turbines often increase CO2, says study. Positioning is key with micro-generation devices.
* Cryptogon - We May Well Have to ‘Geo-Engineer’ the Climate
* Surfers Village - Two tow-teams ride biggest swell to ever hit British Isles. 14 metre swells in Ireland.

9 comments

I'll show you mine, if you show me yours, BG.

On the Deserts of Gold topic, two problems: water and terrific sandstorms.

Fix thoses and MENA is sitting pretty.

Anonymous   says 7:54 AM

I have some comments about the anthrome model, along with additional sources and links, here:

A Revolutionary Map of the World

Hi Gav - something that seems to have slipped below the radar in Oz :- http://business.theage.com.au/air-car-to-call-melbourne-home/20071202-1ee6.html (air car to be manufactured in melbourne)

Some very interesting articles here! Incidentally, readers interested in getting the latest global green investing info should go to www.investingforthesoul.com

A free e-newsletter is also available.

Best wishes, Ron Robins

JCW - the article did mention water - using sea water in fact:

Once the sun's rays are focused on the pillar, temperatures inside start to soar to 800C. The water inside the pillar is vaporised into superhot steam which is channelled off and used to drive turbines which in turn generate electricity. 'It is proven technology,' added Knies. 'We have shown it works in our test plants.'

Only small stations have been tested, but soon plants capable of generating 100 megawatts of power could be built, enough to provide the needs of a town. The Desertec project envisages a ring of a thousand of these stations being built along the coast of northern Africa and round into the Mediterranean coast of the Middle East. In this way up to 100 billion watts of power could be generated: two thirds of it would be kept for local needs, the rest - around 30 billion watts - would be exported to Europe.

An idea of how much power this represents is revealed through Britain's electricity generating capacity, which totals 12 billion watts.

But there is an added twist to the system. The superheated steam, after it has driven the plant's turbines, would then be piped through tanks of sea water which would boil and evaporate. Steam from the sea water would piped away and condensed and stored as fresh water.

'Essentially you get electricity and fresh water,' said Knies. 'The latter is going to be crucial for developing countries round the southern Mediterranean and in north Africa. Their populations are rising rapidly, but they have limited supplies of fresh water. Our solar power plants will not only generate electricity that they can sell to Europe, they will supply drinkable water that will sustain their thirsty populations.'


Sand storms aren't as bad nearer the coast as they are in the desert - ut I've been through one and I agree - they could do a lot of damage to the mirrors.

Laurence - excellent article - I'll probably steal your map in my next post.

Andrew - I included that story in a TOD ANZ Bullroarer post this week and there were some comments about it there.

I was vaguely intending to do a full post about it here with some background, but am running short of time at the moment...

Anonymous   says 10:20 AM

Gav - Thanks. If you're talking about the anthrome map, it's not mine. All credit goes to Profs. Ellis and Ramankutty.

Also, here's a reaction from a Ph. D candidate at the University of British Columbia:

What’s Your Anthrome? or “If you Can’t Save Them, Name Them After Yourself”

Thanks for that link too Laurance.

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