Air New Zeland Biofuel Test Flight Successful  

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AP reports that Air NZ has successfully trialled flying a 747 using a 50% mix of jatropha oil - NZ airline flies jetliner partly run on veggie oil.

A passenger jet powered in part by vegetable oil successfully completed a two-hour flight Tuesday to test a biofuel that could lower airplane emissions and cut costs, Air New Zealand said. One engine of a Boeing 747-400 airplane was powered by a 50-50 blend of oil from jatropha plants and standard A1 jet fuel.

This year has seen an unprecedented push for alternative fuels by airlines, which were slammed by skyrocketing oil prices earlier in 2008 and are now bracing for a falloff in air travel in the face of a global economic slowdown.

While Air New Zealand couldn't say whether the blend would be cheaper than standard jet fuel since jatropha is not yet produced on a commercial scale, the company expects the blend to be "cost competitive," according to company spokeswoman Tracy Mills.

Biofuels were once regarded as impractical for aviation because most freeze at the low temperatures encountered at cruising altitudes. But tests show jatropha, whose seeds yield an oil already used to produce fuels like biodiesel, has an even lower freezing point than jet fuel.

Air New Zealand Chief Executive Rob Fyfe called the flight "a milestone for the airline and commercial aviation." "Today we stand at the earliest stages of sustainable fuel development and an important moment in aviation history," he said shortly after the flight. The company's goal is to become the world's most environmentally sustainable airline.

The flight was the first to use jatropha as part of a biofuel mix.

In February, Boeing and Virgin Atlantic carried out a similar test flight that included a biofuel mixture of palm and coconut oil — but was dismissed as a publicity stunt by environmentalists who said the fuel could not be produced in the quantities needed for commercial aviation use.

Biofuels emit as much carbon as kerosene-based jet fuel, but jatropha — a Mexican plant that grows in warm climates — absorbs about half the carbon that jatropha-based fuels release. Air New Zealand's proposed blend, for example, would mean a one-quarter reduction in the carbon footprint of standard jet fuel.

Many biofuels — like ethanol, which is produced from corn — have been blamed for raising the price of food by diverting it from kitchen tables to engines. While the link between biofuels and grain prices is debatable, Mills said that jatropha plants would not compete with food or other commercial crops since it can grow on land that would make poor farmland and needs little water.

"Ethanol is a first generation biofuel; jatropha a second generation biofuel that doesn't compete for land with food production," Mills said.

The test flight out of Auckland International Airport included a full-power takeoff and cruising to 35,000 feet (10,600 meters), where the crew manually set all four engine controls to check for identical performance readings among the biofuel-powered engine and those using jet fuel. Pilots also switched off the fuel pump for the biofuel engine at 25,000 feet (7,600 meters) "to test the lubricity of the fuel," ensuring its friction in the pipe did not slow its flow to the engine.

China's New Green Machine  

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Technology Review has an article on China's new F3DM plug-in hybrid car - China's New Green Machine.

While major automakers like GM and Toyota are preparing to build their first plug-in hybrid vehicles, a Chinese battery maker has beat them to it.

As of yesterday, Shenzen-based BYD Auto--a subsidiary of leading Chinese rechargeable-battery producer BYD Group--is selling the world's first mass-produced plug-in hybrid car, according to Bloomberg. This battery-loaded version of BYD's F3 sedan is said to travel up to 100 kilometers (62 miles) on stored grid power alone.

Many observers deride the car's styling as plain and derivative. But the BBC's global business correspondent Peter Day, who drove BYD's plug-in this weekend, says that they're missing the point: "Critics say this is a copycat car, but that is how the Japanese auto industry started."

Green Car Congress reports that the plug-in is dubbed the F3DM after its "dual-mode" hybrid system--misleadingly dubbed, that is, because the vehicle actually operates in three distinct modes:

* a battery-powered EV mode
* a series-hybrid mode whereby the gas engine recharges the batteries while the electric motors drive the wheels, and
* a parallel-hybrid mode whereby both motor and engine drive the wheels.

This marks a contrast with GM's Chevy Volt, due out two years from now, which dispatches with the parallel hybrid option.

BYD Auto's parent company is making lithium batteries for the car using lithium iron phosphate cathodes--a safer design than the lithium cobalt oxide cathodes used in cell-phone batteries. Boston-area battery developer A123 uses the same chemistry, and although A123 is thought to have lost out in the competition to supply the first-generation Chevy Volt, it is in the running for many other hybrids and electric vehicles in development.

BYD says that it will bring the F3DM to the U.S. market in 2011, but it must first pass U.S. crash tests and set up a dealer network. The company has a well-connected U.S. investor to help navigate the U.S. hurdles: billionaire investor Warren Buffet, whose Berkshire Hathaway investment group bought a one-tenth stake in BYD for $230 million in September.

Katie Fehrenbacher at GigaOm has a post on Intel's interest in building enewrgy storage devices for the electric vehicle market - Why Intel Could Rock the Electric Vehicle Battery Market.
Like any emerging industry, the cleantech world tends to accuse newcomers of being interlopers, and that’s probably the initial thought many had when news hit that former Intel chairman Andy Grove is advising the company to move into the electric vehicle battery market. Realistically, what could the world’s largest chip maker, which makes the bulk of its revenues on digital communication technology, do to help transform our beleaguered car industry into an electric wunderkind?

A lot, actually. While the move would be risky, it could have a monumental effect on the slow-moving electric vehicle battery industry, particularly in the United States. Intel has already moved closer to the EV battery market with some recent investments through its venture arm, Intel Capital. The investment group has funded battery, energy storage and alternative energy companies including the solid-state battery startup Cymbet, fuel-cell membrane company PolyFuel and Chinese flow-battery maker Net Power Technology. Intel Capital’s solar investments – like SpectraWatt, SulfurCell and Trony Solar — are also tied to batteries, as solar production needs to store energy overnight when the sun doesn’t shine.

“We certainly consider battery technology important,” Intel spokeswoman Christine Dotts told us. “Whether we will do anything more in this area we can’t say at this time. However, it should be noted that battery technology developments for computer uses and for automotive applications are not necessarily mutually exclusive.” That means if Intel does put significant efforts into battery development, the company believes it could use those innovations for computing, mobile technology and networks (all industries where Intel already has a significant presence), not just transportation.

Intel certainly has the balance sheet to make large R&D bets. For the fourth quarter, Intel is expecting revenue of $9 billion, and for 2007, Intel generated $38.33 billion in revenue. Last year Intel spent $5.76 billion, or a whopping 15.03 percent of revenues for the year, on R&D.

At the same time, the market itself is crying out for an aggressive, smart company to solve some of electric vehicles’ fundamental issues. The battery is one of the most expensive and technically difficult aspects of EVs, and it’s one of the biggest reasons there are so few electric vehicles on our roads. As Rob Enderle from the research firm Enderle Group says: “Battery technology has significantly lagged,” while other technologies have advanced. Most of the next-generation battery technology from startups like A123 Systems and Altair Nano, or energy storage devices like EEstor’s, are still years away from commercialization.

With the right bets, Intel has the ability to become one of the largest U.S. electric vehicle battery makers. The big companies that are currently moving to dominate the battery industry — like Sanyo, LG Chem and Panasonic — largely come from Asian countries. Electric-car makers like Tesla have complained that the cost of transporting batteries from international producers drives up manufacturing costs, and Tesla said it has actively (and so far unsuccessfully) looked for a U.S. manufacturer. Many of the large U.S. automakers slowly getting into electric vehicles could also be interested in domestically-made batteries. U.S. electric vehicle battery production could also be ripe for U.S. subsidies or benefit from Obama’s green stimulus.

For Intel, moving into electric vehicle batteries could help the company diversify beyond chips for computing, which it has so far largely been unable to do successfully yet. Other chip companies have succeeded in diversifying through green tech businesses: Applied Materials diversified its chip equipment business several years ago with a solar gear bet and now is seeing solar as one of its fastest growing areas. Chip maker STMicroelectronics is working with LG Chem on battery packs for hybrid and electric vehicles.

Intel's Andy Grove has a column in McKinsey Quarterly outlining a plan to " reduce America's dependence on oil imports [by converting] petroleum-driven miles to electric ones by retrofitting the SUVs and pick-ups now on the road with rechargeable batteries" - An electric plan for energy resilience.
Our aim should not be total independence from foreign sources of petroleum. That is neither practical nor necessary in a world of interdependent economies. Instead, the objective should be developing a sufficient degree of resilience against disruptions in imports. Think of resilience as the ability to absorb a significant disruption, bigger than what could be managed by drawing down the strategic oil reserve.

Our resilience can be strengthened by increasing diversity in the sources of our energy. Commercial, industrial, and home users of oil can already use other sources of energy. By contrast, transportation is totally dependent on petroleum. This is the root cause of our vulnerability.

Our goal should be to increase the diversity of energy sources in transportation. The best alternative to oil? Electricity. The means? Convert petroleum-driven miles to electric ones.

Electric miles do not necessarily mean relying on all-electric cars, which would require building an extensive and expensive infrastructure. They can be achieved by so-called plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs). (Since many plug-in cars are modified hybrid automobiles, they are sometimes called PHEVs.) PEVs have both a gasoline-fueled engine and an electric motor. They first rely on the electricity stored onboard in a battery. When the battery is depleted, the vehicle continues to run on petroleum. The battery then can be charged when the vehicle is not in service.

The amount of gasoline a PEV consumes is dependent on the number of miles it is driven between the times when it is recharged. Let us explain this by simplifying the picture a bit. If the electric-only range is, say, 40 miles, and the number of miles driven between charges is less than 40, the vehicle uses no gas at all, so it’s not possible to calculate the miles per gallon. If the number of miles driven is greater than the electric range, the gas mileage starts out very high and then declines with the additional miles until the mileage approaches what an ordinary gasoline-powered vehicle would provide. Consequently, the fuel performance of the vehicle is defined by a curve (exhibit). The 40-mile mark was chosen because it is a good range to shoot for. More than 80 percent of the cars on US roads are driven less than that distance daily.

Several hundred prototypes of PEVs are currently on the road. So what would it take to build enough of them to make a significant dent in oil consumption? Revamping the fleet of automobiles already on the road through production of new automobiles would take far too long for comfort. If ten automobile manufacturers each introduced a new PEV now and increased its production as fast as Toyota did with its highly successful Prius, the vehicles would still account for less than 5 percent of the 250 million vehicles on US roads a decade from now.

We believe the United States should consider accelerating this movement by creating an industry of after-market retrofitters. What problems—technical and economic—would need to be solved in order to do that? With the help of a team of second-year graduate students in our Bass seminar at the Stanford Business School, we examined this question in the context of a proposed pilot program, whose aim would be to retrofit one million vehicles in three years. We felt that such a project would represent what in game theory is referred to as the “minimum winning game”: a significant step toward a long-term strategic objective (see sidebar, “Inside Andy’s real-world seminar”).

We estimate the price tag of such a pilot project to be around $10 billion, owing to the present high cost of batteries, which are around $10,000 each. One might expect such costs to drop as volume increases, but because this program is accelerated by design, we have to assume that batteries will remain expensive. Assuming an average gas price of $3 per gallon, the payback period to the owner of a retrofitted vehicle is at least ten years, not a strong economic incentive. But the benefits of this program—testing and validating a key approach to energy resilience—accrue to the well-being of the United States at large. As the general population is the predominant beneficiary, economic assistance flowing from everyone to vehicle owners, in the form of tax incentives, is justified. ...

We are approaching the inevitable decline of oil availability—the mother of all inflection points—which gives the United States the opportunity to move into a more desirable strategic position. Today, we compete with countries whose richer natural resources give them a strategic advantage. If we shift transportation towards electric miles, we gain an opportunity to employ our own resources: newly energized governmental leadership, a tradition of high-volume manufacturing, and a culture of technological innovation. These capabilities and skills have served the United States well in the past, and the drive toward electric miles may help revitalize them. That result is every bit as important as the electric miles themselves.

Energy companies under fire over smart meters  

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The ABC has a report on criticism of energy companies for not installing fully functional smart meters - Energy companies under fire over smart meters.

An environment lobby group says electricity companies are failing to roll out technology that could help reduce household consumption and greenhouse emissions.

The New South Wales Government promised 'smart meter' installation a year ago, but the Total Environment Centre's Jane Castles says only bottom-of-the-line technology is on offer. "[They are] smart meters without in-home displays and they certainly don't offer the right pricing incentives that reflect the benefits of energy efficiency," she said. ...

Energy Australia says initial trials suggest a 20-25 per cent reduction in usage but it is waiting for a national decision on which technology to roll out.

The Independent has a report on a developing feeding frenzy to supply infrastructure for the UK's smart meter rollout - IT firms line up for deal to run UK 'smart' meters.
Communications companies are poised to enter the energy sector under government proposals for the £6bn roll out of "smart" electricity meters to all households by 2020.

Under the scheme expected to be put to the energy industry for consultation in January, IT groups will be invited to bid for a national contract to run the networking and data-processing associated with energy meters that monitor electricity use in real time and provide an always-on, two-way link between the household and the supplier.

Although the details are yet to be worked through, and the tendering process is unlikely to start until the second half of next year, BT, Vodafone and Logica are all said to be in the frame for the deal, which is likely to be worth hundreds of millions of pounds. Smart meters have considerable potential. Consumers are able to see and track their energy consumption. There are also considerable benefits for energy providers, not least from no longer having to send out armies of staff to read meters.

But the biggest prize is the environmental impact and a smart-metering infrastructure is necessary if the UK is to meet the Government's target for 15 per cent of all energy to be from renewable sources by 2020. Only smart meters can track energy produced as well as energy consumed, so they are vital to plans for expanded use of microgeneration – where rooftop solar panels, for example, not only provide power to the building but feed the excess into the grid. They are also the key to the futuristic concept of "smart grids", where supply and demand across the whole national infrastructure are balanced automatically. Jason Brogan, at the Energy Retail Association, said: "Smart meters are not an answer in themselves but they are a facilitating infrastructure."

Creeps And Weirdos At GM  

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The South Philly Review has a post on GM's ongoing jihad against public transport - 'Creeps and weirdos' (hat tip GWAG).

Are city buses just 'loser cruisers?' Ask GM.

It is historical fact that General Motors funded a company called National City Lines, which by 1946 controlled streetcar operations in 80 cities. GM was not intending to go into the trolley-car business. Despite strong public support for rail expansion, NCL systematically shut down its rail lines until, by 1955, only a few remained.

NCL's trolleys were rapidly replaced by GM's buses. A federal antitrust investigation resulted in both indictment and conspiracy convictions for GM executives, but obliterating a public transportation network that would cost hundreds of billions of dollars to reproduce today cost the company only $5,000 in fines.

It is painfully ironic, then, that GM dealers recently took out an ad in Georgia Straight, Vancouver, Canada's alternative newspaper, identifying the transit bus as transportation for "creeps and weirdos." Luckily, it said, Vancouverites can buy the $12,998 Chevrolet Cavalier instead. But wasn't it GM that forced the smelly, diesel-powered bus on us in the first place?

The oil industry used a similar ad campaign to derail trolley service in Los Angeles. By 1921, the city had 1,000 miles of track and 250,000 passengers a day riding its Red Car interurban service. Eighty years later, with L.A.'s population immeasurably larger, Los Angeles has barely recovered that level of transit ridership.

GM is still fighting clean car mandates and fuel-efficiency improvements. But it also sees a future in fuel cells and plans to field a whole fleet of hybrid vehicles. One of those hybrids is even, gasp, a "creeps and weirdos" city bus.

Passivhaus In The NYT  

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The new York Times has a look at the German "Passivhaus" energy efficient housing concept - No Furnaces but Heat Aplenty in ‘Passive Houses’.

From the outside, there is nothing unusual about the stylish new gray and orange row houses in the Kranichstein District, with wreaths on the doors and Christmas lights twinkling through a freezing drizzle. But these houses are part of a revolution in building design: There are no drafts, no cold tile floors, no snuggling under blankets until the furnace kicks in. There is, in fact, no furnace.

In Berthold Kaufmann’s home, there is, to be fair, one radiator for emergency backup in the living room — but it is not in use. Even on the coldest nights in central Germany, Mr. Kaufmann’s new “passive house” and others of this design get all the heat and hot water they need from the amount of energy that would be needed to run a hair dryer.

“You don’t think about temperature — the house just adjusts,” said Mr. Kaufmann, watching his 2-year-old daughter, dressed in a T-shirt, tuck into her sausage in the spacious living room, whose glass doors open to a patio. His new home uses about one-twentieth the heating energy of his parents’ home of roughly the same size, he said.

Architects in many countries, in attempts to meet new energy efficiency standards like the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standard in the United States, are designing homes with better insulation and high-efficiency appliances, as well as tapping into alternative sources of power, like solar panels and wind turbines.

The concept of the passive house, pioneered in this city of 140,000 outside Frankfurt, approaches the challenge from a different angle. Using ultrathick insulation and complex doors and windows, the architect engineers a home encased in an airtight shell, so that barely any heat escapes and barely any cold seeps in. That means a passive house can be warmed not only by the sun, but also by the heat from appliances and even from occupants’ bodies.

And in Germany, passive houses cost only about 5 to 7 percent more to build than conventional houses.

Decades ago, attempts at creating sealed solar-heated homes failed, because of stagnant air and mold. But new passive houses use an ingenious central ventilation system. The warm air going out passes side by side with clean, cold air coming in, exchanging heat with 90 percent efficiency.

“The myth before was that to be warm you had to have heating. Our goal is to create a warm house without energy demand,” said Wolfgang Hasper, an engineer at the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt. “This is not about wearing thick pullovers, turning the thermostat down and putting up with drafts. It’s about being comfortable with less energy input, and we do this by recycling heating.”

There are now an estimated 15,000 passive houses around the world, the vast majority built in the past few years in German-speaking countries or Scandinavia.

The first passive home was built here in 1991 by Wolfgang Feist, a local physicist, but diffusion of the idea was slowed by language. The courses and literature were mostly in German, and even now the components are mass-produced only in this part of the world.

The industry is thriving in Germany, however — for example, schools in Frankfurt are built with the technique.

Moreover, its popularity is spreading. The European Commission is promoting passive-house building, and the European Parliament has proposed that new buildings meet passive-house standards by 2011.

White House science advisor is climate and energy specialist  

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Bruce reports that Obama has made some positive moves on the science administration front (with his interjections marked betweeen parentheses as per usual) - White House science advisor is climate and energy specialist.

(((Okay, this isn't the customary BEYOND THE BEYOND freakout parade, but I'm blogging it for the sheer satisfaction of reading it in my own blog.)))

CHICAGO - President-elect Barack Obama underscored on Saturday his intent to push initiatives on climate change by naming John Holdren, an energy and climate specialist, as the new White House science adviser.

Holdren is a Harvard University physicist who has focused on the causes and consequences of climate change and advocated policies aimed at sustainable development. He has also done extensive research on the dangers of nuclear weapons. (((Gosh, how handy.)))

Obama pledged to put a priority on encouraging scientific breakthroughs in areas such as alternative energy solutions and finding cures to diseases, as he announced the pick of Holdren and other top science advisers in the Democratic weekly radio and video address.

"Today, more than ever before, science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation," Obama said. (((What a sensible thing to say.))) "It's time we once again put science at the top of our agenda and worked to restore America's place as the world leader in science and technology." (((Yeah, maybe, if we beg really hard, we can lure back some of our Chinese and Indian scientists!)))

"From landing on the moon, to sequencing the human genome, to inventing the Internet, America has been the first to cross that new frontier," Obama said.

Obama said that government has played an important role in encouraging those breakthroughs and could do so in the future....

The Bush administration has had a rocky relationship with the scientific community... (((Yeah, they caught it so hard in 8 years of Lysenkoist culture-war that I'm not sure what's to be done for 'em. Maybe somebody should consider *arming* the scientific "community" and turning it into the world's first scientific army.)))

Coal Seam Gas Industry Consolidation Continues  

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The coal seam gas sector continued to see plenty of action while I was on holidays. The Business Spectator has a look at the expansion ambitions of AGL and others - AGL moves into position

Trading halts for three companies this morning is a strong signal that the latest bout of consolidation of the coal seam gas sector is about to get underway. Unlike the flurry of large-scale activity throughout this year, however, this time the action is moving into NSW.

The securities of AGL, Sydney Gas and AJ Lucas Group were all placed in trading halts this morning: AGL’s and AJ Lucas’s because they are both involved in discussions concerning a "material transaction". Sydney Gas is in a trading halt "in relation to a takeover bid." AJ Lucas became Sydney Gas’s major shareholder, with about 20 per cent of its capital, this year.

As the joint venture partner of Sydney Gas in its Hunter Valley and Camden and Sydney projects, AGL already has its foot on the group’s key resources. Sydney Gas is potentially of real strategic consequence for AGL, the largest supplier of gas into Sydney and Newcastle.

There is an expectation of an increasing shortfall of gas for the Sydney market over the next decade that coal seam gas is expected to meet. With the more deeply explored and developed Queensland coal seam gas fields earmarked for the plethora of export LNG plants on the drawing boards, NSW gas will come into increasing focus.

Sydney Gas’s reserves and prospects are located close to the NSW electricity grid and the main gas transmission pipelines into Newcastle and Sydney. It already has long-term contracts to supply AGL. The joint venture partners have talked about an ambition of supplying up to 20 per cent of the existing NSW gas market by 2015 from its resources at Camden and the Hunter Valley and up to 50 per cent beyond 2015. ...

Sydney Gas wouldn’t be a major move for AGL. It has a market capitalisation of only about $110 million, although the spate of coal seam gas transactions – including Arrow Energy’s $551 million bid for Pure Energy this week – says that market prices aren’t much of a guide to takeover values in the sector. Arrow offered about $5.40 a share for Pure when the target’s shares had been trading at less than $1 only about six weeks ago.

In the current environment there is likely to be significant consolidation of the smaller and more weakly-funded players in coal seam gas as the Queensland LNG players look to secure the resources needed to under-pin two-train LNG projects and the bigger players move to pre-empt the likely positive (for producers) eventual impact of the LNG projects on domestic gas prices.

There are vast amounts of gas in the Sydney Basin so the prospect of rising gas prices and shortfalls in supply ought to see what has until now been a Queensland-focused land-grab spill into NSW.

There are some transmission constraints in supplying Queensland gas into NSW and there would be benefits for the sector in displacing Queensland gas contracted to NSW customers – freeing it up for the LNG plants – with local production.

More local CSG news :

* The Australian - AGL makes a $171 million bid for Sydney Gas
AGL Energy has continued to shore up its NSW coal seam gas (CSG) reserves during the current economic downturn. ... AGL last week agreed to pay $370 million for AJ Lucas and Molopo Gas's CSG acreage in the Gloucester Basin, north of Newcastle. AGL says the Hunter exploration project, which it already holds half of, is the main prize and Sydney Gas's 50 per cent stake was worth $115 million, or two-thirds of the purchase price. By taking Camden and the Hunter project, AGL substantially boosts its ability to supply Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong with gas.

* The Age - Arrow to buy Pure for $673m
Arrow Energy, Royal Dutch Shell's partner in coal-seam gas in northeast Australia, agreed to buy Pure Energy Resources for $673 million in cash and stock. ... "A combination of Arrow and Pure will drive further upside from Pure's acreage, and provide a commercialization path for Pure's reserves as a result of Arrow's downstream exposure through both Arrow's existing domestic power generation projects and proposed LNG export projects," Arrow Managing Director Nick Davies said in the statement.

* Bloomberg - Blue Energy, Eastern Lead Australia Coal-Seam Gas Stocks Higher
Blue Energy Ltd. and Eastern Star Gas Ltd. led Australian coal-seam gas stocks higher in Sydney trading, boosted by two takeover bids in the industry last week that offered more than a 50 percent premium to the share prices. Perth-based Blue Energy jumped as much as 31 percent to 19 cents on the Australian Stock Exchange at 2:02 p.m. local time, while Sydney-based Eastern Star Gas gained as much as 22 percent. Rival coal-seam gas explorers Metgasco Ltd., Arrow Energy Ltd. and Bow Energy Ltd. also advanced.

* Darling Downs Chronicle - Downs to ride out slump
THERE'S no gloom and doom on the western horizons with Toowoomba set to be insulated from the slump, courtesy of the mining activity, particularly in the Surat Basin. Bust is the last thing on Easternwell Group commercial general manager Marco Waanders' agenda. He said yesterday the major resource industry player was on track to double its workforce. He joined the chorus of Surat Basin insiders declaring the global economic downturn would not substantially hurt their projects.

This is despite mining giants Xstrata, Oz Minerals and Macarthur Coal announcing 500 job cuts on Tuesday and an expected downturn in Central Queensland coking coal projects. Mr Waanders was confident the family-owned company would create up to 600 new Toowoomba jobs within 18 months. “Everyone still needs gas to fire power stations,” Mr Waanders said from one of the company's five Garden City sites.

* SMH - Cash-strapped Eden Energy finds a lifeline
EDEN ENERGY, an ASX-listed minnow that suspended itself from trading because of a cash shortage, may have found a lifeline by selling most of its overseas coal-seam gas business. In a sign of the capital shortage facing small explorers, the energy company said it had entered into a conditional contract to sell 90 per cent of its share in licences to explore coal fields in Wales to lower its cashflow needs.

* Adelaide Advertiser - Investors swimming with the fishes
Grand Private Equities stockbroker Wesley Legrand said the ASX had been "ravaged and decimated" this year. He said mum and dad investors had been "taken to the cleaners by immoral, unethical and unregulated hedge fund short selling in combination with the greatest global margin call in history".

Of the few companies to gain ground in the past year, four of the top 10 are in the energy sector which has been propelled by takeover speculation and the blossoming coal seam gas sector. "In the short term, LNG and coal seam gas are hot property," Mr Legrand said. Linc Energy is number one, up 120 per cent, while Origin Energy has climbed 93.5 per cent.

Grid Expansion: A Lifeline for Renewable Energy  

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Technology Review has a look at the need to expand our electrical grids in order to make better use of clean energy sources - Lifeline for Renewable Power.

Push through a bulletproof revolving door in a nondescript building in a dreary patch of the former East Berlin and you enter the control center for Vattenfall Europe Transmission, the company that controls northeastern Germany's electrical grid. A monitor displaying a diagram of that grid takes up most of one wall. A series of smaller screens show the real-time output of regional wind turbines and the output that had been predicted the previous day. Germany is the world's largest user of wind energy, with enough turbines to produce 22,250 megawatts of electricity. That's roughly the equivalent of the output from 22 coal plants--enough to meet about 6 percent of Germany's needs. And because Vattenfall's service area produces 41 percent of German wind energy, the control room is a critical proving ground for the grid's ability to handle renewable power.

Like all electrical grids, the one that Vattenfall manages must continually match power production to demand from homes, offices, and factories. The challenge is to maintain a stable power supply while incorporating elec­tricity from a source as erratic as wind. If there's too little wind-generated power, the company's engineers might have to start up fossil-fueled power plants on short notice, an inefficient process. If there's too much, it could overload the system, causing blackouts or forcing plants to shut down.

The engineers have few options, however. The grid has a limited ability to shunt extra power to other regions, and it has no energy-storage capacity beyond a handful of small facilities that pump water into uphill reservoirs and then release it through turbines during periods of peak demand. So each morning, as offices and factories switch their power on, the engineers must use wind predictions to help decide how much electricity conventional plants should start producing.

But those predictions are far from perfect. As more and more wind turbines pop up in Germany, so do overloads and shortages caused by unexpected changes in wind level. In 2007, ­Vattenfall's engineers had to scrap their daily scheduling plans roughly every other day to reconfigure electricity supplies on the fly; in early 2008, such changes became necessary every day. Power plants had to cycle on and off inefficiently, and the company had to make emergency electricity purchases at high prices. Days of very high wind and low demand even forced the Vattenfall workers to quickly shut the wind farms down.

Vattenfall's problems are a preview of the immense challenges ahead as power from renewable sources, mainly wind and solar, starts to play a bigger role around the world. To make use of this clean energy, we'll need more transmission lines that can transport power from one region to another and connect energy-­hungry cities with the remote areas where much of our renewable power is likely to be generated. We'll also need far smarter controls throughout the distribution system--technologies that can store extra electricity from wind farms in the batteries of plug-in hybrid cars, for example, or remotely turn power-hungry appliances on and off as the energy supply rises and falls.

If these grid upgrades don't happen, new renewable-power projects could be stalled, because they would place unacceptable stresses on existing electrical systems. According to a recent study funded by the European Commission, growing electricity production from wind (new facilities slated for the North and Baltic Seas could add another 25,000 megawatts to Germany's grid by 2030) could at times cause massive overloads. In the United States, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, a nongovernmental organization set up to regulate the industry after a huge 1965 blackout, made a similar warning in November. "We are already operating the system closer to the edge than in the past," says the group's president, Rick Sergel. "We simply do not have the transmission capacity available to properly integrate new renewable resources."

The challenge facing the United States is particularly striking. Whereas Germany already gets 14 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, the United States gets only about 1 percent of its electricity from wind, solar, and geothermal power combined. But more than half the states have set ambitious goals for increasing the use of renewables, and president-elect Barack Obama wants 10 percent of the nation's electricity to come from renewable sources by the end of his first term, rising to 25 percent by 2025. Yet unlike Germany, which has begun planning for new transmission lines and passing new laws meant to accelerate their construction, the United States has no national effort under way to modernize its system. "A failure to improve our grid will be a significant burden for the development of new renewable technologies," says Vinod Khosla, founder of Khosla Ventures, a venture capital firm in Menlo Park, CA, that has invested heavily in energy technologies.

Stanford Research Ranks Energy Options  

Posted by Big Gav

WorldChanging has a post on a new study from Stanford University that looks at our energy options and ranks wind and solar thermal top, with nculear and "clean" coal tied for last place - New Research Ranks Top Renewable Energy Options.

New research from Stanford University ranks wind power as the most promising alternative source of energy. Titled Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security, the report from civil and environmental engineering professor Mark Z. Jacobson ranks the world's energy options -- putting wind, concentrated solar and geothermal at the top of the list, and nuclear power and coal with carbon capture and sequestration in a tie for dead last. ...

From his findings, Jacobson is able to suggest that the U.S. government invest money and create jobs around the development of wind, solar and geothermal:

"There is a lot of talk among politicians that we need a massive jobs program to pull the economy out of the current recession," Jacobson said. "Well, putting people to work building wind turbines, solar plants, geothermal plants, electric vehicles and transmission lines would not only create jobs but would also reduce costs due to health care, crop damage and climate damage from current vehicle and electric power pollution, as well as provide the world with a truly unlimited supply of clean power."

Although wind energy cannot do it alone, Jacobson remarks, we can use a combination of the cleanest renewables to create a powerful, stable and consistent supply of energy for the United States. Here is how Jacobson ranks the renewables, from best to worst:

Best to worst electric power sources:

1. Wind power
2. concentrated solar power (CSP)
3. geothermal power
4. tidal power
5. solar photovoltaics (PV)
6. wave power
7. hydroelectric power
8. a tie between nuclear power and coal with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS)

In addition to being a "dirtier" from of renewable energy, Jacobson adds that nuclear takes longer to plan, permit and construct. Also, it brings up major security issues, since finding and refining uranium for the plants has the potential to increase terrorist activity.

The road to perdition  

Posted by Big Gav

I was in Melbourne on the weekend and noticed that the place does seem to have had a lot of new freeways constructed in recent years (I haven't ventured south east of town in a very long time). This fact was bemoaned in a fairly prominent article in The Age while I was there, which made a rare (in recent times) mention of peak oil - The road to perdition.

MELBOURNE — a world-class city with a rich cultural diversity, fantastic architecture and a dynamic mosaic of communities — is drowning in traffic because of its love affair with the car. It is a love affair fuelled by over-generous budgets and the space provided for roads and illustrates a nervousness Melbourne has about getting to grips with its public transport system and making sure it is as good as Vienna's, Frankfurt's or Basle's.

This combination of boldness in catering for cars and shyness with public transport, walking and cycling could propel Melbourne down the list of the world's most liveable cities and cancel out its multiple advantages. It will also add to the burdens of poor health, especially through low levels of physical activity, obesity and early onset diabetes. The time is right to make sure that Melbourne's budgets and policy priorities contain a clear map of how the city can celebrate the virtues of walking, cycling and public transport, reduce car trips and reward its residents with cleaner air, less noise, lower greenhouse gas emissions, fewer deaths and injuries and a calmer, more child-friendly and more economically successful city.

Getting people out of cars with their enthusiastic support is not difficult but it requires political boldness, a clear, health-related message and an unwavering commitment to quality public transport, walking and cycling. Reducing car dependency also has huge political and security implications. Given the importance of climate change and the upcoming battle for declining oil supplies, it would be a huge mistake to carry on with a car-based pattern of suburban expansion, road building and poor quality penetration of public transport to distant suburbs.

Reducing oil dependency is the smart thing to do unless Australians want to compete with China for increasingly scarce supplies and be dependent on politically unstable regimes in the Middle East. We should all ask why Sweden has adopted a policy to be oil-free by 2020, and reflect on the logic. It is all about protecting Swedish citizens from future shocks related to climate change, peak oil and price hikes and creating a peaceful and secure society that is truly resilient.

The Disintegrated States of America  

Posted by Big Gav

The WSJ has an article about an ex-KGB analyst with an interest in information warfare predicting the break up of the USA by 2010 - As if Things Weren't Bad Enough, Russian Professor Predicts End of U.S.. I'm sure he's an impartial observer.

For a decade, Russian academic Igor Panarin has been predicting the U.S. will fall apart in 2010. For most of that time, he admits, few took his argument -- that an economic and moral collapse will trigger a civil war and the eventual breakup of the U.S. -- very seriously. Now he's found an eager audience: Russian state media.

In recent weeks, he's been interviewed as much as twice a day about his predictions. "It's a record," says Prof. Panarin. "But I think the attention is going to grow even stronger."

Prof. Panarin, 50 years old, is not a fringe figure. A former KGB analyst, he is dean of the Russian Foreign Ministry's academy for future diplomats. He is invited to Kremlin receptions, lectures students, publishes books, and appears in the media as an expert on U.S.-Russia relations.

But it's his bleak forecast for the U.S. that is music to the ears of the Kremlin, which in recent years has blamed Washington for everything from instability in the Middle East to the global financial crisis. Mr. Panarin's views also fit neatly with the Kremlin's narrative that Russia is returning to its rightful place on the world stage after the weakness of the 1990s, when many feared that the country would go economically and politically bankrupt and break into separate territories.

A polite and cheerful man with a buzz cut, Mr. Panarin insists he does not dislike Americans. But he warns that the outlook for them is dire.

"There's a 55-45% chance right now that disintegration will occur," he says. "One could rejoice in that process," he adds, poker-faced. "But if we're talking reasonably, it's not the best scenario -- for Russia." Though Russia would become more powerful on the global stage, he says, its economy would suffer because it currently depends heavily on the dollar and on trade with the U.S.

Mr. Panarin posits, in brief, that mass immigration, economic decline, and moral degradation will trigger a civil war next fall and the collapse of the dollar. Around the end of June 2010, or early July, he says, the U.S. will break into six pieces -- with Alaska reverting to Russian control.

In addition to increasing coverage in state media, which are tightly controlled by the Kremlin, Mr. Panarin's ideas are now being widely discussed among local experts. He presented his theory at a recent roundtable discussion at the Foreign Ministry. The country's top international relations school has hosted him as a keynote speaker. During an appearance on the state TV channel Rossiya, the station cut between his comments and TV footage of lines at soup kitchens and crowds of homeless people in the U.S. The professor has also been featured on the Kremlin's English-language propaganda channel, Russia Today. ...

Mr. Panarin's résumé includes many years in the Soviet KGB, an experience shared by other top Russian officials. His office, in downtown Moscow, shows his national pride, with pennants on the wall bearing the emblem of the FSB, the KGB's successor agency. It is also full of statuettes of eagles; a double-headed eagle was the symbol of czarist Russia.

The professor says he began his career in the KGB in 1976. In post-Soviet Russia, he got a doctorate in political science, studied U.S. economics, and worked for FAPSI, then the Russian equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency. He says he did strategy forecasts for then-President Boris Yeltsin, adding that the details are "classified."

In September 1998, he attended a conference in Linz, Austria, devoted to information warfare, the use of data to get an edge over a rival. It was there, in front of 400 fellow delegates, that he first presented his theory about the collapse of the U.S. in 2010.

"When I pushed the button on my computer and the map of the United States disintegrated, hundreds of people cried out in surprise," he remembers. He says most in the audience were skeptical. "They didn't believe me."

At the end of the presentation, he says many delegates asked him to autograph copies of the map showing a dismembered U.S.

He based the forecast on classified data supplied to him by FAPSI analysts, he says. He predicts that economic, financial and demographic trends will provoke a political and social crisis in the U.S. When the going gets tough, he says, wealthier states will withhold funds from the federal government and effectively secede from the union. Social unrest up to and including a civil war will follow. The U.S. will then split along ethnic lines, and foreign powers will move in.

The Sting, Part 3  

Posted by Big Gav in

I was pleased to see over my break that the WSJ has picked up the story about the CDS timebomb awaiting the world's widows, orphans and local councils (see here and here for background) - Synthetic CDOs hit local councils on other side of world.

ALAN McCormack, the general manager of the Parkes Shire Council in the central west of NSW has a big headache. The council is poised to lose millions of dollars if more US companies succumb to a deepening recession.

More than 16,000 kilometres away, at New York investment firm ICP Capital, hedge fund manager William Gahan is reaping big gains on McCormack's predicament.

The fortunes of the two men are connected through an investment known as a "synthetic collateralised debt obligation".

Between 2005 and 2007, the Parkes council put more than $13.5 million of its savings into synthetic CDOs. The investments offered an attractive income and a gold-standard credit rating -- in return for providing a sort of insurance on the debt of hundreds of mostly US companies.

Now, though, if even a handful of those companies renege on their debts, Parkes will have to cough up as much as $12 million to honour the insurance commitments it made. That has been a boon for Gahan, who used financial products to place bets against many of the same companies.

But it would deprive Parkes of a big chunk of the money it needs to rebuild its water supply amid an enduring drought. "It is going to be a long, hard ride," says 60-year-old McCormack, who has run the council for 18 years.

The linkage between McCormack and Gahan demonstrates how far a vast superstructure of credit derivatives such as synthetic CDOs, built up over the past decade, has spread the risk of lending to US companies -- and how far the pain is likely to reach. They are called derivatives in part because they do not entail any direct investment into companies. Instead, they are more like side bets on the companies' fortunes.

Global investors have already lost billions of dollars on derivative investments tied to US sub-prime mortgages, but many more -- including towns, charities, school districts, pension funds, insurance companies and regional banks -- put money into synthetic CDOs that insure the equivalent of trillions of dollars in mostly US corporate debt.

Synthetic CDOs are vulnerable at this stage in the financial crisis because of the way they work. They generate income by selling insurance against bond defaults, typically on a pool of 100 or more companies. One way they do so is by entering into contracts known as "credit default swaps". Investors, such as Parkes council, receive regular payments from buyers of the credit default swaps, which are usually banks or hedge funds.

In return for the income, investors agreed to make huge payments in what was seen as a highly unlikely event: a wave of corporate defaults greater than any experienced in the previous two decades. Now, though, as financial firms implode and a slump in consumer spending hits retailers and manufacturers, that event is starting to happen.

As a result, synthetic CDO deals are poised to trigger a massive transfer of wealth from investors such as Parkes council to hedge funds and the trading units of big US investment banks. By various estimates, the amount of money set to change hands could be anywhere from tens of billions to hundreds of billions of dollars.

The Shoe And the Dog  

Posted by Big Gav

One of the more entertaining media events of the year that took place during my break was one brave journalist doing some rather active questioning of George bush during a visit to Iraq, with the fellow hurling his shoes at the chief invader and following with a torrent of abuse - Iraqi Journalist Hurls Shoes at Bush and Denounces Him on TV as a ‘Dog’ (note the URL structure - has the NYT always referred to Bush as "Prexy" ? There must be a Brunner fan in there somewhere).

With the usual black humour that follows these sorts of events, the guy was dragged outside for a beating, with Bush noting that Iraqi democracy must be a success if people are willing to speak out, as the guy's screams echoed through the corridors of the building. See - its much better than it was under Saddam !

President Bush made a valedictory visit on Sunday to Iraq, the country that will largely define his legacy, but the trip will more likely be remembered for the unscripted moment when an Iraqi journalist hurled his shoes at Mr. Bush’s head and denounced him on live television as a “dog” who had delivered death and sorrow here from nearly six years of war.

The drama unfolded shortly after Mr. Bush appeared at a news conference in Baghdad with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to highlight the newly adopted security agreement between the United States and Iraq. The agreement includes a commitment to withdraw all American forces by the end of 2011.

The Iraqi journalist, Muntader al-Zaidi, 28, a correspondent for Al Baghdadia, an independent Iraqi television station, stood up about 12 feet from Mr. Bush and shouted in Arabic: “This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!” He then threw a shoe at Mr. Bush, who ducked and narrowly avoided it.

As stunned security agents and guards, officials and journalists watched, Mr. Zaidi then threw his other shoe, shouting in Arabic, “This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!” That shoe also narrowly missed Mr. Bush as Prime Minister Maliki stuck a hand in front of the president’s face to help shield him.

Mr. Maliki’s security agents jumped on the man, wrestled him to the floor and hustled him out of the room. They kicked him and beat him until “he was crying like a woman,” said Mohammed Taher, a reporter for Afaq, a television station owned by the Dawa Party, which is led by Mr. Maliki. Mr. Zaidi was then detained on unspecified charges.

Other Iraqi journalists in the front row apologized to Mr. Bush, who was uninjured and tried to brush off the incident by making a joke. “All I can report is it is a size 10,” he said, continuing to take questions and noting the apologies. He also called the incident a sign of democracy, saying, “That’s what people do in a free society, draw attention to themselves,” as the man’s screaming could be heard outside. ...

Hitting someone with a shoe is considered the supreme insult in Iraq. It means that the target is even lower than the shoe, which is always on the ground and dirty. Crowds hurled their shoes at the giant statue of Mr. Hussein that stood in Baghdad’s Firdos Square before helping American marines pull it down on April 9, 2003, the day the capital fell. More recently in the same square, a far bigger crowd composed of Iraqis who had opposed the security agreement flung their shoes at an effigy of Mr. Bush before burning it.

Friends described Mr. Zaidi as a devoted journalist. “He was committed to his job and after training in Lebanon became chief of correspondents about a month ago,” said Haider Nassar, who worked with him at Baghdadia.

“He had bad feelings about the coalition forces,” said Mr. Nassar, referring to the American-led foreign forces in Iraq. Mr. Nassar also said Mr. Zaidi had asked to cover the news conference. Another friend said Mr. Zaidi often ended his reports by saying, “Reporting from occupied Baghdad, this is Muntader al-Zaidi.”

The guy is apparently a hero on Facebook now and the brand of shoes he threw is selling like hot cakes in the middle east.

Raser's Geothermal Jackpot  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The Seattle Times has a report on the rapid development of geothermal power (paticularly low temperature geothermal power) in the US - Utah startup hits geothermal jackpot.

Within six months of discovering a massive geothermal field, a small Utah company had erected and fired up a power plant - just one example of the speed with which companies are capitalizing on state mandates for alternative energy.

Anticipation of new energy policies has sparked a rush on land leases as companies like Raser Technologies Inc., based in Provo, lock up property that hold geothermal fields and potentially huge profits.

Raser's find, about 155 miles southwest of Provo, could eventually power 200,000 homes. The company said it will begin routing electricity to Anaheim, Calif. within weeks. Earlier this month, California adopted the nation's most sweeping plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

"We made a pleasant discovery, let's put it that way," said Brent M. Cook, the company's chief executive.

The number of government land leases and drilling permits have risen quickly, said Kermit Witherbee, who heads up the leasing program for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, with more than two dozen companies now trying to make a score like Raser.

Two years ago, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management approved 18 geothermal drilling permits. That number more than doubled in 2007 and has nearly quadrupled this year. The government leased a staggering 244,000 acres for geothermal development in the past 18 months. Another 146,339 acres went up for bid Friday in Utah, Oregon and Idaho. All of it was claimed.

Raser's find "has the potential to become one of the more important geothermal energy developments of the last quarter century," said Greg Nash, a professor of geothermal exploration at the University of Utah.

The company quickly redrew its business plan, bumping up its planned development of 10 megawatts of power to 230 megawatts. That is in line with the field's power potential according to calculations by GeothermEX Inc., a consulting firm.

By comparison, the largest group of geothermal plants in the world are The Geysers, about 60 miles northeast of San Francisco. The Geysers geothermal basin produces about 900 megawatts of energy, enough to power the city, said Ann Robertson-Tait, a senior geologist and vice president of business development for GeothermEX. ...

Raser and its supplier, UTC Power, plan to build another seven geothermal energy plants across the western United States by the end of 2009 and 10 plants a year for the next decade.

The push for geothermal power has been accelerated by state mandates like those in California, which this month said utilities must obtain a third of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Raser, which specializes in low-boil geothermal sites, started buying leases five years ago on hundreds of thousands of acres that had been passed over because of their lower heat potential.

New technology, however, has made low-boil water useable for geothermal power. Raser buys 250-kilowatt power units from UTC Power, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp.

Geothermal is also being used on a smaller scale. "These things are slot machines. They make money," said Bernie Karl, owner of Chena Hot Springs Resort, off the grid 60 miles northeast of Fairbanks, Alaska. On geothermal energy from early UTC prototypes, Karl powers light bulbs, heats lodges and rooms for 210 guests, warms a greenhouse that grows food and spices, keeps an ice house frozen and makes hydrogen for resort vehicles.

Raser hit hot water at a few thousand feet below the surface circulating inside a zone of porous limestone a mile deep. The underground "lake" cycles hot water endlessly under the power of the Earth's internal heat like a steam engine, throwing up loops of hot water intersected by wells that return it to the system.

The company holds rights to 78 square miles of land in the area and believes it has barely tapped the full potential.

Green Buildings In Madrid  

Posted by Big Gav in

Green Building of the week from Inhabitat is this bank building planned for Madrid - Herzog & de Meuron’s Lush Green BBVA Headquarters.

Herzog and de Meuron have been very busy lately designing some amazing new buildings in Europe, like their Project Triangle in Paris. Their newest design for the Spanish banking group BBVA will be built on the outskirts of Madrid as early as 2013. The verdant green headquarters will feature luscious gardens and will create it’s own microclimate by using natural ventilation, evapotranspiration, and the shade of the gardens and buildings to create a cool artificial oasis on a desert-like site. The project is meant to function as a small city, encouraging people to walk and meet within the outdoor spaces.

The project is essentially a linear series of 3-story buildings seperated by alleyways and irrigated gardens. The smaller buildings are designed to give employees access to natural light and the outdoors, while the tower rises as a skyward-tilted circle, giving BBVA a presence in the Madrid skyline. The courtyard located around the tower is planted with shady trees and features a large basin of water that serves as a resevoir and humidifies the air.

The alleyways between buildings are generously planted wtih different trees and vegetation to provide shade from the sun and cool the spaces. Floorplates and brise-soleil structures hang above the walkways and keep direct sunlight off workspaces. The ample shade and vegetation will provide a cool, moist microclimate, where every office has a view of the outdoors and the gardens.

Additionally, all the buildings will take advantage of ample daylighting, which will reduce the need for artificial lighting. The slim profile of the 3-story buildings will allow for excellent cross ventilation when windows are open, reducing cooling needs as well. The roofs feature retractable shades and can help reduce the temperature of the gardens, and floors will be heated and cooled with water pumped from the ground. Photovoltaic arrays will be installed on the roofs, and rainwater collection and grey water processing will reduce potable water consumption.

Worm Bones  

Posted by Big Gav in

TreeHugger has a post on an interesting new example of biomimicry - emulating the glue produced by sea worms to help fix broken bones - Biomimicry Yields Bone-Healing Superglue from Sea Worms.

Broken bone? Soon, you'll be able to have the break superglued back together, all thanks to sandcastle worms and biomimicry. Researchers at the University of Utah have been inspired by the sea worms, who secrete their own natural glue that they use to build underwater houses; the researchers have been able to copy and synthesize the glue, and hope it can someday replace pins, screws and such in mending broken bones.

The team of bioengineers is looking in to the possibility of using the glue to repair injuries like knees and other joints, shattered facial bones, with a specific focus on (literally) gluing small pieces back together again -- if only Humpty Dumpty had been so lucky.

Still in the lab-testing phase -- on cow bones from the grocery store -- the superglue performed 37 percent as well as commercial glue. If all goes well, the researchers expect to test on animals within a few years, and then on humans within a decade. The team is shooting to make more-powerful versions that are biodegradable and biocompatible with humans.

"Ultimately, we intend to make it so it is replaced by natural bone over time," said Russell Stewart, associate professor of bioengineering and senior author of the synthetic glue study, which will be published in the journal Macromolecular Biosciences. "We don't want to have the glue permanently in the fracture."

And, as an added bonus, the glue is made and works in wet conditions, and sets quickly -- ideal for this bone-setting application. Plus, the glue can also carry drugs, funneling in painkillers, antibiotics, stem cells and other medicine. Mother Nature -- what'll she think of next?

The Oil giants are itching to invade Iraq  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , ,

The Times has an update on the efforts of western oil majors to secure Iraq's oil, noting "The big players have been shut out since nationalisation in 1972. Now they see their chance to get in" - Oil giants are itching to invade Iraq.

Yet since the Iraqi government nationalised the industry in 1972, oil’s main players have been shut out. Years of war and violence have kept them at bay.

That may be about to change. In October the Baghdad government kicked off a round of bidding to allow international oil companies to exploit eight of the country’s largest oil and gasfields. BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil and Gazprom are among the 35 companies that have put concerns about security to one side and thrown their hats in the ring. The deals would pave the way for the first significant foreign investment in the country’s biggest fields in more than three decades. Some side deals have already been signed — last month Shell announced a $4 billion (£2.7 billion) gas joint venture with the Iraqi government and opened a permanent office in the country.

For Iraq the timing couldn’t be better. As reserves dry up around the world and national governments tighten their grip on what is left, the industry is more desperate than ever to get its hands on the Iraqi honey-pot. The plummeting oil price, from a high of $147 a barrel this summer to a new low of $36 last week, has focused their minds.

Along with Saudi Arabia, Iraq is one of the cheapest countries to extract oil from, costing as little as $4-$5 per barrel thanks to the easy geology and high flow rates.

That is a long way from more exotic endeavours such as Canada’s tar sands, where extraction can cost $50 a barrel or more. Labour is also cheap. Addax, which has made $248m so far this year, pays $15 a day to the manual labourers who work at Taq Taq.

In terms of easily accessible and plentiful oil, Iraq is the final frontier. But if the experience of Addax and the other intrepid few who have ventured into Iraq is anything to go by, getting it out of the ground will be a long, tortuous process. ...

Iraq is still struggling to find its feet. Last week the UN passed a resolution barring companies and governments during the next year from suing the fragile government for damages suffered under Saddam Hussein’s rule. The fear is that a wave of lawsuits, from the likes of Kuwait, would decimate the government’s coffers just when it desperately needs to invest in rebuilding.

Then there is the issue of domestic politics. Outside Kirkuk, an unfinished 25km pipeline is a bleak testament to the role it plays for the few that have ventured into the country. DNO, the Norwegian oil group, stopped construction nearly a year ago with the pipeline just a couple of yards short of the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline. Since then it has been waiting for government approval to lay the final section. Until that happens, the 50,000 barrels-a-day facility it built in Tawke to feed it remains idle. Every day that passes, $2m worth of oil — at today’s price — remains in the ground.

The problem boils down to a long-simmering row between semi-autonomous Kurdistan and the central government. Like Addax and its partner in Taq Taq, Genel Enerji of Turkey, DNO received its permission to drill from the Kurdistan regional government (KRG), not the oil ministry in Baghdad. In total, the KRG has signed a total of 20 so-called production-sharing agreements with western companies. The terms are generous, allowing developers to recoup their full development cost and then share the revenue.

The deals have infuriated Hussein Shahristani, the Iraqi oil minister. He has been trying to finalise an oil law that will govern rights and revenue-sharing for the whole country. Oil accounts for about 95% of the government’s revenue. The draft law proposes more stringent technical service agreements for new foreign entrants, which leaves the ownership of reserves in Iraqi hands and pays the companies a fee.

The KRG’s deals, he has said, are “illegal”. He has threatened to bar any company that deals with the Kurds from bidding for the giant fields in the south. That is why the likes of BP and Shell have kept out of Kurdistan. They are hoping they will now be repaid for their patience.

End Of Year Break  

Posted by Big Gav

Its time for me to take my end of year break, so posts between now and the end of the year will be few and far between.

Thanks for reading, and I'd like to wish you all a Happy Christmas / Holidays / Hanukkah / Summer or Winter Solstice or whatever it is you are celebrating.

Its been an interesting year, with the soaring oil price in the first half of the year bringing a surge of interest in peak oil with it, and the subsequent price crash and economic turmoil abruptly reversing the trend.

Regardless, I've found plenty to keep me interested in the news flow as the year has progressed, and reader numbers (if not comments) are on the rise, so hopefully you folks out there are enjoying the show.

I've got plenty of interesting stuff in the queue, so I'm planning to have a number of long form, in depth posts up in the new year. Tracking the progress of the 'green new deal" looks likely to take up plenty of screen space too as the year progresses.

For those who haven't managed to keep up with the flow of posts (or have just come across this blog at random), here are some of the key posts for the year:

Clean Energy

* Solar Thermal Power - Concentrating on the important things: Solar Thermal Power
* Thin Film Solar Power - Thin Film Solar Power - Cheaper than Coal ?
* Alternative Wind Power experiments - SkySails And Airborne Wind Turbines
* Floating Offshore Wind Power - Floating Offshore Wind Power
* Geothermal Power - Geothermia
* Low Temperature Geothermal Power - Low Temperature Geothermal Power
* Ocean (tidal, wave, OTEC) Energy - Tapping The Source - The Power Of The Oceans
* Biogas - Banana Methane Powered Cars, Pig Poo Power And Other Uses For Biogas
* Biogas from the great lakes - Turning Danger Into Power
* Cogeneration - Cogeneration At Home: Ceramic Fuel Cells
* Bioplastic - Bioplastic - Better Living Through Green Chemistry ?
* Electric Cars - Making Australia A Better Place
* Energy Storage - Storing Energy Using Graphite
* Energy Storage - We're Off To See The Wizard - Storing Energy Using Ammonia
* Solar Powered Desalination - Solving Our Water Problems - Desalination Using Solar Thermal Power
* Salt Water Power - The Power Of Osmosis
* Hydrogen - The Hydrogen Economy And Peak Platinum

Fossil Fuels

* Australian Natural Gas - Australian Natural Gas - How Much Do We Have And How Long Will It Last ?
* Coal Seam Gas - Coal Seam Gas Producers - The New Masters Of The Universe ?
* Gas To Liquids In Australia - Gas To Liquids On The North West Shelf
* The Varanus Island Explosion - A gas supply disruption case study - the Varanus Island explosion
* Coal To Liquids In Australia - Coal To Liquids In Australia
* Iraq and Oil - Iraq's Oil: The Greatest Prize Of All

Book Reviews

* The Limits To Growth - The Limits To Scenario Planning
* Spook Country - The Money Shot: William Gibson's Spook Country


* Biochar - Terra Preta: Biochar And The MEGO Effect
* Mycellium - Nature's Internet: The Vast, Intelligent Network Beneath Our Feet
* Local Currencies - Locabucks: Are local currencies a way to escape the liquidity trap ?
* Artificial Meat - A Post Peak Protein Possibility: The Meat Beast
* Misguided Libertarians - The End Of The fire Age
* Guerilla Gardening - Guerilla Gardening: Eating The Suburbs
* Steampunk - Steampunk: "As a subculture, we are not the spawn of Satan"

Cloncurry Solar Project Update  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The ABC has an update on Lloyd Energy Systems' solar power project for Cloncurry (using graphite for energy storage) - Energy firm sheds light on outback solar project.

An energy company planning a $30 million solar power station at Cloncurry, in north-west Queensland, says the town could become the first in the state to use solar energy for all of its power needs. Lloyd Energy Systems says new equipment will be used to produce and store the energy for future use.

Chief executive Steve Hollis says work is expected to begin on the plant early next year. "Problem that exists with solar energy is that it's relatively expensive to produce, but it doesn't have a lot of value because it's only there when the sun's shining," he said. "So the technology that we have where the energy is captured so that electricity can be generated on demand helps to bridge the gap."

Mr Hollis says revolutionary equipment will be used to store the energy so it can be used even when the sun is not shining. "We've signed agreements now to commence the project. So we've just been out having discussing with council over the arrangements of the project, land and other details that we need to go through prior to the project commencing," he said.

Siemens to Build Solar Generator for BrightSource  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , ,

Earth2Tech has a report on progress on Brightsource's large CSP plant in California - Siemens to Build 123MW Solar Turbine Generator for BrightSource.

BrightSource Energy has contracted Siemens(s SIE) to build a 123-megawatt solar-powered turbine generator for its massive Mojave Desert solar-thermal projects, the Oakland, Calif.-based startup announced today. Having raised more than $160 million (including$115 million from, BP, and other big investors in Series C financing last May) and snagged a deal to sell California utility PG&E up to 900 megawatts of solar power, BrightSource apparently decided not to let delays in the state approval process slow it down.

Building a steam turbine generator — which converts hot steam into mechanical work — takes years. So while BrightSource plans to begin construction on its Ivanpah Solar Power Complex in 2009 if California regulators give the green light, the company does not expect the Siemens generator (the companies say it will be the largest of its kind ever built) to arrive until 2011 — mere months before the company plans to begin supplying electricity to utilities. That leaves very little room for error if the company is to meet its deadlines.

“It takes time and patience and a lot of planning ahead to make all of this work well,” John Woolard, BrightSource CEO and a partner at VantagePoint Venture Partners, the startup’s lead investor, told the San Francisco Business Times in August. That’s when the Bureau of Land Management ushered BrightSource to the front of the line for approval of applications to build utility-scale solar projects in the federally-managed desert. “Fortunately,” he said, “this is something we’re not bad at.”

A Misguided Approach to Road Pricing  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , ,

WorldChanging has a post on a Dutch scheme to reduce congestion and vehicle emissions via a national monitoring scheme to track car usage and dynamically charge road users based on a range of criteria. While their intentions are good, this basically amounts to a massive, nationwide surveillance system, which means it gets a big "thumbs down" from me I'm afraid - Netherlands Plans Massive Road-Pricing Scheme.

How did I miss the fact that the Netherlands is planning to wire up the entire nation for a massive road-pricing scheme, starting in 2011? Sort of the love child of a congestion pricing program and a gasoline tax, the scheme will use satellite technology* to track every vehicle in the country and charge them per-mile-driven according to a flexible rate schedule. Initially the program will cover just commercial trucks, expanding over time to all vehicles by 2018.

According to the (surprisingly lucid) government proposal, the road pricing will be “differentiated by time, place and environmental characteristics while proportionally eliminating fixed charges.” It’s worth unpacking this a bit:

* Fees will vary according to time and location, so that the program can specifically target congested areas. This is similar to the congestion pricing scheme that has been successful in London, on a much larger scale. A similar scheme was recently rejected in New York City, and is now under consideration in San Francisco.

* Fees will vary according to the fuel efficiency of the vehicle, to encourage drivers to switch to cars with a lighter footprint.

* The entire program will be revenue neutral. As the program ramps up, the Netherlands will phase out its stiff motor vehicle tax. Such a system is inherently more fair: people who drive infrequently will actually pay less under the new system. Heavy drivers will pay more.

That last point is worth underlining. The knee-jerk reaction to such programs is that they’re regressive intrusions that saddle all drivers, but particularly low-income drivers, with new fees in the pursuit of some lofty environmental goal. This program is revenue-neutral, and will help to make roads more accessible to low-income drivers by charging people for actual road use rather than for car ownership. The system will also benefit drivers by reducing the amount of time stuck in traffic.

One interesting quirk of the system: because a straight vehicle tax is being swapped for a per-mile fee, cars will actually become cheaper and car ownership should therefore go up. Total miles driven, on the other hand, will drop. This sort of “mobility as a service” arrangement may become more common in the future. For example, Shai Agassi has been on a tear recently with Better Place, which aims to sell electric vehicles on a pay-as-you-go cell phone model.

Guerilla Gardening: Eating The Suburbs  

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The Age recently had an article on the emerging practice of "guerilla gardening", taking a look at the "Gardening guerillas in our midst". This concept seems to have steadily increased in popularity in recent years (admittedly from a very low base) as the permaculture movement's ideas have been propagated through the community.

Unlike the usual approach taken when trying to grow food in the suburbs - converting spare land on your own property (as discussed by aeldric previously and, more recently, in Jeff Vail's series on A Resilient Suburbia) - guerilla gardening involves cultivating any spare patch of urban land that isn't being used for another purpose, which could provide a substantial addition to the food growing potential of suburbia.

Genesis Of The Guerilla Gardeners

The idea of planting on vacant land has been around since at least 1973 when New Yorker Liz Christy and her "Green Guerilla" group transformed a derelict private lot into a garden in the Bowery Houston area of New York.

Since then the practice has spread to the US west coast, the UK and there have been reports of rogue gardeners in action in Brisbane, Sydney (with the Sydney Morning Herald calling the practitioners "bewilderers") and Melbourne.

What Does It Involve ?

In his book "On Guerrilla Gardening", Richard Reynolds, a 30-year-old former advertising employee who now runs, defines the activity as "the illicit cultivation of someone else's land".

"Our main enemies are neglect and scarcity of land," says Reynolds, "Land is a finite resource and yet areas like this are not being used. That seems crazy to me. And if the authorities want to get in the way of that logic, then we will fight them - but peacefully - through showing them what we can achieve with plants."

Guerilla gardening is a crime in Britain (digging up land you do not own is classed as committing criminal damage) but Reynolds insists it is a victimless crime and is clearly unfazed by encounters with police.

Practitioners plant herbs, vegetables and fruit trees in roadside nature strips, along railway lines and in other unused pieces of urban land. They then encourage the local community to tend the plots and reap the harvest.

Choosing the right sites is important for guerilla gardeners to avoid running foul of councils and other landowners. As one gardener noted in The Age", "It's got to be somewhere that no one wants to use. The whole idea is to turn something that was totally useless into something beautiful and useful. If you can find solutions like that, no one's going to hassle you."

Energy Bulletin co-founder Adam Grubb (sometimes known as Adam Fenderson) runs another web site called "Eat The Suburbs" and has achieved a measure of fame in his home town of Melbourne encouraging people to engage in "urban foraging".

Another person encouraging urban gardening, much to my surprise, is new London mayor Boris Johnson, who has launched a project called "Capital growth" that aims to convert 2012 London rooftops and patches of vacant land into vegetable gardens, with a target date of 2012.

In a way this seems to be a revival of the English tradition of "allotments" - a more organised form of urban gardening from a previous age.

How much food could be grown this way ?

I haven't got the foggiest how much additional agricultural production could be achieved if the world's urban areas were swarmed by bands of guerilla gardeners, but walking around my own suburb and imagining every tree along the roads being a fruit or nut tree, and every little scrap of land that has been abandoned to weeds or scrub turned into a wild herb and vegetable patch, makes me think that everyone could have a much healthier diet and save a lot on their food bills if this was the case.

And we'd avoid a huge amount of 'food miles" (and the oil consumption this involves) while doing so.

All Eyes On Obama's Energy Plan  

Posted by Big Gav in

The Age has an article on the challenges awaiting Obama and the opportunity to make history via the green new deal - All eyes are on Obama, as history is his to write.

Franklin Roosevelt told Americans in his first inaugural address in 1933 that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself", before embarking on the New Deal, an ambitious and expansive recasting of government that lifted the country out of the Great Depression.

48 years later, Ronald Reagan stood on the same steps and declared: "Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem." With that, Reagonomics was born and FDR's New Deal consensus was usurped by a philosophy built around free markets, privatisation, deregulation and lower taxes.

At this time of new turmoil, all eyes are trained on Obama. As with FDR and Reagan before him, the next chapter of American economic and political history is Obama's to write, and he will not waste time. On his first day in office, it is likely he will sign an economic stimulus bill into law that will authorise the greatest single federal expenditure in US history. Within this bill lies a package of measures to tackle climate change and develop a new energy economy that would not have been politically feasible were it not for the financial meltdown. As both FDR and Reagan understood, vision is nothing without opportunity.

Obama's approach to climate change provides encouraging insight into his governing philosophy.

Obama's head is neither in the sand nor the clouds on climate change. Instead, he sees an opening for a new era of opportunity in clean energy. He envisages a green goldrush with $US150 billion to support private-sector efforts to develop and commercialise wind, solar, geothermal and other technologies. He believes that this will create 5 million "green collar" jobs to compensate for the decline of old, unsustainable industries. He imagines yesterday's car workers in Detroit building tomorrow's wind turbines and solar panels. He also believes that, by replacing oil imports from the Middle East with domestic sources of alternative energy, there are national security and balance-of-trade pay-offs as well.

Obama resets the table by tackling climate change as an engine for economic prosperity as much as an environmental imperative. George Bush's ambivalence on the issue has seen America fall to the back of the pack, and Obama is determined to surge to the front through huge government and private-sector investment in technology, innovation and infrastructure.

Much has been and will be written about how Obama is a unique figure in American politics. However, his vision of a new, clean-energy economy owes much to the dual legacies of FDR and Ronald Reagan. It simultaneously embraces the New Deal belief that government is a positive force for economic change while tapping into Reagan's unshakeable confidence that the innovation and entrepreneurial instincts of the American people will prevail though any crisis.

Meanwhile, back in Chicago, the Illinois governor has found himself in a spot of bother after apparently being caught trying to sell the Senate seat Obama is vacating. The day before he'd stopped the state doing business with Bank Of America, which has the tinfoil brigade wondering if Blagojevich has been taken down in the same fashion that Eliot Spitzer was when he tried to derail the subprime menace - Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich Suspends State Business with Bank of America and Is Then Promptly Arrested by the FBI on Corruption Charges.
Less than 24 hours later… Whamo.

I’m not saying that the guy isn’t a crook. He could be as crooked as the day is long. The timing of his arrest, however, is priceless.

Tidal Projects Flowing In Europe  

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Business Green has an article on a planned tidal power development for Wales - Welsh tidal energy trial set for 2010.

Wales has laid down the gauntlet to Scotland and Northern Ireland in the race to develop tidal energy technology. Last week, Cardiff-based Tidal Energy Limited (TEL) announced plans for a 1MW trial installation at the Ramsey Sound in Pembrokeshire, South Wales.

The company hopes its DeltaStream horizontal turbines will be in the water by summer 2010, making them Wales' first signifcant tidal install. TEL says its 12-month test project will use technology that's proven to be grid-compliant, enabling it to connect to the national grid and earn an income from generated power.

"With regard to water depth and tidal flow, both in direction and velocity, the site is perfect for this device," said Chris Williams, development director at TEL. "Our inventor Richard Ayre first started working for Pembrokeshire Coast National Park when he came up with the idea, and back in 2002 he installed a full-size rotor in the Milford Haven estuary, so the history of the device really is based in Pembrokeshire."

TEL is funded by Eco2 and Carbon Connections, and said it chose the Welsh site over Scotland's European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) because of a lack of available testing berths at EMEC.

The horizontal turbines destined for Ramsey Sound will be assembled in Wales from components supplied by two companies in England, but Williams said: " Pembrokshire has the expertise in structural engineering and marine vessels for the installation of the device."

TEL is in discussions with the owners of a floating crane called the Mersey Mammoth for the 2010 installation.

Italy is also about to commence some tidal power experiments, Renewable Energy World reports - Ocean Currents May Bring Italy More Tidal Energy.
Fleets of 50 tidal power plants, each with an installed power of 20 megawatts (MW), anchored far out on the ocean could be used to generate electricity for hydrogen electrolysis, and so supply the world with vast quantities of clean energy in years to come if a pilot project in Italy is successful, scientists say.

A 500-kilowatt (kW) tidal power prototype that could be scaled up for ocean use is set to be tested next August in the Strait of Messina, a stormy stretch of sea separating Italy's mainland from Sicily.

If the trial is successful, an even more powerful tidal power plant could be ready for mass production in about five years time, and installed not just in the seas off Italy but also in the Gulf of Florida and other coastal sites with stronger currents.

Tests so far of the Sea Power tidal device on open sea have been successful, said Werner Ebner from Fri-El Green Power, the company based Italy and developing the Sea Power power plant.

"These tidal power plants are an economical way of producing electricity. The system is comparatively inexpensive to build and also to maintain, not least because it is based on modules, which can also be easily transported," he said.

Better Control for Fusion Power  

Posted by Big Gav in

Technology Review has an article on research at MIT into better controlling fusion reactions using pulsed radio waves - Better Control for Fusion Power.

Nuclear fusion could prove an abundant source of clean energy. But the process can be difficult to control, and scientists have yet to demonstrate a fusion plant that produces more energy than it consumes. Now physicists at MIT have addressed one of the many technological challenges involved in harnessing nuclear fusion as a viable energy source. They've demonstrated that pulses of radio frequency waves can be used to propel and heat plasma inside a reactor.

MIT's doughnut-shaped fusion reactor, the Alcator C-Mod, uses magnets to confine hydrogen in a turbulent, electrically charged state of matter called a plasma. By infusing large amounts of energy into the plasma, physicists can kick off fusion reactions that, in turn, release large amounts of energy. The MIT reactor is too small to generate practical fusion reactions that generate enough energy to keep themselves going--what's called a burning plasma. But the researchers have been working on ways to achieve this state in larger reactors, such as the planned International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER).

The challenge is keeping the plasma confined in a stable rotation, with just the right amount of turbulence and the ideal temperature gradients so that it keeps burning. Traditionally, physicists control plasmas by injecting high-power beams of inert atoms. Controlling turbulence and temperature is critical: the better confined the plasma, the smaller the reactor needs to be and the less power required.

When directed well, inert beams in today's reactors "have substantial momentum and drag the plasma with them," says Earl Marmar, head of MIT's Alcator project. They also "heat" the plasma, supplying energy to kick-start fusion reactions. Marmar anticipates that in the future, the beam technique simply won't work: it will be able to impart enough energy, but not enough momentum.

MIT researchers led by John Rice and Yijun Lin have experimentally demonstrated that radio waves--which will be able to penetrate large plasmas like ITER's--can give plasma both energy and momentum.


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