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March 2008

March 30, 2008

Undersea "Wind Bags" could provide energy when the wind isn't blowing

Windfarm1_2 Part of the difficulty of renewable energy sources like wind and solar is what to do when the energy isn't present. After all, the wind isn't always blowing and night comes pretty consistently, but our energy needs don't diminish.

One of the solutions that has been proposed in large-scale solar installations is the use of compressed air. When energy is available during the daytime, air is pumped into caves in the ground, like old mines. Then during the night, this air is released in a thin stream to turn turbines and generate electricity. The technique has been used before, but needs some more proving.

A UK professor has a tweak on this idea for water-based wind, wave, or tidal energy factories. Seamus Garvey, a long-time proponent of compressed air technology, proposes storing compressed air in huge undersea bags when winds and tides are high, and then pumping this air out when it is needed.

Power company E.ON has invested 300,000 Euros to allow him to build two prototypes. Professor Garvey says that the prototypes will be complete in 18 months. We'll definitely be keeping an eye on his progress.

Celebrating the 50-year-old Keeling Curve


If you've spent any time reading about greenhouse gases and climate change, or if you've watched Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth, this is a graph you should be extremely familiar with.

This week marks 50 years ago that Charles David “Dave” Keeling of the Univ. of California, San Diego began taking precise, live measurements of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere from the summit of Mauna Loa in Hawaii, forming the now infamous Keeling Curve.

The resulting data serves as the primary touchstone for climate change scientists. Dave has since passed away, but his son Ralph has taken up the torch.

More CO2 by the numbers:

  • Volcanos, oft maligned for CO2 production, are only responsible for 145-255 million tons of CO2 per year.
  • Human respiration contributes to 1.3 billion tons of CO2 per year.
  • Both of these figures pale in comparison to the 26 billion tons (and rising) of CO2 generated from worldwide human activity each year.

According to the US Department of Energy:

  • A billion Indians would have produced 1.04 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2004.
  • A billion Chinese would have produced 3.62 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2004.
  • A billion Germans would have produced 10.46 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2004.
  • A billion Americans would have produced 20.18 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2004.

March 29, 2008

Green News Round-Up

What's going on in green news today:

  • Time has a brilliant piece on how environmentalists and economists are uniting against ethanol as a "green fuel". The truth is, biofuels have the opposite impact we intended: they are accelerating climate change.

Seattle Turns off the Lights To Fight Global Warming

Seattle is one of many cities across the world that will be participating in Earth Hour tonight from 8-9pm. Seattle City Hall will go dark, along with the Seattle Municipal Tower, the Central Library and Seattle Justice Center, except for those areas that must remain illuminated for emergency and public safety reasons.

Lights at city parks and community centers will also be turned off. All ballfield lights will be turned off.

Don't forget to shut off your lights!

March 28, 2008

The Great BioFuel Debate


Biofuel is a hotly contested topic these days. Nobody seems to be able to say definitely whether yellow is green or not. For starters, there's the fact that we're turning perfectly good food into fuel to power cars when there are people starving all over the world.

Then, there's the possibility that the carbon footprint of ethanol and other biofuels may in fact be *larger* than plain old oil due to its poor fuel efficiency. Then there's the deforestation impact. And finally we have the confusion over the different types of biofuel: ethanol? e85? biodiesel? Are some good and some bad?

It's a lot to take in and understand. And not all of the data is in yet so opinions are constantly evolving.

One great resource that I've found is the Biofuel Debate Forum. It's a place where newbies can mix with experts and develop a more thorough understanding of the facts around some of these contentious issues. The biodiesel forum and biofuel impact areas are of particular help.

The forum is relatively new, but the conversation is growing, and the experts that are there are helpful and friendly. If you're interested in learning more about biofuels, it's a great place to start engaging in the conversation.

March 26, 2008

Shock and Awe: Watching the Antarctic Ice Shelf Collapse

You've likely heard the news by now that a chunk of ice the size of Connecticut dramatically and unexpectedly broke from Antarctica yesterday. 

I don't want to spend too much time on the details of the news: there are many good news reports out there outlining the details of what occurred. But I do want to convey the horror I felt when I learned about this.

Between the Arctic Ice melt, the glacial retreat, and the beginnings of Antarctica's collapse, I'm not certain what additional evidence is required to see that climate change is occurring.

While the melts we see to date of Arctic and Antarctic ice don't change the sea level significantly, the looming threat of major ocean currents shifting and of the greater Antarctic Ice Shelf (the one on *land*) collapsing are out there. These proverbial canaries in the coal mine should serve to help us take the threats seriously and do something about it.

I'll leave you with a series of pics of the ice in question. Hopefully they'll inspire as much awe in you as they have in me.

Click pic to enlarge

Ice1 Ice2_2  

Ice3 Ice4


Click here to see an animation of the collapse

WA governor Christine Gregoire kicks off Governors' Clean Energy Summit

WA governor Christine Gregoire kicked off a 2-day national summit to focus on “Clean Energy Research, Development and Demonstration” today. Governor's will discuss and hear presentations on the challenges of funding renewable energy R&D, emerging transportation technologies, clean coal, nuclear power, and  which states have managed to launch successful clean energy programs. The schedule for the summit can be found here.

edit: My apologies for the hasty, sloppy report on this story. All errors and links have been updated.

Seattle to provide "wood waste" energy to Sacramento


The City of Seattle has announced an energy trade between Seattle and Sacramento.

Seattle will offer regular renewable energy to Sacramento in exchange for some normal power to help Seattle cope with its high winter energy needs.

The renewable energy in question is a biomass plant, specifically a plant owned by Sierra Pacific Industries that converts wood waste from logging and construction into energy.

In theory, wood waste plants are zero carbon emitters because they emit no more carbon than the trees soaked up during the course of their lifetimes. In practice, wood waste plants produce much more CO2 than natural gas plants, but a little less than coal.

The 10 year agreement stands to bring an additional $5 million in revenue to Seattle City Light.

Source: Seattle.gov

March 25, 2008

You know peak oil? Well, get ready for peak minerals.


Everything you own is grown or mined. As we all know, stuff that's grown can be regrown most of the time. Stuff that's mined, not so much.

We've talked a lot on this blog about peak oil: the phenomenon where oil production has peaked. Supply will go down, but demand will continue to increase, and the price of oil will continue to skyrocket. Oil is a finite resource, and we've sucked the easiest deposits to access dry.

But oil is only one of the riches we pull from the Earth. The US Geological Survey estimates that in order "to maintain our standard of living, each person in the United States requires over 48,000 pounds of minerals each year:

  • 12,428 lb. of stone
  • 9,632 lb. of sand and gravel
  • 940 lb. of cement
  • 276 lb. of clays
  • 400 lb. of salt
  • 302 lb. phosphate rock
  • 639 lb. of nonmetals
  • 425 lb. of iron ore
  • 77 lb. of bauxite (aluminum)
  • 17 lb. of copper
  • 11 lb. of lead
  • 10 lb. of zinc
  • 6 lb. of manganese
  • .0285 T oz. gold
  • 29 lb. of other metals
  • 7,667 lb. petroleum
  • 7,589 lb. coal
  • 6,866 natural gas
  • 1/3 lb. uranium"

Wow. That's an unbelievable amount of stuff.

But more remarkable still is the list of things that we're running out of. If we keep mining at present levels, here are the estimated dates until we run out of some of these minerals:

  • indium(used in lcd monitors): 4-13 years
  • silver: 9-29 years
  • lead: 8-42 years
  • antimony(used in pharmaceutical drugs): 13-30 years
  • tin: 17-40 years
  • uranium: 19-59
  • zinc: 34-46 years
  • gold: 36-45 years
  • copper(wire, plumbing, pennies): 38-61 years
  • nickel: 57-90 years

Even aluminum, the single most plentiful metal in the Earth's crust, only has 510-1027 years to go.

Yet another argument for recycling. As if you needed more reasons beyond the energy and greenhouse gas savings, right?

Read more at NewScientist.

Nordstroms transitioning to eco-friendly boxes and bags

Nordstrom_box Seattle company Nordstrom has announced that they are introducing environmentally-friendly packaging options for customers. Nordstrom's is famous for their trademark silver gift boxes, which cannot be recycled because of the foil coating. Starting in April, they will start using boxes that are fully recyclable and tissue paper that contains 30% recycled content. Their new bags will also be fully recyclable.

Brave New Leaf encourages shoppers to use a simple canvas tote instead of new packaging material, but still applauds Nordstrom for taking the step forward!



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