Americans Receive Failing Grade on Global Warming Knowledge

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Education, Greenhouse Gas, Science | Posted on 21-10-2010

A study from Yale asked Americans a variety of questions on global warming science and graded them on an A-F grading scale. Over half of the respondents received an F, and only 8% got an A or B. Here are some points that particularly stick out:

- Half of the respondents think that global warming is anthropogenic, a third think that global warming is naturally occurring, and 7% challenge its existence.

- Television is the most informative form of media regarding global warming information (88%), but the internet is the preferred form for people who want to learn more about the topic (38%).

- 20% think the energy from fossil fuels originally came from uranium in the Earth.

My personal favorite: “43% of Americans incorrectly believe that if we stopped punching holes in the ozone layer with rockets, it would reduce global warming.”

So if you’re reading this blog, chances are that your knowledge of global warming is significantly greater than the vast majority of the public. Congratulations!

DOE’s Tool for Entrepreneurs

Posted by akeenan | Posted in DOE, Energy Efficiency, Green, Science, Solar, Wind | Posted on 07-10-2010

The Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced its Technology Commercialization Portal, which helps new energy-efficiency and renewable energy technologies quickly transition from the laboratory into the private sector. The portal provides hundreds of marketing summaries that describe the potential market benefits and the overall development stage of each technology that is ready for licensing. Thousands of patents of relevant technologies are also available. Venture capitalists and entrepreneurs can easily use this database for investing opportunities, but the benefits can also extend to companies wanting to utilize the latest discoveries in renewable energy.

In the future, DOE hopes that investors may discover complementary energy technologies and obtain an even larger return on investment. Because agencies like EPA and NASA also perform clean energy research, the portal will hopefully include their relevant patents and market summaries. Regardless of the outcomes of the new site, it is comforting to see the federal government and businesses collaborating to improve environmental quality rather than locking horns.

American institute of physics presents us more powerful Selenium photovoltaic cells

Posted by e.taub@tvcnp.com | Posted in Science, Solar | Posted on 21-09-2010

The following is a guest blog from Rosalind Sanders [rosalind@poolsolarpanels.org]. We thank her for this educational contribution:

Did you know that many analysts would like to find light-catching substances in order to transform more of the sun’s energy into carbon-free electrical energy?

A new analysis described in the journal Applied Physics Letters in August this year (written and published by the American Institute of Physics), describes how solar energy could potentially be collected by using oxide materials that include the element selenium. A team at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, inserted selenium in zinc oxide, a relatively low-cost component that could make more effective use of the sun’s energy.

The team discovered that even a relatively small level of selenium, just nine % of the mostly zinc-oxide base, drastically improved the material’s efficiency in absorbing light.

The main author of this analysis, Marie Mayer (a fourth-year University of California, Berkeley doctoral student) states that photo-electrochemical water splitting, that signifies using power from the sun to cleave water into hydrogen and oxygen gases, could potentially be the most stimulating future application for her labor. Managing this reaction is key to the eventual generation of zero-emission hydrogen powered automobiles, which hypothetically will run only on water and sunlight.

Journal Research: Marie A. Mayer et all. Applied Physics Letters, 2010

The conversion effectiveness of a PV cell is the portion of sunlight energy that the solar cell converts to electric power. This is very important when discussing Photovoltaic devices, because boosting this efficiency is vital to making Pv electricity competitive with more conventional sources of energy (e.g., non-renewable fuels).

For comparison, the initial Photovoltaic devices converted about 1%-2% of sunlight power into electric energy. Today’s Photo voltaic products convert 7%-17% of light energy into electrical energy. Of course, the other side of the equation is the money it costs to make the PV devices. This has been enhanced over the decades as well. In fact, today’s PV systems generate electricity at a fraction of the cost of early PV systems.

In the 1990s, when silicon cells were two times as thick, efficiencies were much lower than nowadays and lifetimes were shorter, it may well have cost more energy to make a cell than it could generate in a lifetime. In the meantime, the technological innovation has moved on substantially, and the energy repayment time (defined as the recovery time needed for generating the energy spent to make the respective technical energy systems) of a modern photovoltaic module is usually from 1 to 4 years depending on the module type and location.

Generally, thin-film technologies - despite having reasonably low conversion efficiencies - achieve substantially shorter energy repayment times than traditional systems (often < 1 year). With a common lifetime of 20 to 30 years, this means that contemporary solar cells are net energy producers, i.e. they generate significantly more energy over their lifetime than the energy expended in producing them.

The author - Rosalind Sanders writes for the solar pool cover blog, her personal hobby site based on guidelines to help home owners to save energy with solar power.

Food Waste to ?

Posted by e.taub@tvcnp.com | Posted in Green, Pollution, Science | Posted on 03-08-2010

Verus Carbon Neutral is fortunate to be part of a group that is looking to turn Food Waste to renewable sources. An Atlanta-based company called Elemental Impact has identified some ways to do this:

Furnace Plasma

Uses high-temperature thermal plasma to convert waste to syngas, molten metal and vitreous slag. The syngas is used to generate electricity, which is sold to the power grid. The molten metal is cast as scrap steel and the slag is cast as building material aggregate or spun into mineral wool.  (From Plasma Waste Recycling)

Plasma Arc Gasification

The idea is that “biomass feedstock is fed into a plasma reactor, which holds one or more plasma arc torches. These plasma torches heat the biomass to roughly 5,000 degrees Celsius to transform all organic components into a clean and useful synthetic gas containing principally carbon monoxide and hydrogen gases. (From Solena)

Anaerobic Digestion / Biodigesters

Naturally occurring microorganisms break down the waste into methane and carbon dioxide – also known as “biogas” – which is captured in gas-tight enclosures. The biogas can be combusted to produce renewable electricity, cleaned to pipeline natural gas standards, or further processed into compressed natural gas. (From Harvest Power)

Composting

The “greenest” way to use food waste is through composting. Composting is nature’s process of recycling decomposed organic materials into a rich soil known as compost. By composting your organic waste you are returning nutrients back into the soil in order for the cycle of life to continue. Finished compost looks like soil–dark brown, crumbly and smells like a forest floor (From Wikipedia). It holds moisture and keeps weeds down as the high temperatures in the natural process kills off seeds. Composting also avoids the creation of methane, a potent greenhouse gas found in landfills.

A Green Solution

Posted by e.taub@tvcnp.com | Posted in Green, Science | Posted on 12-04-2010

An exciting partnership, the iSustain Alliance—comprised of Cytec Industries, a specialty chemical company; a non-profit organization, Beyond Benign; and a software developer, Sopheon—is building the foundation for developing and improving green products.

The iSustain Alliance is working to promote green chemistry awareness and practice by providing an environmentally informed modeling system that both rates individual chemical components that make up a product, as well as provides the capacity to model individual chemical improvements toward bettering the product’s overall environmental rating. Though it cannot account for the complete life-cycle of the finished product, the modeling tool provides a highly detailed snapshot of the materials that go into the product. By providing a framework for modeling products at the chemical level the tool dramatically increases the efficiency of testing and rating various possible improvements to reduce the environmental impact of the finished product.

The goals of the iSustain Alliance in developing the Green Chemistry Index extend beyond simply providing the tool. The index, which covers all chemical products and processes and is informed by the Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry, is structured in such a way as to promote familiarity with the practice of these principles among scientists. The index—by opening the information to the public as well as industry—feeds into the growing stream of accessible information that is helping to drive the movement toward cleaner products. Further, by helping industry establish a quantifiable baseline for existing products and efficiently model environmental improvements, the index allows for rapid identification and implementation of those improvements.

What is a Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (CO2e)?

Posted by e.taub@tvcnp.com | Posted in Carbon Footprint, Climate Change, EPA, Greenhouse Gas, Pollution, Science | Posted on 02-04-2010

In order to identify the best actions toward Greenhouse Gas (”GHG”) reduction, we have to look at and account for a lot more than just CO2 emissions. The global warming potential (GWP) of CO2—the most prevalent GHG, but not the most potent—is the base unit by which all other GHGs are measured and is determined by how the GHG molecule absorbs light, as well as how long it lingers in the atmosphere. There are six GHGs with varying GWP.

Though these gases are present in the atmosphere at much lower concentrations than CO2, changes in their atmospheric concentration has a more profound impact than that of CO2 because they cause greater radiative forcing—or change in the amount of radiative energy entering the atmosphere, versus that leaving.
CO2e (expressed in parts-per-million, by volume) is the concentration of CO2 that would cause the same amount of radiative forcing as some concentration of a particular GHG. Looking at the relative effects of other GHGs in the same scale with CO2 provides a basis for including that data in the global warming equation and taking more strategic action to manage the greatest impacts.

Where you look for CO2e is an important component in capturing larger portions of an economy’s footprint, and more efficiently managing reduction of the most significant contributors to global warming. The Waxman Markey bill captures 80+% of US CO2e by focusing on the electricity sector, oil refineries, gas, and large industry (steel, paper, chemicals, etc), while mandatory GHG reporting requirements passed last year allowing the EPA to track large emitters captures 85% of US CO2e.

The EPA is currently looking at tracking additional emissions, including methane, from oil and gas industries. In a press release, Pamela Campos, an attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund stated, “The public has been left in the dark about methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. EPA’s leadership in requiring disclosure of this potent greenhouse gas will mean more rigorous information and smarter policies to address pollution.” New GHG reporting requirements would also be added for industries that emit fluorinated gases or inject and store CO2 underground.

A Mountain of Data, More than a Smoking Gun

Posted by e.taub@tvcnp.com | Posted in Education, Greenhouse Gas, Science | Posted on 25-03-2010

This week, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published research that directly links a dramatic rise in atmospheric greenhouse gases due to extended volcanic activity with mass extinction at the end of the Triassic PeriodIn English - we have precedent that greenhouse gas increases lead to significant changes in the weather/atmosphere.

Earlier this month, Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu spoke at Stanford on the Global Clean Energy Challenge. With American belief in, and action on, climate change lagging behind much of the rest of the world, he took a moment to explain a key component of the data that shows that the increased carbon in the atmosphere is the direct result to humans digging up fossil fuels and spewing them into the air. We now have the US government stating current greenhouse gas increases are caused by man.

He called the Carbon 14 (C14) ratio “more than a smoking gun” that points directly to anthropogenic carbon accumulation in the atmosphere. Created by cosmic rays coming into the atmosphere, the C14 isotope infuses into everything that is currently living. The radioactive half-life of C14 is 5,700 years, so the C14 isotope is gone in organic matter that has been buried for a long time.

He pointed out that CO2 in the atmosphere has increased 40% since industrial revolution. When we dig up fossil fuels and put that carbon into atmosphere, it dilutes the C14 isotope naturally present in the atmosphere. We see a consistently declining ratio of the C14 isotope within the constant increase of CO2 overall.

Carbon is speaking through the voices of the world’s top scientists. Though it reveals that we are responsible for its accumulation, if you include other GHGs the increase in atmospheric concentration is closer 50%. This is significant. Noting recent satellite data that reveals that the amount of heat energy hitting earth remains constant while the amount of heat leaving earth has decreased, Chu remarked that the Earth will seek a new equilibrium to accommodate higher temperatures.

Climate is not current weather and, though we are seeing early indications, the long-term effects are much more significant. If we continue spewing toxic gases into the air like billions of little volcanoes, we could find ourselves making room for Earth’s next inhabitants.

Everything’s Coming Up Roses and Daffodils

Posted by e.taub@tvcnp.com | Posted in Carbon Neutral, Green, Science | Posted on 05-03-2010

The recent 60 Minute interview with K.R. Sridhar, former NASA rocket scientist and CEO of Bloom Energy, focused on home use of his much talked-about invention, the Bloom Box. However, current adoption and testing of the Bloom Box has been driven by 20 large companies in California with the immediate bottom-line necessity of cutting energy consumption. Some have been utilizing the technology for over a year, in part aided by heavy subsidization in California for energy upgrades.

FedEx, Wal-Mart, Staples, Google, and E-bay are among the companies that are testing the technology in California. Google was the first customer, and they have been running four units for the last eighteen months. Google’s use of the technology is not carbon neutral, as they are using natural gas to run the cell. However, they now use ½ the gas they used to for operations. John Donahoe of E-bay says that for its size, footprint, and consistent generation—their Bloom Box installations have provided five times more energy compared to the huge solar installation on their campus. In the 9 months since their implementation, the cells have saved the company $100,000 in energy cost. E-bay also uses bio-gas to fuel the cells—so their use of the fuel cell is carbon neutral.

KR originally developed the cell to produce oxygen on Mars. When the Mars mission fell away, he decided to work on a reverse process in the machine so that instead of releasing oxygen, it would use the air  to feed a chemical reaction to produce electricity. Though much skepticism hovers around the efficacy of large scale adoption of fuel cell technology because of the cost or rarity of  some materials previously needed to build and operate older-generation cells; the potential to harness the more efficient direct conversion of chemical energy, along with fuel flexibility (potentially carbon neutral), have held the technology in a strong position for further development.

John Door of Kleiner-Perkins, the man who discovered & funded Netscape, Amazon, and Google is the original funder behind the project. He saw great potential in the project and when KR asked for the first $100 million, John was undaunted; even though it was his first clean energy investment and he wasn’t at all sure it could be done. Stating that “new energy technologies could be the largest economic opportunity of the 21st century.” he took on the project.

At this point, investment in the Bloom Box has run closer to $400 million and, along with the secrecy that has shrouded the project until recently, there has been a tense buzz around the launch of the new fuel cell. KR gave 60 Minutes the first public peek at his invention. He takes beach sand, bakes it into a ceramic, cuts into squares and coats opposite sides of the disk with green & black inks (secret formula). The disks are stacked with metal plates between each, and this is the heart of the Bloom Box fuel cell. One disk powers one incandescent light bulb. The bigger the stack of disks and plates, the more potential for energy generation.

The Bloom Box is revolutionary in that it has removed several previous barriers to mass production. The metal plate between each disk in the stack is a cheap metal alloy instead of the platinum usually used. The cell also does not need pure hydrogen to feed into the energy creating reaction, but simply uses air. JK says the Bloom Box can use fossil or renewable fuels, or even solar and wind. There have been several kinks among the cells already in operation, but thus far each has been resolved.

So, a bit of fuel & air go in and out comes a lot of electricity. John Door says that the Bloom Box is intended to replace the grid for it’s customers, but believes that the utility companies will buy the cells to generate electricity, rather seeing the Bloom Box as a threat to their business. KR, would like to see the Bloom Box in every home and within 5 to 10 years at a unit to cost of less than $3,000. KR also envisions a bloom box at the White House, next to the organic vegetable garden. He said, “it’s about seeing the world as what it can be and not what it is.”

We have seen quite a bit of nay saying on the technology. That it is a rehash of old ideas, that it cannot work, that it is not viable as a large technology. However, this is exactly the type of innovation and driving attitude behind the “energy miracles” that Bill Gates called for at this year’s T.E.D conference. With beach sand, 2 kinds of mystery goo, cheap metal, and about $400 million toward the development and launch—KR has managed to produce a potentially carbon neutral and readily deployable energy source.

Is it perfect? Probably not, but we all too often let the search for Perfect stop us from using the Good Enough!

No Small-Talk About the Weather

Posted by e.taub@tvcnp.com | Posted in Education, Greenhouse Gas, Science | Posted on 02-03-2010

NOAA is reorganizing its efforts in order to disseminate usable climate science and climate service information to the public. They have requested $1.5 million in the 2011 budget for the program and have already launched a portal to make the information available at www.climate.gov. With Congressional approval, the new climate service will seek to provide longer-term information on weather related to climate change (much like the National Weather Service provides immediate information on day-to-day weather), as that information has become vital to understanding weather-related risk.

“They turn to the Weather Service for making predictions in the short range, now we need the climate service … because increasingly climate change is affecting everyone’s bottom line.” - Commerce Secretary Gary Locke

The data that NOAA is making available has, in part, been compiled from old log books containing weather information dating back over two centuries through the Atmospheric Circulation Reconstructions over the Earth (ACRE) initiative. The disparate information has been processed in massive supercomputing efforts through the 20th Century Reanalysis Project in order to help place current atmospheric circulation patterns into a historical perspective.

I imagine that even Darwin, during his famous expedition on the HMS Beagle, had no clue that future scientists would seek the weather data collected by his ship captain to aid in securing a livable future for our species.

Energy Miracles

Posted by e.taub@tvcnp.com | Posted in Carbon Neutral, Energy, Government, Greenhouse Gas, Science | Posted on 01-03-2010

Bill Gates is among big business leaders who are focusing on climate change, seeing it as the most immediate challenge to the health of global communities. His previous focus on poverty lead him to examine climate change, as it will expand poverty and disproportionately affect the world’s poorest people.  At the T.E.D. 2010 conference, he recently challenged us to focus on “Energy Miracles” and spend the next 40 years developing and implementing clean technology to completely cut carbon emissions.

He called for us to significantly advance technologies in thermal and photo voltaic solar energy, as well as develop wind-based alternatives. He also emphasized that advancing technologies for capturing carbon should be a priority.  The design for an energy miracle should focus around:

Steven Chu has recently focused 3.4 Billion in stimulus dollars to carbon capture innovation. Though not as useful for climate change needs as CO2 capture purely for sequestration sake, some plants are capturing their CO2 waste in order to use it to drive more petroleum from the ground.

Though controversial, Gates also emphasized improving technologies to turn nuclear waste into clean energy, mentioning that Paducah, Kentucky has enough uranium waste stored to power the U.S. for two centuries. The French, with great success, have long been utilizing and reprocessing nuclear energy rather than burying it as waste. The problem with reprocessing the spent material is that the technology currently produces weapons-grade plutonium as a byproduct.

Obama is also going nuclear, recently allocating a federal loan guarantee of $8.33 billion for construction of two nuclear reactors in Georgia, to begin next year. These will be the first new nuclear reactors in over 30 years and are part of Obama’s efforts to stimulate the economy while developing an energy infrastructure that will keep us competitive within the global energy market.

“If we fail to invest in the technologies of tomorrow, then we’re going to be importing those technologies instead of exporting them,” he said. “We will fall behind. Jobs will be produced overseas instead of here in the United States of America. And that’s not a future that I accept.” - President Obama