Showing posts from 2009

That Fracking Gas

                                      That Fracking Gas In the science fantasy TV adventure, Battlestar Galactic , angry moments led to passionate comments about some “fracking” whatever. Frack was never defined, but it was obviously bad. A nonfiction term of “fracking” may be truly bad for alternative energy. Fracking refers to fracturing of rock strata to increase flow of natural gas (methane) and often smaller amounts of other hydrocarbons. The process is particularly useful in loosening gas from shale deposits. Advances in horizontal drilling and three-dimensional (3-D) seismometry allow drilling a spider web of bore holes into a layer of shale. Then, high-pressure water, sand, and chemicals are pumped into the bore holes, causing them to swell and cause cracks in the rock. These fractures allow more passageways for the natural gas (or other fluids such as petroleum) to flow out faster. Fracking is a major factor in a 35-percent increase in U.S. natural gas reserves during

Green Roofs are Great! … But Not Cheap

Green Roofs are Great! … But Not Cheap Green roofs are rightly in the technical news. A plant-covered layer of soil on a roof can provide insulation and cooling in summer ( Green roofs can provide insulation in winter ( The plants in a green roof can help decompose pollution. Green roofs even have their own web page at . Green roofs are defined as plant-covered roofs (not just a roof painted green). They function in two ways. First, the layer of soil and plant material is a significant addition to the typical roof insulation. Second, plants transpire moisture to the atmosphere and prevent heating of the roofing surface. (This is analogous to the way people sweat to prevent overheating.) As additional benefits, green roofs can produce crops, they can be exotic small parks for office buildings or condominiums.

Race Cars to the Rescue

Race Cars to the Rescue One does not usually associate energy efficiency with Formula One racecars, but they do go together. Many of the standard features in today’s cars were tested on race tracks (and before that by bootleggers doing their best to outrun the local gendarme. Likewise, Formula One cars are helping in the development of two major innovations for increasing vehicle efficiency, the zeroshift gearbox and regenerative braking. In “F1 Soups up the Family Car,” Science Illustrated (September/October 2009, pages 50–53) describes how these two innovations are important in the high-performance arena and how the investments there may yield dividends for ordinary road vehicles. For racers, the biggest advantage of the zeroshift transmission is that it gives quicker surer gear changes. For ordinary cars, reducing those freewheeling seconds between gears can reduce energy losses to the level of

Getting the Juice: How About Silicon-Nanotube Electrodes?

Getting the Juice: How About Silicon-Nanotube Electrodes? It’s just another research initiative … a fond hope, … but it might work yet. Researchers at Stanford University in California, USA and Hanyang University in Ansan, Korea are working to develop silicon nanotube electrodes that might hold more mobile lithium ions in a lithium battery. The result might be a tenfold increase in battery capability per unit of mass. That could upgrade electric cars from 40-mile range to 400-mile range. The reason Henry Ford politely declined to work for Thomas Alva Edison on the electric car would disappear The development program was described in the journal Nano Letters, and Technology Review summarized it at and it has great possibilities. However, there’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip. Theoretical possibilities cannot be produced in mas

Geothermal—Drilling Hot But Ground Shaking

Geothermal—Drilling Hot But Ground Shaking Geothermal energy, tapping into the fission heat of the Earth’s core, has the potential to supply a major part of humanity’s energy needs without major outputs of carbon dioxide. Those possibilities got both good news and bad news in mid September 2009. The good news was provided by ETH Zurich (Switzerland) who have done the basic research for a thermal drill to penetrate rock with potential for providing geothermal energy. Drilling is typically one of the greatest costs for geothermal energy, and indeed, any place on Earth could provide geothermal energy if drilling costs were low enough. In fact, drilling costs for geothermal tend to be high for two reasons. First, except for a rare geologic sites, deep drilling is required. Second, heat (by definition) tends to be in igneous (that is volcanic-type) rocks, or at least metamorphic (sedimentary rocks that have been cooked by nearby magma). Such rocks t

ECOLOGY--THE CLOSING CIRCLE Conserve To Greatness---Energy Resource Efficiency and The Future (5 of 5)

Conserve To Greatness---Energy Resource Efficiency and The Future (5 of 5) ECOLOGY--THE CLOSING CIRCLE Ecology and efficiency are merely two sides of the same coin. Efficient energy systems require less fuel and emit fewer combustion products. Substituting data flow for that of people and their vehicles reduces fuel and material use. Recycling materials reduces mining requirements and fuel needs while decreasing waste streams. Better materials reduce energy use, mining needs, and dangerous waste products. Better food production systems could feed many times more people at less energy cost and less pain to the environment. Still, the greatest danger to humanity is probably fouling the nest with wasted resources before realizing their value. Poor farming practices and overgrazing devastated much of the land where classical civilizations thrived (Lowdermilk). Ruined highlands silted and ruined lowlands. One initiative of China's so-called Great Leap Forward in the early years of the c

Conserve To Greatness---Energy Resource Efficiency and The Future (4 of 5) FOOD

Conserve To Greatness---Energy Resource Efficiency and The Future (4 of 5) FOOD Shortly after the Second World War, thousands of Japanese prisoners were hungry nearly to starvation. It was not that their American captors had deliberately deprived them, only that they had received wheat instead of rice. This illustrates an important facet of human behavior. Unless constrained in a prison camp, people resist new eating habits. Thus, it is seems difficult to use the many efficient options available. Yet, progress eventually comes. In Europe, potatoes were only fed to livestock for some decades before an eccentric booster (who had been fed potatoes as a prisoner of war) gave the French queen a bouquet of potato flowers. In America, tomatoes were thought to be poisonous until in the early 1800s a maniacal gardener posted notices and then astonished a crowd by publicly eating a tomato. Conversely, people eat too much of some things. Ali

Conserve To Greatness---Energy Resource Efficiency and The Future (3 of 5)

Conserve To Greatness---Energy Resource Efficiency and The Future (3 of 5) ENERGY AGAIN--AVOIDING TRAVEL Another transportation approach may be the best, avoid it altogether! James Martin wrote about "the wired society" in the 1970s. Martin described possibilities of replacing much commuting with communicating, and Martin's wired society is developing now. Many jobs can are done at home. Employees simply call in to send and receive data. Communication has already decreased the energy costs of a small number of telecommuters. If applied widely, it can save energy for roads and vehicles and materials for the work places that are no longer needed. Most important, telecommuting to work is distance insensitive. Once society adjusts to telecommuting, telecommuters can be across town or across the continent...or on another continent...or across space. One effect of this is that peasants can get good jobs without leaving their land. Nature lovers can homestead in the wilds while

Conserve To Greatness---Energy Resource Efficiency and The Future (2 of 5)

Conserve To Greatness---Energy Resource Efficiency and The Future (2 of 5) ENERGY Energy is the most notable set of mineral resources because any shortages of energy affect production of other minerals and food. Conversely, excess energy allows production from the most dilute ores and the most marginal farm lands. World energy prices reached low points in the 1960s and 1980s (adjusted for inflation). In the 1960s, Increased production in the giant oil fields of North Africa and the Persian Gulf drove down the prices of oil and all competing energy sources. Low prices allowed sloppy burning methods and encouraged rapid growth in energy use. Energy use increased geometrically, as in the Club of Rome computer simulations. Then in the 1970s, many of the major petroleum exporters managed to raise world prices by cartel controls on production, and most energy prices rose along with those of oil. Consequently, efficiency of energy use also began increa
Conserve To Greatness---Energy Resource Efficiency and The Future (1 of 5) Man built most nobly when confronted with the greatest limitations. Frank Lloyd Wright Nothing grates quite so much as that stock phrase, "This country didn't conserve its way to greatness." In fact, homo sapiens in general and Americans in particular did conserve to greatness! Better designs, using less material to get more results, is only one engineering option, the opposite of burning more fuel. If fuel is cheap and fresh air unlimited, burning more is wisest. If fuel is costly and air polluted, time and materials must be devoted to increasing cleverness. Fortunately, this can often be done. Clever engineering can often follow Buckminster Fuller's dictum of "doing more with less." For example, Benjamin Franklin was asked to help ease a problem of a wood f

The Silver Bullet Blues—Stumbling Towards Energy Fixes

The Silver Bullet Blues—Stumbling Towards Energy Fixes You see, during the full moon, I become a terrible raging thing, a werewolf. That’s why you must take this gun and be prepared to use it. It has a silver bullet. That’s the only thing that can stop me. Lon Chaney as Frank Talbott into many werewolf movies A silver bullet … or a crucifix … or a contrived delivery of sunlight is a dependable component of thrillers. At the last moment, the one crucial item defeats evil, and goodness prevails. The silver-bullet metaphor has even escaped the fictional realm. One often hears, “We need to find the silver bullet for …,” X, whatever X is. Unfortunately, reality has few simple issues and fewer silver bullets. Instead, shortages of desired things and unwanted byproducts of producing those things can only be solved (or mitigated) by investing work and money and time. Magical thinking allows societies to stumble after silver bullets rather than making the practical investments to solve problems

Every Little Energy Bit Helps

Every Little Energy Bit Helps…And Every Eccentric Bit…and Every Bottom-Line Bit Every little bit helps! Every little bit helps! That was a line from a new group in the 1970s—the environmentalists. They had big ideas about cleaning all the smoke stacks of America. They also had little ideas. One of the little ideas was a brick in the toilette tank. One brick saved about one quart per flush with the resulting savings in water and water purification chemicals. AND if all the toilettes in America had a brick…. Let’s start with a serious concern about energy. Petroleum geologist M. King Hubbert said that petroleum production is like a bell-shaped curve. Production of oil for our cars goes steeply up to a peak.…. Then, it goes steeply down. In 1956, Hubbert said that oil production in the lower forty-eight states would peak about 1970. People laughed…until 1970 when it happened. Now, other geologists are saying there is a similar curve for world oil production. And that peak might be roughly

An Open Letter to T. Boone Pickens, Richard Rainwater, Antonio Villariogosa

Gentlemen, I am writing this letter because you are iconic figures representing three vital points of a political triangle needed to make a major energy revolution. T. Boone Pickens, you are a business deal-maker controlling billions of dollars who has recently cultivated a following among democrats and environmentalists to develop greater use of natural gas and wind energy. Richard Rainwater, you are an investments advisor and broker, also controlling billions of dollars. Moreover, you have strong contacts with a number of people in the Republican party, including the Bush family. Antonio Villaraigosa, you are the Hispanic mayor of a major Southwest United States city, short on electrical power but rich in sunlight and heat. Together you three have the wild hairs to dream, the money to build dreams into innovation, the political clout to burst through walls of inertia, and the managerial drive & finesse to maintain the drive for transforming innovations