Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Plasma light bulbs the new big thing?

There are light bulbs everywhere in our modern society, and one dramatic difference between our time and that of our ancestors is ubiquitous lights at night. I can't imagine that before electricity the average person could afford well-lit homes at night. The light comes at a cost, the electricity to keep our homes lit usually comes from burning fossil fuels. Light bulbs produce lumens and it more or less doesn't matter what the technology is inside the light bulb. But in the macro-economic picture it makes a big difference the efficiency. Power efficient bulbs promise to generate the same quantity of lumens while expending less electricity. So far the compact fluorescent has been the primary highly efficient light bulb, I've been using CFL's for nearly 20 years. However there are some up-and-coming technologies which may do better.

LED's with high efficiency have been developed but at eye-popping prices. They've seen the greatest adoption in street lights, and vehicle running lights. I've been using LED lighting on my electric vehicles. But while there has long been LED lights available for home use, they haven't been widely adopted.

Luxim Corporation has developed a new light that is more efficient than LED lights.

The technology uses a radio-frequency (RF) signal generated by a power amplifier (PA) circuit that generates an electric field around the bulb. The high concentration of energy vaporizes the contents of the bulb into a plasma state in the bulbs center, the controlled plasma generates an intense light source.

They have several versions for different purposes:-

Entertainment Lighting: For entertainment lighting, LIFI products offer an intense output, a full color spectrum, long life, and ruggedness that outperform its competition. LIFI sources last more than 10 times longer and have an order of magnitude better reliability than conventional HID lamps while offering the intense beam and the colorful spectrum needed for stage, studio and theatrical lights.

Architectural Lighting: With products whose output ranges from 12,000 to 22,000 lumens from a source that is just a few millimeters wide, LIFI enables bright yet compact flood, spot, accent and illuminating light fixtures. LIFI also has higher efficiency and reliability compared to traditional HID fixtures. In addition, LIFI has built in control functions that can be made compatible to any intelligent lighting networks.

Street and Area Lighting: Imagine a directional light source with greater than 120 lumens/watt, can output more than 20,000 lumens from s single source that is a fraction of the size of an HID and LED source, dims to 20% instantaneously on command, has a CRI of 95, and can start and re-strike instantaneously.

Instrument Lighting: Instrument lighting includes LIFI applications like medical and analytical lighting. Endoscopy, microscopy and other equipment are made possible with the highest level of color rendering available from a long life light source. In addition, with no significant variation in the intensity or spectrum, the quality of imaging applications is enhanced. Finally, the long life of the light source results in increased uptime and lower cost of ownership.


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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Why are we as a people worth saving? Reflecting on Battlestar Galactica's finale

The reimagined Battlestar Galactica has been a wild roller coaster journey and now it is over. My earlier posting was a study on some of the ways BSG reflected current events and having watched the final episode I am in awe with how this tied up, and most especially how it relates to the themes I cover on this blog. For me the point of the ending was a demonstration of a way to end the cycle of violence, however I'm not quite in agreement with their apparent decision that technology is the root of the evil humans do to each other. As an ending of this show, the colonial humans are depicted finding a planet with primitive tribal people, then deciding to give up on their technology and go native, rather than rebuilding the society they knew. As if it's the technology that's the problem.

But before I get too far down this path, it's likely that a few of you readers don't know what Battlestar Galactica is. It's a fraking TV show, where frak is a swear word, where the human race is in danger of extinction, and... well, I've attached a couple videos to the end which may help you to catch the frak up.

All through this show humans have been in a war with Cylons. Cylons are robotic beings with blinking eyes that swing back and forth. Essentially the Cylons represent technology developed to a level we are beginning to glimpse. Machines with enough something to make us think they are people.

It was the machines which threatened humanity. It was the machines which had to be killed, for humanity to survive, and that was the ending. They killed off all the machines, except for the ones who helped them. But was this the only possible conclusion?

The Cycle of Violence throughout history

The series demonstrated a cycle of violence spanning thousands of years. A refrain all along has been "This has all happened before, and it will happen again." The context in which the show was developed is the terrorism filled world since September 11, 2001, and it sure does seem in our world there is a cycle of violence which goes on and on and on and when will it ever end. How can it end? How can we stop the pattern of killing each other? That's what I want to know, what about you?

Consider the war in Iraq, which just entered its sixth year. It's a stupid illegal war, sure, but it's a continuation of a cycle of violence as well. The Iraq war was perpetrated supposedly because of the September 11, 2001 attacks except that the Iraqi's had nothing to do with that attack, meaning the war was perpetrated really because of megalomania among the Neocon leaders then in control of Washington. Go back in recent and ancient history, and we find a long series of events not just in Iraq but elsewhere in the Middle East over generations. There was the prior war in Iraq, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the continuing fighting between Israel and her neighbors, on and on, including a 1920 war where Great Britain invaded Iraq to occupy the country for many years at a cost of thousands of British soldiers. But it doesn't begin there, it goes back further and further into our history.

War is a continuing practice of human societies. Is it something we really want to be doing? Not really. I think most of us want to live our lives on our own terms. But clearly there's something which drives human societies to war.

One can map patterns in the cycles of violence. A grudge leads to seeking revenge, a misstatement leads to misunderstanding leads to estrangement, on and on. Escaping the cycle of violence involves taking a different path than the typical pattern. It requires choosing differently than seeking revenge or otherwise using your anger to incite more violence.

Violence piled upon violence begets more violence.

I began to see this theme being present in BSG around season 4 episode 10. The Cylons had had their own civil war, the humans met the remnants of one faction in the Cylon civil war, and they made a tacit alliance. In the heat of a showdown between the humans and these renegade Cylons, Lee Adama took a different way than escalating the showdown. Rather than escalate and escalate, he proffered peace, acceptance, a handshake, and an agreement to work together. It was a difficult path which did not go down well with the fleet, leading to a bloody mutiny.

This show ended with humanity as a whole choosing to take a different route than continue the cycle of violence. They found Earth, our Earth, but 150,000 years ago, inhabited by primitive tribes of hunter gatherers wandering the wilderness. They were a technologically advanced race, they could have landed and built a city of technological marvels. But they chose to give up their technology and join the natives of this planet.


Does destroy the tool used to engage in violence end the cycle?

Are they thinking it was their use of technology which led to their problems? One view is that their problems came from developing the Cylons, that their technology rose up to equal themselves and became a danger to their survival. Hence they could be thinking that technology is the danger, and that to be safe they must give up technology.

The reimagined BSG began with a foreboding speech by Commander Adama

The Cylon war was long ago, yet we must not forget the reason why so many suffered so much in the cause of freedom. The cost of wearing the uniform can be high...but...

Sometimes its too high.

When we fought the Cylons, we did it to save ourselves from extinction, but we never answered the question "Why". Why are we as a people worth saving? We still commit murder because of greed, spite, jealousy. And we still visit all of our sins upon our children. We refuse to accept responsibility for anything that we've done, like we did with the Cylons. We decided to play god, create life. When that life turned against us we comforted ourselves in the knowledge that it really wasn't our fault, not really.

You cannot play god and then wash your hands of the things that you have created.

Sooner or later the day comes when you cannot hide from the things that you've done anymore.

Why are we as a people worth saving?

All through the show the on-screen people never asked nor answered the "Why" question. They simply acted for their own survival. In the end they chose to give up their technology and start from a clean slate. Their clean slate created our society now, and the things Cmdr Adama said on the Galactica could be said about us today.

We, our people, our society, commits murder because of greed, spite, jealousy and more. We, our people, our society, still visits all our sins upon our children. And are we, our people, our society, accepting responsibility for our actions? No. We, our people, our society, is playing god, creating life, exploring the universe around us, etc.

Global warming and other dangers is in a way a response to the things that we, our people, our society, created. Our creations are causing great ecological and political harm across the world. Harm which threatens the survival of our society.

It isn't said in the series why the Colonial humans gave up their technology to go native on the planet they found. It is up to us to ponder why they would do that, and what we would do in that situation.

This is my pondering.. I wonder whether technology is the root of the problem. I think people can be angry with one another regardless of the technology they have in their hands. People can kill each other with rocks and spears and fists, just as they can kill each other with nuclear weapons.

Technology has an amplifying effect on everything we do. Using technology we can blow the tops off 50 million year old mountain ranges (to get the coal underneath), and using technology we can rain death upon whole continents. Technology helps us be more efficient at our conduct of war and murder because of greed, spite or jealousy. Technology helps us be more efficient at inflicting sins upon our children or our neighbors.

But is technology the problem? Methinks technology is a tool we use to amplify things we do, and that the problem lies within ourselves. It is humans who still commit murder because of greed, spite, jealousy. It is not the machines which do that, it is human beings who choose to do that to one another.

Guns don't kill people, people kill people.

Well, there is a question hanging here. What happens when the guns become self aware intelligent beings in their own right? What happens when the guns can make their own decisions? Today the U.S. military is pouring megadollars into researching robotic weapons. Perhaps the U.S. will "pull out" of Iraq and leave behind a robotic army to continue dominating Iraq. In any case the roboticists are ignoring Asimov's laws of Robotics, violating the first rule of Robotics, and creating robotic machines whose design is to kill people. What will happen in perhaps 20 years when enough computing power can be on those robots that they behave and act just like people. Will those robots begin clamoring for their rights? Will they turn on us? And if they do is the "guns don't kill people" adage still true?

If our tools stop being inanimate objects that have no volition of their own, are we responsible for their actions?


Monday, March 16, 2009

Utility companies preparing for electric cars?

A USATODAY news article suggests California utility prepares for surge in plug-in electric cars which made me wonder what the other electrical utilities are doing. Electrical utilities have a role in clean transportation as being the provider of choice of the electricity that would power electric vehicles. A couple concerns known to me are whether the electric grid can handle the increased demand for electricity, and what will be the environmental effect of increased electricity demand. Let's take a look at the situation.

Utility companies could be big winners in the shift to electric transportation. The money flowing to the oil companies is largely for transportation, and clearly the oil companies receive massive megadollars of revenue. This flow of money could be diverted to the utility companies. Electric vehicles are thought to generally be recharged at night when there is excess electrical generation capacity.

California ISO is a not-for-profit public-benefit corporation charged with operating the majority of California’s high-voltage wholesale power grid. They therefore play a critical role in distributing electricity, and their website has massive quantities of information. The vast majority concerns the markets they run to handle payments between power suppliers and utility companies. There is not anything on the site directly concerning environmental concerns. Still there is very useful data that can be consulted to grok energy demand in California.

The Lassen Municipal Utility District provides a map of energy utilities operating in California. It shows there are three primary utilities, and a handful of smaller ones, and for this posting I'll only look at the three big ones: PG&E (central and northern California), SoCalEdison (LA Basin), and SDGE (San Diego).

PG&E's Environment program says they "we are committed to being an environmental leader and demonstrating this through our actions. We pledge to think creatively, work cooperatively and be results-oriented in our environmental stewardship efforts." What they're doing is:

  • Putting Energy Efficiency First: Using energy more efficiently is the fastest, most cost-effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat global climate change.
  • Clean Energy Solutions: exploring harvesting energy from the sun, ocean waves, tidal currents, and agricultural waste, and are involved in state-of-the-art, cleaner sources of fossil-fuel based power.
  • Fighting Climate Change: reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and to providing customers with tools to shrink their "carbon footprint."
  • Greening Vehicles: They apparently have a long track record of pushing for clean vehicles, for consumers and for themselves. They have a plug-in Prius (yes, just one). Most of their words in this section discuss supplying compressed natural gas (CNG) as a fuel to their own fleet plus other fleets.
  • Promoting Stewardship: managing lands and waters in a responsible and environmentally sensitive manner. Their infrastructure traverses unique and sensitive habitat.
  • Supporting Communities: Solar Habitat Program, Solar Schools, Partnering for a Greener San Francisco
  • Buildings and Operations: Greening their own buildings

Let's look more closely at their green vehicles program. This is pretty disappointing.

They show a picture of their plug-in Prius, and the car has a sticker saying "100 MPG" and "I can't remember the last time I filled up". Okay that probably just means they drive the car around San Francisco within the battery-only range, right? It's disappointing that they have only one of these cars.

Most of the page is concerned with using natural gas as a vehicle fuel. Obviously PG&E sells both electricity and natural gas and they are leveraging their other asset, access to natural gas, as a "green vehicle" option. Are there emissions benefits from using natural gas in vehicles? Yes. For heavy trucks and buses, a new (Model Year 2004) natural gas vehicle can cut toxic soot pollution by 75 to 90 percent, while smog-forming pollution is reduced by about 25 percent compared to conventional diesel. Diesel soot is extremely toxic, containing over 40 chemicals that California has declared as toxic air contaminants. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) estimates that diesel exhaust causes 70% of the state's cancer risk from airborne pollution.

They use both compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) for their heavy duty vehicles. They operate 37 PG&E-owned-and-operated CNG fueling stations supplying fuel to their own vehicles and various commercial fleet customers.

But the overall picture is they're doing very little in the way of studying electric vehicles or planning for accommodating them on the local power grid. They do have a 'Vehicle to Grid' (V2G) program but I couldn't find where it's discussed.

Southern California Edison is "committed to environmental protection".

  • Environmental Commitment: Helping to protect the environment in which we work and live.
  • Smart Grid: Nation’s most advanced neighborhood electricity circuit.
  • Edison SmartConnect™: A smarter, cleaner energy future with our customers.
  • Electric Transportation: Nation's largest electric vehicle fleet.
  • Power Generation: Dedicated to operating safe and environmentally responsible facilities.
  • Transmission Projects: Strengthening system reliability throughout our service territory.

Their various programs look interesting in various ways. The SmartConnect program offers customers more information about their power use supposedly to give them better awareness of their impact which may steer customers to making better choices. Let's focus on their electric transportation program.

Their Electric Transportation Vision is pretty well described and thought out. They obviously have spent some effort to understand the issues such as national energy security, environmental issues, etc. It's amusing that the picture leading the page shows lines of golf carts and fork lifts so their vision is to keep electric vehicles used only for low speed vehicles? C'mon, electric vehicles don't have to be boring golf carts.

  • Near-Term

    • Vehicle to Home: Charging vehicles (mainly plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles) during nighttime (off-peak) hours, and using that stored energy occasionally for peak emergency backup or peak shaving to avoid higher electricity costs during critical peak usage days.
    • Home Energy Storage: Identifying and evaluating new stationary applications for advanced vehicle batteries, such as a home energy storage device.
  • Mid-Term
    • Excess Grid Capacity: Using the electric grid’s nighttime excess capacity to charge volumes of plug-in and other electric vehicles, helping lower customer rates by spreading fixed generation plant costs over more energy use.
    • Long-Term

    • Vehicle to Grid: Tapping into the potential ability to move stored energy from plug-in and other electric vehicles back into the electric grid as part of the “smart grid of the future,” helping enhance power grid quality, reliability and cost-effectiveness.

Their Electric Vehicle Technical Center conducts state-of-the-art testing and evaluation, they have a "garage of the future" evaluation platform to plan for recharging electric vehicles at home and they do cutting-edge work with electric-drive technologies.

  • Tests battery-electric, hybrid-electric, plug-in hybrid, plug-in hybrid fuel cell and fuel cell propulsion systems for on- and non-road applications.
  • Evaluates and tests advanced battery modules, battery packs, battery management systems and various types of chargers.
  • Supports the development of more energy-efficient battery charging systems.
  • Evaluates advanced batteries and other energy storage technologies for stationary applications, such as home energy storage, telecommunications and emergency backup power.
  • Partners with government and industry to demonstrate hydrogen and fuel cells and understand the safety and electrical system impacts of hydrogen generation, compression, storage and delivery.
  • Provides consulting services for industry.

This looks very good and comprehensive on their part. They appear to be doing all the right things to understand and plan for electric vehicles.

San Diego Gas & Electric Company's Environment program talks about "A Sustainable and Eco-friendly Future"

Their programs are:

  • Going Solar
  • Building Green with Us
  • Producing Your Own Power
  • Sustainable Communities Program
  • Saving Energy Today
  • Exploring Clean Transportation
  • Learn about Renewable Energy
  • Environment Home

Clearly one of San Diego's main assets is abundant sunshine. What's that song? Actually the first time I was in San Diego it was overcast and cold (for June) and rainy, so obviously it does occasionally rain in southern california. Their service area also includes the deserts to the west of the mountains, and I believe SDGE is investing in solar power plants in those deserts to provide electricity to San Diego.

Their programs for clean and electric vehicles look very weak, but still with a useful focus.

In Sept 2008 they announced results of study: Plug-In hybrid electric vehicles excel on MPG and emissions reductions, SDG&E study confirms "SDG&E tested the performance of two 2007-model standard hybrid vehicles and then converted them into plug-in hybrids, using a lithium-ion battery conversion kit. When compared with the standard hybrid, the plug-in hybrid achieved a 60-percent increase in gas mileage, a 37-percent decrease in carbon dioxide (CO2) tailpipe emissions, and an 18-percent reduction in fuel costs. When compared with conventional gasoline-fueled vehicles that average 22 miles per gallon (MPG), the fuel cost savings jump to 57 percent. "

Unfortunately their page has very few specifics to understand what they're doing. They discuss electrification of the following useful areas to address, but with no details as to the actual programs being pursued.

  • Non-road Electric Vehicles
    • Fork lifts, materials-handling equipment, personnel carriers and cleaners
    • Airport ground support equipment (electrification of ground support equipment at San Diego International Airport)
  • Electric Idling Initiatives - Electric idling initiatives, which involve substituting electrification for petroleum-fueled idling operations, include:
    • "Cold ironing" (Port of San Diego cruise ship and cargo terminals)
    • Locomotive electric idling (San Diego Sante Fe Train Station)
    • Truck-stop electrification

External Media


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Jellyfish Wind Appliance


Clarian is a Research and Development firm focused on developing technologies that enable organizations in the energy and transportation sectors to transform their operations to profit from the latest in energy-related information technology and the emerging smart-energy web.

They have developed a wind turbine with interesting capabilities.



Thursday, March 12, 2009

7 GEN Newsletter #2: Clean Coal, Clean Sustainability Technology, and what happens when you put 2gb of flash memory in a pen

This is the second newsletter issue from www.7gen.com. I am restarting publishing newsletter issues and I hope to get into a regular monthly schedule. Unfortunately I skipped a month due to life issues.


Since the last issue the Obama administration came into office (finally) and began their wave of Change. Hopefully their brand of Change is truly what we can believe in. Most of the changes I hear are good and what I believe in. But some are bothersome.

There's a debate in the news about what to do in regard to the past sins of the Bush Administration. I have long called for Impeachment of the Bush Administration but that didn't happen. And I am firmly of the opinion that the Bush Administration did many illegal, immoral, impeachable acts while in office. And that some of the changes enacted by the Bush Administration were incredibly damaging to the purpose of the U.S.A.

Some recent articles say that under the Bush Administration we were technically living under a dictatorship. During that era I'd hear and dismiss statements like that thinking they were hyperbole. But technically the U.S. legal system was undermined with claims of arbitrary power by the Bush Administration, that the Administration could choose to ignore any law it pleased, and that for example with the 'Enemy Combatant' system they could make up whole extra-judicial systems on the whim of their crazy legal theories.

It seems the general trend is to "move on" and put the past behind us. But leaving illegal acts by a U.S. President stand without prosecuting those illegal acts can serve as precedent by future Presidents to also claim those same powers. I believe it is dangerous to simply move on and forget the past. Otherwise the precedent set by the Bush Administration will haunt us and bite us in the butt in the future. I believe it is better to take some real solid action to make it abundantly clear that many of the changes enacted by the Bush Administration were counter to the goals of the U.S.A., and that the citizens of the U.S.A. will not permit those things to remain as a valid precedent.

Keeping with the Change theme. The word 'Change' is very general. The Bush Administration could well have described their Changes as Change that 'We' can believe in (for some definition of 'we'). It seems the U.S.A. has two extreme polar camps of belief and that for some of the U.S.A. citizens they believed in the Bush Administration changes.

Change simply means making things different than they were before. The Obama Campaign promised Change. Change to What?

Coal, and Clean Coal

A particular Change they seem to want is the use of Clean Coal technology. I don't understand Clean Coal well enough but have heard it dismissed as a fantasy land fabricated from hopes and pushed by the Coal Industry to keep themselves in business. But the proponents of Clean Coal hold high hopes for it. And the Obama Administration has been making statements in support of Clean Coal. It should help one to remember that Obama comes from Illinois, a state rich in Coal deposits, making it possible that Obama has been influenced by Coal interests in his home state.

I'm studying up on Coal and have begun a handbook section on www.7gen.com: Clean Coal? Misnomer?

Clean Green Technology? Sustainable Technology?

Another idea I want to know more about is the definition of Green Technology. There's a lot of talk about how Green Jobs will save America setting off a wave of building new industries and companies and the jobs which will go along with that. I certainly prefer that vision over the Bush Administration vision of turning America into a war mongering military state where military industries are the growth area.

But I find the phrase 'Green Technology' to be very unspecific. What is 'Green' besides a color? What would Purple Technology be?

My latest podcast episode looks into this: Technosanity #23: Defining green technology and sustainable technology

Some green sustainable products

I have also spent some time researching Green and carbon neutral web hosting providers and wrote a blog posting on greenprofs.com Green businesses need green infrastructure and need green web hosting. Green businesses probably have a purpose of offering products or services that aid us in being sustainable. This means we, as business owners promoting sustainability, should also be using sustainable services for our business. That includes our web hosting arrangements.

I personally satisfy much of my personal transportation needs with an electric bicycle. I use it for grocery shopping runs and around town trips. I recently measured the electric bicycle to have 1120 miles/gallon fuel efficiency. And I have also produced a couple podcast episodes about Electric bicycle conversion kits


What happens when you embed a camera, a computer, and 2gb of flash memory in a pen? The result costs a pretty penny, is pretty chunky, but has amazing powers of dictation and recall.

The result is the Livescribe 2GB Pulse Smartpen (APA-00002)

The Livescribe Smartpen is a rather thick pen that you absolutely do not want to lose as it costs a lot more than a regular pen. Embedded in the pen is a small camera, an audio recorder, a speaker, a computer, 2gb of flash memory, and connections allowing you to dock the pen with a computer.

The pen knows what you wrote because it tracks the pen motions you make. They require that you use special paper which has microdots on the surface encoding identifier marks on the paper which tell the pen which page is being written on, as well as where on the page the writing is occurring. The paper looks and feels like regular paper, it simply has these identifying microdots. They sell notebooks with the special paper and you can easily flip back and forth between pages at random, writing on the pages at random, and the pen just keeps track for you with no fuss. This is because each page has identifying microdots and the pen simply recognizes, automatically, which page you're scribbling on.

The audio recorder and playback is also very interesting. The pen can record what's happening around you while you're writing. Are you in a meeting and racing to take notes? It's much easier this way because the pen records the spoken part, you write whatever you can in real time, and you can easily go back over it later to recall more of the discussion. It should also work for students taking notes in a classroom, the pen records the lecture and the student writes whatever they can and can go back over the lecture later without having to struggle to remember what the heck the teacher said.

If you double click the pen on your notes (later), the pen plays back precisely what was spoken at the time you wrote those notes.

An interesting variation is as a writing assistant. For example while brainstorming I like to speak the ideas out loud and then I've found it difficult to remember and write down quite what I said. With this pen I can be talking and writing at the same time and the pen records both parts of the brainstorming. Plus its user interface is very natural to use because, well, it is first and foremost a pen. The audio recorder doesn't interfere with its use as a pen, you simply write and it records both audio and writing.

For years the technologists have said computer technology would bury itself in the woodwork and we'd see a new wave of incredible devices. The livescribe Smartpen is clearly one of these new incredible devices. Massive computing power is embedded in a lowly ink pen, giving the pen advanced capabilities.

Unfortunately the pen also costs quite a bit. This pen is not disposable and clearly its price means you'd better make sure not to lose this pen. However I'm very happy with mine so far.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Re: Lithium Counterpoint: No Shortage For Electric Cars

In Lithium Counterpoint: No Shortage For Electric Cars Karen Pease lays out an interesting case for there being infinite resources and we don't need to worry our little heads over resource exhaustion. She makes an interesting case but I think her logic is flawed and I want to better understand the real situation. In some ways our modern society is deeply affected by two opposing economic philosophies. One argues that there is no limits to growth, that resources are infinite, there is no end of human ingenuity, etc. The other argues that there is lots of evidence to the contrary, for example biologists recognize that e.g. microorganisms in a culture will expand their population to the maximum extent possible, eat up all the food they can, and then die when there's no more food left. Human culture has long followed a pattern of exhausting resources and moving to the next sector where the pickings are better. Such as this article from a couple years ago, 'Only 50 years left' for sea fish, the cause is the pattern of exhausting fisheries until they collapse and that scientists estimate this pattern will cause all fisheries to be exhausted within 50 years and we will have no more large seafood fish left to harvest.

In her article Ms. Pease describes the resource situation for both Copper and Lithium. The model she describes can be applied to any resource, it seems. The model she describes is how improved technology or machinery investments can allow mineral producers to extract minerals from lower concentration deposits. That is for every resource the producers start with the easy-to-mine deposits, and as those are exhausted they move to lower quality deposits, then lower quality deposits, and so on. This pattern is driven by exhaustion of high quality deposits, that leads to technological breakthroughs allowing extraction from lower quality deposits.

The purest deposits of any resource are incredibly rare. The next best are an order of magnitude more common, and the next best an order of magnitude more common still, and so forth.

She gives an estimate on how many of atoms of copper there are in the earths crust: "about 10^21 kilograms, which means about 60,000,000,000,000 (60 trillion) metric tonnes of copper". Clearly that is an inconceivably large quantity of copper. Yet for some reason there is currently a copper shortage, copper thieves stealing copper sometimes are electrocuted when stealing wires that have current in them, etc.

Likewise she gives an estimate of "1,270,000,000,000,000 kilograms of lithium carbonate" in all the worlds oceans and talks about other vast deposits of Lithium.

So... what are we worried about? There is an inconceivably large quantity of copper, lithium.. and perhaps other resources. In the Peak Oil (peak oil websites) theory it's said we're about to reach a point where worldwide oil production will inevitably decline with disastrous consequences to our human society. Maybe peak oil is poppycock, and that other resources will be tapped to supply the liquid oil and we don't have to worry about it. Such as coal liquefaction or the processing of tar sands, both of which can benefit from more technology, resource or investment to increase production.

In other words perhaps the reason animal populations exhaust their resources are that the animals aren't smart enough to develop better technologies? We are animals too and fortunately we are smart enough to have the ingenuity to think ourselves out of the messes we get ourselves into, while yeast only knows how to eat sugar.

Here are a couple points I have in mind about this picture she paints.

While the numbers she gives are inconceivably large it is impractical to extract every atom of every resource. Take the lithium in the ocean. To extract all that lithium would mean processing every ounce of ocean water to get that inconceivably large quantity of lithium. Obviously it's impractical to do so. Instead as you process ocean water you'll be pouring it back into the ocean and the ocean will have a decreasing concentration of lithium (and whatever else is extracted). Eventually the concentration will dip low enough to be nonextractable. Further what about the effect of extracting lithium from the ocean? Does this harm the ocean water to process it to extract minerals? Does the lower concentration of minerals in the ocean negatively effect the animals and plants growing in the ocean? Are there chemicals added to ocean water to extract the minerals and thereby adding new chemicals to the ocean?

Similarly to extract all that copper from the earth's crust means, uh, processing, uh, every ounce of the earth's crust. That would obviously have a negative impact on the ability of us to have a place to live.

In other words the inconceivably large numbers she gives are a lie. The extractable quantity of a given resource is the amount one should focus on, not the total amount. Okay, clearly "extractable" is dependent on feats of technological prowess and perhaps there will in the future be ray guns that can be fired into the ocean to magically lift out the lithium without any other effect on anything. Yeah, right. Only some portion of the existing copper or lithium or oil or uranium etc can be extracted from the planet without destroying the planet along the way, at a given level of technological prowess.

The next point is the pattern of resource exhaustion. Human society has for millennia followed a pattern of overfishing, over grazing, and over extracting each area they live in, then when a given area stops producing they move to the next, and to the next, and to the next. This is the hunter gatherer cycle but also works in other cultural styles. For example the practice of crop rotation is this same resource exhaustion pattern but instead of moving on the practice is to let a field go fallow for a year or two. Um, because, uh, they exhausted the field? And moved on from that field to another until the exhausted field has a chance to recover? Uh?

In modern days one form we experience resource exhaustion is the throw away nature of most of the modern gadgets we buy. Rather than proper metal silverware that can be used for a hundred years, often we're eating with plastic sporks that are used once and thrown away. The plastic knife might not even be used and still get thrown away. The more ethical of the plasticware is made of new plastics that can be composted, after, uh, they are thrown away.

This pattern of using something once and then throwing it away is a resource exhaustion pattern. It means that it doesn't matter how big the resource pool is, that if it's used and then thrown away and not reused, eventually that resource pool will be exhausted. An interesting analogy is to consider the food in your refrigerator. If you don't replenish the food, and simply take some out every day and eat it, eventually the food runs out. I am however talking at a global scale.

Also you can use something a dozen times and still be in a resource exhaustion pattern if it is thrown away at the end, and not reused.

A different pattern is to reuse everything. Biological systems reuse everything. When a tree dies and falls over in the forest, a whole swarm of different animal and plant life descend on the tree carcass to eat it, turn it into new soil, etc, and every ounce of the tree is reused to make more plants and animals and trees. Biological life on this planet has lived for over a billion years and even though it goes through occasional extinctions etc, biological life shows all signs of continuing for another billion or more years on this planet. That is if we don't dig up every ounce of soil to extract the minerals. The success of biological life is due to reusing everything. Recycling is a good idea, and humanity doesn't recycle enough.

External Media


Thursday, March 5, 2009

U.S. DOE Clean Coal Technology & The Clean Coal Power Initiative


"Clean coal technology" describes a new generation of energy processes that sharply reduce air emissions and other pollutants from coal-burning power plants.

The Clean Coal Power Initiative is providing government co-financing for new coal technologies that can help utilities cut sulfur, nitrogen and mercury pollutants from power plants. Also, some of the early projects are showing ways to reduce greenhouse emissions by boosting the efficiency by which coal plants convert coal to electricity or other energy forms.



Monday, March 2, 2009

Enagri: Biofuels, renewable energy agriculture


An online information source for bioenergy and energy agriculture. From anaerobic digestion to wind power, and from biofuels to solarBioenergy, biofuels, cereals, wheat, farmer, energy agriculture, they have it covered. Their website provides subscribers with up to date news, events and web links, as well as access to our monthly e-zine, a unique weekly bioenergy market report and online access to thousands of documents, reports and databases. Enagri is an online information source covering all aspects of bioenergy, energy agriculture and related areas.