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China to stress economic growth over arresting global heating June 4, 2007

Posted by Brian Angliss in 2008 Campaign, Energy & the Environment, Environment, Foreign Policy, Global warming.
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According to Deutsche Welle this morning, the official Chinese position on economic growth and global heating is that economic growth trumps global heating.

“There is especially no research that details the economic impact of a two-degree restriction, nor what kind of influence such a target would bring on the development of each nation.” (Ma Kai, the minister of China’s key Reform and Development Commission, quoted from Deutsche Welle’s article above)

According to the IPCC report that China signed last month, the cost in global economic growth is expected to be approximately 0.12 percent growth in GDP. Note that this simply a slowdown in the current rate of growth, not an actual shrinkage in GDP.

Ma is either misinformed or is outright lying. (more…)

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Hybrid cars are at the intersection of nanotechnology and battery technology research June 1, 2007

Posted by Brian Angliss in Energy & the Environment, Environment, technology.
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Nanotechnology isn’t a technology in and of itself so much as it’s an enabling technology. What this means is that the science and technology of the very, very small (aka nanotechnology) enables radical changes across a massive number of other technologies and fields. For example, nano-scale particles of gold can be combined with a chemical marker to turn from red to blue (or vice-versa) in the presence of toxins.

However, as PBS’ NewsHour program reports, another application of nanotechnology is dramatically improved batteries and electronic components called “ultra-capacitors.” (more…)

Ethanol from Carbon Monoxide April 24, 2007

Posted by Brian Angliss in Energy & the Environment.
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LanzaTech of Auckland, New Zealand, announced today that it had acquired funding from a founder of Sun Microsystems to scale up their ethanol production technology. What makes LanzaTech’s technology interesting is that it’s not based on yeast digesting sugars like corn and sugarcane ethanol is (and that cellulosic ethanol probably would be), but instead uses bacteria to convert carbon monoxide into ethanol.

This is a radical departure from the current standards because, as this NYTimes article mentions, carbon monoxide is an industrial waste product. While the NYTimes mentions the production of steel, other sources of carbon monoxide include chemical plants and power plants. Unfortunately, the most carbon monoxide emissions come from the transportation sector (cars, trucks, airplanes, etc.) instead of the energy or industrial sectors, and it probably won’t be feasible to put an ethanol generator on every car made anytime soon.

This company, and their technology, is something to keep an eye on.

[Crossposted from Scholars and Rogues]

Cellulosic Ethanol April 17, 2007

Posted by Brian Angliss in Energy & the Environment, technology.
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Ethanol is all the rage – President Bush wants us to produce billions of gallons of the stuff by 2050. But ethanol from corn (then most common source of the fuel additive in the U.S.) is already increasing the global price of corn and thus increasing food prices both here at home and in countries as diverse as China, India, and Mexico. The increased food prices are already generating some criticism from people like Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez, but there will less shrill and more rational criticism coming from other quarters soon enough.

I’ve discussed ethanol previously and pointed out that the only way that largely switching over from oil to ethanol makes any sense is if we can start producing ethanol from sources of cellulose instead of feed products. Some sources of cellulosic ethanol include corn stalks and cobs, bagasse left over from the processing of sugar cane, wood chips left over from any number of wood products, and even good old fashioned grass. Well, today’s New York Times ran a story on the technological and business challenges to large-scale cellulosic ethanol production. In a nutshell, the enzymes needed to break cellulose into sugars that yeast can then ferment into ethanol are too expensive at this time. But now there is finally a much needed influx of capitol to fund breaking through the technological and biological barriers to solving this problem.

It’s too early to say for sure whether the organizations and individuals involved will be successful, but I hope so. I’d like ethanol to be a part of the massive equation that gets us to a decarbonized economy, but only if ethanol makes economic and technological sense, and only if it can be done without government subsidies. And until the issues discussed in the NYTimes article above are addressed, our taxes would be better spent on other projects that give more bang for the buck.

[Crossposted from The Daedalnexus]

Automotive X Prize April 8, 2007

Posted by Brian Angliss in Energy & the Environment, technology.
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A few years ago, a group was formed to give a prize to the first commercial, non-governmental team to get into space twice in a single week using the same vehicle and carrying at least three people (or the mass equivlalent). This prize was the Ansari X Prize, and the $10 million prize was awarded to Mojave Aerospace Ventures and Scaled Composites LLC, builders of SpaceShipOne. The goal of the X Prize foundation was to use prize money to get smart, out-of-the-box thinkers to dream up wild ideas that could be applied to reduce the cost of human space flight. While it hasn’t done this yet, there are a lot of indications that it will, since the Ansari X Prize has spawned off Spaceport America in New Mexico and Virgin Galactic, a budding space tourism subsidiary of Virgin Atlantic.

The X Prize Foundation’s mission is “To bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity,” and they plan to do so with a series of X Prizes along the lines of the Ansari X Prize for space flight. The X Prize Foundation has just offered its third X Prize: the Automotive X Prize. (more…)

Revisiting Nuclear Non-Proliferation April 6, 2007

Posted by Brian Angliss in Energy & the Environment, Foreign Policy, technology.
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United States energy policy is intertwined with foreign policy, global heating, and public health. The strategic energy plank I’ve written for Dr. Slammy’s campaign will be posted some time in the next few weeks, but one of the tactical realizations that informed my broader thought process was how we could power our civilization while weaning ourselves off coal, oil, and natural gas. Nuclear energy is the only candidate energy supply currently widely available that will be able to meet our energy needs. Unfortunately, widing access to sustainable nuclear energy will eventually run afoul of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

My argument for revisiting how the NPT works, and for dramatically increasing the enforcement power of the IAEA, is presented below.

(more…)

Prelude to an energy policy January 27, 2007

Posted by @Doc in Energy & the Environment.
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I have invited a lot of you into the process, and some of you have graciously accepted. The wagon has room for plenty more folks, so please, pile on.

One of our new teammates is my friend and colleague Brian Angliss, who has in the past couple years set about the task of establishing himself as a first-rate political, social, and economic commentator. One of his current concerns is our energy situation, and I have invited him to compose the energy policy plank to the Dr. Slammy in ’08 platform. The first foray has been posted over at the 5th Estate, where he and I are pretty active.

I expect a full-on plank to emerge in the near future, and the quality of it will surely force me to get more serious about my own offerings.

And away we go….