Friday, 27 February 2009

New Thinking!

During a recent talk on the three dominant crises: food, climate and economics one of the points raised was that it will need “new thinking” to make it “Through the Bottleneck”.

Thinking when using our own individual brain’s capacity and methodology might not easily be altered; but thinking definitely needs an upgrade; this download of the latest version of “thinking” must include thinking any issue, subject or object to its end; to think it to completeness, to think integrating all. Previously in the blog I mentioned
lateral thinking as trying to look across the board to perhaps get a glimpse of the future. It is time to finally take responsibility for what we have done and do to our habitat; this indeed requires lateral completely integrated thinking and accepting the outcome by taking the consequences.

While rationality demands
sustainable solutions our thinking must follow exactly that route and by doing so will be forced to leave the beaten track; a throw-away society featuring a purely growth based economy has taken us to where we are; we need to question how we got here not for the purpose of being negative or questioning anybody’s competence; the purpose must be to understand in full the impact, the footprint of anything, any activity, any technology, any product, any decision, just anything. Often “tradition” is made “first priority” followed by “it ought to be preserved”; traditional buildings, traditional technologies, traditional forms of living. Fine, that is good in some places, may be for a museum or to keep an historic setup as an example of our roots; but tradition may not be taken advantage of by trying to protect the “status quo” in order to benefit established but progress hindering, often destructive configurations.

What is tradition? Did Scots traditionally live in thatched cottages, roundhouses or caves? Do we normally eat venison and fish or rather Kentucky’s Chicken and Italian Huts; if every one of these makes the tradition, then why would a highly energy efficient and highly comfortable sustainable future proof building not write the next chapter of tradition?

Traditions made us what we are; thinking always was and is part of us but we remain far behind our capacity; often we hesitate to think beyond the norm as it might reveal a different truth behind something that is taken as a given.

  • To calculate the overall footprint of a Japanese Hybrid car, which is in the mind of many the ultimate solution and “saviour of the Californian climate in persona” might end up as a disaster.
  • To ask “What’s so neutral about wood?” causes panic and raised eyebrows from those who have a hard time trying to get people to think about C and CO2, only.
  • To question the efficiency of a wind generator asking from what point during its life span the 300ft cast-iron pole based in >1,000 tons of concrete will net generate electricity is seen as an anti sanctum.

Questioning the above is necessary to find sustainable answers – taking the consequences will not be any easier.

Carpe diem!

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

cart before the horse: I

National Grid to pipe carbon dioxide emissions under North Sea
The company is planning to develop a £2bn transport and storage network so it can collect carbon and store it overseas.

Let’s get things straight: the plan is to extract C02 directly where it is emitted, e.g. a coal fired power station; then collect and compress it so it becomes liquid and pump it into old oil or gas wells, for example under the North Sea, not exactly overseas, where it shall remain forever, at least for 200 to 10,000 years, it is hoped; devil may care.

The additional cost per ton of CO2 is estimated at $50 to $100 for the above process which at the same time reduces the efficiency of the coal fired power plant by approximately 40%. A ton of coal when burned emits between 2.6 to 3.2 tons of CO2 – the lower the quality the more CO2 - a ton of coal today costs around $80.

Easy to understand CCS (Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage), the Sequestration of CO2 is still in early stages. Of course, the prime location for new coal fired power plants will be where the oil or coal came from, but even then those cavities offer limited volumes and capacities. 30 or 40 years later our children will have to start all over again. It will double or triple the cost of coal and ruin the efficiency of the plant which in return will have a hard time meeting sustainability.

Alternative energy generation is challenging but so is trying to hang on to old cart horses.

Carpe diem!

EURO: a sleeper

Odd, the Euro is steadily losing ground against the Dollar. Even excessive printing, huge debts and lower interest rates make the greenback more attractive than the artificial youngster among the leading currencies.

Remember DM times? I remember the days when the DM became stronger and stronger; while Germany made exporting its number one priority the other EC currencies had to be devalued constantly to cope with the pressure in EC-land. That pressure relief valve was closed when EC-land was wiped out for EURO-land.

Where has the pressure gone since? It builds up steadily and is now reflected in hugely spread debts and inflation rates within the EURO zone, countries that have to pay premium interest in order to place bonds to keep afloat and the growing threat that some members will need to be bailed out rather sooner than later by the EURO community, who else? Adding up “some members” might soon represent the majority of all members – raising the pressure to where the EURO might implode. Who knows how big the exposure of tiny Austria in Eastern European countries really is; good old Schilling would not have allowed anything comparable.

The coup where by the artificial currency was put over totally different wonna-be-partners now takes revenge; while bailing out member countries was never part of the currency contract there will be no alternative but protect the EURO and keep DM, FF and Lira from being revitalized – most would love to go for it, however, with unimaginable consequences. On the other hand the bailing out will have an effect like cutting hedges: all plants will be cut down to the one smallest in size - a feeling rather like Socialism.

The pound might have to celebrate a come back, soon.

Carpe diem!

Nuclear Power; does it do the trick?

[facts, only]

31 of 206 countries rely on nuclear power.

In 2000 the world counted 448 Nuclear Power Plants;
today there are 440;
eight gone.

Within the coming 15 years 150 plants will have to be closed
for security reasons or as most will reach the end of their life expectancy.

No (final) solution for the 1,000,000year-hot-waste;
old repositories already causing colossal cost;
always at the tax payers’ risk;
in summary an expensive bill of exchange on future.

The US has tried to build just one plant during the last thirty years;
public opposition killed it.

Planning and construction takes 20 odd years.
financing needs the tax payers’ money;
money by the bucket load;
public acceptance for any of the above is problematic.

What happens if we go through another tiny little Chernobyl-like incident anywhere on the globe?

Interesting trial, interesting trick!

Carpe diem!

lateral thinking from the wall to the banks

Back in 1989: busy in my routine of business travel; Taiwan, Japan, the States and regular visits to GDR, (the German Democratic Republic). We talked and discussed as usual: anything with anybody, thoughts were free.

Too free, obviously, as not for a fraction of a millisecond anybody had fancied that just a moment later, within minutes one late autumn evening, the Berlin Wall would come down; climbed, jumped and walked to pieces where bullets had ruled seconds earlier and for more than 28 years. Not only the Wall fell but the entire Eastern Block fell to pieces. What had been an unchangeable fact, rock and concrete solid, a fixed pillar in anyone’s reflection suddenly became a dusty heap of rubbish and everything changed.

With the current economic crash on top of all the global problems, some addressed but very few actually solved, embedded in an already advanced climate change nothing will stay as it is and little will be of any permanence; all fixed ideas must be questioned and all options considered. GM, Lehman Brothers, RBS, SAAB to name but a few, before even finishing their last chapters are being run over by history. Last year you would have declared any guru as being nuts if he had forecast what has happened; week on week it will now be more and more challenging to be prepared for the week thereafter.

In retrospect – the easy way – lowering interest rates and pumping endless sums of printed and not-printed money into banks already gone bad, was wrong; nobody – some insiders excluded – would have believed let alone imagined how fast and widespread cancerous papers would cause such an excessive malignant growth.

Today the “bailed out” banks are all but doing their job; they are still over lent and spent and while they try to cover their tenuous positions prior to Joe Bloggs declaring them insolvent the assets and securities are thawing away much faster than the Arctic’s ice; a vicious circle, devil’s roundabout, which will accelerate out of control unless stopped by a big bang.

Tomorrow morning’s bang must see different banks, new money, set rules and installed control mechanisms. The old structures need to be sorted out, responsibilities called in, the mess cleaned up; but the cut is needed now, breaking the ropes of the sinking old banks in order to enable a reset and all of us banking on the economic leftovers.

Nationalisation is hard to imagine, but there is no time left for spinning discussions: lateral thinking and action, please!

Carpe diem!

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

What’s so neutral about wood? Time!

We all know, wood is carbon, burning wood emits carbon dioxide (CO2) but then planting a tree helps to capture that CO2 back. So far, so neutral.

What most people keep forgetting, planting a tree and cutting it down is more often than not done by two different generations. It takes at least 30 years to grow a half-way decent tree, trees from managed woodlands for example on the continent will be harvested after 80 to 100 years; especially those that are needed in the construction industry and are not just chipped and compressed to boards or cut to 2x4s.

So if anything, to burn a tree for heating purposes is a neutral CO2 procedure if your tree’s wood burns slowly – about the same tempo as a seed needs to grow into another tree; by the way, you should not have cut the tree with a chainsaw nor transported it on a fossil fuel truck.

In reference to the yearly growth cycles the fire from a tropical tree might be allowed to burn a little faster; the same fire in the North of Scotland will need to go very slow as the growth ratio is also very low. Agreed, this sounds ridiculous, but what is the difference to the trite line of “wood is carbon neutral” which is nothing else than “carbon is carbon neutral”. If that was the case then oil or coal would be carbon neutral as well – just on a different time scale.

Left alone our planet would soon be grown over by lots of woodland; more CO2 would become more C, the cycle where trees would fall and under high pressure, heat and time would be transformed into coal and oil would see CO2 levels being reduced to what they were or maybe even lower. We no longer have such lengths of time on our side. Read the article below – and ask your self, when the time will come when planting trees will generate an income for carbon capture, way beyond that for selling them as fire wood.

Trees absorb a fifth of carbon emissions pumped out by humans
Carpe diem!

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

First clean coal to be extracted

(click headline for original article)
Great, it all sounds good.

Is there anybody out there who can explain how this works?

Coal gasification was used to supply town gas in the 18th and 19th century; this process is known, to make it deep down under ground makes it more complicated but less damaging – does it? The essential question remains the same today as over the past 200 years – only then nobody understood or had at the very least seriously defined that question; that is why we now have a problem.

So how does the carbon capture and sequestration of the generated CO2 work in this case? How is it done and is it sustainable, where is it stored and in what ratio?

Thornton’s website offers the schematic overview shown below.

So the gas, the unprocessed Syngas, coming up is the “first clean coal extracted”, as the headline suggests. Clean of CO2, but then coal is +70%carbon and emits lots of CO2 when burnt. “Hmm?” Okay.

It is then mechanically separated from raw materials, probably the wet and dirty coal-stone-soil mix, which is gasifĂ­ed directly; obviously no CO2 emissions here, “Hmmm?” Okay.

The filtered Syngas is then cleaned up, the CO2 extracted and pumped down into some kind of airtight cavity to be sequestered: that problem solved, fine.

It would be interesting to know how that is done, what the pressure is, the capacity and the expected life-span – after all this is supposed to be a one way road for the CO2.

The now clean towngas, sorry Syngas, as it obviously contains a lot of hydrogen, is cracked to make diesel; CO2 free diesel obviously, ultra-clean; or is it the process is ultra clean? “Hmmmm?”

And on top of that there is a zero emission hydrogen power plant. Great!

I forgot: to start the process one needs lots of energy for lots of steam, 300°C to 400°C hot, and for pressurising the system.

It looks promising; the Chinese will pay top dollar for this technology. That is if the energy output minus energy input allows for efficiency not too far off the efficiency of a standard coal fired power plant. They will also want to understand the conglomerate of the complicated processes behind above overview. Surely, Thornton has already answered all questions and is in a position to define the
footprint of this innovative technology and especially of the project under and on Fife - to great detail. Asking is free.

Carpe diem!

Russia and China sign $25bn deal

(click headline for original article)
While we all get used to billions and trillions of Pounds, Dollars or Euros being poured into banks or automobile manufacturers to no particular avail so far two long time enemies found an easy way to contract friendship on a meagre £17bn deal. The article hardly made the headlines yesterday but the 20 year contract marks another beginning of an upgradeable partnership where Russia is helped over the <$60 per barrel period while China gets prepared for the next economic competition with energy definitely playing an even more dominant role. China, more energy hungry virtually by the hour will burn all the oil coming directly through pipelines from the wells in highly inefficient but very competitive boilers, trucks and engines to power the world’s workbench supplying the cheapest products possible. With a workforce under enormous pressure from millions of unemployed colleagues and more so from never-been-employed-moving-into-town-farmers labour costs are no issue as is the fact that the same workforce is paid with paper money worth little to nothing on a global scale. We could manage this misbalance if “Globalism had ever gone global”; by allowing some players to apply their own understanding of social welfare and environmental protection, print their own paper money versus collecting and saving hard currencies by the trillions and strengthen the one and only ruling party, the game is not only unfair but dangerous. On a global scale the unemployed Chinese farmer regulates the minimum wage one could work for and the same poor soul’s government has the means to always pay the extra buck on the barrel; leading the competition at both ends. What is left for us? In the end it might be a good idea to print money, get inflation going and devaluate savings. But it still needs strategic thinking to prepare our world for the immediate future’s challenges. Carpe diem

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Can geo-engineering rebuild the planet?

(click headline for original article)
Can geo-engineering rebuild the planet?

As global warming worsens, the idea of vast projects to alter the Earth's environment is moving from fantasy to necessity.
By Sanjida O'Connell

Comment on the above article:

In a parallel world banks are just about to create bad banks – or should we say bad banks are creating worse banks? - to set aside the dirt they played with but are now fed up with; it seems that some so-called scientists are trying to follow a similar route by playing around with what the planet balanced all by itself while traveling millions and billions of years through space enabling life to develop.

Little do we know about the climate per se, we are fishing in muddy waters when it comes to understand the correlations of materials and processes on a global scale, invent climate models that forget to take into account that white ice reflects sunlight better than dark waters and the same ice when thawing might get covered with water which then accelerates the thawing process; we forget the ozone hole’s influence on Antarctica only to find out that it is subject to the same warming patterns like the vastness of the rest of the planet, we regard wood as carbon neutral and nuclear power as a necessity – and then we want to geo-engineer this planet?

Frightening; Orwell’s ideas about 1984 would seem like heaven compared to a scenario where it was declared a necessity to play around with the planet’s climate; while in the end we might just need to dump the old bad and worse banks, install new ones with new money and hopefully better regulations and controls in place we will not be able to give up this planet and try another one just because our engineers missed a point or two, five or ten years earlier.

In the ideal world it was God who was creative for seven days; one can discuss the story and the outcome, especially since mankind obviously is not so far talented enough to manage this ideal planet; we need to be doing our homework, not trying at playing God.

Carpe diem

Food scraps and farm waste to be chewed up to create energy

(click headline for original article)
Food scraps and farm waste to be chewed up to create energy
… and who would wonder, its all about money. Or bankers? Or both?

There are opportunities, but then there is lots that can go wrong.

Germany has more than 3,500 of those bio digesters, biogas-plants, fermenters, call them what you like; not that all the farmers fell in love with the beautifully designed, tent like covered, round, greenish painted swimming pools or the loud and smelly engines. No, there is no love involved, but incentives, money; very attractive feed-in tariffs led to these monsters becoming a “must-have” for any clever farmer boy.

Soon farmers’ bankers and financiers saw the opportunity to print money; more so if the scale was taken beyond the normal farmers’ thinking pattern; slurry is fine, but lots of it and a mix of wheat flour and energy maize is much better; loads of maize, transported from close and far away neighbouring farmers contracted to grow nothing else but maize; bigger plants and optimized technologies, driving efficiencies (= kWe output) higher and higher.

The efficiency though is that of the financial model leaving way behind the original idea of utilising a natural process. Nature as in “little bacteria fermenting under controlled conditions what is becoming a growing threat to the environment” (slurry > methane from mass farming) and convert it into bio or renewable energy by producing methane which drives a gas engine generating decentralised electricity and (hopefully) the farmer taking advantage of the thermal energy (heat) as well.

By optimising the mix, stirring it, warming it up to 37°C the “energy farmer” utilises the most efficient first 30 or 35 bacteria working days, optimal conditions for his little helpers making the engines run at their highest efficiency rates; re-charging the pool with a fresh, loaded slurry mix makes the bacteria work harder again, the engines keep on running hard, the kW metres top up the purse.

What is pumped out – long before it can be used as just-a-fertiliser - from the fermenters onto open fields is still the same mix of slurry plus ambitiously grown, fertilised, harvested, chipped and transported energy maize plus the intensively farmed wheat flour, while the former hard working bacteria are now slowing down having to go another two thirds of the way until the mix is sorted out and the fermenting process is running out of food. With other words the optimised business plan of any biogas plant takes into account that approximately one third of the methane will be generating electricity and heat, but the remaining two thirds will go the same path into the environment as before. These remaining two thirds of an optimised mix is producing far more GHG (green house gases) than that of slurry spread on fields prior to the incentives creating the new financial model of biogas plants. The incentives are paid for the electricity fed back into the grid no matter how much methane leftovers there are and whether or not the heat is utilised wisely.

By the way, the mix works even better with water instead of slurry, less contamination and the smell is not as bad. It is still biogas, though.

Carpe diem.