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Ocean Farming When Wild Fish Are Gone

Posted on 04 May 2015 by Jerry

Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) may be in our future but is actually a throwback to how some countries farmed fish on a small scale in ancient times.   In some places it continues today.  IMTA however, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is, “An evolving approach to seafood production that emphasizes an ecosystem management approach where ‘fed’ species, such as finfish or shrimp, are farmed in close proximity to species that can ‘extract’ nutrients from the water column, such as shellfish and algae or seaweed.”

This can be a model for a smaller isolated farm that is inland from a natural waterway or as described in the April 2015, issue of Scientific American in an article by Erik Vance, “Fishing for Billions”, implemented on a grand scale at Zhangzi Island and several other islands, near Korea.  These islands are being used for a grand IMTA experiment.

Instead of deploying neighboring cages that are used in most of the world, most notably in Canada’s Bay of Fundy, the Zhangzidao Company that is conducting the fish farming, according to the Scientific American article, uses entire islands.  After having “carefully studied the movement of nutrients along the shores….they seed nutrient-rich parts of the islands with young scallops bred to thrive here while carefully removing their predators.”

Critics argue the IMTA of the Zhangzidao Company is not legitimate because there are no finfish being raised which theoretically would feed the shellfish with their excrement.  These farms however produce 60,000 tons of kelp, 200 tons of sea urchins, 300 tons of oysters, 700 tons of sea snails, 2,000 tons of abalones and 50,000 tons of scallops each year.  The company references detailed island maps showing ocean currents, where nutrients congregate and where yields are highest.  They have also used 20,000 refrigerator sized concrete blocks to form needed artificial reefs.

Critics of IMTA rightly point out that where finfish are raised today there is net segregation of farmed fish from wild fish.  They state however that this separation is inadequate because finfish escape and breed with wild fish.  They observe that in open-ocean or bays some of the dangers of fish farms are still present.  Specifically, there is still the presence of sea lice and various diseases that can infect the area.  They also are critical of IMTA because it has not shown yet that it has the ability to scale in inland, artificial environments.

It is a reality that the oceans are being over fished.  This large-scale use of the open water around islands is probably not possible in and around most industrialized nations because of too many environmental laws, political pressures and the lack of public acceptance.

Unfortunately fish are appearing in much smaller numbers and are migrating to different environments as a result of climate change.  In addition, melting glaciers and the future absence of run-off streams due to global warming will eliminate many spawning grounds.  Something may need to be done if our world population continues to grow and increases its demand for fish as the protein source in its diet.

What is attractive about IMTA is its mimicry of the natural interdependence of multiple species in an ecosystem.  Its use is far cleaner for the environment and “green” by comparison to traditional farming techniques.

We salute the pioneers of IMTA as a model to be perfected and put to productive use around the world.  While it may not produce the same amount of fish the ocean now holds, it may serve as a necessary substitute for the wholesale fishing now conducted by too many nations.

Use the following links to gain more information or access the original source documents used for this article.  (watch film[s])

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Full Carbon Capture at Boundary Dam

Posted on 28 October 2014 by Jerry

Canada has just fired up the world’s first full carbon-capture-and-storage (CC&S) coal fired power plant.  Congratulations to Canada and SaskPower!  They have taken one large step against climate change.  SaskPower has turned on a refurbished Boundary Dam power plant near Estevan Canada.  SaskPower opened the plant after spending $1.3 billion on the upgrade.

If you consider that we have been talking about carbon-capture-and-storage plants for decades.  Every developed country that has coal-fired plants has spent many hundreds of millions or billions of dollars to trial these technologies.  You wonder why it took so long to have the first working CC&S power plant?

There are an estimated 7000 coal-fired units worldwide with over 1200 new power plants planned for the next few years.  The International Energy Agency estimates that CO2 emissions linked to the burning of fossil fuels was 33 gigatons in 2011.  Some 42% or 13 gigatons was from the generation of electricity and heat.  This CO2 pollution was mainly from coal fired power plants.

We are not going to replace all the coal-fired power plants anytime soon.  The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) however, stresses the need to make fundamental changes in how we burn coal to make it a much cleaner energy source.  Turning coal-fired plants into clean or nearly clean sources of energy is absolutely essential if we are to make progress against climate change.

The Boundary Dam Plant is using an acid-base reaction or amine scrubbing.  Using this methodology a recent article in the September 6, 2014 issue of Science News states, “The gas produced in burning coal – usually a mix of oxygen, water vapor, nitrogen, CO2 and other trace pollutants such as sulfur dioxide – is blasted through a 15-meter-tall, 30-meter-wide cylinder packed with layers of eggcrate-shaped material.  The gas blows in at the bottom, while an amine solution – an alkaline liquid – pours down from the top.  The solution trickles over the large surface area created by the grooves and ridges in the material packing the cylinder.  The exhaust, now scrubbed of any CO2, vents out the top.  Meanwhile, the CO2-bearing solution pools at the cylinder’s bottom before being sucked into another giant tower” where the mixture is boiled and releases a pure CO2 stream for capture.  This CO2 can be captured, sold or transported underground for storage.

This is one of three major types of technology.  This technology is called a postcombustion method where exhaust created by burning fuel is sent through silos to chemically scrub it of CO2 that is generally sent for storage in the ground.  This technology has long been used in other industrial applications.  Other methods include oxygen fuel combustion and precombustion.

Oxygen fuel combustion burns the fuel in pure oxygen, not normal air.   This produces a CO2 and water vapor exhaust that are easy to separate.  This technology unfortunately must use a considerable amount of energy in the initial air separation step.

Precombustion converts the fuel to a gassy mixture of CO2 and hydrogen.  The two gasses are separated with the hydrogen moving a turbine and the CO2 sent underground for storage.  This technology is very familiar since it is used in fertilizer, chemical and gaseous fuel and power production.

Other major projects that have cost a lot of money include the Jänschwalde, an aging power plant in Germany.  In 2011 after having spent some $2 billion, local politics, public fears, and policy battles caused the program to close down before it even broke ground.  Two billion dollars before even breaking ground!!  This has been the ongoing history of expensive projects that have been cancelled.  It is almost as if, after having spent literally billions of dollars, the powers that be are canceling a plant before any opportunity to trial something.

Power companies have been strong opponents of any requirement for new technologies.  They have been successful in pressuring the U. S. government to postpone further requirements for major reductions in CO2 emissions due to adoption of these new technologies.

These interests pressured the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last year to forego its requirement that new power plants come equipped with these carbon capture and storage technologies.  This requirement was dropped from new rules that the EPA announced in June of this year.

Finally we have a demonstration, at scale, of one of the technologies the coal industry has been resisting.  We still have an uphill battle to convince the governments of the world, that have been funding countless trials, to require their respective coal energy operators to embrace and adopt this technology.  Only in this way can we begin to seriously combat climate change.  We must thank Canada and the local power company, SaskPower, for completing its power plant conversion and providing an actual test of one of the technologies.

Use the following links to gain more information or see the source documents for this article.

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We Need Entrepreneurs and Venture Capital

Posted on 09 August 2014 by Jerry

Who has not heard of Elon Musk?  He is one of the most publicized high tech investors and founders in Silicon Valley.  Everyone can agree that Mr. Musk is a visionary.

According to his profile on Wikipedia, he cofounded a web software company, Zip2, with his brother that was subsequently sold to Compaq for $307 million.  His share was 7% or $22 million.

In 1999 he was significantly involved in, an online financial services and e-mail payment company.  In 2000 merged with Confinity that ran a subsidiary called PayPal.  Subsequently the Board of Directors appointed Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal as its CEO.  Musk was the combined company’s largest shareholder that garnered him $165 million when the company was sold to eBay for $1.5 billion.

In 2002 Musk began SpaceX.  He cofounded the company with rocket propulsion engineer Tom Mueller.  In 2008 the company was awarded a $1.6 billion NASA contract for 12 flights to the International Space Station.  SpaceX was started with $100 million of Musk’s early fortune.

Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning incorporated the company, Tesla, in 2004.  With J.B. Straubel, and Ian Wright, Musk can argue he was founder since he was an early “A” round investor.  The company was founded in 2004.  Following the financial crisis of 2008 Musk assumed leadership of the company by becoming CEO and product architect.

Elon has since founded SolarCity, now the second largest provider of solar power systems in the U.S.  He is also is known for first articulating a plan for a super fast subsonic air travel machine called “Hyperloop” to stretch from the San Francisco Bay Area to Sylmar.  Sylmar is on the outer perimeter of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles.

Given his propensity to spend relatively small amounts of dollars to accomplish what the government has spent many tens of billions of dollars to do, we may need an Elon Musk or other entrepreneur to tackle big projects at which the government has failed.  The success with SolarCity would come in quite helpful to solve the problem I have in mind.

Someone needs to engineer a breakthrough in power, specifically fusion power.  Fusion is distinguished from fission by the inherent processes involved.  Fission splits bigger particles into smaller particles.  Fusion forces together smaller particles to form larger ones.  Fission creates and leaves a large amount of radioactive materials.  Fusion, for all practical purposes, creates no radioactive materials to be dealt with after the fusion process.

There are four leading ways of creating the fusion process.  First is the government funded ITER.  The U.S. and others will have spent many tens of billions of dollars on developing a process using a giant tokamak.  According to the definition provided at the ITER web site, “ITER is based on the ‘tokamak’ concept of magnetic confinement, in which the plasma is contained in a doughnut-shaped vacuum vessel. The fuel—a mixture of deuterium and tritium, two isotopes of hydrogen—is heated to temperatures in excess of 150 million°C, forming a hot plasma. Strong magnetic fields are used to keep the plasma away from the walls; these are produced by superconducting coils surrounding the vessel, and by an electrical current driven through the plasma.”

This project is under multinational control and involves the combined efforts of China, the European Union, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the U.S.  This project will not even begin its fueled experiments until 2027, 11 years behind schedule.  The project is expected to run over $50 billion, that is 10 times the original estimates.  This clearly represents the traditional governmental approach.  It is clearly a failure.

The second approach that is venture capital funded is Tri Alpha. An article in the July 24, 2014 issue of Nature magazine describes the project by the secretive Tri Alpha as unconventional.  “Instead of using the doughnut-shaped ‘tokamac’ reactor….Tri Alpha is testing a linear reactor that it claims will be smaller, simpler, and cheaper and will lead to commercial fusion power in little more that a decade, far ahead of the 30 to 50 years often quoted for tokamacs.”  This company is founded and led by Dr. Norman Rostoker who is 89 years old and Dale Prouty who is the CEO.

The second company to watch is General Fusion, a Canadian company founded by Michael Laberge in 2002.  The General Fusion objective is a reactor that is a “magnetized target reactor that uses magnetized rings of plasma that are injected into a vortex of liquid metal.  Pistons punch the metal inwards, compressing the plasma to ignite fusion.”

The third and final venture funded company to watch is Helion Energy of Redmond, Washington.  Votroubek Slough is the chief scientific officer of Helion.  He says they are developing a linear colliding-beam reactor that would be small enough to be carried on the back of a large truck.  The Helion web site describes their process as follows:

  1. Formation -Plasma is generated by ionizing gas in a Field Reversed Configuration
    1. Accelerator -Plasma is accelerated to high velocities using pulsed magnetic fields
    2. Collision -Two plasmas are collided and compressed to transfer kinetic energy to heat
    3. Burn Chamber -Conditions are formed to initiate fusion of  fuel
    4. Energy Generation -Fusion plasma is converted to i) direct energy ii) fuel for further operation

It is unclear which, if any, venture capital funded start-up will solve the fusion challenge.  It may turn out we have multiple alternatives.  It is clear, in any case, that big governments with bloated budgets and large bureaucracies cannot solve the challenges using the technologies they have selected.

Where is Elon Musk when we need his genius?  Maybe his name will be Norman Rostoker or Michel Laberge or Votroubek Slough.  It may be someone not mentioned in this article.  We do however need a solution now if we are to save the planet and ourselves from global warming.

See the following articles for more information or access to the source documentation used in this article.

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Turning Around Human Failure

Posted on 26 February 2014 by admin

There are far too many stories about mistakes human beings have made or are making.   We have all heard about how our products harm us, how we kill other species, and how we foul our planet.  While this article tells a story of replenishment and rebirth, it also offers a laundry list of blunders we have made when we introduce invasive species into an environment.

Under bright ideas there is normally a focus on an individual who did something right, in this case we are focused on a country, Kazakhstan.  Formerly a part of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan is now an independent nation.  It is also the location of a part of what remains of the Aral Sea that was once the fourth largest lake in the world.

The Soviet Union diverted two of the largest rivers, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya that fed and replenished the Aral Sea’s fresh water.  It redirected their water to provide irrigation to new cotton agricultural areas.  In the 1960s the lake, which was mistakenly called a sea, covered an area of 68,000 kilometers (26,300 square miles).  By 2007 it had shrunk to less than 10% of its former size and split into three remaining lakes, of which the North Aral Sea is in Kazakhstan.  The before and after videos of the Aral Sea that are linked below, are striking.

In 1994 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgystan pledged 1% of their budgets to help restore the Aral Sea.  In an effort to improve its North Aral Sea, Kazakhstan completed an eight-mile long dam across the Berg Strait, a deep channel that connects the North Aral Sea with the South Aral Sea.

In a second phase it built a concrete dam separating the two halves of the Aral Sea.  By limiting the outflow from the North Aral Sea into the South these two dams are responsible for the replenishment of fresh water in the North Aral Sea.  The water level has risen significantly, the salinity of the water is dropping and a small but successful fishing industry has once again been launched.

While this restoral of the North Aral Sea by Kazakhstan is meeting with success it is but one of a number of lakes or areas that are being affected by ill-advised diversion of water for irrigation.  Wikipedia identifies the Mesopotamian marshes, the Sistan Basin in Afghanistan and Sistan and the Sudd, a large marshland in Africa as bodies of water that are similarly threatened by agriculture.

It also identifies lakes in the United States that are drying up due to irrigation projects and other natural causes.  These include the Dead Sea, Salton Sea, Lake Chad, Mono Lake, Tulare Lake, and Lake Mead.  Without remembering the tragic history of other ill-considered irrigation projects, we are destined to repeat the mistakes of the past.  If we follow Kazakhstan’s example however, we can restore a number of areas to their past grandeur.

Another present day disaster is a plan to build a second canal allowing access to and from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.  This construction will destroy the environment in Nicaragua and more specifically disrupt the ecology of lake Nicaragua.  A recent agreement between the Nicaraguan government and a private company based in Hong Kong, China, anticipates the creation of the new 186+ mile waterway.  Construction begins in December of 2014.

Our misuse of our environment is not limited to destroying lakes in the name of progress or agriculture.  We have repeatedly meddled with our surroundings by introducing foreign species that have created more problems than they’ve solved.  All of these species are prodigious breeders and crowd out or destroy the more timid native species.  These include:

  • Our introduction of the Japanese vine Kudzu to help control erosion that we have watched throughout the Eastern and Southern U.S.
  • Release of the European rabbit from Spain and Portugal that now thrives all over the U.S.
  • The unwittingly transport of the zebra mussel from Russia on freighters only to see them spread all over the Great Lakes in Michigan and Canada.
  • Bringing in the small Asian mongoose to control rats in Hawaiian sugar cane plantations.  They now seriously infest Hawaii and Puerto Rico in addition to being a major problem in Japan.
  • Africanized honeybees from Tanzania inadvertently interbred with European honeybees in Brazil.  These very aggressive bees have now spread to all of the Americas.
  • One hundred Starlings that were released in New York City and have led to more than 200 million of them in the United States today.
  • Two varieties of Asian carp that were brought to the Southern U.S. to be raised in aquaculture facilities that escaped and now infest the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.
  • The snakehead fish released in the U.S. by fish markets and aquarium owners now exists in the Potomac River and ponds/lakes throughout the U.S.  As a “top-level predator” with no natural enemies they kill entire populations of native fish.
  • Burmese pythons released in the Florida Everglades by pet owners who could not continue to care for them.  They are now all over Florida and grow to such a large size they have been known to attack alligators.
  • Cane toads, that are native to Central America, were introduced in Hawaii to help control sugar cane beetles and other insects.   They have now spread to all of North America and Australia.

Winston Churchill said “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”  According to Churchill we are awash with opportunity.  Our mistakes are many but our opportunity to find solutions is unlimited.  We must follow the lead of Kazakhstan, speak up, resist that which is ill-considered and insist that humanity does the right things.

Use the links listed to obtain more information on these topics or see the source documents that were used.

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Siegfried Hecker Acts on Semipalatinsk-21

Posted on 19 August 2013 by Jerry

Without major headlines, a few significant scientists of three nations lobbied their governments and secured permission to spend seventeen years closing and cleaning up one of the world’s major nuclear weapons test sites.  They ended up removing enough highly radioactive plutonium that if extracted by terrorists, could have allowed the construction of dozens of nuclear weapons.

Bypassing long drawn out formal negotiations between the countries, scientists worked from the bottom up lobbying largely mid level officials in the United States, Russia and Kazakhstan.  They wanted the three nations to allow the trading and yet retention of national secrets so all three countries could understand the magnitude of the work that was required.  In an effort to protect national secrets the project was never reported to the International Atomic Energy Agency.  Although independent of the United Nations, the IAEA reports to the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council.

A report prepared by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, identified Siegfried S. Hecker, a retired director of Los Alamos, as the instigator and leader of the effort.  In 1995 after the dismantling of the Soviet Union, Hecker and a small group from Los Alamos were told during a visit to Kazakhstan that there were probably significant deposits of plutonium buried at the unguarded site of over 456 Soviet nuclear explosive tests.  They were also told of numerous tunnels containing nuclear materials dug into Degelen Mountain at the Semipalatinsk-21 test site that covers an area nearly the size of Belgium.

The report entitled “Plutonium Mountain – Inside the 17 year mission to secure a dangerous legacy of Soviet nuclear testing” makes for good reading (see link below). Amongst other things, it follows the actions of Kairat Kadyrzhanov, a metallurgist who once worked at the site who warned scavengers about the nuclear material and radioactivity.  Undeterred the scavengers grew their operations to include heavy mining equipment and placed armed guards around their scavenging areas to protect their sites.  Later when analyzing these efforts scientists discovered the scavengers had come within yards of deposits of fissile materials.

Over the 17 years from 1996 to 2012, over $150 million was spent to retrieve material and fill tunnels and bore holes with a special concrete that reduced the security threat posed by the facility.  American aerial drones provided surveillance of the site for much of that period.   In October 2012 a group of scientists and engineers from the U.S., Russia and Kazakhstan unveiled a simple monument whose inscription in three languages read “1996-2012. The world has become safer”.

This story reinforces the conclusion that determined individuals can accomplish major objectives if they set their minds to it.  This cooperative effort illustrates that government officials at any level can decide to make a difference by championing worthy efforts.  The field does not matter.  Whether it is a ban on genetically modified foods, an end to the use of primates for drug research or the end of a planned new pipeline to deliver more polluting oil to the market and environment, individual actions can make a difference.  We just have to decide.

For a high level description of past efforts to safeguard nuclear weapons see this blog’s March 30, 2012 posting of  “U.S. Secures, Reduces and Manages World Nuclear Materials”. Use the following links to obtain more information or see source documents for this article: (Scroll down to the bottom of the page and select “A PDF of the full report is available here.  Click the report title to obtain the PDF)

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