Archive | January, 2013

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Coal to Overtake Oil, Natural Gas is a Questionable Substitute

Posted on 31 January 2013 by Jerry

At the present rate of demand, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that coal will overtake oil as the top world energy source within a decade.  Driven by increasing use around the globe this does not bode well for efforts to slow or reduce climate change.  Increasing consumption in both China and India is projected to exceed that of the United States by 2017.  Without any significant breakthroughs in carbon capture and sequester (CCS), which would remove harmful chemicals from the output of coal plants, coal will continue to be very cheap and very dirty.

United States coal demand is declining because of the substitution of plentiful, less expensive natural gas.  New natural gas extraction techniques, such as hydraulic fracking which pulls gas out of shale deposits, coupled with increasing distribution around the world purportedly offer a cost effective, cleaner substitute for coal.  IEA executive director, Maria van der Hoeven has said that “The U.S. experience suggests that a more efficient gas market marked by flexible pricing and fueled by indigenous unconventional resources that are produced sustainably, can reduce coal use, CO2 emissions and consumer electricity bills, without harming energy security.”

Unfortunately (see 2-26-12 post, “Natural Gas My Speed Climate Change”) the natural gas bonanza for the U.S. may ultimately turn out to be part of the problem rather than solution.  In the earlier article we described results from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and University of Colorado study of methane leaks conducted in a natural gas field near Denver.  Methane is the dominant component of natural gas.  That original study showed a total leakage of 4% of the total gas produced at that field.  This 4% is twice the level the government has assumed for these fields.  Two percent makes natural gas competitive with coal.  Four percent or higher makes coal the better choice. The four percent level of leakage makes natural gas dirtier and more harmful to the environment than coal.

Now the same scientists have reported new data from the original Colorado gas field which supports earlier findings.  In addition, they have released preliminary results of a new, more sophisticated, study of leakage at a natural gas field in Utah which showed an even higher level of leakage.  These measurements show a 9% leakage of total production.  These two high levels of natural gas leakage if duplicated in other studies across the country would suggest we halt production until the leakage problem is corrected.

It also indicates we should not approve the Keystone XL Pipeline which will open up many more areas of Canada to natural gas production.  Otherwise natural gas is a much greater contributor to climate change than we ever imagined, greater than coal.  It will be very difficult however, to slow the land rush for natural gas since the profit motive is often the dominant and overriding motivator in the U.S. and Canada.

Use the following links to access additional information:

http://www.iea.org/newsroomandevents/pressreleases/2012/december/name,34441,en.html

http://www.nature.com/news/methane-leaks-erode-green-credentials-of-natural-gas-1.12123

http://iamaguardian.com/490/natural-gas-may-speed-climate-change/

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Bright Idea

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We Can’t Afford to Waste Waste

Posted on 20 January 2013 by Jerry

We all know that climate change will dramatically reduce fresh water around the world. But this is not a new problem.  An older document, the 2006 UN Development Report stated that over 1 billion people have no access to a source of clean drinking water and over 2.6 billion people do not have even a rudimentary latrine.  With no latrines, urine and excrement go into the ground.  Many would argue that this human waste is wasted. 

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has initiated the “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge” seeking to develop a toilet that converts feces and urine into fresh water, fertilizer and a source of gas for power generation.  With over 50 grants for new sanitation options, the foundation is attempting to replace our flush toilets.  While there are not many statistics, it is estimated an average male in the U.S. poops 360 pounds of fecal matter per year and produces 133 gallons of urine.  Flush toilets have served us well. Unfortunately, they use drinkable water to transport human waste to treatment plants where the waste water is cleaned with energy expensive technologies.

Alternatives contestants worked on include a toilet that composts, where aerobic bacteria are the decomposing agent and the composting process produces heat to kill pathogens.  Another proposed toilet separates urine and feces dealing with each separately. Urine, containing nitrogen and phosphorus, contains fewer pathogens than feces and can produce a concentrated solution where nutrients are easily recovered.  Dry feces emits fewer odors, takes up less space and is easier to process chemically or biologically.

In 2012, Bill Gates talked about the winners of the challenge.  “I awarded prizes to three universities who responded to our challenge a year ago to come up with solutions for capturing and processing human waste and transforming it into useful resources.”  A $100,000 first prize was awarded to the California Institute of Technology for a solar powered toilet that generates hydrogen and electricity.   Second place went to Loughborough University in the U.K. for a toilet that produces biological charcoal, minerals and clean water.  The second place prize was $60,000.  The third place prize of $40,000 was presented to the University of Toronto in Canada for a toilet that sanitizes waste and recovers resources and clean water.

“The Reinvent the Toilet Challenge aims to create a toilet that:

  • removes pathogens from human waste and recovers valuable resources such as energy, clean water, and nutrients.
  • operates ‘off the grid’ without connections to water, sewer, or electrical lines.
  • costs less than 5 cents per user day.
  • promotes sustainable and financially profitable sanitation services and businesses that operate in poor, urban settings.
  • is a truly aspirational next-generation product that everyone will want to use – in wealthy as well as developing nations.”

Kudos are due to the Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation for attempting to solve real world problems that are not sexy or topical but are urgent, little talked about, human problems.  We should also appreciate the fine work of the world’s universities that take up the challenge to solve problems faced by the world’s everyday people.

For more information, use the following links:

http://hdr.undp.org/en/reports/global/hdr2006/news/title,221,en.html

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/337/6095/673.summary?sid=9293c8f6-e5c2-4ecd-90e7-4e64f0e22ea6

http://blogs.menshealth.com/health-headlines/our-bodies-our-disgusting-selves/2011/04/09

http://www.thegatesnotes.com/topics/development/reinvent-the-toilet-challenge-photo-gallery

http://www.gatesfoundation.org/watersanitationhygiene/documents/wsh-reinvent-the-toilet-challenge.pdf

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FDA Whispers Approval of Genetically Modified Salmon

Posted on 05 January 2013 by Jerry

It seems as if everything about the new genetically modified “AquAdvantage” salmon from AquaBounty Technologies is controversial.  Besides the inherent dangers to the world’s native salmon population if the GM fish were to get loose in the ocean (see photo of GM salmon next to much smaller natural salmon), the recent quiet issuance of the FDA’s environmental assessment declaring the fish safe to eat and environmentally harmless according to critics was released surreptitiously. 

The report was approved for issuance before the Presidential election on April 19, 2012 but was only released electronically by the FDA on December 21, 2012 after Obama was re-elected.  It showed up on the FDA website without press releases or any other public disclosure.  The timing and nature of the release were suspicious to many who believed there was a conscious, politically motivated effort to bury the report. 

AquaBounty assures environmentalists the fish will never get loose in the ocean where it is feared it would “crowd out” normal Pacific and Atlantic salmon leading to their extinction and replacement.  The company created the fish by removing a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon and engineering it into the genetic code of the Pacific Salmon causing the modified salmon to grow twice as fast and get much larger.  The company states it will “engineer” its eggs in Canada which ultimately will be shipped to Panama to mature into fish.  According to the company, the fish that are grown will all be female who are sterile because they contain three copies of their chromosomes rather than the normal two.

The FDA’s process calls for its report to be published in the Federal Register which paves the way for a public review period of between 30 and 90 days.  Unless there is a second review period, the FDA could issue formal approval sometime in 2013.  Across the U.S., all legislative efforts to require mandatory labeling of GM food have failed, most recently in California in 2012.  Because of this and the eminent approval of the genetically modified salmon by the FDA, shoppers will have no way to know they are consuming a GM food. This would be the first transgenic animal to have approval for human consumption in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world.

As it was with all the U.S. foodstuffs with GM ingredients that now crowd U.S. supermarket shelves, U.S. FDA approval will generate significant pressure internationally for countries to approve sale of GM salmon.  Present estimates are that roughly 80% of packaged foods that people buy at supermarkets in the U.S. contain some GM grains or oils.  The U.S. government’s and Canada’s active support of genetically modified foods has been well documented (see our June 13, 2012 posting “Genetic Engineering Influence Peddling and Profit”). Unless there is public outcry to all of our legislators and to the Executive Branch, GM salmon is soon to be a reality.

Use the following links for more information:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-11368657

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23035-approval -for-genemodified-salmon-spawns-controversy/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2252808/what-possibly-wrong-gm-fish-set-supermarket-shelves-U-S-watchdog-rules-frankenfish-safe-environment.html

http://iamaguardian.com/741/genetic-engineering-influence-peddling-and-profit/

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Are We Trading Greenhouse Gas for Ozone?

Posted on 04 January 2013 by Jerry

Sometimes when you fix one problem you worsen another.  This appears to be what is happening with our use of Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) as an ‘ozone-friendly’ replacement for Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and Hydrofluorochlorocarbons (HCFCs) in refrigerators and air conditioning units.  The  Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer which went into effect in 1989, banned the use in developed nations of chemicals (including CFCs and HCFCs) which destroy ozone in the higher atmosphere.  While the banned chemicals are also greenhouse gas causing, unfortunately the replacement chemicals, HFCs, are powerful greenhouse gases as well which will worsen our climate change problems.

A recent report from the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) stated “While these ‘replacement for replacement’ chemicals cause near zero damage to the ozone layer, they are powerful greenhouse gases in their own right.”  The report continued by saying “HFCs, many more times potent than CO2 , could account for up to 20% of emissions (by 2050) and hamper efforts to curb climate change.”  This means that while we are fixing ozone depletion we are doing it with chemicals which contribute to global warming.

Unfortunately, our world situation is worsening because we are using increasing amounts of banned ozone depleting chemicals in older air conditioners and the greenhouse gas causing chemicals in newer air conditioners,.  The demand for air conditioning and refrigerators is continuing its unrestrained growth as the developing countries get wealthier and the weather gets hotter.  Growth of wealth in countries such as India and China will continue to drive demand for products which essentially worsen climate change.

In a related area, the Montreal Protocol gave exemptions to developing nations allowing them to continue using CFCs and HCFCs, the ozone depleting chemicals banned in the developed world.  There are places where second hand appliances, like used air conditioners, wind up and are refurbished and sold back into in this case, the African economy.   One such place is Ghana.  Ghana’s energy commission recently reported that over 2 million used, offending fridges have been imported into Ghana from primarily the European Union.

While Ghana banned the import of used air conditioners in 2008, the government extended the deadline until 2013 because of the impacts on local refurbishing businesses which have become the destination for used machines of many kinds.  This includes “e-waste” appliances like used TVs, computers, etc. which contain, in many cases, toxic pollutants.  The government is finally imposing its import ban on used refrigerators citing their higher than normal use of electricity.

There are other alternatives that could be used in air conditioning and refrigeration but we now have a worldwide infrastructure producing greenhouse gas generating appliances.  Unfortunately, the remedies fall under the category of climate change and we have seen how difficult it is to mobilize the world to act.  We can only hope this is added to the list of areas needing attention in the climate change “Big Deal” that is scheduled to be negotiated in 2015.

Use the following links for more information:

http://www.unep.org/dewa/portals/67/pdf/HFC_report.pdf

http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/fgases.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-15818659

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/jul/10/climate-heat-world-air-conditioning

http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2012-02-15/news/31063251_1_ac-sales-ac-segment-ac-range

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/bizchina/2012-05/08/content_15234521.htm

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-20877804

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