Climate & Energy

Kristof hits a home run

Finally some mainstream focus on efficiency

I’ve had my issues with NYT columnist Nic Kristof in the past, but he’s knocking them out of the park on climate change. His latest hits exactly the right notes. Check it out: Concern about …

The genius behind better biofuel

a man with a microbe on mission

At 29, David Berry MD, a PhD, and now, title as Young Innovator of the Year in MIT's Tech Review magazine. So what makes Berry so hot? He's the brains behind LS9, the California-based company working on "renewable petroleum." Berry's goal was nothing less than "to develop a novel and far-reaching solution to the energy problem." In col­laboration with genomics researcher George Church of Harvard Medi­cal School and plant biologist Chris Somerville of Stanford University, Berry and his Flagship colleagues set out to do something that had never been attempted commercially: using the tools of synthetic biology to make microörganisms that produce something like petroleum. Berry assumed responsibility for proving that the infant company, dubbed LS9, could produce a biofuel that was renewable, better than corn-derived ethanol, and cost-­competitive with ­fossil-based fuels. I understand that Chris Somerville -- a leading figure in the plant biology field -- is also at work on plants that are genetically engineered to produce biodegradable plastics. Now if they could just integrate that idea with these petroleum-producing microbes, we'd really have something to celebrate.

BioWillie pens a biodiesel book

Willie Nelson is talking about biodiesel again. This time in book form, and the result is On the Clean Road Again: Biodiesel and the Future of the Family Farm. The 90-some-page pocket-size book (it’s like …

Coal logic

Not your father’s Old Coal

In thinking and responding to posts about the latest EPRI propaganda, a couple questions came to mind. Questions I'm a bit embarrassed I hadn't thought of before, so I pose them to you now: If coal isn't cheap, is there any reason to build it? If we're willing to pay 12 cents/kWh for baseload power, would you preferentially pay it to coal? Those may seem odd questions to ask, but follow me through the math.

Real-life smart grid adventure

Keeping the air conditioners running in muggy Pennsylvania

Just back from visiting the family in Pennsylvania, where temperatures were hitting the high 90s. It was the kind of sticky, muggy, oppressively hot weather that reminds me why I live in the cool corner that is the Pacific Northwest. As air conditioners were blasting away everywhere and lights were flickering, I was thinking that grid operators must be calling on every demand-response resource they could. Back into post-vacation action, I came across an Aug. 10 release [PDF] from PJM Interconnect that confirmed it. The power grid was on emergency status and PJM, in fact, drew a record demand response -- 1,945 megawatts -- equal to a fair-sized city. PJM also reduced voltage in the overall system by 1,000 MW, explaining those flickers. So I actually lived through the scenario with which I opened "Adventures in the smart grid no. 2." Damned glad they kept those air conditioners on.

Hmmm …

James Connaughton says George W. Bush wants to be an "honest broker" on global warming. Sound familiar?

A very good article on 'tipping points'

And at what temperature Greenland’s ice sheet will melt

Climate tipping points have been the subject of much debate and confusion. Now Professor Tim Lenton of the University of East Anglia has published a very good piece, "Tipping points in the Earth System," giving some intellectual substance to the notion. Not surprisingly, the tipping point Prof. Lenton worries about most is the disintegration of Greenland's ice sheet. He told The Guardian: We know that ice sheets in the last ice age collapsed faster than any current models can capture, so our models are known to be too sluggish.

Making do without

Substitution isn’t the solution to peak oil

The growing recognition that the world is at or nearly at the all-time peak of conventional oil production (meaning from that point on, oil flows will inexorably decline at some unknown rate) has prompted a furious search for replacements, all intended to keep the high-carbon, high-flying, automobile lifestyle going. Like crack addicts warned of a future shortage, we are literally searching the corners of the Earth to figure out how we're going to get our fix when times is tight. But given our climate crisis, peak oil could be appreciated as a push in the direction we already have to go (a decarbonized society). If we adopt the oil depletion protocol suggested by Colin Campbell, and made more widely known by Richard Heinberg, we can improve our resiliency, our health, and our social well-being -- and avoid the chaos that comes when a junkie loses his supplier while still stuck in full-blown addiction. New Scientist offers yet another argument for this approach:

Post-combustion carbon dioxide capture

A new technology to reduce GHG emissions from coal plants

The carbon capture and storage (CCS) discussion has focused on pre-combustion capture of CO2, since it has long been assumed that it is easier and cheaper than trying to capture the CO2 post-combustion from the flue gas (exhaust stream). The problem is: (1) that approach limits CCS to new coal plants, and (2) that requires utilities to build integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plants, which are more expensive to build and more expensive to maintain. Post-combustion capture would allow CCS to be retrofitted on existing coal plants. If it proves practical and affordable, that would be a major breakthrough in efforts to control greenhouse-gas emissions. Last week brought us this announcement: BP Alternative Energy and Powerspan Corp. today announced their collaborative agreement to develop and commercialize a post-combustion CO2 capture process for conventional power plants. More details on this potentially important technology below:

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