Saturday, January 26, 2008

Energy News

For some cutting edge developments in energy production that might be more environmentally friendly check this out. An initial discovery at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory has been able to produce electricity directly from a small temperature differential. What that means in less technical terms is that electrical power can be produced directly from waste heat where there is even a small temperature difference. The thing is, there is a lot of waste heat being produced all the time. From coal burning power plants to your car, the energy to move, to power your phone or lights or whatever comes from getting something very hot and then cooling it down. The temperature change from very hot to cool gets converted to electricity, or mechanical energy. But even the cool part of your cars engine or of a power plant is pretty damn hot. Currently, it is not efficient to try and extract useful energy from the remaining temperature difference so the heat is just lost. Radiated out into space ultimately. If the technology described in the article pans out (and I must say at this point that is a fairly large, but not huge, if. The results are very early, many problems will arise between now and any future application. We have no idea if they can all be solved) then we could produce energy from a great deal of the waste heat we are currently producing which would reduce the amount of coal or gas we would need to burn. Basically, we would be getting more out of the gas and coal we are currently burning so we could have the same amount of useful electricity, and drive the same amount, using less of the fossil fuels.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Environmental News

I've written before that to address global climate change the critical thing to do is to close the carbon cycle. I was pleased to come across this article over on Daily Kos which addresses new developments that directly relate to what I'm talking about.

I'm particularly interested in the second part of the post, the discussion of Algae fuel. I had come across some information on the general idea some time ago and wondered if some sort of large scale operation using solar power and salt water might be possible. Apparently it is, and is already up to pilot scale project in Arizona.

Basically the idea is that algae photosynthesize, so they take CO2 out of the atmosphere and using sunlight convert it into more algae. The algae can be selected, or via artificial selection can be developed, to be particularly efficient at capturing CO2 and making fats and oils. Then the algae can readily be turned into biodiesel. This is particularly nice because this can all be done here in the US, thus diminishing our dependence on foreign sources and because diesel is somewhat easier on the environment than gasoline in a number of ways. Capturing the exhaust gas from power plants is one possibility, but the article referenced here is just taking the CO2 from the atmosphere.

Needless to say this can have a powerful effect on global warming issues. In particular, from my point of view, with this technology, closing the carbon cycle is a definite possibility. Finally, the process as described here has no extra environmental stresses. Some input energy is needed, as all power generation processes must, but that input energy can be solar so no additional carbon emissions are needed. Salt water can be used so the plants to generate these fuels need not add to the demands for potable water. In short it has the promise of being a very clean system.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Arnold Schwarzenegger

I believe we are living in absurd times. Certainly the past seven years have been, in my opinion, almost surreal. I think a clear indication of the absurdities of our times is represented by Arnold Schwarzenegger being the governor of California. Many others probably agree with this conclusion, but I suspect for different reasons than mine. The usual reasons some folks think of Schwarzenegger as absurd have to do with his being an actor, and a kind of wooden actor in fairly shallow action adventure movies, movies which were largely about things getting blown up. But that doesn't strike me as significant. Not really. The man, however wooden he might seem on screen, did a fine job at what he did. The man is intelligent enough and however shallow his parts might have been, people were paying him a lot of money to do them. To have done other than take the jobs would have been stupid. No the movie career does him no damage in my book.

The absurdity comes in two parts. On the one hand he ran for governor, and won, based in large part on how taxes were killing him, and folks such as himself could hardly survive the burden of these many taxes. Now the thing that strikes me is that Mr. Schwarzenegger is an actor, an actor in movies. He has made quite a fortune by acting in movies. But, I don't know if you have noticed, there is quite a lot of concern on the part of those who make movies about controlling who can copy, sell and trade the movie once made. These folks go on quite a lot about how much money they loose when you or I copy movies outside of copyright restrictions. There are warnings from the FBI (That's the Federal Bureau of Investigations) on every DVD concerning civil and criminal penalties for copying the disk illegally. So it seems pretty clear to me that someone like Mr. Schwarzenegger is able to make the kind of money he does by making movies in no small part because the Federal government is there to enforce these laws and insure that he, and the studious, do make all the money off of the films that they hope to make. Mr. Schwarzenegger himself does not do the work needed to insure these restrictions on copying his movies are met. Most of that work is done by the FBI, the justice department, the courts and the federal penal system. Oh, that's right the State Department helps out a lot with regard to international use of his films. So basically the Federal government does a lot of work that creates like $100 million dollars for Mr. Schwarzenegger and he is complaining that he only gets to spend like $80-85 million of those dollars that other people worked to provide for him. I don't dispute the value of his labor, but that can only be a part of the money he makes. Much of it comes from copyright.

That's not even the most absurd thing. I'm just getting to that. I mean if someone is raising millions of dollars for me, why not try to squeeze a few more millions out. Ok, I would probably have too much self respect for that, but still hard nosed businessman tries to get everything he can, that's life. What is amazing is that giving this absurd whining that the $85 million we give to him is not enough and is "killing" him, we get all sympathetic and vote him into office. That is absurd.

Actually, that is only part of the absurdity and probably the smaller part. The larger part of the absurdity is that the opposition party is not really pointing out this disparity. The opposition party is still kind of going along with the idea that all this money generated by FBI warning and federal copyright laws and the like is all really Arnold's money and we are taking his money to run the government, but doing so is for a good cause. No, much of the wealth is being created by these federal programs and only part of the wealth created by the federal government is being spent by the feds. Most of it is being given to Mr. Schwarzenegger.

This too is absurd.

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