The ineffectiveness of biofuels—ethanol and biodiesil—has been much in the news lately, with reports from the EPA, California's CARB and the EU's joint Research Council claiming that biofuels pollute more than the fossil fuels they are supposed to replace. Still, this has not prevented the biofuels industry from receiving big government subsidies. Now a new report discloses another reason to shun biofuels, one that has nothing to do with CO2 and everything to do with H2O. When the water use of biofuel feedstock crops is analyzed, the water footprint (WF) ranges from 1,400 to an astounding 20,000 gallons of water for each gallon of biofuel produced.
One of the fundamental aspects of Earth's ecological and climate systems is the way carbon moves through the biosphere. From land to air to water, through living organisms and even the plant's crust, carbon—the stuff of life—is always on the move. Scientists thought they had a pretty good understanding of how the carbon cycle works, until now. Recent work with strange, jellyfish like creatures called thaliaceans is causing scientists to re-evaluate the workings of the carbon cycle.
Even though the new US President gives occasional lip service to nuclear energy, recent actions by his administration force us to ask, “is the Obama administration trying to kill nuclear energy?” The first indication that Obama's support for nuclear power was less than whole hearted came during the stimulus debate, when a push to include tens of billions of dollars in insurance for new nuclear reactors failed. Then, the Obama administration came out this month against storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.
Coming on the heals of the EPA and CARB decisions, to include all production emissions when evaluating biofuels, a new study from the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology says that it may be better to burn crops than turn them into biofuels. The UN has reported that world food prices are rising due to competition with government subsidized biofuel programs. Combined with new concerns over nitrous oxide production from agricultural crops, this may signal the death of America's foolish foray into crop based ethanol.
A Russian project currently underway aims at ringing the Arctic Circle with 70 MW floating nuclear power plants. In a report by Interfax, a Russian state controlled news agency, Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom and the far northern Siberian Republic of Yakutiya signed an agreement last week for the construction of four floating nuclear power plants for use along the Republic’s coastal areas on the Arctic Ocean. This moves forward existing plans to construct scores of new power plants in the Arctic region.
NASA researchers report that much of the atmospheric warming observed in the Arctic since 1976 may be due to changes in tiny airborne particles called aerosols. Though greenhouse gases are invariably blamed for global climate change, and the shrinking Arctic ice cover in particular, this new research indicates that as much as half the warming in the Arctic can be attributed to sort lived particulate pollution—basically soot. Unlike the dreaded gas, CO2, aerosols do not stay in the atmosphere very long, suggesting that the effects of any warming caused by aerosols would quickly be reversed if their emissions ceased.
Scientists working on behalf of the International Council for Science (ICSU), a Paris-based federation of scientific associations from around the world, have issued a new report that says biofuels do more to create global warming than burning fossil fuels. The reason is that raising the plants to be turned into ethanol and biodiesel releases large volumes of nitrous oxide (N2O), which is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) as a greenhouse gas. Once again, trying to solve humanity's longterm energy and climate problems by hastily grasping at so called green solutions has resulted in the opposite of what eco-activists have claimed.
Northern Ireland's environment minister, Sammy Wilson, announced Monday he has banned British government TV ads on climate change and denounced their energy-saving message as “insidious propaganda.” Wilson said the Act on CO2 ads were “giving people the impression that by turning off the standby light on their TV, they could save the world from melting glaciers and being submerged in 40 feet of water.”
A town in Norfolk, UK, has begun heating many of its buildings, including the schools, by burning oil made from melted-down cow and pig carcasses. Around 30 properties in the North Norfolk town—including both the primary and the secondary school—are taking part in test trials, which started in December. The 12-month heating trial is being sponsored by the University of East Anglia (UEA), whose Low Carbon Innovation Centre was instrumental in setting up the plan.
In a victory for Nordic pragmatism, the Swedish government agreed to scrap a three-decade ban on building new nuclear reactors, citing the need to avoid producing more greenhouse gases. Sweden is a leader in renewable energy but has struggled to develop sufficient alternate energy sources, like hydro and wind, to meet growing demand.
According to Bloomburg, President-elect Barack Obama will name Nobel Prize-winner Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to head the Department of Energy. Chu, a proponent of alternate energy and conservation, is a true scientist, not a politician or policy wonk. Though the success of the Obama administration in dealing with the energy crisis and global warming is not assured, this is a positive step.
Listening to the verbal posturing by some eco-activists and like minded politicians might give one the impression that, with the recent sharp drop in world oil prices, all pressure to accelerate domestic oil production has abated. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Once again the counter argument is made by the most unlikely of sources, the OEDC IEA—an organization that, along with the UN IPCC, helped serve as ground zero for the global warming hysteria outbreak of recent times.
I just got back from viewing the new James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, and I noticed something interesting about the tone of the movie—it struck me as distinctly skeptical about the green movement. From its central eco-activist villain, to the final destruction of a green hotel by exploding hydrogen fuel cells, the whole show had a distinctly cynical take on the eco-industrial business. What kind of message is this Hollywood spetacular trying to send?
Despite the fact that gas prices have taken a precipitous fall to around the $2 per gallon level the moribund US auto industry is working hard to retool for a greener, more energy efficient hybrid future. Leading the parade is the recently revealed Chevy Volt from GM, now sporting what is rumored to be production bodywork. General Motors, the company once accused of killing the electric car, is now in the forefront of the plug-in hybrid revolution. And yes, revolution is not too strong a word for the effect that plug-in strong hybrids will have on the energy landscape of America and other developed countries.
You really must admire the staunch, muddle through regardless attitude of the British Parliament. With the UK stock market plummeting and facing severe energy shortages in the near future Britain's Parliament went ahead and passed one of the most restrictive pieces of “green” legislation to ever emerge from a developed country's government. Over the last few weeks Ministers have bowed to pressure from the public and Members of Parliament (MPs) to strengthen the bill by increasing the target for cutting emissions from 60 per cent to 80 per cent by 2050 and closing a loophole that would have left emissions from international aviation and shipping emissions unregulated.