Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Energy resources

Environmental organizations

http://www.earthscape.org/ Columbia Earthscape is a comprehensive aggregation of resources in the Earth and Environmental Sciences. The resources are aimed at providing teachers, students, scientists, or decision-makers, instant access to the tools you need to understand our planet. Access is on a subscription basis only.

http://www.natural-resources.org/ Natural Resources and Sustainable Development is a public forum for information and communication concerning natural resources and their interface with the economy, the environment and society. Natural resources featured on this website include minerals, oil and gas, biodiversity, energy, and water. It appears to be managed by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (http://www.unctad.org/) though a couple other organizations are mentioned on the partners page.

http://www.bailoutwatch.org/ "Bailout Watch" exposes these government bailouts of multi-billion dollar corporations with detailed factsheets and a comprehensive library of links to articles and editorials in newspapers, government reports, and full text of legislation. Many of the links go to Taxpayers for Common Sense (http://www.taxpayer.net/).

Peak Oil (aka Hubberts Peak)

Association for the Study of Peak Oil (http://www.peakoil.net/): ASPO is a network of scientists, affiliated with European institutions and universities, having an interest in determining the date and impact of the peak and decline of the world's production of oil and gas, due to resource constraints. Its mission is to: 1. Define and evaluate the world's endowment of oil and gas; 2. Model depletion, taking due account of demand, economics, technology and politics; 3. Raise awareness of the serious consequences for Mankind.” (also see http://asponews.org/)

Hubbert Peak (http://www.hubbertpeak.com/): Named after the late Dr. M. King Hubbert, Geophysicist, this website provides data, analysis and recommendations regarding the upcoming peak in the rate of global oil extraction.

Life After the Oil Crash (http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/): "Interest in the Titanic has been revived because it's the perfect metaphor for our nation.  Intuitively, we know this is true.  We just don't want to admit we've already hit the iceberg." One citizen's excellent effort to inform others about the coming crisis.

Oil Crash (http://www.oilcrash.com/): News and commentary on the Oil Peak issue.

Oil Depletion Analysis Centre (http://www.odac-info.org/): ODAC is an independent, educational charity working to raise international public awareness and promote better understanding of the world's oil-depletion problem.

Post Carbon Institute (http://www.postcarbon.org/): An educational institution that explores what cultures, civilization, governance and economies might look like without the use of hydrocarbon energy.

From the Wilderness, energy & oil coverage (http://www.fromthewilderness.com/free/ww3/index.html#oil): "From the Wilderness" is an online journalistic magazine exploring to find the truth behind the news. Or, maybe it's Michael Rupert's idea of the truth. Anyway, the site publishes well researched and insightful articles.

THE END OF SUBURBIA: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of The American Dream (http://www.endofsuburbia.com/index.htm): Documentary film concerning the "Oil Peak" and the projected effects.

The Wolf at the Door (http://www.wolfatthedoor.org.uk/): A beginners guide to oil depletion.

Statistical Review of World Energy 2003 (British Petroleum; http://www.bp.com/centres/energy/)

Action groups

Oil Awareness Meetup (http://OilAwareness.meetup.com/): "Meetup with other local people who are dedicated to raising awareness about the peak in oil production and the inevitable decline that will follow. Discuss the consequences of this decline and the actions that can be taken."

Peak Oil Action (http://PeakOilAction.org/): People working together to raise awareness about oil depletion and preparing for a post fossil-fuel age.


Konarka - Developers of an interesting flexible solar panel design.

http://www.sunpowercorp.com/ - Makers of a high efficiency solar panel

Company Research Resources

RenewableEnergyStocks.com - Renewable Energy Stocks, Sustainable, Alternative and Green Energy Stocks, Wind Energy Stocks, Solar Energy Stocks, Fuel Cell Stocks 

FuelCellCarNews.com - Fuel Cell Cars, Industry & News, Fuel Cell Stocks, Hybrid Cars, Hydrogen Economy News, Energy Efficiency Technologies, Global Warming, Electric Vehicles, Renewable Energy News, Eco- Friendly Fuels, Auto Maker News and More 

Alternative Energy Resource Network (http://www.alternate-energy.net/) We are dedicated to help make alternative energy products and services an everyday reality. Despite great progress, there is still much work to be done to increase the uses of these technologies. However, there are encouraging trends.

Google Searches

Search for "Peak Oil" on Google: http://www.google.com/search?q=%22Peak+Oil%22

Search for "Peak Oil" on Google News: http://news.google.com/news?q=%22Peak%20Oil%22

Search for "Oil Depletion" on Google News: http://news.google.com/news?q=%22oil+depletion%22

Renewable Chemicals: Codexis and Cargill Develop Microbial Process to Use Corn, Not Petroleum, as Feedstock

Renewable Chemicals: Codexis and Cargill Develop Microbial Process to Use Corn, Not Petroleum, as Feedstock (June 20, 2005; Green Car Congress) referring to: Biotech Breakthrough Will Favorably Impact the U.S. Chemical Industry (June 20, 2005, bio.org)

PHILADELPHIA, PA. (June 20, 2005) -- Codexis and Cargill, members of the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s (BIO) Industrial and Environmental Section, today announced a breakthrough in developing a novel microbial process that will convert corn sugar to a chemical intermediate. This process is an important milestone in the development of a new renewable chemical platform. When fully commercialized, the industrial biotech process will convert dextrose derived from corn to a chemical intermediate known as 3, hydroxyproprionic acid (3HP).

The new process will utilize very low-cost, clean agricultural feedstocks instead of petroleum to produce 3HP. 3HP is a key intermediate for several commercially important chemicals. The chemicals that can be produced from 3HP include acrylic acid, acrylamide and 1,3 propanediol. Acrylic acid and its derivatives are used to create a wide range of polymer-based consumer and industrial products, such as adhesives, paints, polishes, protective coatings, and sealants. This new process is cheaper and more environmental friendly than the old process that uses petroleum as a feedstock.

“Industrial biotechnology converges seamlessly with other scientific disciplines and is a powerful source of innovation for new products and processes,

Biodiesel pointers

Greasecar vegetable fuel systems - Biodiesel information and conversion kits.

National Biodiesel Board - The National Biodiesel Board (NBB) is the national trade association representing the biodiesel industry as the coordinating body for research and development in the United States.

Biodiesel America - A campaign whose mission is to change 100,000 diesel school busses to biodiesel by 2010.

"Market based" environmental reform

One of the theories bandied about environmental reform is to just let "market forces" work it out. It's a very tempting thought, since we can see just how successful the "free market" is in providing us with supermarkets full of goods and services.

Here's a few examples:

TerraPass - For-profit company selling certificates that equal the carbon emissions of one car. They then use the money to buy carbon credits on the carbon exchange, and then retire those credits, locking the carbon reduction in place.

Green Tags - Green tags are also referred to as renewable energy certificates or credits (RECs) or tradable renewable credits (TRCs).

Acid Rain Program - The overall goal of the Acid Rain Program is to achieve significant environmental and public health benefits through reductions in emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), the primary causes of acid rain. To achieve this goal at the lowest cost to society, the program employs both traditional and innovative, market-based approaches for controlling air pollution. In addition, the program encourages energy efficiency and pollution prevention.

Chicago Climate Exchange

EPA's Clean Air Market - lean air markets programs include various market-based regulatory programs designed to improve air quality.

Renewable Energy - The Next Opportunity for Silicon Valley

Renewable Energy - The Next Opportunity for Silicon Valley (by Brian McConnell, 12/10/2004, O'Reilly)

The article suggests that Silicon Valley aim its entrepeneurial might to make things better/faster/smaller/etc at the issue of Renewable Energy. This certainly fits my posting yesterday: Solaicx; making solar electricity cost effective as well as Nanosolar which I covered last March: Breakthrough in solar photovoltaics

Interesting stuff ...

Perchlorate in food/water/environment/etc

Perchlorate is a chemical used in rocket fuel, but it's being found widely throughout the U.S. environment, food supply, water supply, etc.

Rocket fuel chemical in California cow milk (June 22, 2004; CNN unfortunately CNN doesn't have it on their site any longer)

SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) -- Young children and pregnant women who drink milk from California cows may be exposed to unsafe levels of a toxic chemical used in rocket fuel, according to a new study by an environmental group.

The study released Tuesday by the Environmental Working Group comes as state and federal regulators consider setting new standards to regulate perchlorate -- the explosive ingredient in missile fuel that has been linked to thyroid damage.

"Perchlorate exposure is more widespread than we have been led to believe," said Bill Walker, vice president for the West Coast office of the EWG, a research and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.

Study: Rocket fuel chemical taints food, water (By Michael Coren, CNN, Friday, February 25, 2005)

There are few sure ways to avoid ingesting perchlorate, the chemical used in rocket fuel that researchers have detected in breast milk at levels five to eight times higher than those considered safe, experts say.

Studies by the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency suggest that perchlorate enters the food supply through reservoirs and tainted irrigation water that contaminates crops and livestock.

The chemical has been found in store-bought produce, such as lettuce, in milk and in public drinking water supplies across the United States. More than 11 million people have some level of perchlorate in their drinking water, according to the National Research Council.

Perchlorate is used in explosives and as an ingredient in solid rocket fuel. Although found naturally in some areas, production of the chemical began in the mid-1940s by the U.S. military and aerospace industry, which accounts for 90 percent of its use, according to the EPA. Few consumer products contain the chemical, which is used in mortars, grenades, fireworks, lubricating oils and air bags.

... "Our findings are very surprising because we found that perchlorate in breast milk is widespread, doesn't appear to come from drinking water, appears to suppress iodide in breast milk, and in some cases, the levels are really high," said Ph.D. student Andrea Kirk. Perchlorate can inhibit thyroid hormones and may cause iodine deficiencies that lead to learning disabilities or lower IQ.

Monday, June 20, 2005

ANALYSIS: "Can Australia run on Ethanol"

I'm not sure why the guy chose Ethanol .. but he's putting together a strawman proposal, studying with back-of-the-napkin figuring whether Australia could support itself using home-grown Ethanol:

Can Australia Run on Ethanol

The result is that it would take 107,700 GWHrs of energy to grow and produce the ethanol required to supply the 237,400 GWHrs of energy currently consumed by oil each year in Australia.

That's not a good return on investment.

But, perhaps, there would be other fuels derviced from other crops that would be more suitable? e.g. biodiesel derived from bio-engineered algae. The analysis Stephen Gloor provides covers only one plant/fuel combination, while there are several possible plant/fuel combinations that could be employed. It's very possible that one of them will produce a better return on investment than the Ethanol scenario he examines.

Thursday, June 2, 2005

Design your own DNA, almost makes one want to turn luddite

Photoshop For DNA (Matthew Herper, 06.01.05, 6:00 AM ET, FORBES.COM)

The new firm, Codon Devices, is aiming to perfect a new technology that would allow scientists to edit sequences of DNA with never-before-seen ease. The leap might be akin to going from having to correct articles with White-Out to editing them onscreen with a word processor. The goal is to move from having to merely tweak the proteins that are used as biotech drugs to being able to design them, even taking material from multiple organisms and using them to create new, functional genes.

"I think if we pull it off, it changes everything to do with our interaction with the living world," says Drew Endy, a young MIT professor who is one of the company's co-founders. "We'll see if it works."

The organic process of evolution is what created the world of flora and fauna around us. And this represents another step forward in terms of scientists sticking bits of DNA together and seeing what happens.

What this raises in my mind is the fear that they'll accidentally create a monster through this. While these scientists know quite a lot about the function of DNA, they don't know it all. Which means they're left to trying lots of combinations, with little ability to predict the results of the combinations. Since they're working to create living organisms, the living organisms may well escape the laboratory, and if it happens to be a deadly organism it could wipe out a tremendous amount of life. Especially as its status as an engineered organism means our bodies and the bodies of other life forms would in now way have a defense against any attack this engineered organism might make. The evolutionary process that created our bodies, and the natural resistance to infecting organisms, takes thousands of years to unfold and create resistance to new organisms.

Of course the only way for the scientists to learn and grow their knowledge is to try out new ideas and see what happens.

Welcome to Codon Devices: Founded by leading scientists at the intersection of engineering and molecular biology, Codon Devices is working to pioneer the emerging field of synthetic biology. The company is currently developing its proprietary BioFAB production platform that is expected to accurately synthesize kilobase- to megabase-length genetic code, orders of magnitude more rapidly and less expensively than currently available technology. In the short term, product opportunities include comprehensive sets of biological parts for large-scale research projects, engineered cells that produce novel pharmaceuticals, engineered protein biotherapeutics, and novel biosensor devices. In the longer term, the company's core technology is expected to enable improved vaccines, agricultural products, and biorefineries for the production of industrial chemicals and energy.

Their dream is very nice isn't it?

They would be relying on the known purpose for DNA, which is that the DNA contains the instructions for producing proteins in our bodies. Raw chemicals go into the cells, and through other chemical signals floating through the body, those raw chemicals get transformed by the instructions in the DNA to create other chemicals (proteins basically) that our bodies need to live.

Hence, the dream for a long time in science is to engineer organisms whose DNA creates the chemicals used in various medicines. Another dream, Widescale Biodiesel Production from Algae, is to have organisms that produce useful industrial chemicals, for example this link is to a plan to engineer a breed of Algae that produces oils that can easily be turned into biodiesel that can be burned in a power plant, and you can partially feed the algae growth from the emissions produced by the power plant.

Nice dream. Let's pray it doesn't turn into a nightmare.

UPDATE: My fiancee is a geneticist and read the above article and couldn't see anything in the article that indicated any breakthrough. The article does mention George Church publishing a paper in Nature describing the technique.

This is probably it: Accurate multiplex gene synthesis from programmable DNA microchips (JINGDONG TIAN, HUI GONG, NIJING SHENG, XIAOCHUAN ZHOU, ERDOGAN GULARI, XIAOLIAN GAO & GEORGE CHURCH)

He also wrote an impassioned letter From systems biology to synthetic biology calling for a model of greater sharing of more details that can lead to synthetic biology.