Sunday, June 30, 2013

the Re resource reconsider re re re

Reduce > reuse & repair > recycle.
When are people going to notice the RE in resource?

The closing of the comments period for the Pebbles Mine in Alaska prompted me to look up more about the demand for copper and other minerals.  It's ugly.

Clean energy isn't totally clean.
-- At least not while it depends on mining and mining pollution.

Copper in wind turbines, copper in solar panels, copper in electronics, are all part of a huge global demand for the metals and minerals associated with electricity.

Things I own and use every day...

Friday, June 21, 2013

off topic humor: equal protection under the law and 48 hours and sex

This is not about climate change.

When a branch of a state legislature passed a law that a woman must wait 48 hours for an abortion, I pondered.
The better spirit of such a law is to prompt careful reflection before making a weighty decision, while the lesser spirit of the law is a demeaning dismissal of a woman's ability to make her own weighty decisions, and specifically discounts the discernment process she may have had in the previous 48 hours before she first sought medical assistance.

So let's take the better spirit of the law, plus the 48 hour rule, and see how that applies to men under the equal protection clause of the US Constitution.  Doesn't equal protection infer equal prosecution? Maybe that tough nut about equality has yet to be fully resolved, but for the moment let's assume the equality is in both protection and prosecution.

The last moment at which a man has direct personal control over whether or not conception might take place is in the minutes before his semen ejaculates in or near a vagina, is it not?

So if the 48 hour law were equally applied, a man would have to seek permission for an act of sex and wait 48 hours before the procedure could be accomplished. Would not this give a potential fetus equal protection from irresponsible decisions by a father as well as by a mother? 

Suppose a husband thinks of sex at 9 pm Friday, and must wait until after 9 pm Sunday to consummate his intention.  Consider the anticipation, the overtures, the limited foreplay, during the 48 hours of waiting, and perhaps, it might achieve the intended purpose of the 48 hour rule to prompt careful reflection before taking action.
Moreover, if a man sought the services of a prostitute, would not the 48 hour rule apply in that relationship as well?
Would any man failing to follow the 48 hour rule be judged equally with women?

File this under humor, in case anyone didn't get the joke, at least taken in the whole, if not in part.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ye cannae break the laws of physics, Solvay Process and Calera concrete

Many an inventor has thought he or she found the chemical version of a perpetual motion machine, where by-products are incorporated into new useful end-products.

The laws of thermodynamics tell us that energy flows down hill towards heat, so lots of energy would be needed to revert a product of a chemical process back up the thermodynamic hill to its starting materials. For unregulated industries it has been expedient (basically cheaper) to go with the flow of thermodynamics and let slag, waste heaps and pollution accumulate at the bottom of the hill, sometimes literally as well as figuratively. On that thermodynamic down-hill roll, a myriad variety of products can branch off.

Figuratively, the process is like an old pinball machine;  energy pushes the molecules up initially,  and as they roll down the thermodynamic slope,  they can be nudged to end in a particular slot.

Calera plans to take waste carbon dioxide (CO2) and incorporate it into concrete in what we might characterize as a novel slot in the thermodynamic pinball machine.

CO2 sequestration is the advertised outcome, but Calera's flow chart tells something more. For one, it will use salt, in addition to the CO2 laden materials.  For another, it will have sodium hydroxide (NaOH) as one of its products.

Sodium hydroxide has a huge history in my hometown of Syracuse, New York.

It was an important product of the Solvay Process, an industry that had followed the salt industry.   The Solvay Process uses brine (water and salt (NaCl)), limestone (largely CaCO3), and energy (initially from coal) to produce soda ash, which is largely sodium carbonate. But - they had by-products, which they cleverly found slots for.

Solvay Process, the collection of Solvay-named companies, eventually became Allied Chemical, which subsequently combined with Honeywell, and took the name Honeywell, except for spinning off LCP Chemical, which had the effect of distancing Allied from a large part of its mercury pollution. The chemical products also evolved to include a long list, among them sodium hydroxide, baking soda, chlorine, and components for making plastics.

One of the big questions being raised about the Calera process is, can it scale up to stow away the enormous amounts of CO2 being generated by the burning of fossil fuel.  People are wishing for a Big Fix for the dilemma of a huge dependence on fossil fuel and the ill effects of its use.

As much as I'd like Calera to succeed in making low-CO2 concrete and sequestering some CO2, the warning signs are there.  Salt in, sodium hydroxide out.
Scale that part of the Calera process up to a global scale, and I foresee issues, even if the CO2 sequestration works technically.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Bridge fuel blues

I got bridge fuel blues,
hydrofracking blues, radioactive blues.
Don't give me gas,
don't give me spent fuel rods in a cask.
I don't want to be the subject
of a human health risk assessment,
Not for coal, nor water-frack,
nor an nuclear act.

We all wanna live nice-
not too hot not too cold -
and travel the world.
Who has time to spin our own cloth
like Gandhi did?
But that bridge fuel stuff is all about
attachment to things that gotta go

From the far side of the bridge
the future is looking back at us with
sad eyes, sad eyes.
Just walk across, why not,
your feet are what you've got.
They have those bridge fuel blues,
looking back at me and you.

what bicyclists accidentally teach me & what we all take for granted

I get dumbfounded when bicyclists think they have the answer to creating a low-carbon environment.

We know their strong points. Bicycles operate on human food power;  the cyclist's respiration generates CO2, and  a bit of methane out the other end, and the cyclist would do some of that even if not on a bike, so the CO2 footprint is only a bit more due to exercise.  The energy it takes to manufacture a bicycle is much less than for a car, yet some bike frames can last as long as a car.  More bikes can fit on a patch of roadway than the car equivalents with passengers.  All good stuff.

That said, bicyclists today seldom reflect on the historic 20th century political and economic struggle to establish smooth surfaces for their rubber-wheeled travel.  The asphalt roads are a product of the petroleum industry. The concrete roads and bridges with their concrete, structural steel and rebar, are carbon-intensive to make.  And repair.

To fully imagine a post-fossil fuel future, take out the smooth black roads and concrete overpasses, take out the steel-trussed bridges and the diesel-powered ferries.
Think about compacted dirt lanes, cobblestone roads, and a ferry operated by wind, or maybe by rechargeable electric engines.

The electric car and the bike are both rides taken on the waning of fossil fuel.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Good read on fracking's use of water supplies

Choice quoate: "That’s about equal, EPA says, to the water use in 40 to 80 cities with populations of 50,000 people, or one to two cities with a population of 2.5 million each."

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Update on elephants' hearing and tsunami

June 11, 2013 Add in. Stanford University seismologists have suggested a tsunami warning system that uses sound cues from an earthquake.

"We've found that there's a strong correlation between the amplitude of the sound waves and the tsunami wave heights," co-author Eric Dunham, a Stanford geophysicist, said in a statement. "Sound waves propagate through water 10 times faster than the tsunami waves, so we can have knowledge of what's happening a hundred miles offshore within minutes of an earthquake occurring. We could know whether a tsunami is coming, how large it will be and when it will arrive."

Oh science is satisfying.

But that means there's more. Sound speed in water varies with depth, temperature and salinity.
So the Stanford statement is probably over-simplified, as observers would have to know other factors to make reliable predictions about the tsunami.
Yet, if we take a factoid about sound in seawater moving at about 1560 m/s, that's 1.56 km/s or 5,616 km/hour. That's about seven times a high-end tsunami velocity figure of 800 kmh in open water, another factoid. 
 So the "10  times faster" works if we accept that he's making a generalization, and I'm comparing it to factoids for  approximation.

However, this also suggests a prediction would benefit from knowing the shape of the seafloor, so as to calibrate for the acoustical shift when an open ocean tsunami hits an underwater constriction.

And then - to interpret it as wisely as an elephant.

 Here's the earlier post, published January 24, 2013.
Off topic, but I love puzzles.

This one is related to a story about elephants that came out of the 2004 Indonesian earthquake and tsunami.

In the story, a group of Indonesian work elephants became agitated and pulled up the stakes that supposedly held them tethered. They ran away from the sea, uphill, followed by their also very agitated human handlers. Shortly thereafter, the tsunami arrived ashore and the flood swept inland, but at lower elevation than the vantage point of the elephants and their attendants.

The social life and work attitudes of the elephants would be a delightful topic in itself, given their tolerance for being staked out as long as other things like food and safety were satisfactory.

But I also wanted to know more about when the elephants sensed there was danger.

Here's what might be a nice word problem for a promising freshman physics student.

Elephants can hear sounds as low as 14-18 Hertz frequency.
Tsunamis in the open ocean have far lower frequency than the range of elephant hearing (big hint),  a wavelength  can be 200 km, with a velocity of 800 kmh, and an amplitude that might be a few cm to a meter at most, not really noticeable to ships at sea.

When a tsunami approaches shallower water, it is compressed, so it slows down, reportedly to around 50 kmh, its wavelength shortens, and its frequency increases.    In terms of wave compression, like audible sound, the tsunami's pitch rises. With the compression at shallower water, the tsunami's wave amplitude also rises, sometimes to an astounding height.

Figure out the tsunami wavelength condition necessary for an elephant to be able to hear a tsunami coming.

If I knew the decibel sensitivity of an elephant at 14-18 Hz that would add to the fun.  There's a relatively old reference (Heffner and Heffner, 1982) that found a seven-year old female Indian elephant had a threshold of about 64 dB at 16 Hz.  Maybe there's more recent research.   In human terms 64 dB -  at an accessible frequency - could be an air conditioner or dishwasher, hardly as painful as an alarm. 

Then we'd want to know how far the tsunami was from the elephant, so we could guess what would be necessary in intensity for the elephants to react as if they'd heard an air-raid siren.  Did it even need to be loud, or just dangerously different?

It would also be credible to examine if the elephants had other modalities to sense danger. Did they feel something  unusual through their feet? Or even smell something strange as the sea pulled away from the shore..

Thursday, June 6, 2013

teeter-totters - as a business model

According to a finance expert, prudent businesses keep one foot in the depreciating assets that pay high income while they put the other foot into a new market, where the cost of access may be high, but where they want to have a forefront position relative to competition.

Cash-rich companies, such as fossil-fuel providers, often do some version of this. The PR around taking a progressive step may be greenwashing, but deep down it's just business to get a toe-hold in a next-generation market.  The coal, oil and gas companies have the capital to move into solar and wind more aggressively, but they are on a teeter-totter between income and long-term investment.

Give energy companies more and bigger incentives (carrots or sticks) to shift their assets and we'd be over one of humps on the way to success.

If Coal India changes its name to Energy India, we'll know the weight is shifting from one foot to the other.

I cross posted at Climate Progress.

Monday, June 3, 2013

proper motivation

I question climate activists' versions of saber-rattling, such as threatening bigger-badder-weather or the metaphorical hotter pot of water.  I'm beyond tired of reading their malicious hopes for a catastrophe, such as hoping for an El NiƱo.  That approach is based on the assumptions that a future fear or pain is either adequate motivation for change now, that a catastrophe would lead to a progressive policy outcome (how often does that happen..) and that incremental problems might be enough to prompt a major revision. Even an ordinary insurance policy is for coverage that takes effect immediately, it is not a protection that is postponed until next year.  Who hasn't said, I can't make plans on that, it's too vague? Or, I'll just fix what I have, until it's really broken?

I suggest that what makes juices flow and feet go is an immediate priority for something specific that we hold dear. The energy is strong for a positive and personal outcome, as compared to merely negating a generic negative.
When I am thrifty I have an immediate benefit as well as future benefit. When I fed my children nutritious food, same thing, both an immediate and future benefit. When I eat locally grown food, I have both.

With climate change, consider measures to either mitigate and/or adapt to the changes already in motion. Which of these have a clear positive outcome, part of a vision for the future?  A benign fuel like solar energy is an easy example of a sunny outcome, pun intended.

In the battle to cut down on tobacco-related illness, a Madison Avenue advertising executive explained that ads about dire threats of illness from smoking did not motivate. He said instead you have to make tobacco-free activity far more sexy than acts of smoking. Show healthy attractive people enjoying clear air and each others' company.  The tobacco industry had done its darnedest to try to make smoking seem sexy, but it is straightforward to show that tobacco-free is REALLY really sexy!

Same thing with prepping for climate change. The oil and gas industry have tried to make fossil fuel vehicles and  houses and things made with fossil fuel all seem sexy and upscale. Fortunately we have some counterpoints like the electric cars with elegant lines or the zero-energy houses that are definitely upscale.

We need a positive vision for the future, not one that is whupped by fear.