Total Pageviews

Thursday, February 28, 2013


Just when you thought wind energy and biomass were mostly good and abundant come news that the potential of our winds should be reduced by a factor of ten, and biomass burning is WORSE than coal.  You would think that this is the usual diatribe funded by fossil fuel companies, but, apparently not.

David Keith of Harvard and his former student, Amanda Adams, now at the University of North Carolina, say that we need to pay attention to wind availability limits and potential climatic impacts.  Earlier estimates of global wind capacity were as high as 400 TW, providing considerable hope, for we need 30 TW of carbon-free energy by 2050 to reach climate control goals.  However, if this resource availability is much lower, there are diminishing return factors to consider.  Incidentally, though, estimates show that higher altitude winds are faster and steadier, and would add another 1,800 TW to the total.  Cost?  Very high.  In any case, I think the authors are overplaying their hand and the ultimate max for surface wind energy conversion devices will fall somewhere between 100 and 200 TW.  Stay tuned for the next blow, for world-wide, there seems to be more reconsideration about wind energy for a variety of reasons.

Regarding the second shock, the organization behind the biomass versus coal paper happens to be the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), for they hate for habitats to be destroyed, as their reason for being is to protect birds.  The RSPB has a million members and was founded in 1889.  Further, their expose', "Dirtier Than Coal," has the endorsement of Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.  Their basic point is that the official emission accounting of the UK Bioenergy Strategy is flawed.  Charles Hendry (right) heads the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which produced this report.  The contrarian response shows data indicating that harvesting, transporting and other parts of the biomass to electricity process result in a considerable amount more of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  But most of all, this is not a net zero balance because you can't count carbon release as as neglible because it takes time for the next tree to grow to absorb more carbon dioxide.  While this analysis is specifically for the United Kingdom, worldwide implications are obvious.

So, do we now need to abandon wind energy and biomass to electricity efforts?   Hardly, as the whole range of sustainable energy options will need to be considered to supply the world with energy in a manner that does not cause global warming.  One of the additional beauties of these two particular options is that they can occupy the same land.  

In my early University of Hawaii days forty years ago when we were researching and advocating windpower for Kahuku, the Audubon Society filed a negative statement.  So also did Hilton, for they did not want Turtle Bay to be known as a windy site.  To the right, Kahuku today.  After a period of pause, windmills are sprouting again, even though a confounding fire halted the progress of the First Wind farm.  If it's not one thing, it's another.

More recently, I've been urged by some in the community to support the environmental opposition to the Hu Honua Bioenergy project on the Big Island to produce electricity from trees.  Kevin Owen to the left is the general manager.  Some residents of Pepeekeo are concerned about air pollution, particularly, the effect on their children.  So I end with the whole point of this posting:  more than anything else, understand what motivates any person or group to propose or oppose any energy source.  This is just the beginning of a long process.  Choices need to be made, and you must ask yourself:  would you rather have coal, liquified petroleum gas, nuclear power and global warming instead of locally produced alternatives and a safer environment?  Subsequently, are you prepared to possibly pay more and endure some inconvenience for more secure and clean energy, which in time should be cheaper than conventional fossil energy?


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

EXCITING SUSTAINABLE ENERGY DEVELOPMENTS recently had an article by Jim Snyder of Bloomberg (right) with a somewhat deceptive title, "Cultivating Bipartisan Support for Biofuel from Germs," that unknowingly diminished the relevance of the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (or ARPA-E).  This office, recommended by the National Academy of Sciences, and in 2007 created by Congress, was not funded until 2009 through the economic stimulus program, receiving $400 million.  

This effort is modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), which is staffed by a bunch of geniuses who provide funds for technologies that have long-term promise for making a difference.  They, effectively, created the internet, for example.  I got into some hot water by posting on "Microbial Biofuels and DARPA in the Twilight Zone," for they were, indeed, stepping into the darkness on this program.  Basically, a rule of academic funding is don't bite the hand that feeds you.

ARPA-E, through the Department of Energy, has now gone through four cycles of funding, and the subject matter, "biofuel germs," is representative of topics currently supported.  What types of projects are supported?

ARPA-E focuses on energy challenges that could radically improve U.S. Economic prosperity, national security, and environmental well being.  We invest in short-term research projects that can have transformational impacts. ARPA-E does not fund basic or incremental research.

Grants range from $250,000 to $10 million, with 285 projects have receiving $770 million.  Spread annually, this is approximately one-half of one percent of the U.S. Department of Energy budget (and the USDOE is only 1% of the Federal budget).  More than anything else, ARPA-E is a matchmaker.  An additional $450 million has been cost-matched by industry.  Universities get almost half the funds, with industry receiving 29%, national labs 7.5% and non-profits the remainder.  This is not that $16 billion loan guarantee program that, in part, gave $240 million to Solyndra.

The USDOE has long had a basic science program, funded at close to $5 billion/year, but these tend to be more for the sake of human knowledge, with minor focus on short term energy production.  ARPA-E supports those developments which are high risk and  high reward with a mission to commercialize as soon as possible.  Money has gone to flow batteries, genetic engineering of microorganisms, research to make biofuels from carbon dioxide and E. coli, and so on.  Cheryl Martin (left) is director.

Got to give credit to then Congresslady Mazie Hirono, who got rejected in her attempt to increase the 2013 ARPA-E budget.  Republican control of the House.  An attempt to move funding away from fossil fuels.  The pursuit had no chance.  Five years ago one of my HuffPo's was titled:  "Why Do Republicans Like Fossil Fuels and Not Care That Much for the Environment?"

ARPA-E thus has detractors, mostly conservatives and Republicans, who feel that industry should be doing this.  However, the annual Energy Innovation Summit in D.C. that ends today includes Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), who in the past has criticized subsidies for solar and wind, as speakers.  Elon Musk of Tesla and T. Boone Pickens are also featured.  

Best as I can tell, Hawaii has not won an ARPA-E grant:

Want to learn more about ARPA-E?  Click HERE.  Plus, here is an analysis on how to compete.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013


You can find hundreds of doomsday scenarios.  At random I clicked on Yahoo Voices and saw the following:

  • 1. A great unseen comet colliding with earth. (to the left, a painting of a comet hitting a six year old boy).
  • 2. The Earth colliding with another unknown planet. 
  • 3. A Gamma Ray bombardment from space. (Loss of the Power Grid and all Electronics)
  • 4. Solar Storms. (Violent storms on Earth)
Wassily Kandinsky (right painting below) said:

The more frightening the world becomes...the more art become abstract.

  • 5. A massive polar shift. (Massive Earthquakes and Floods).
  • 6. Magnetosphere depletion. (No Ozone).
  • 7. Massive earthquakes. (Lots of Shaking).
  • 8. Massive tsunami's and floods. (Better know how to Swim).
  • 9. The beginning of a nuclear war. (No place to Hide).
  • 10. Financial Collapse. (Rapid Deteriation of Society).
The above list was published on the day the world was supposed to end--21December2012.  I thought it was noteworthy that the top four were related to space, especially #1 being a comet colliding with Planet Earth, for on 15February2013, the largest space object in a century, a meteorite the size of a school bus weighing 15.4 million pounds traveling at 40,000 miles per hour, exploded over Russia:

Only a few hours later, the invisible (you couldn't see it) asteroid 2012 DA-14, 88 million pounds and about 100 feet in diameter came within 17,200 miles of our surface, quite close when you consider that the moon is a quarter million miles away.  Here is what it looked like with a space telescope:

Here are the relevant astrophysical terms for these objects:
  • planetoid:  really big asteroid, with Ceres (to the left, the largest, with a diameter of 610 miles, and suspected to have water and carbon) considered to be a dwarf planet and 4 Vesta, a protoplanet
  • asteroid:  a large rock moving around a star, and in our solar system, most of them orbit the band between Mars and Jupiter, with up to 2 million having diameters larger than 3000 feet--however, the total mass of all of them is only about 4% that of our Moon
  • comet:  a rocky object with dust, gas and many times water orbiting a star, which in close proximity reflects the tails. plus they usually have more eccentric paths
  • meteoroid:  a "small" particle (usually taken to be under ten meters or 33 feet in diameter) from an asteroid or comet
  • meteor:  a meteoroid that is observed burning in our atmosphere, also called a shooting star
  • meteorite:  a meteoroid that impacts the Earth's surface
Mathilde is a medium size asteroid 30 miles across and certainly looks like a large rock.

The key statistics are that there are known to be 25 million asteroids having diameters larger than 100 meters (328 feet)  and up to 1,000 asteroids  3000 feet across with a near-Earth orbit.

A 150 foot rock crashing to Earth would create a blast 180 times more powerful than the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb.  The Chicxulub crater just off the coastline of the Yucatan Peninsula is nearly 200 miles across (but the asteroid probably had a diameter of around 6 miles) and is credited 66 million years ago to have killed off the dinosaurs and much of life:

In comparison, that Arizona Meteor Crater located 43 miles east of Flagstaff, is 570 feet deep and 4,000 feet in diameter, and is thought to have been formed by the crash of a 164 foot diameter object moving at 45,000 miles per hour, a mere 10 megatons (the Russian Tsar Hydrogen Bomb was 57 megatons).

The next threat is Apophis (diameter of about 1000 feet), scheduled to whiz by us in 2036 and miss by 9.3 million miles with a one in a milion chance of hitting Earth.  So if these space objects are the #1 potential cause of doomsday (turn your volume to max when you see this sequence from Armageddon), what are doing about it?  Well, in 1998 there were two films, Deep Impact (watch this megatsunami, but here is President Morgan Freeman reassuring his people that they dodged a 500 billion ton killer and survived) and Armageddon (Steve Buscemi was priceless, Bruce Willis saves Ben Affleck, plus, they succeed in splitting the asteroid to prevent an extinction event), which was the top grossing film of the year.

Remember, as confident as NASA might sound that they can track these monsters, they were surprised by that recent Russian meteorite.  It was too small.  But, after all, 99% of near-Earth objects remain undiscovered.

The B612 Foundation has a mission to build, launch and operate a space telescope in an orbit around the Sun to find and track threatening asteroids.  Co-founder and ex-Astronaut Ed Lu remarked the dinosaurs didn't have a space program.

The University of Hawaii is building a $5 million NASA grant using eight small telescopes to do the job.  The Asteroid Terrestrial-Impact Last Alert System (or Atlas), should be operational by 2015.

So, finally, I get to the punch line.  I have been disparaging NASA since the end of the Cold War as unnecessary anymore.  Well, I just changed my mind.  Forget Mars, though.  Delay sending billion dollar hardware into space for another century.  The aerospace companies are good enough at lobbying that these will continue, but there is a better way. 

They (NASA and their lobbyists) should now focus on something truly useful.  Read those signals from space.  The two space visitors gave you the justification to initiate a $100 billion program to save Planet Earth and Humanity.  The Middle East Wars cost $4 trillion and killed 258,000 people.  For 2.5% of that expense, we can in a decade have a fail-safe system to perpetuate our species by eliminating the #1 doomsday threat.  After you get those objects mapped, here are nine ways to effectively stop an asteroid.  Tongue fully in cheek I propose the Project for Asteroid Termination, or PAT.  True, I'll need to work on a better acronym.  However, I recommended PAT (as Planetry Abstracting Trinterferometer) almost forty years ago when I spent some time at the Ames Research Center to detect extrasolor planets.  NASA dinged that project, which could have more cheaply found planets capable of harboring life.

Monday, February 25, 2013


It's Monday morning, a little more than 300 days until Christmas.  Not much happened in history today.  Adolf Hitler in 1932 became a German citizen.  In 1964 Clay (before he became Ali) fought Liston.  Watch the entire circus:  the weigh-in when Cassius Marcellus went berserk, introductions of Sugar Ray Robinson and Rocky Marciano, the fight, with Joe Louis providing color, and the surprising ending, for Clay was a 7:1 underdog.

Not sure where he got it, and I think I've seen this before, but David Ikegami sent me the following.  A good way to start the week:

An Elementary School Teacher had twenty-six students in her class. She presented each child in her classroom the 1st half of a well-known proverb and asked them to come up with the remainder of the proverb. It's hard to believe these were actually done by first graders. Their insight may surprise you. While reading, keep in mind that these are first-graders, 6-year-olds, because the last one is a classic!

Don't change horses
until they stop running.
2.Strike while the
bug is close.
3.It's always darkest before
Daylight Saving Time.
4.Never underestimate the power of
5.You can lead a horse to water but
6.Don't bite the hand that
looks dirty.
7.No news is
8.A miss is as good as a
9.You can't teach an old dog new
10.If you lie down with dogs, you'll
stink in the morning.
11.Love all, trust
12.The pen is mightier than the
13.An idle mind is
the best way to relax.
14.Where there's smoke there's
15.Happy the bride who
gets all the presents.
16.A penny saved is
not much.
17.Two's company, three's
the Musketeers.
18.Don't put off till tomorrow what
you put on to go to bed.
19.Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and
you have to blow your nose.
20.There are none so blind as
Stevie Wonder.
21.Children should be seen and not
spanked or grounded.
22.If at first you don't succeed
get new batteries.
23.You get out of something only what you
see in the picture on the box.
24.When the blind lead the blind
get out of the way.
25.A bird in the hand
is going to poop on you.
And the WINNER and last one!
26.Better late than
-- Equal opportunity means everyone will have a fair chance at being incompetent.    Laurence J. Peter (1919 - 1988)

Tropical Cyclone Rusty, at 75 MPH, is soon to crash into northwest Australia as a Category 3 storm.


Sunday, February 24, 2013


I'll start with NASCAR, but scroll down to the Academy Awards if you're not into car racing.

The National Association for Stock Car Racing, or NASCAR, began their season today with the Daytona 500 start above.   Last night there was a second-tier race in Daytona where the crowd suffered with 33 casualties, although no one died.  Today, a couple of non-lethal accidents (first one to the left).

It is said that these stock cars had an early beginning during the Prohibition to run bootleg whiskey.  Repeal in 1933 led to Daytona Beach speed records.  There is a historic link to the Deep South, country and western movies, guns and deadly crashes, which no doubt helps to draw an audience.   Today, NASCAR is international.

You've seen the movies:  Days of Thunder with Tom Cruise and Talladega Nights with Will Farrell.  The cars used today are souped up Toyota Camrys, Chevy Camaros, Ford Mustangs and Dodge Challengers.  Indianapolis 500 formula racers once sped at nearly 240 MPH, with NASCAR entries up to 230 MPH.  For safety reasons, earlier records are not now being challenged.  NASCAR vehicles generally cruise just under 200 MPH.

The Daytona 500 today has become a prime attraction mostly because Danica Patrick left the formula racers of Indianapolis for NASCAR.  She won the pole position and was the first female to finish in the top ten, won by Jimmy Johnson.  That relationship between Danica and rookie Ricky Stenhouse adds to the interest.  Note that NASCAR puts the PGA to shame, as ads are everywhere.

The Academy Awards are just starting as I post this article.  But first, the Razzies, the worst of 2012.  To my delight, The Twilight Saga:  Breaking Dawn--Part 2, dominated, with seven awards.  I avoid vampire films.  Adam Sandler made it two years in a row as worst actor.  Last year his Jack and Jill won all 10 Razzies.

For those considering watching the Oscars:

  -  There will be a 50th Anniversary tribute to James Bond, with Adele singing her nominated song, "Skyfall," and Shirley Bassey doing "Goldfinger."

  -  Barbra Streisand will perform for the first time since 1977 when she sang "Evergreen."

  -  Music from Chicago, Dreamgirls and Les Miserables will be highlighted.

I think Argo will be selected Best Picture, Daniel-Day Lewis is a lock for Best Actor, Anne Hathaway will win Best Supporting Actress and Skyfall will be Best Original Song.  Why did not I Dreamed a Dream get nominated?  It was not original.  The Best Actress list is bookended by 9 year-old Quvenzhane Wallis (left) and 85 year-old Emmanuelle Riva (right).  Philip Seymour Hoffman will not be selected as Best Supporting Actor, but deserves it.

WELL, IT'S OVER.  Incredibly, I scored 100% above.  The host was Seth MacFarlane, who's only movie was foulmouthed Ted (here is a restricted trailer).

He was okay, in fact, has a good voice and can dance some.  The show lasted half an hour longer than planned, but who cares.

Michelle Obama assisted Jack Nicholson in announcing Best Picture, Argo:

Another presenting team:

You ask, why show them?  They were the stars of Chicago a little more than a decade ago:  Richard Gere, Renee Zellweger, Queen Latifah and Catherine Zeta-Jones.  How Gere has aged and is that really Zellweger:

Best Actor was, of course, Daniel Day-Lewis:

Surprisingly, Jennifer Lawrence won Best Actress:

Yes, this is an original I took.  Jennifer looks supreme.  Adele sang Skyfall, which won Best Original Song:

Shirley Bassey, all of 75, did Goldfinger:

Barbra Streisand sang Way We Were, perhaps not totally on key, but looked good at the age of 70:

Also not totally expected, Ang Lee got the Best Director award for Life of Pi:

Christof Waltz is making a habit of being Best Supporting Actor, this time for Django:

He was marvelous.  Best Supporting Actress went to Anne Hathaway.  She was responsible for the most memorable performance of the year: