Above: Artists Against Fracking
have released a short documentary by filmmaker Josh Fox
on the group’s recent tour of fracking sites in Pennsylvania. The group will air a winning TV ad from its #DontFrackNY video contest next week. Below, Yoko Ono’s new television spot
in response to NY Gov. Cuomo’s silence and his upcoming Feb. 27 deadline for a decision on fracking. The ad features Ono directly addressing the Governor, a response to her unmet requests for meetings.
Read the rest
There is no single definition of comfort. My newest column for The New York Times Magazine explores the different cultural definitions of pleasant living
, how those traditions affect energy use in different countries, and how globalization changes both the culture and the fossil fuel consumption. Fun fact: Engineers have a unit of measurement that helps them account for clothing when they're trying to figure out what temperature an office building should be. It's called the Clo, and 1 Clo is equivalent to one full business suit. As I discovered, that fact has a big impact on women, business people in the tropics, and basically anybody who doesn't wear a suit to work. — Maggie
A photograph that shows the Hiroshima atomic bomb cloud split into two sections, one over the other, has been released by the curator of a peace museum in Japan
. It was discovered on Monday among a collection of some 1,000 archival items related to the bombing, all of which are now in the possession of Honkawa Elementary School in Hiroshima city.
Read the rest
Richard Perry/The New York Times
A worthy and overlooked story in the NYT by Elizabeth Rosenthal about a new economic riptide hitting Central America, a result of America's changing corn policy. The US is now using 40% of our own corn crop to produce biofuel, and tortilla prices have doubled in Guatemala, which now imports about half of its corn.
"Recent laws in the United States and Europe that mandate the increasing use of biofuel in cars have had far-flung ripple effects, economists say, as land once devoted to growing food for humans is now sometimes more profitably used for churning out vehicle fuel."
Read the rest, and check out Richard Perry's photo slideshow.
This is the difference between low kinetic energy (top) and high kinetic energy (bottom), as illustrated in the 1956 Disney book Our Friend the Atom. It may be useful in visualizing some of the ideas presented in my recent feature on space radiation.
From Fresh Photons, a fantastic blog chock full of science pictures.
Via David Ng
General Electric has moved some of its key appliance-manufacturing work back to the USA, re-opening "Appliance Park," a megafactory in Louisville, KY. The company is finding it cheaper to do some manufacturing in the US relative to China, thanks to spiking oil costs, plummeting natural gas prices in the US, rising Chinese wages, falling US wages, and, most of all, the efficiencies that arise from locating workers next to managers and designers.
The GeoSpring suffered from an advanced-technology version of “IKEA Syndrome.” It was so hard to assemble that no one in the big room wanted to make it. Instead they redesigned it. The team eliminated 1 out of every 5 parts. It cut the cost of the materials by 25 percent. It eliminated the tangle of tubing that couldn’t be easily welded. By considering the workers who would have to put the water heater together—in fact, by having those workers right at the table, looking at the design as it was drawn—the team cut the work hours necessary to assemble the water heater from 10 hours in China to two hours in Louisville.
In the end, says Nolan, not one part was the same.
So a funny thing happened to the GeoSpring on the way from the cheap Chinese factory to the expensive Kentucky factory: The material cost went down. The labor required to make it went down. The quality went up. Even the energy efficiency went up.
GE wasn’t just able to hold the retail sticker to the “China price.” It beat that price by nearly 20 percent. The China-made GeoSpring retailed for $1,599. The Louisville-made GeoSpring retails for $1,299.
The Insourcing Boom [The Atlantic/Charles Fishman]
Everybody poops, including panda bears. (See about 0:35 in the above video for evidence.) But panda poop could turn out to be quite a bit more important than your average animal excrement. That's because scientists are "mining" it for bacteria that could help make better biofuel.
The key problem with biofuel today is that the stuff that's actually economical to produce — i.e., corn ethanol — isn't really that great for the environment. Corn farming uses a lot of fertilizer, water, and herbicide. Using corn that was previously grown for food to make fuel, instead, can lead to deforestation as people clear land to make up for the lost food farming. Some models of carbon dioxide emissions suggest that, by the time you factor in things like fossil-fuel derived fertilizers and the deforestation, a gallon of corn ethanol might not be any better for climate change than a gallon of gasoline. Not all the models agree on that. But even if corn ethanol produces fewer carbon emissions than gas, you still have to deal with the fact that growing nutrient-hungry corn on the same patch of ground over and over and over is really bad for local soil and water quality.
Cellulosic ethanol could be a much better alternative — particularly cellulosic ethanol made from native, perennial plants that don't require heavy inputs to thrive and actually improve the health of the land they're grown on. The problem: Converting those plants into fuel is, so far, a lot more expensive. Cellulose — the plant fiber that makes up things like stalks of bamboo and tall prairie grasses — is tough stuff and hard to break down.
That's where panda poop comes in. Pandas process tons of cellulose every day, right in their guts. Maybe the bacteria that work for them could work for us, too.
Read more about this research at Chemical and Engineering News
Tomorrow night, I'll be joining University of Minnesota physics professor Jim Kakalios for Beaker & Brush — a series of discussions between scientists and artists/writers sponsored by The Science Museum of Minnesota. Kakalios is the author of The Physics of Superheroes
and The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics
. Together, we'll be talking about the way both physics and society have shaped American energy use and electric infrastructure. Energy is a socio-technical system. To understand where it came from and where it's going, you have to look at both science and culture. The event starts at 6:30 pm at Amsterdam Bar and Hall in downtown St. Paul. — Maggie
CBS Outdoor via Rolling Stone
Yoko Ono and Sean Ono Lennon launched "Artists Against Fracking" earlier this year, and have received no response from NY gov. Andrew Cuomo to their request to meet and talk about the idea of a ban of fracking in New York. Now, Ono and Lennon have launched a billboard campaign on a route where the governor often passes. “Governor Cuomo: Imagine there’s no fracking,” the sign reads.
Read the rest
Gas supplies remain extremely limited in New York and New Jersey, nearly a week after hurricane Sandy, and the power's still out for many in those states and others, such as nearby Connecticut.
New Jersey governor Chris Christie signed an executive order announcing a state of energy emergency and instituting gas rationing for the purchase of fuel by motorists in 12 counties, starting today at noon.
Make way for price-gouging entrepreneurs!
Try this, to get a taste of how bad it is: search for "gasoline," "gas," or "generator" on NY Craigslist right now. Gas sales I've found on Craigslist range from $5 to $20 a gallon, but there are probably ads at higher prices. My favorite was the 55-gallon drum of gas for a thousand bucks. Unleaded! Cash only, folks.
Not only is this exploitative, it's explosive. A black market of gasoline reselling, without appropriate safety measures, seems to me like a recipe for tragedy.
Read the rest
BURN: An Energy Journal, the radio documentary series hosted by former NPR journalist Alex Chadwick, has a 2-hour election special out. It's the most powerful piece of radio journalism I've listened to since—well, since the last episode they put out. You really must do yourself a favor and set aside some time this weekend to listen to “The Power of One.”
Energy policy, defining how we use energy to power our economy and our lives, is among the most pressing issues for the next four years. In this special two-hour edition of BURN, stories about the power of one: how, in this election season, a single person, place, policy or idea can — with a boost from science — affect the nation’s search for greater energy independence.
The documentary examines how "individuals, new scientific ideas, grassroots initiatives and potentially game-changing inventions are informing the energy debate in this Presidential Election year, and redefining America’s quest for greater energy independence." It was completed and hit the air before Hurricane Sandy, but the energy issues illuminated by that disaster (blackouts, gas shortage, grid failure, backup power failure at hospitals) further underscore the urgency.
Read the rest
Snip from a New York Times update on the Sandy recovery
in New York and New Jersey, and the impact of limited gas supplies on rescue and emergency services:
Read the rest
Oyster Creek nuclear plant in New Jersey was placed on "alert" status last night, after a storm surge from Sandy caused water levels at the plant to rise over 6.5 more than normal, threatening the "water intake structure" that pumps cooling water throughout the nuclear plant.
Snip from Reuters update:
Those pumps are not essential since the reactor has been shut for planned refuelling since Oct. 22. However, a further rise to 7 feet could submerge the service water pump motor that is used to cool the water in the spent fuel pool, potentially forcing it to use emergency water supplies from the in-house fire suppression system to keep the rods from overheating.
On Tuesday, an NRC spokesman said the levels reached a peak of 7.4 feet -- apparently above the threshold. As of 6:10 a.m. EDT waters were at 6.5 feet, with the next high tide at 11:45 a.m. He said the company had moved a portable pump to the water intake structure as a precaution, but has not needed to use it.
The plant's operator, Exelon, says there is no threat to public safety, or the structural integrity of the plant.
America lost a great Maker last week. Stanford R. Ovshinsky was a self-taught engineer and inventor who held more than 400 patents when he died on October 17th at the age of 90. The name may not be familiar to you, but his work is. Ovshinsky is credited with inventing key technologies behind flat-panel liquid crystal displays that we use to watch TV, work on the Internet, or play with our phones.
He was also the inventor of the nickel-metal hydride battery — a rechargeable battery that now powers everything from laptops to the Prius. Ovshinsky (along with his wife, Iris, who held a Ph.D. in biochemistry and was his research partner for much of his life), began working on improved versions of batteries, solar cells, and other energy technologies beginning in the early 1960s. More than a decade before climate change became a well-established fact, Ovshinsky was concerned about the pollution and political instability that went along with fossil fuels. He spent the rest of his life developing better alternatives.
For a good introduction to how truly groundbreaking Ovshinsky's ideas were, check out a 1978 article from Popular Science, all about his invention of amorphous silicon semiconductors — a technology that today forms the basis behind both thin-film solar panels and smart phone displays. At the time though, it made Ovshinky a controversial figure.
• Michigan Public Radio's obituary
• A good explanation of the inner workings of nickel-metal hydride batteries
• Popular Science's obit (with a link to the 1978 story)
Thanks to Art Myatt for the heads up on this!
Gmoke sez, "The city of Cambridge, Mass has teamed up with MIT to produce a Solar Tool that allows people to type an address into a website and get a detailed account of that roof's solar electric potential. This is probably the most detailed service now existing and every building in Cambridge is covered. You can learn how much of your roof sees enough sun for a PV installation, how large that PV installation can be, how much it will cost, how high your Federal and state tax rebate will be, how much electricity it will produce in a year, and how much carbon it will displace."
Solar Tool v.2