Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Why it's not easy being green | Tech News on ZDNet

By Michael Kanellos, CNET
Published on ZDNet News: January 24, 2007, 7:15 AM PT

PALM DESERT, Calif.--A lot of technology exists to curb energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The problem is we lack the willpower to embrace it.

"This country only gets excited about energy when oil prices get high," said Dan Arvisu, director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory during a presentation at the Clean Tech Investor Summit taking place here. "We do have a problem with how serious we are about our energy challenges."

Arvisu, who advises the White House on energy policy, underscored the point by displaying pie charts detailing the U.S. (and global) energy consumption at the present and the projected consumption in 2030.

In 2004, oil accounted for 40 percent of the U.S. oil budget, while coal took up 26 percent. Natural gas accounted for 21 percent and nuclear power accounted for 6 percent. Renewable energy accounted for 7 percent.

Flash forward to 2030. Oil is 40 percent, coal is 23 percent, natural gas is 23 percent and renewable is 6 percent.

The worldwide figures aren't that much better. Renewable energy accounted for 14 percent in 2002 and is projected to be 14 percent again in 2030. While the renewable figure is higher worldwide, that's only because many people in emerging nations rely on dung and wood fires, which account for a disproportionate amount of those renewable energy sources.

The problem is twofold. One, energy demand continues to increase. Overall, the world now uses about 13.5 terawatts of energy a year: the figure includes oil, electrical power and other sources of energy. That figure will rise to 20 terawatts by 2050.

Thus, the demand for energy is outstripping the ability of solar, wind and other purveyors of alternative energy to displace traditional fossil fuels.

Second, installing an alternative-energy infrastructure isn't cheap, despite the influx of venture money into the field and the strong demand for technologies such as solar. If oil drops below $55 a barrel, most biofuel concepts will be unprofitable, Arvisu projected. Even if oil doesn't drop that low, it will cost a lot to get an ethanol/solar/wind society off the ground.

To meet the Department of Energy's goal of making ethanol 30 percent of the U.S. transportation fuel budget, fuel manufacturers will have to invest $100 billion in refineries. To make wind power 20 percent of the source of the electricity in the U.S., it will take $500 billion in infrastructure investments.

After depressing the crowd, however, Arvisu did sound some optimistic notes. NREL and other national labs are working to transfer technologies out of the labs to private sector companies. Alternative energy is popular with the population at large and many politicians. In a discussion with investors and reporters after his speech, he even said that President Bush is the greenest member of the cabinet.

What's more, current energy infrastructure isn't that efficient. Approximately 62 percent of the energy consumed in America today is lost through transmission and general inefficiency. In other words, it doesn't go to run your car or keep your lights on.

"Sixty two percent is an untenable amount of waste," he said. "Energy efficiency should be our number one priority."

Other scientists, such as Stephen Chu, director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, have said that conservation can provide gains in energy efficiency.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Scientists prepare to move Doomsday Clock forward

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The keepers of the "Doomsday Clock" plan to move its hands forward next Wednesday to reflect what they call worsening nuclear and climate threats to the world.

The symbolic clock, maintained by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, currently is set at seven minutes to midnight, with midnight marking global catastrophe.

The group did not say in which direction the hands would move. But in a news release previewing an event next Wednesday, they said the change was based on "worsening nuclear, climate threats" to the world.

"The major new step reflects growing concerns about a 'Second Nuclear Age' marked by grave threats, including: nuclear ambitions in Iran and North Korea, unsecured nuclear materials in Russia and elsewhere, the continuing 'launch-ready' status of 2,000 of the 25,000 nuclear weapons held by the U.S. and Russia, escalating terrorism, and new pressure from climate change for expanded civilian nuclear power that could increase proliferation risks," the release reads.

The clock was last pushed forward by two minutes to seven minutes to midnight in 2002 amid concerns about the proliferation of nuclear, biological and other weapons and the threat of terrorism.

When it was created by the magazine's staff in 1947, it was initially set at seven minutes to midnight and has moved 17 times since then.

It was as close as two minutes to midnight in 1953 following U.S. and Soviet hydrogen bomb tests, and as far away as 17 minutes to midnight in 1991 after the superpowers reached agreement on a nuclear arms reductions.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Human stem cells found in amniotic fluid

Washington - Stem cells nearly as powerful as embryonic stem cells can be found in the amniotic fluid that protects babies in the womb, U.S. researchers reported on Sunday.

They used them to create muscle, bone, fat, blood vessel, nerve and liver cells in the laboratory and said they believe the placenta and amniotic fluid can provide one more source of the valued cells, which scientists hope will someday transform medicine.

They would also provide a non-controversial source of the cells, which are found with difficulty throughout the body and in days-old embryos.

Embryonic cells are considered the most malleable of the various types of stem cells, but these amniotic fluid-derived cells are a close second, said Dr. Anthony Atala, of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, who led the study.

"Our hope is that these cells will provide a valuable resource for tissue repair and for engineered organs as well," Atala said in a statement.

"I feel these cells are pluripotent like human embryonic stem cells."

Pluripotent means the cells can give rise to any type of tissue in the body -- blood, nerve, muscle, and so on. Adult stem cells, found in the tissues and blood of fetuses, babies and adults, are already partly differentiated and are less adaptable.

The use of human embryonic stem cells is controversial in some countries, including the United States.

President Bush has restricted federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research, although researchers using private money can do as they please and Congress, even before the Democrats took over, was planning ways to encourage more research.

Link to rest of story.

By Maggie Fox

Thursday, January 04, 2007

2007 predicted to be world's warmest year - Yahoo! News

2007 predicted to be world's warmest year

By Jeremy Lovell Thu Jan 4, 6:33 AM ET

LONDON (Reuters) - This year is set to be the hottest on record worldwide due to global warming and the El Nino weather phenomenon, Britain's Meteorological Office said on Thursday.

The Met Office said the combination of factors would likely push average temperatures this year above the record set in 1998. 2006 is set to be the sixth warmest on record globally.

"This new information represents another warning that climate change is happening around the world," said Met Office scientist Katie Hopkins.

The world's 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1994 in a temperature record dating back a century and a half, according to the United Nations' weather agency.

Britain's Met Office makes a global forecast every January with the University of East Anglia, and said it expected the world's average temperature to be 0.54 degrees Celsius above the 1961-1990 long-term average of 14.0 degrees.

There is a 60 percent probability that 2007 will be as warm or warmer than the current warmest year, 1998, which itself was 0.52 degrees above the long-term average it said in a statement.

Most scientists agree that temperatures will rise by between two and six degrees Celsius this century due mainly to carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels for power and transport.

They say this will cause melting at the polar ice caps, sea levels to rise and weather patterns to change bringing floods, famines and violent storms, putting millions of lives at risk.

Former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern said in October that urgent action on global warming was vital and that delay would multiply the cost by up to 20 times.

The Kyoto Protocol is the only global action plan to curb carbon emissions, but it expires in 2012, is rejected by the world's biggest polluter -- the United States -- and does not bind booming economies like China and India.

The Met Office said the established moderate El Nino, a phenomenon in the tropical Pacific blamed for disrupting weather patterns, would continue for the first few months of 2007.

It noted that as there was a time lag between El Nino and its full effect on surface temperatures, its influence would therefore be felt well into the year.

It will coincide with what environmentalists say will be a very busy year for climate diplomacy.

Germany, which has an active climate change agenda, has taken over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union and the year-long presidency of the Group of Eight industrialized nations.

Backed by Britain, which has pushed climate change high up the world agenda, pressure is building for the G8 summit in Germany in early June to set out a framework for discussions to take global action beyond Kyoto.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Pipe leak in Gulf of Mexico leaves half-mile slick - Yahoo! News: "Pipe leak in Gulf of Mexico leaves half-mile slick"
Pipe leak in Gulf of Mexico leaves half-mile slick

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A ruptured crude oil pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico spilled approximately 21,000 gallons of crude oil over the weekend, leaving a half-mile-long oil slick in the water, the
U.S. Coast Guard said on Tuesday.

"A medium crude oil pipeline ruptured 30 miles southeast of Galveston, Texas, and leaked approximately 21,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico Sunday, December 24," the Coast Guard said in a release.

Plains All American Pipeline L.P., operator of the High Island Pipeline, said it shut the line down Sunday after the leak was detected and that it was working with state and federal agencies to minimize the impact of the spill.

The cause of the incident is currently under investigation.

"There's a 60-yard-wide oil sheen that extends for about half a mile," said a Coast Guard spokesman. "It is still leaking slowly, about 80 to 400 gallons a day."

The High Island Pipeline System connects offshore oil platforms in the High Island and East Breaks areas of the Gulf of Mexico with Texas, City, Texas.

Oilfields operated by Apache Corp., Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Newfield Exploration Co. are among those served by the High Island Pipeline, according to a map prepared by oil industry consultants Purvin and Gertz Inc.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Monday, October 16, 2006

Antarctic ice collapse tied to greenhouse gases - Yahoo! News: "Antarctic ice collapse tied to greenhouse gases"

Antarctic ice collapse tied to greenhouse gases

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent 2 hours, 27 minutes ago

OSLO (Reuters) - Scientists said on Monday that they had found the first direct evidence linking the collapse of an ice shelf in Antarctica to global warming widely blamed on human activities.

Shifts in winds whipping around the southern Ocean, tied to human emissions of greenhouse gases, had warmed the Antarctic peninsula jutting up toward South America and contributed to the break-up of the Larsen B ice shelf in 2002, they said.

"This is the first time that anyone has been able to demonstrate a physical process directly linking the break-up of the Larsen Ice Shelf to human activity," said Gareth Marshall, lead author of the study at the British Antarctic Survey.

The chunk that collapsed into the Weddell Sea in 2002 was 3,250 sq kms (1,255 sq miles), bigger than Luxembourg or the U.S. state of Rhode Island.

Most climate experts say greenhouse gases, mainly from fossil fuels burned in power plants, factories and cars, are warming the globe and could bring more erosion, floods or rising seas. They are wary of linking individual events -- such as a heat wave or a storm -- to warming.

But the British and Belgian scientists, writing in the Journal of Climate, said there was evidence that global warming and a thinning of the ozone layer over Antarctica, caused by human chemicals, had strengthened winds blowing clockwise around Antarctica.

The Antarctic peninsula's chain of mountains, about 2,000 meters (6,500 ft) high, used to shield the Larsen ice shelf on its eastern side from the warmer winds.

"If the westerlies strengthen the number of times that the warm air gets over the mountain barrier increases quite dramatically," John King, a co-author of the study at the British Antarctic Survey, told Reuters.


The average summer temperatures on the north-east of the Antarctic peninsula had been about 2.2 Celsius (35.96F) over the past 40 years.

But on summer days when winds swept over the mountains into the area the air could warm by 5.5 C (9.9 F). And on the warmest days, temperatures could reach about 10 C (50.00F).

King said temperature records in Antarctica went back only about 50 years but that there was evidence from sediments on the seabed -- which differ if covered by ice or open water -- that the Larsen ice shelf had been in place for 5,000 years.

"Further south on the main Antarctic continent temperatures are pretty stable," he said. "There is no clear direct evidence of human activity affecting the main area."

In Ottawa, the director of the British Antarctic Survey said that if the warming trend continued then other ice shelves would one day be at risk.

"Ultimately, yes, I think that's bound to be the case ... We've seen this southward migration as the wave of increased temperatures has penetrated further and further south," Dr Chris Rapley told Reuters in an interview on Monday.

The collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf did not raise world sea levels because the ice was floating.

King said the removal of the floating ice barrier could accelerate the flow of land-based glaciers toward the sea, at least in the short term. That ice could raise sea levels.

Rapley said recent data had revealed for the first time that two major glaciers in eastern Antarctica were also starting to discharge ice into the sea.

(With additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa)