mm476: The next Windy City?

August 22, 2008
© David Davis | Dreamstime.com

© David Davis | Dreamstime.com

MUDGE’s Musings

Two recurring themes on this site converge this week, as alternative energy, mainly windmills, and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, not a presidential candidate, occupy the same NYTimes story.

nytimes[3]

Bloomberg Offers Windmill Power Plan

By MICHAEL BARBARO | Published: August 19, 2008

In a plan that would drastically remake New York City’s skyline and shores, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is seeking to put wind turbines on the city’s bridges and skyscrapers and in its waters as part of a wide-ranging push to develop renewable energy.

The plan, while still in its early stages, appears to be the boldest environmental proposal to date from the mayor, who has made energy efficiency a cornerstone of his administration.

Mr. Bloomberg said he would ask private companies and investors to study how windmills can be built across the city, with the aim of weaning it off the nation’s overtaxed power grid, which has produced several crippling blackouts in New York over the last decade.

Read the rest of this entry »

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mm260: The other oil shock

January 20, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

We’ve had several occasions in this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©

Fuel from Food: Just a bad idea all around

mm233: Corn in the news – and not just in Iowa!
mm194: Friedman: Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda
mm193: Fuel without oil, or corn
mm084: Food versus fools – Salon.com
mm053: The case for turning crops into fuel – Saletan
mm015: Welcomed back to the guild

…to consider the growth of the use of traditional food crops to create alternative fuel stocks – ethanol from corn is the U.S. wrongheaded approach.

Such is the triumph of our interconnected world that bad ideas from the U.S. are reproduced just as predictably as are many of our other famous cultural artifacts: rock and roll, blue jeans, cellular telephones.

January 19th’s NYTimes brings to our attention the food crisis in Asia caused by conversion of food crops to petroleum substitutes.

nytimes

A New, Global Oil Quandary: Costly Fuel Means Costly Calories

By KEITH BRADSHER | Published: January 19, 2008

KUANTAN, Malaysia — Rising prices for cooking oil are forcing residents of Asia’s largest slum, in Mumbai, India, to ration every drop. Bakeries in the United States are fretting over higher shortening costs. And here in Malaysia, brand-new factories built to convert vegetable oil into diesel sit idle, their owners unable to afford the raw material.

Cooking oil? A cheap commodity in the west. What’s the big deal?

Cooking oil may seem a trifling expense in the West. But in the developing world, cooking oil is an important source of calories and represents one of the biggest cash outlays for poor families, which grow much of their own food but have to buy oil in which to cook it.

The focus of this story is on palm oil, until recently rather disreputable nutritionally here, but back in favor as an option to trans fats, increasingly seen as unhealthy, and even legislated against in trendy places like New York City.

Now, everyone everywhere wants palm oil. But as petroleum prices rise, and vegetable based oils are viewed as attractive components of biodiesel, palm oil is suddenly in short supply, and skyrocketing in price.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

An Oil Quandary: Costly Fuel Means Costly Calories – New York Times

The interconnectedness of the world never fails to astonish. In this instance, the result isn’t merely inconveniently high prices for traditionally low-cost commodities, it’s starvation in Asian slums.

Stranger yet the instructive example of the palm oil refinery in Malaysia, built alongside sizable palm forests, prepared to convert palm oil to biodiesel. Now frantically attempting to come up with a new plan, as its machinery was idled because the demand for palm oil as food has ratcheted up its price beyond economical use as a feedstock for mere fuel.

In the rush to pander to Midwest growers of corn and soybeans by subsidizing the use of ethanol for fuel; in the rush to protect U.S. citizens from the unhealthy effects of oil their potatoes are fried in; we initiate chains of events that results in a crisis of shortages and starvation on the other side of the globe.

Farmers, always the hardest working and often the least compensated link of the food chain, naturally seek to get the highest price possible for their output, and biofuel has supercharged demand, thus prices are higher.

Seems clear that in the rush to embrace biofuels the law of unintended consequences has landed square into the battered cooking pots of Mumbai.

Can’t cook the week’s scrap of mutton with unintended consequences.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm220: It’s all about power

December 12, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Yes, faithful reader, it’s another SASB day. But, unlike the eclectic content of most of our recent pastiches operating under that appellation, today we present a common theme: alternative energy, or POWER!

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First up, a driver’s review of a new Honda, the FCX Clarity (FCX = Fuel Cell eXperimental?), powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, soon to be released in tiny test quantities in — where else? — California early in 2008.

nytimes

Hydrogen Car Is Here, a Bit Ahead of Its Time

hondafcxclarity

By NORMAN MAYERSOHN | Published: December 9, 2007

SANTA MONICA, Calif.

OFTEN, it is the smallest of gestures that deliver the most powerful messages. I was reminded of this last month when I settled into the driver’s seat of the FCX Clarity, a sedan powered by fuel cells that Honda will begin leasing to a handful of private customers next summer. Fresh from a briefing that detailed the car’s NASA-grade complexity, I wondered what procedures might be required to start the reaction of hydrogen and oxygen and bring the power supply to life.

MUDGE has been intrigued by the possibilities of fuel cell powered vehicles (and fuel cells for other applications, see below) for some years.

The stumbling blocks have always seemed incapable of practical solution:

  • safe (using mass production economics) high pressure hydrogen storage in the vehicle;
  • convenient delivery of hydrogen (how long did it take for gasoline stations to arrive at the penetration of three to an intersection that we remember from pre-1974 U.S.?);
  • and, always the crucial unasked question — what’s the energy cost to bottle hydrogen, anyway, and is the total life cycle cost truly significantly lower than petroleum-based fuel? Indeed, how much petroleum based fuel is used to create the hydrogen in the first place?

But, hydrogen fuel cells are so seductive: hydrogen is abundant (and not just in politically dicey parts of the world), and the output of hydrogen fuel cell power generation is water. What’s not to love?

Until now, writing about fuel cells has been a no-risk proposition, with no reality check looming, no looking back when the cars arrived in showrooms to see whether one had been embarrassingly optimistic. Way back in the 1990s, a physicist assured me that fuel-cell cars were 20 years away — and always would be.

So Honda has surprised the automotive world by producing a vehicle far closer to practical manufacture than anyone else in the industry, and the lucky guy from NYTimes got a chance to drive it.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Cars – Reviews – Honda FCX Clarity – Fuel Cell – Test Drive – New York Times

Those Honda engineers — remarkable achievement! Now, when will there be even one hydrogen pump on even one corner in even one town?

Okay, we promised another fuel cell story:

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From 4,000-lb. automobiles to the several ounces of cell phone in your pocket. Business Week had the story last week:

bw_255x65

Bic Wants to Flick Your Cell Phone

It sees a big opportunity in making cartridges that will help replace batteries in portable devices

by Jennifer L. Schenker

Each day consumers snap up 10 million Bic razors and 5 million of the colorful plastic lighters made famous by the ad campaign “Flick My Bic.” Those volumes pale in comparison to Bic’s ubiquitous pens: The French company sold its 100 billionth in 2005. Bic, which had sales of about $2 billion in 2006, has spent 30 years honing the art of making disposable consumer goods.

Now, Bic wants to use that expertise for something far more challenging than pens or lighters. It’s designing disposable cartridges for fuel cells, a kind of power supply that could someday eliminate the need to constantly recharge mobile phones or laptop computers. Electronics makers are drawn to fuel cells because today’s rechargeable batteries can’t keep up with the demands users place on portable gadgets. If you spend any time surfing the Web from your phone and e-mailing your friends, as well as making calls, you probably have to recharge at least once a day. With a fuel cell, you’d never have to look for an outlet; You’d just pop out a spent fuel cartridge and insert a new one.

See, a fuel cell is a generic term, for any container capable of producing electricity from a chemical reaction, as opposed to batteries, as found everywhere, including in those Prius hybrids so popular (and so uneconomic in true terms!), which store electricity. So, rather than automotive, Bic’s fuel cells are pen cartridge sized, appropriate for those mobile electronic gadgets that are more and more vital to our daily existence.

Bic has no desire to manufacture the fuel cells themselves. These devices were first commercialized more than 50 years ago and are used in various industrial settings. Bic will leave that part of the business to companies such as Samsung and LG, which are eager to sell mini fuel cells—assuming they can bring down the price and the size enough for them to fit in a handset. If the electronics makers succeed in their mission, Bic sees a big opportunity in the replaceable cartridges, which might actually resemble the ink containers in its pens. Each one would cost just a couple of dollars, and could conceivably keep a mobile phone running for weeks at a stretch. If Bic and the fuel-cell makers can get the engineering right, “they could significantly extend the run time of portable devices,” says Heather Daniell, a technology analyst at New Energy Finance, a London market research firm.

Imagine, weeks of cell phone use, then when the charge gets low, just pop in a new $2 battery.

And, read to the end of the BW story, and see a teaser about how fuel cells might provide cheap power for our troops in the field, for all of the mobile devices that are so critical to the conduct of modern warfare.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Bic Wants to Flick Your Cell Phone

So, we move from fuel cells to wind generation, a recent topic in this space. here for example.

shortattention_thumb2[8] ©

No question that interest in alternative forms of energy generation is growing. Once again, NYTimes has a tale of kite-like objects that might one day provide inexpensive power from a thousand feet above.

nytimes

Airborne Wind Turbines

By DAVID GELLES  |  Published: December 9, 2007

Traditional wind turbines can be unreliable sources of energy because, well, the wind blows where it will. Not the case 1,000 feet up. “At a thousand feet, there is steady wind anywhere in the world,” says Mac Brown, chief operating officer of Ottawa-based Magenn Power.

Illustration by Bryan Christie Design

The helium-filled Magenn Air Rotor System contains a turbine that spins around a horizontal axis and can produce 10 kilowatts of energy as it floats 1,000 feet above the earth while attached to a copper tether.

To take advantage of this constant breeze, Brown has developed a lighter-than-air wind turbine capable of powering a rural village. “Picture a spinning Goodyear blimp,” Brown says. Filled with helium, outfitted with electrical generators and tethered to the ground by a conductive copper cable, the 100-foot-wide Magenn Air Rotor System (MARS) will produce 10 kilowatts of energy anywhere on earth. As the turbine spins around a horizontal axis, the generators convert the mechanical energy of the wind into electrical energy, then send it down for immediate use or battery storage.

Can’t help but be intrigued, but also to wonder about the underlying assumption — is it really constantly windy at 1,000-feet up?

But, a patent has been issued, and investors have been found, so someone has been telling some excellent stories.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Airborne Wind Turbines – New York Times

So, that’s our alternative energy SASB. Have to admire the inventiveness of the globe’s researchers, engineers, and software wizards, and admire the gutsy investors and entrepreneurs who appreciate those good stories, and put their money where geeky mouths are.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm217: Potpourri — Romney, alternative energy, Stockhausen

December 9, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

When MUDGE can’t decide which of several topics he’s most interested in discussing with faithful reader, he doesn’t decide at all (leaving that to The Decider, I suppose); rather, he enters SASB mode:

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We’ve quoted Steve Chapman previously here at Left-Handed Complement (here and here, for example). He’s on the editorial board of our home town paper, the Chicago Tribune, and writes for Reason magazine.

Pretty conservative guy in a very conservative environment. But, left-handed as I am, I find myself agreeing with Chapman surprisingly often.

chitrib

Romney flunks a religious test

Steve Chapman | December 9, 2007

Mitt Romney is worried about religious intolerance. He fears religious and nonreligious people will unite to punish him because of his Mormon faith. He thinks it would be much more in keeping with America’s noblest traditions if Mormons and other believers joined together to punish people of no faith.

On Thursday, Romney showed up at the George H.W. Bush Library in College Station, Texas, to announce that even if it costs him the White House, his Mormonism is non-negotiable. That came as a relief to those who suspected he would defuse the issue by undergoing a Methodist baptism.

Like John F. Kennedy, who said in 1960 that the presidency should not be “tarnished by arbitrarily withholding its occupancy from the members of any one religious group,” Romney said there should be no religious test for this office. “A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith,” he said.

Chapman continues by illustrating Romney’s misreading of U.S. history and the intent of the authors of this country and its Constitution.

He ignores evidence that the framers thought otherwise. The Constitution they so painstakingly drafted contains not a single mention of the Almighty—unlike the Articles of Confederation, which it replaced. A 1796 treaty, ratified by the Senate and signed by that very same John Adams, stipulated that the U.S. government “is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Romney flunks a religious test — chicagotribune.com

Now, as much as MUDGE is likely to cast a vote next November for a Democrat, one imagines that Steve Chapman will not.

However, Mitt Romney apparently will not get his vote:

In the end, though, Romney accomplished what he set out to do in this speech. Henceforth, no one can possibly justify voting against him because he’s a Mormon. Not when he’s provided so many other good reasons.

shortattention_thumb2[6]

nytimes

Efforts to Harvest Ocean’s Energy Open New Debate Front

By WILLIAM YARDLEY | Published: December 8, 2007

NEWPORT, Ore. — Chris Martinson and his fellow fishermen catch crab and shrimp in the same big swell that one day could generate an important part of the Northwest’s energy supply. Wave farms, harvested with high-tech buoys that are being tested here on the Oregon coast, would strain clean, renewable power from the surging sea.

They might make a mess of navigational charts, too.

“I don’t want it in my fishing grounds,” said Mr. Martinson, 40, who docks his 74-foot boat, Libra, here at Yaquina Bay, about 90 miles southwest of Portland. “I don’t want to be worried about driving around someone else’s million-dollar buoy.”

A hot-button topic, alternative energy sources have appeared in this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© several times (wind power here, hydro power here).

The concept of using living natural processes (rather than fossilized ones) is intriguing. But, as seen in the wind power story we discussed, even the free wind isn’t free of costs, monetary and environmental. And the same goes for ocean waves.

“Everyone wants that silver bullet,” said Fran Recht of the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. “The question is, Is this as benign as everyone wants to say it is?”

Accompanying the NYTimes story was this intriguing graphic:

powerfromthesea

So, will a forest of anchored buoys interfere with fish and migratory marine mammals? How can it not?

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Efforts to Harvest Ocean’s Energy Open New Debate Front – New York Times

Turns out that the concept of NIMBY (not in my back yard) is alive and well several miles offshore Oregon in the Pacific Ocean!

People, everything has a cost. At first splash, power generating buoys seems more benign than most traditional or alternative energy sources.

shortattention_thumb2[6]

Say “Karlheinz Stockhausen” to most people, and, depending on your conversation partner’s degree of social etiquette, you’d be met by responses spanning the scale from quizzical stares to a smack in the jaw.

Yr (Justifiably) Humble Svt’s interest in serious music has been documented in the space several times (among them: here, here, here and most hilariously, here).

Yes, Karlheinz Stockhausen was a musician, a composer actually, and there was a time in MUDGE‘s young life when I was quite smitten with his ground-breaking compositions.

He died this week.

nytimes

Karlheinz Stockhausen, Influential Composer, Dies at 79

karlheinzstockhausen4

By PAUL GRIFFITHS |  Published: December 8, 2007

Karlheinz Stockhausen, an original and influential German composer who began his career as an inventor of new musical systems and ended it making operas to express his spiritual vision of the cosmos, died on Wednesday at his home in Kuerten-Kettenberg, Germany. He was 79.

Stockhausen was a pioneer of electronic music, at a time before Robert Moog made it simple to generate the complex sounds that have, thanks to Moog, become a ubiquitous feature of popular sonic culture. When Stockhausen began to chart a new course in European serious music in the early 50s, electronic music was pieced together, tone by tone, channel by channel, an agonizing arduous process.

At one time, I had recordings of his music from that era, but I hadn’t encountered them for sometime before my vinyl collection was ceded to my musical MUDGElet No. 3.

The classical music radio station in my town (and how many people can say that phrase these days?) never ever played Stockhausen’s music. Of course, they are hard-pressed to play music written after 1950, except that of John Adams, the Gian Carlo Menotti of this generation (i.e., feet anchored more in the 19th century than the 20th or 21st). So it’s been quite some time since I visited Stockhausen’s music.

The obituary in the NYTimes tells us that his later life took a most Wagnerian turn.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Karlheinz Stockhausen, Influential Composer, Dies at 79 – New York Times

Anyone interested in the topic of serious electronic music can follow this link to the article in Wikipedia.

So that’s today’s potpourri. We all remain hopeful that MUDGE‘s standard attention span returns real soon now.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE