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Independent Professional: Experienced educator and management consultant for engineering educational institutions, researcher, trainer, technical consultant on sustainable technologies, related to cement manufacturing and characterisation, using industrial and agricultural wastes in cement and concrete, durability of concrete and fuel cell power.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

New GM electric vehicle

Larry Greenemeier, Scientific American, Aug 11, 2009, reports. The General Motors today announced that its Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle, set to begin production in late 2010.

The Volt will have two modes of operation. In "electric" mode, the Volt will not use gas (petrol) or produce tailpipe emissions because the car will be powered by electrical energy stored in its 16-kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery pack. When the battery charge gets too low, the Volt is designed to automatically switch to "extended-range" mode and use a gas-powered engine-generator to produce electricity to power the vehicle. The energy stored in the battery supplements the engine-generator when additional power is needed during heavy accelerations or on steep inclines.

The EPA's plug-in electric vehicle federal fuel economy methodology assumes plug-in electric vehicles will travel more city miles than highway miles solely on electricity. At low speeds and short distances, the Volt is expected to operate solely on battery power, without touching the reserves in the petrol tank.

The Volt's actual gas-free mileage will vary depending on a number of factors, including how far the car travels, the weight of the cargo and passengers and whether the air conditioning is used. Based on the results of unofficial development testing of pre-production prototypes, GM reports the Volt can achieve 40 miles of electric-only, petroleum-free driving in both EPA city and highway test cycles, before needing a recharge, which can be achieved at a household outlet.

GM claims that the new vehicle shall achieve city fuel economy of at least 230 miles per gallon (mpg), based on a new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) formula. See discussion on the subject

Governments should support low-carbon initiatives:

The governments must maintain and improve the research and development tax credit scheme, which encourages investment in low-carbon innovation. Participate in the discussion .. ...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Groundwater depletion in India

Groundwater is a primary source of fresh water in many parts of the world. Some regions are becoming overly dependent on it, consuming groundwater faster than it is naturally replenished and causing water tables to decline unremittingly, as reported in the recent findings published in Nature (see ref.).

Indirect evidence suggests that this is the case in northwest India, but there has been no regional assessment of the rate of groundwater depletion. The authors used terrestrial water storage-change observations from the NASA Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites and simulated soil-water variations from a data-integrating hydrological modelling system to show that groundwater is being depleted at the rate of 3-5 cm/year equivalent height of water (or 13.2 - 22.2 cubic km/year) over the Indian states of Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana (including Delhi).

During the study period of August 2002 to October 2008, groundwater depletion was equivalent to a net loss of 109 cubic km of water, which is double the capacity of India's largest surface-water reservoir. Annual rainfall was close to normal throughout the period and it was demonstrated that the other terrestrial water storage components (soil moisture, surface waters, snow, glaciers and biomass) did not contribute significantly to the observed decline in total water levels.

Although the observational record is brief, the available evidence suggests that unsustainable consumption of groundwater for irrigation and other anthropogenic uses is likely to be the cause. If measures are not taken soon to ensure sustainable groundwater usage, the consequences for the 114 million residents of the region may include a reduction of agricultural output and shortages of potable water, leading to extensive socio-economic stresses.

Ref: Matthew Rodell, Isabella Velicogna & James S. Famiglietti, "Satellite-based estimates of groundwater depletion in India", Nature advance online publication 12 August 2009 | doi:10.1038/nature08238

Watch Nature video:

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Africa's biggest wind farm

Alternative Energy reports the some of the African regions experience extremes of temperature. The extreme temperatures also generate extreme winds and therefore wind farms have great potential in Africa. Although blessed with one of the highest wind velocities in the world and fiercest exposures to sun, most African countries have been slow on getting on to the alternative power band wagon.

Morocco and Egypt have been making some strides towards harnessing wind power on commercial scales. Saharan countries Kenya and Ethiopia too are trying to bridge the enormous gap between demand and supply by tapping into wind energy. Ethiopia has commissioned a £190m, 120MW farm in Tigray region, representing 15% of the current electricity capacity. It intends to build several more projects like this. Tanzania has announced plans to generate at least 100MW of power from two projects in the central Singida region, more than 10% of the country’s current supply. To encourage wind power generate and reduce its dependence on coal-generated energy, South Africa has announce a feed-in tariff for wind power: people contributing to the grid by generating wind energy get paid. It is the first African country to do so.

Now some 365 giant wind turbines will be installed in desert around Lake Turkana in northern Kenya to create the biggest wind farm in Africa. Once completed — tentatively in 2012 — the £533 million project, backed by the African Development Bank, will have a capacity of 300 MW, a quarter of Kenya’s current installed power and one of the highest proportions of wind energy to be fed in a national grid anywhere in the world. For the Lake Turkana Wind Power project, the German consortium working on it has leased 66,000 hectares of the world’s largest permanent desert lake. The hot wind here consistently blows throughout the year through the channel between the Kenyan and Ethiopian highlands.

A good thing about such projects is that after the setup cost the energy is almost free.

The project of course has its share of problems. Transporting turbines to the remote site of Loiyangalani is going to take time and effort. The site is nearly 480 km north of Nairobi. In order to make trucks ply the roads and bridges will need to be mended. Then there are security issues: even the local tribesmen casually carry Kalashnikovs.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Global warming: why multiplicity of opinions

Here is one of the confusing issues regarding global warming :There are variety in outlooks on the subject, why ?

Mark Maslin, director of the Environment Institute at the University College London and his colleague John Adams proposed one theory. They believe that human opinion can be explained by how we respond to risk and uncertainty.

In reference to global warming beliefs, they combine four possible beliefs or opinions with four characteristic traits of human nature

Here they are:

1) Nature is benign: Earth is predictable and robust, able to withstand or bounce back from any damage. This view corresponds with what they call individualists, entrepreneurial types, who don’t necessarily believe in control or intervention from others. Maslin uses the example of self-made oil barons.

2) Nature is ephemeral: Earth is fragile and it is in danger of collapse.This view is held by egalitarians, people who have strong democratic group loyalties but do not respect externally imposed rules. Radical environmentalists might also fall into this category.

3) Nature is tolerant: Earth can handle some changes, but major excesses will send it reeling. This is a view held by hierarchists, people who know their place, and adhere to strong social structures. Scientists or soldiers might be examples.

4) Nature is capricious: Earth’s reactions are so unpredictable that we cannot predict nor accurately plan our future. This is the view of fatalists, those who feel they have little control over their lives.

From this framework, Maslin says we can tell which person is likely to believe which view of nature. This is one way to look at why there are so many responses to the threat of global warming, despite us all having access to the same information.

—Christie Nicholson in Scientific American

Please note: these theories were explained with graphics in a book by Mark Maslin called, Global Warming: A Very Short Introduction.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Consumerism is unsustainable

Andy Coghlan, in New Scientist, 07 August 2009, reports. Many of us think that there's nothing we can do personally about global warming or that the human race is over-running the planet like a plague. However according to leading ecologists, few of us realise that the main cause of the current environmental crisis is human nature.

More specifically, all we're doing is what all other creatures have ever done to survive, expanding into whatever territory is available and using up whatever resources are available, just like a bacterial culture growing in a Petri dish till all the nutrients are used up. What happens then, of course, is that the bugs then die in a sea of their own waste.

Like the accelerated growth of a cancer, the human population has quadrupled in the past 100 years and at this rate will reach a size in 2025 that leads to global collapse and catastrophe.

But there is worse. Not only are we simply doing what all creatures do, we do it better. In recent times we are doing it even faster because of changes in society that encourage and celebrate conspicuous and excessive consumption.

According to the biologists, natural tendency of living creatures is to fill up all available habitat and use up all available resources. That underlies the Darwinian evolution and species that do it best are the ones that survive, but humans do it better than any other species.

Although we think of ourselves as civilised, subconsciously we are driven by three basic animal instincts of survival, domination and expansion. These instincts find expression in the idea that inexorable economic growth will redress all the world's existing inequalities.

However we fail to recognise that the physical resources to fuel this growth are finite. We are driven by growing and expanding, so we will use up all the oil, we will use up all the coal and we will keep going till we fill the Petri dish and pollute ourselves out of existence.

The economists and the governments of the day decided to revive economic activity by creating a culture in which people were encouraged to accumulate and show off material wealth, to the point where it defined their status in society and their self-image.

The economist Victor Lebow said in 1955: "Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction and our ego satisfaction in consumption. We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing rate". We define ourselves by what we consume. We have turned consumption into a necessity and how we define ourselves. The result is a world in which rampant consumption in rich countries is rapidly outstripping the resources in the world needed to satisfy demand.

Globally, we have already overshot the limit, consuming 30 per cent more material than is sustainable from the world's resources. At present, 85 countries exceed their domestic "bio-capacities", compensating for their lack of local materials by depleting stocks elsewhere, in countries that have 'surplus' because they're not consuming as much. The world can only supply 2.1 global average hectares per person. Some developed societies already consume four times what the earth can sustainably supply. therefore steps must be taken to free up the 'ecological space' for justifiable growth in the developing world.

There is hope, however slim, both from the top down and the bottom up. The hope from above is that governments will finally realise that never-ending economic growth is incompatible with the finite material resources Earth has to offer and begin to manage those resources more fairly and equitably through some kind of world government. Without global management, destruction will continue, producing food and energy "crunches" that make the credit crunch look like a tea party.

We need to learn to live within the means of nature. That means sharing and redistribution of wealth and for that we need leadership at the highest level to understand that the competitive instinct and the drive for power and more resources is mutually destructive, so governments must act in our collective interest.

We need a counter-advertising campaign to make conspicuous consumption or consumerism shameful.

Making our lifestyle sustainable:

We live in an imperfect world. Poverty, disease, lack of education, environmental destruction – the problems are all too obvious. Many people don't have clean water, let alone enough food and the unsustainable lifestyle of the wealthy few is storing up catastrophic climate change.

Can we do anything about it? Yes we can !!. Technology is a double-edged sword, but science and reason have made our lives immeasurably better overall – and only through science and reason can we hope to make a real difference in the future. Read more .. ..

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Other good links:


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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cellulosic biofuels mix well with biodiversity

Brendan Borrel, Scientific American, Aug 5, 2009, reports, cellulosic biofuels—extracted from native switchgrass—could lend a helping hand to imperiled birds that depend on vanishing prairies in the Midwest.

With palm oil plantations overrunning Indonesian rainforests and corn-based ethanol in the U.S. spurring new deforestation abroad, it may seem like biofuels and biodiversity don't mix. That's why ecologist Bruce Robertson at Michigan State University's W. K. Kellogg Biological Station and his colleagues wanted to know how birds and bugs would fare if the U.S. switches from corn-based ethanol production to cellulosic biofuels based on grasses.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is pushing these biofuels to help achieve further reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Switchgrass has been singled out for biofuel production because of its low water requirements and high nutrient efficiency, along with the fact that it is native to the U.S.

Robertson and his team went bird-watching in native prairie, switchgrass plantations and cornfields in Michigan. In the latter, bird diversity was limited to horned larks, killdeer and cowbirds. Large plots of switchgrass, on the other hand, supported 19 of the 20 bird species found on native prairie, including the Henslow's sparrow and the bobolink and were used as a stopover by migratory birds. The team also found more insect species on switchgrass than on corn—although they still fared worse than those in the native prairie.

According to Robertson, switchgrass production is going to have some measurable biodiversity benefits both for insects and grassland bird populations. The switchgrass harvest could occur in the fall, after the birds' breeding season, which would reduce its ecological impact. Switchgrass will definitely be better than corn. He suggests that interspersing native broadleaf vegetation in switchgrass monocultures could boost bird numbers even further.

Watch Video:

Cellulosic biofuels

Biodiversity (3D)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Comparison of US and China climate efforts

Some in the United States argue Washington should not commit itself to specific reductions in the GHG emissions, which could boost energy prices, until China does so as well.

Here is a birds eye view of climate change moves by both countries:


CHINA:

(a) China's latest five-year plan calls for a 20 percent cut in energy intensity by the end of 2010, from 2005 levels. Chinese authorities estimate this would cut the country's carbon dioxide emissions by roughly 1 billion tons. However, the effort has fallen behind schedule.

(b) Beijing also has set a goal for about 15 percent of the electricity it generates to come from renewable energy sources by 2020.

(c)China's fuel economy standards for its rapidly growing passenger vehicle fleet are more stringent than those in Australia, Canada. Average fuel economy for new vehicles was projected at 36.7 mpg (miles per gallon) in 2008.

(d) Some energy-intensive products for export no longer qualify for special tax breaks in an attempt to encourage energy efficiency.

(e) At a summit in Italy, China joined rich and poor countries acknowledging that global temperature increases should be limited to 2 Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial levels, a goal that would force deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

(f) However China would not commit to a goal of cutting world carbon emissions in half by 2050.

(g) Environmentalists also worry that China plans to significantly expand the number of coal-fired power plants that contribute to global warming.

UNITED STATES:

(a) No national carbon-reduction goals have yet been set but the House of Representatives has narrowly passed legislation calling for industrial greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced 17 percent by 2020, from 2005 levels, and 83 percent by 2050.

(b) Senate leaders say they are considering similar legislation. While a bill might be debated in October 2009, the measure has not been introduced yet and a difficult fight is expected.

(c) If Congress fails to finish a bill, the Obama administration has indicated it will go ahead with regulations to control climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency, early next year, has the power to move ahead.

(d) Some states, such as California, have set their own goals for reducing emissions. Quite commendable !

(e) An economic stimulus measure enacted in February 2009 included $30 billion for investments in renewable energy technology and improved energy transmission.

(f) With no agreement among policymakers over whether to expand non-polluting nuclear power, mostly because of waste storage problems and high construction costs, many fear that continued use of dirty coal will hobble climate change efforts until alternative methods can be developed.

(g) The fuel efficiency standard in the US is 27 mpg now and will be 32 mpg in 2011. Progressive reform !!


There are around 28 billion metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent emitted into the atmosphere in 2005 (US EIA), only 50% of them will be absorbed by ocean and land. Therefore it is clear that 14 billions metric tons of CO2 equivalent goes to the atmosphere in each year since 2005. The upward trend of concentration will not change unless the emissions reduction reaches a level, which is higher than 50% of current emissions. The reduction target for a nation has to be based on its economic condition.

True cost of energy:

China is racing ahead of the Unites States in Solar. But that is to only look at it on a superficial basis. The Chinese have 1.3 Billion people. Other than the Southeast part of the Country, they live in exceptionally poor conditions (or a very low standard of living). So they have a huge untapped labor force that is willing to work at 1/100th the cost of a worker in the West. Read and participate in the discussion .....


California takes a lead in climate change initiatives:

California became the national leader in Climate Change with the adoption of Assembly Bill 32. It establishes a GHG emission limit for 2020 at a level equivalent to the state’s 1990 emissions. Provides the means to achieve the Governor’s GHG emission reduction targets. Cleantech projects examined: NanoSolar Thin Film Solar Cells, Konarka Technologies, Inc. Organic Solar Cells, Greenvolts, Inc. Two Axis Carousel Solar Tracker, Brayton Energy, LLC Solar Energy Compressed Air Storage. Read more .. ..


Friday, August 7, 2009

Global warming: is two degress target realistic ?

John Wihbey | August 4, 2009, reports in Yele Forum . The G-8, eight Northern Hemisphere industrialized countries, last month produced its first firm target for curbing rising global temperatures: no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), above pre-industrial levels.
The “2 degrees” has now been semi-enshrined as the consensus “magic number” for avoiding dangerous climate change. The idea of this two-degree limit Celsius has a long scientific history stretching back to the 1980s. It started to be cemented in policy circles after the European Union (EU) adopted the target in 1996.

Through 2008, the global average temperature had already warmed roughly 0.7 degrees Celsius, above pre-industrial levels, meaning that by some measures we are already one third of the way toward hitting the 2 degree ceiling.The temperature is now rising faster than in earlier decades in the 20th century.

The meaning of that simple number is quite complex. It involves some subjective analysis. A Delicate Compromise and a Value Judgment. It is a delicate compromise between what is desirable and what may be feasible. The IPCC chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, has said that the whole issue of 2 degrees versus 1 degree or 1.5 degree is something based on a value judgment that essentially relates to what is dangerous, in terms of making it almost impossible for some people on this planet not being able to live in those locations. In other words, the temperature target may be too high for some people in the developing world, who are already vulnerable. Any number much above 1 degree involves a gamble, and the odds become less and less favorable as the temperature goes up.

The IPCC’s 2007 report states that even 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels is likely to have serious impacts, especially in terms of stressing water supplies and creating more malnutrition, disease, and drought. The climate scientists believe that even a ‘moderate’ warming of 2 degrees C stands a strong chance of provoking drought and storm responses that could challenge civilized society, leading potentially to the conflict and suffering that go with failed states and mass migrations.

The tipping point idea has been debated in the media and in scientific circles, with no precise number or scenario agreed upon. But there are real worries.

James McCarthy, professor of biological oceanography at Harvard University and the current President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said that the closer the planet comes to a global average rise of 2 degrees Celsius, the less likely we are to be able to avoid climbing to even higher temperatures. Models suggest that feedback cycles could afflict both the tundra - where scientists fear a massive carbon release - and the Amazon forest ecosystem, which could rapidly dry up, McCarthy noted.

Some observers point out that the debate over 2 degrees involves two interrelated questions that are often blurred. First, how does the temperature goal stand up scientifically - i.e., would it still prevent perilous ocean level rise, large-scale drought, loss of ecosystems, dangerous weather, etc.?

Second, how does the target operate as a policy tool and as a piece of rhetoric in global negotiations?

We should be talking about emissions targets, and the right emission target is zero. We are going to solve the carbon-climate problem when we create an understanding that it is no longer acceptable to use the atmosphere as a waste dump. There should no discussion about targets, it should be a discussion about which kinds of objects people should be allowed to build.

There is indeed a vigorous debate between the developing world and the G-8 over this very question. The industrialized countries tend to talk about “common” goals in terms of reducing emissions. By contrast, developing countries focus on “differentiated” responsibilities - namely the need for the big industrial nations to take the deeper emissions cuts. The developing countries see the 2 degrees goal as a vague notion that does not put pressure on individual countries, since no one nation can control global temperature.

Author
John Wihbey, a regular contributor to The Yale Forum, is a producer for an NPR show. He previously reported on environmental issues for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J. (E-mail: jpwihb@yahoo.com)

IPCC Report on Climate Change

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Municipal waste: reduce-reuse-recycle-recover


Kumar Manish, TNN , 25 July 2009 reports, tonnes of solid waste that lie unattended in large landfill sites in the Indian city of Ahmedabad will soon turn into a goldmine for Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC). The civic body has signed a contract with Creative Co Ltd, a Japanese integrated waste management company, for a INR 500 million project to convert waste into green fuel pellets to fire captive power plants around the city.

The project will also help AMC gain carbon credits which the latter plans to share equally with the partnering agency. Carbon credits are given to enterprises in the developing world that shift to cleaner technologies, cutting energy consumption and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The project will focus on the reduce-reuse-recycle-recover' standard in waste management and recycling industries. AMC will be providing 800 tonnes of solid waste per day for the project, of which 90 per cent will be recycled to produce an eco-friendly fuel for industry which can be used instead of conventional fuels.

Initially, pellets will be made as fuel. In the next phase, AMC will be generating electricity. The city produces 2,300 metric tonnes of solid waste a day which, at present, is dumped in Pirana dumping ground. The project will be coming up at Gyaspur where AMC has allocated 25 acres of land for solid waste management (SWM) projects.

The project will ensure a hygienic way of disposing solid waste and earning profits on it.

Watch a video:

Solid waste management in cities

Monday, August 3, 2009

Tax tobacco for good

Despite expectations following the increased taxation on tobacco announced in the state finance budgets of Maharashtra and New Delhi, India, the central government has made no changes whatsoever in the taxation on tobacco and tobacco products in the Union Budget for 2009 ­ 2010. This effectively means that the tobacco companies ­ already inducing a growing tobacco epidemic in the country ­ can continue to sell their products at their current prices ­which make these products easily available for the masses. This simply contributes to the continuing tobacco problem in India, and hampers public health to a great extent.

Speaking on the unchanged tax rates on tobacco products, be it cigarettes, bidis or gutka, tobacco control associations in India have voiced their protests. The tobacco analyst is wrong. The cigarette production is increasing in India and given the low elasticity of demand, the revenue collection is not going to go down for a long time" said Dr P C Gupta, director, Healis Sekhsaria Institute for Public Health . No country has yet reported that by increasing cigarette taxes, their revenue has gone down.

Increasing taxes on tobacco products could have benefited both the exchequer and public health. Increasing taxes on tobacco products has been shown to be the most cost effective tool for tobacco control and saves lives of people, especially protecting the youth and the poor. In India, 40 per cent of all diseases are due to tobacco use and the expenditure on its treatment, prevention and control costs around INR 400,000 million annually. Approximately 5500 adolescents start using tobacco every day, joining the 7.7 million young people under the age of 15, who already regularly use tobacco.

In the light of this, with an increase in taxes, a substantial increase in government revenue can be achieved. A 33 per cent increase in tax on bidis (rural version of cigarettes in India) and a 10 per cent increase in tax on cigarettes would result in 24.75 per cent and seven per cent increase in government revenue, respectively.

An increase in bidi taxation would also mean an increase in the part of the excise duty on bidis that goes to Bidi Workers Welfare Cess (BWWC), which aims to provide medical care, housing, social security, education and recreation facilities for bidi workers. The government should, therefore, make provisions for a substantial increase in taxation on all tobacco products across the country and take a step forward towards better public health.

Ref: Sakal Times, Pune, India, 31 July 2009

Ill effects of tobacco

Killer tobacco

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Smart grid: prone to cyber attacks

Brian Krebs from Washington Post , reports Tuesday, July 28, 2009. Electric utilities vying for $3.9 billion in new federal "smart grid" grants will need to prove US Energy Department that they are taking steps to prevent cyber attacks as they move to link nearly all elements of the U.S. power grid to the public internet.

The security experts express concern that many existing smart-grid efforts do not have sufficient built-in protections against computer hacking, such as new 'smart meters' that put information about consumers' power use onto the internet, grid-management software and other equipment.

The smart-grid spending in the federal stimulus package is intended to create jobs and improve the efficiency and reliability of the electricity grid by lowering peak demand, reducing energy consumption, integrating more renewable energy sources and easing the pressure to build new coal-fired power plants.

Many of those efficiency gains will be made possible by new technology being built on top of the existing power grid, such as smart meters, which provide real-time feedback on power consumption patterns and levels. An estimated 8 million smart meters are used in the United States today and more than 50 million more could be installed in at least two dozen states over the next five years, according to the Edison Foundation's Institute for Electric Efficiency

The security researchers have found that these devices often are the weakest link in the smart-grid chain. Smart meters give consumers direct access to information about their power usage and the ability to manage that usage over the Web, but that two-way communication also opens up the possibility that the grid could be attacked from the outside. Many such systems require little authentication to carry out key functions, such as disconnecting customers from the power grid.

Indeed, at this week's Black Hat , the world's largest cybersecurity conference held annually in Las Vegas, researchers from IOActive of Seattle shall demonstrate a computer worm that spreads by taking advantage of the software update feature built into a prevalent brand of smart meters. The worm could in theory give the attackers who launched it the ability to very quickly sever tens of thousands of homes from the smart grid.

Watch a video: