Sustaining Future

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Floating Solar Chimney Technology

I reported on a solar tower project before. Here is an updates.

The company EnviroMission has bought the land and recieved funding from Australia Federal government to build a $700 million solar tower of about 1000m high. The base will be 5km across and produces 300,000 megawatts of power rising to 9.5 million megawatts in 10 years.

On setback of solar tower is the expensive concret chimney. Inventor Christos Papageorgiou has created a lighter than air solar chimney which will cost around the same as comparable wind turbine making solar tower an economically competitive alternative.

Stern Report on Impact of Climate Change

This report has been making headlines all over the world in the last few days. BBC has a good summary of the key points. Most of the reports concentrate on the economic impact:
# Extreme weather could reduce global gross domestic product (GDP) by up to 1%

# A two to three degrees Celsius rise in temperatures could reduce global economic output by 3%

# If temperatures rise by five degrees Celsius, up to 10% of global output could be lost. The poorest countries would lose more than 10% of their output

# In the worst case scenario global consumption per head would fall 20%

# To stabilise at manageable levels, emissions would need to stabilise in the next 20 years and fall between 1% and 3% after that. This would cost 1% of GDP

My reading of the responses from business is that there is a great business opportunity if we embrace the reduction of carbon emission reduction e.g. see ABC nightline's interview of a former adviser to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the managing director of Global Renewables.

Australian Horward government is still taking the lead from the US Bush government, refusing to ratify the Kyoto protocol. "Federal Treasurer Peter Costello says there is no point in Australia reducing its greenhouse gas emissions when China and India are such major global polluters." [see] That is wrong, both morally and economically.

As pointed out in the ABC lateline interview, it is likely that China and India (being developing countries and are current big polluters) may leapfrog in developing clean energy. By then, Australia would have lost huge business opportunity and will degrade to China or India's resource mines.

I am especially worried when Horward governemnt is so naive to believe that we can develop clean coal power stations or rely on nuclear power. Permanent storage of CO2 and/or nuclear waste is risky, unproven and is potentially leaving a huge problem for our future generations. When 1 ton of carbon is converted to CO2, it will be 4 tons of gas. It is more massive and much larger in volume. The engineering challenge is much larger. It makes no economical sense to support such research (instead of allocating the same limited research resources to more viable alternatives such as renewable energy) other than for political reasons beyond public scrutiny and review.

With relatively low population density, Australia is in a special position to develop solar energy technology and convert the energy into some carbon-neutral for export.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Personal Ecological Footprint Calculator

The Victoria government in Australia has a Personal Ecological Footprint Calculator which gives you how much ecological impact your current lifestyle is. If everyone on Earth lives like me, it will need 3.1, which we obviously do not have.

I shall reduce my ecological footprint by going greener.

BTW, if everyone on Earth lives like average Australian, we need 4 Earths.

Here is another list of Ecological Footprint Calculator.

Large scale Solar Desalination

By Alan Williams, November 2004

From the summary
The configuration devised is a circular tank of one kilometre diameter containing water to a depth of 10 metres with a sealed double glazed dome, operating at 0.1 atmosphere pressure with a working temperature below 50° C. A solar absorber placed just above the water level, abundantly perforated but covering the entire area, sets up convection currents that evaporate the sea water and condense the vapour. Incoming seawater recovers energy from outgoing clean water and brine in a counter current heat exchanger. Water flow is driven by solar distillation and hydrostatic pressure. It is estimated that the structure would have 95% energy efficiency and a gained output ratio of 20. In sunbelt countries with average isolation of 6kwh/m2/day the desalination plant would produce 100,000 m3/d distilled water at a speculative cost of $0.28/m3.

I believe there is an over-estimation of the efficiency of the system.

Here is another solar desalination using concentrated solar energy.

Solar desalination is not a bad idea for the major cities in Australia.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Diesel or Petrol

Environment issues aside, do you want to own a diesel engine car or a petrol car? made a comparison of VW Jetta. Well the test is not a strict comparison:
We'd prefer the same transmission in each car, but it simply isn't possible. So the diesel Jetta has a six-speed manual gearbox; the FSI is available with the six-speed DSG transmission only. And the non-turbo FSI engine would have been our first choice.

We are interested in the preformance, so here is the result of Carsguide's test:
the diesel needing 9.7 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint, the FSI petrol 9.2 seconds. The FSI Turbo DSG is a clear performance winner with a sprint of 7.2 seconds.

It's a little slower that the rest, but the diesel's flexibility comes into its own on the mid-range overtaking sprint from 80-120 km/h when it takes 8.5 seconds, compared to 9.5 seconds for an FSI manual.

What about economy?
In the Jetta the TDI diesel model costs $35,490, $2500 more than the non-turbo FSI petrol model, but $4500 less than the FSI Turbo DSG.

The Carguide is assuming the price of diesel and petrol is approximately the same (true in Australia) and is driving in a mixed traffic condition (some city traffic, some freeway running and some secondary roads in the country that were speed limited to 80 km/h) with speed limit and safety in mind.

It is no surprise then that the diesel is the better in terms of fuel consumption over our drive, but that it did so well, returning 4.5 litres/100km average, is a pleasant surprise.

The FSI Turbo also proves a surprise in returning 6.7 litres/100km.

It is a little more complicated when calculating the non-turbo petrol. I'll leave this out here. You can read the original article if you are interested in the details.

Thus the $2500 price premium of the diesel would be recouped in 7000km [when the diesel is around $1.45]. That's about six months of average driving. After that you're laughing all the way to the bank.

In today, the price of diesel is about $1.20, so it may take longer to recoup the price premium. This is before Carsguide took into account biodiesel, which is an environmentally better choice. Jonathon Thwaites from University of Western Australia overcame all the legal hurdles and is manufacturing biodiesel in a shed at his home. Here is a write up. Here are some extracts:

For example 100 litres of oil will require approximately 20 litres of methanol with approximately 800 grams of KOH dissollved in it. These quantities must be determined in the titration and measured - not guessed. You will end up with 100 litre of biodiesel and about 20 litres of glycerine. I carry out 2 water washes (about 10 to 15 mins of my time each). So 100 litres of oil gives you 100 litres of biodiesel usually.

The total process probably takes about 2 hours but over about 2 days.

The cost of production (not including my time) is about 25 to 30 c per litre. I run my Hilux diesel ute on B100 100% biodiesel - and contrary to alot of reports I have read it has not destroyed my car yet - maybe this will happen some time but it seems to be working fine - maybe even better.

OK, you may have to invest in $3000 to buy a commercially produced reactor like Jonathon. Now, with slightly over $1 saving for each litre of diesel by using home-made biodiesel, you recoup the cost in about 35 km. (rough estimate by me)

By the way, to get more information about biodiesel, click here for Melbourne Biodiesel Club, Sydney Biodiesel Users Group or Brisbane Biodiesel in Australia.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

DIY Water Injection System to improve your car's performance (for less than US$5)

After I wrote the last post, I did some Google search (I was about to say "googling", can I?) and found this article which actually described how to make a water-injection system for as little as $3.72.

If it did not work, you can always revert back to your car's original configuration. Why not give it a go, or at least you can have fun tuning your car for an afternoon. If it works (and I believe strongly that will because I had a similar system long time ago), your $3.72 investment will have many times pay back.

I am going to try this myself in my next available free afternoon.

Small high performance engine

MIT researchers come up with the idea of using E85 ethanol to prevent knocking when a gasoline engine is running at high temperature. As a result, a given size engine can produce about twice the power. Instead of keeping the size, a half-size engine would have the same performance of the comparable full-size engine, but an increased efficient resulting in a 30% reduction of fuel consumption.

Since ethanol is only used at a 5 to 100 ratio to petrol, ethanol would be filled once a few months. So effectively, it is like petrol-engine.

When I was still in Hong Kong (that's over 13 years ago), my standard petrol car has an "after-production" add-on water-injection which increased the efficient of my car by about 10 to 20% depending on driving condition.

The theory then was to use the water to increase the surface area of the petrol just before it is ignited by the spark-plug. The test at Hong Kong Polytechnics at the time demonstrated marked improvement in emission. That was the original result I installed the system.

Unfortunately, the water injection system failed only after working for about 2 years - due to the blockage of the injection needle and I was no mood to get it fixed. Anyway, the modification, though not working, did not create any noticeable performace degradation - just return to the original state. Quite remarkable!

I don't know how that technology is going now. Hope it is still alive and somebody is still improving it.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Plug-in Hybrid

As long as electricity stations are still using carbon-producing fuel, the use of electricity in transport is matter of economy1, not environmental.

However, the electric hybrid car does provide a path for moving away from fossil-based transportation. With more cars running on electricity and when electricity is generated from solar2, we can see a smooth path into tranpsort with lower impact on the environment.

1 from Still Miles to Go for the Plug-In Vehicle basing on USA prices
At $2.50 a gallon, a vehicle that gets 20 miles to the gallon costs 12.5 cents a mile to run. But a car that goes four miles on a kilowatt-hour would cost just over 2 cents a mile to run, at the national average retail electricity price. But the price might be lower than average because electric companies could tap into cheap nighttime generation, getting new use from equipment that is usually idle for half the day.

2 from Australian government announces funding for world's largest solar power plant
The government [snip] will contribute 75 million Australian dollars (US$57 million; €45 million) to the A$420 million (US$319 million; €254 million) project to build a 154 megawatts solar power plant in Victoria state which will use mirrored panels to concentrate the sun's rays.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Kinsale Energy Descent Action Plan

via WorldChanging

Rob Hopkins came to this small seaside town of 7000 inhabitants renowned as Ireland’s gourmet food capital, as well as the home of a well-known jazz festival. He started the first full-time two year course in Europe training in people in Practical Sustainability in Kinsale Further Education College.

He had a simple idea for his students: to ask them to think practically about all the aspects of a town that would need to be changed if a low-energy future was to happen, and how they could do so over a fifteen-year period. So far, so standard college project. But what was extraordinary was the way they went about it – seriously, meeting the movers and shakers of the town in a “community think-tank,” and researching and writing with every intent of making the project real. [snip] The first draft was launched at a conference in Kinsale in June 2005, and two of the students set up a not-for-profit company to handle the project, called Transition Design. Then the big step came when in December 2005, Kinsale Town Council unanimously passed the motion to support “its initiative to act as process leaders in Kinsale’s transition to a lower-energy future and in developing the concept of a ‘Transition Town;’ making the transition from fossil fuel dependency to a state of energy independence.”

Download the plan here.

Extending the lifespan by edge of starvation diet

This blog is about sustaining - not about weight loss. But if eating less can extend the life (and save on the use of food), why not?

According to this article:
In lab studies going back to the thirties, mice on severely limited diets have consistently lived as much as 50 percent longer than the oldest of their well-fed peers—the rodent equivalent of a human life stretched past the age of 160. And it isn’t just a mouse thing: Yeast cells, spiders, vinegar worms, rhesus monkeys—by now a veritable menagerie of species has been shown to benefit from CR’s [CR=Calorie Restriction] life-extending effects.

But is it a life worth living if you are at the edge of starvation and feeling hungry every second?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Things we can do today to help to sustain our future

From An Inconvenient Truth: 10 SIMPLE TIPS

Channel 7 (Australia): Cool the Globe: petition to stop this from happening: "Australia Federal Government has already slashed solar electricity rebates and is planning to phase them out completely by the middle of next year."

Learn more about sustaining our future.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Water supply and forest harvesting in Melbourne

This is a good read for anyone interested in a long term sustainable forest industry and water supply. The balance is tricky and error margins are high. On the other hand, the failure to achieve a good solution is also very expensive to the future.

Can Victoria give up the forest industry (especially paper making) in exchange for a better water supply? What is the economic model that will make this happen and viable?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Miniature Earth

Imagine the world population is 100, then you can appreciate how luck you and I are.

Is this inequality sustainable? I cannot see how!

Friday, October 20, 2006

No Wet Waterless Carwash

via Treehugger

With Australia experiencing the worst drought since the arrival of white civilisation, it is no wonder that a Waterless Car Wash product should attract interest.

Help save our water!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Solar Power without Silicon

Yes, the project is to produce 200 megawatt using 32 turbines without sending 900,000 tons of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere yearly. No, this is not a direct solar to electricity conversion. See this artist visualisation of the project.

The concept is very simple. Build a tall tower (very tall indeed, 1000m according to the artist visualisation, and 1,600 feet according to Business 2.0 report) with a diameter of 260 feet. Surrounding the tower is a 2-mile diameter transparent canopy at groud level. Solar energy heats the air under the canopy. Hot air raises, right? So the hot air raises through the tower, creating a vacuum at the surrending base. The presure difference is used to drive 32 turbines to generate the electricity.

By the way, the aame Business 2.0 page has other interesting green energy projects in Australia too.

Solar Power Project in Australia

I'm glad that our Australian Government is doing something in this area.

At a cost of AUD1 Million for 2,500 remote people, it is a bit too expensive!

Google to be powered by Solar Power

Oh, at least partly.

Google plans to install 9,200 solar panels which would produce about 1.6 megaWatts of electricity. It is expected the solar project will recoup the cost in 5 to 10 years by saving on the electricity bills. The most important bonus is Google is doing the right thing and is leading the corporate America.

970 trillion kWh of energy fall from skies every day

Good we can't see it. Bad we don't use it.

See video here.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Ethanol Debate

In my last post, I speculated that the future of land transportation (car) will likely be electric-based. However, the storage capacity of battery is still a limiting factor to the distance.

There is an existing huge infra-structure based on distribution of liquid fuel for car. The most obvious move to conserve the envirnoment and to move away on the dependence of fossil fuel (petroleum) would be a form a liquid fuel, such as ethanol.

Here is a summary of the recent debate of the efficiency of ethanol production by Carl Bialik looking at the debate raised by David Pimentel and Tad Patzek's paper. They look at corn as the plant from which ethanol is produced. The conclusion by Pimentel and Patzek is contradicted by other data.

I believe Australia has another potential solution to this problem - production of hydrogen directly from solar cells. More on that later.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Future of Cars

It was rumoured that
At a recent COMDEX computer exposition, Bill Gates compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated, "If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 mpg." [see for example and many others]

Well it now seems to me that the next surge of innovations for cars will come sources other than the auto industry.

Here are some sign posts.

From Business 2.0
Ian Wright has a car that blows away a Ferrari 360 Spider and a Porsche Carrera GT in drag races, and whose 0-to-60 acceleration time ranks it among the fastest production autos in the world. In fact, it's second only to the French-made Bugatti Veyron, a 1,000-horsepower, 16-cylinder beast that hits 60 mph half a second faster and goes for $1.25 million.

The point is that Ian Wright, before designing this magic electric race car (called X1 and is based on Ariel Atom) is a routers and switches designer.

From Wikipedia
A British engineering firm has put together a high-performance hybrid version of BMW's Mini Cooper. The PML Mini QED has a top speed of 150 mph, a 0-60 mph time of 4.5 seconds. The car uses a small gasoline engine with four 160 horsepower electric motors — one on each wheel. The car has been designed to run for four hours of combined urban/extra urban driving, powered only by a battery and bank of ultra capacitors. The QED supports an all-electric range of 200-250 miles and has a total range of about 932 miles (1,500 km). For longer journeys at higher speeds, a small conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) is used to re-charge the battery. In this hybrid mode, fuel economies of up to 80mpg can be achieved.

Well not 1,000 mpg yet, but impressive when compared to today's conventional cars.

Converting animal waste to fuel

This is new: pig waste directly to gasoline.
Dean Gokel says he can produce 110 octane "pigoline"--gasoline made from hog waste--that is indistinguishable on a molecular level from petroleum-based additives.

There are previous proven methods of converting animal waste to biofuel, mainly methane.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Anything into Oil

by Brad Lemley (an article published by Discover in May 2003)

The headline is
Technological savvy could turn 600 million tons of turkey guts and other waste into 4 billion barrels of light Texas crude each year

and according to the article,

And it will be profitable, promises Appel. "We've done so much testing in Philadelphia, we already know the costs," he says. "This is our first-out plant, and we estimate we'll make oil at $15 a barrel. In three to five years, we'll drop that to $10, the same as a medium-size oil exploration and production company. And it will get cheaper from there."

This is a carbon neutral process and solve the problem of waste management at the same time. Why don't government put more money into this kind of ressearch?

Understanding the Global Carbon Cycle

by Richard Houghton
Most of the increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations came from and will continue to come from the use of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) for energy, but about 25% of the increase over the last 150 years came from changes in land use.

The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has already increased by about 30% since the start of the industrial revolution sometime around the middle of the 19th century and will continue to increase unless societies choose to change their ways.

Political inaction on climate change a crime against humanity

by George from betterhumans

The evidence for anthrogenic climate change is now incontrovertible, as is the realization that this is the greatest catastrophe to ever confront our species. The time to act is now. Governments need to put measures into place that will drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible.


Barring the onset of real and effective measures, once the flood waters start to rise, the mass extinctions enter into full swing, the superstorms start to hit with regularity, and diseases and famines start to ravage populations, it will be necessary to gather all former politicians to make them answer for their reckless disregard while they were in power. Inaction today is nothing less than a crime against humanity and a crime against the environment. [my emphasis]

Totally agree. Political leaders today only care about whether they will get elected in the next election. Painful decisions like stopping global warming can only be led by the 2nd term of office USA presidents - unfortunately, today's USA President lacks the leadership.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Bold Step Backward? Coal in the 21st Century

Coal seems to be here to stay for the 21st Century and coal burning is the major contributor to the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere resulting in the global warming.

Is there a way to reduce the carbon emmission by the coal-fired power plant? It seems that the only solution is carbon dioxide capture and then storing the carbon dioxide somewhere indefinitely.

I simply don't like this idea. Capturing tons and tons of carbon dioxide (in ga, liguid or solid state) is huge enginerring task. Such process is obviously energy intensive. I wonder what would the net gain.