Sustaining Future

Monday, November 20, 2006

The greening of Howard and a nuclear future

Yesterday's Sunday on Channel Nine has a segment on the PM's move to embrace nuclear energy. Videos are hereand here.

I am most surprised by the introduction: the implication by the reporter that the motivation of PM is to be part of the USA's plan: Australia to permanently keep spent nuclear fuel. Yes, Australia is a well developed country with high technology standard and a large unpopulated desert. Furthermore, Australia also has one third of the world's easily accessible Uranium. However, I don't think Australian are prepared to be the world's nuclear dump. The current poll in Channel Nine shows that 80% of respondents say no to "Should Australia store nuclear waste from other countries?"

While technologists may argue that with today's technology, we can store nuclear fuel safely for extended period. However, the world is not ideal laboratory environment. Human is the worse enemy of itself. Where there is a large nuclear waste dump, there is a great target for terrorist attrack.

I really don't understand why our government would like to develop "clean coal" technology and nuclear power.

Providing baseline load is about having a sufficient large buffer of energy. While most renewable energy source are periodic (e.g. solar), it does not mean that the power generation needs to be periodic as well. [It just happens, by chance or by design, that Australian government has just granted a project for concentrated solar power generation - which is periodic!] The solar tower project reported early is capable of continuous power generation in night by using water as a heat buffer!


Definition from
Microloan is savery small, often short-term loan made to an impoverished entrepreneur, as in an underdeveloped country.

The 2006 Nobel Peace Prize given to the founder of Grameen Bank Muhammed Yunus has raised the world's awareness of this form of support to the poor.

"The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2006, divided into two equal parts, to Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank for their efforts to create economic and social development from below. Lasting peace can not be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty. Micro-credit is one such means. Development from below also serves to advance democracy and human rights.


Every single individual on earth has both the potential and the right to live a decent life. Across cultures and civilizations, Yunus and Grameen Bank have shown that even the poorest of the poor can work to bring about their own development.

Micro-credit has proved to be an important liberating force in societies where women in particular have to struggle against repressive social and economic conditions. Economic growth and political democracy can not achieve their full potential unless the female half of humanity participates on an equal footing with the male.

If you are interested in helping, check out the list in Wikipedia.

Waterless Urinal

I have posted about waterless car wash and Waterless laundry.

Here is a waterless urinal which use sensor to open the urinal and close it after use so that there is no leakage of smell. Since there is a sensor, it is also able to display advertisement when there is a user standing in front it. See here

Sunday, November 19, 2006

New process for iron production cuts emissions by 90 percent

China consumes 43% (275 million tons) of the global total ocean shipment of iron ore in 2005.

According to Gizmag, the new Corex-based plants, currently being built in China and scheduled to begin operation in late 2007, are certainly good news to the environment.

As a result of this traditional process with coking plant, powder metal facility and blast furnace, 1.4 kilograms of sulphur dioxide are created for each ton of pig iron. According to measurements taken by the TUV Rheinland, the Corex process sees this figure reduced to only 40 grams and the discharge of dust and nitrogen oxides is cut by more than 90 percent and sulphur dioxide emissions are reduced by 97 percent.

Corex is a smelting reduction process: Coal gasification, iron ore reduction, and liquefaction of the resulting iron are combined in one process. The gases produced can immediately be used for heating or for generating electricity in a gas and steam turbine power plant.

Aerated showerhead

The news that CSIRO has found a way to use a third less water when you shower by filling the water droplets with a tiny bubble of air is making rounds in the blogosphere.

The concept of aerated showerhead is NOT new. Many commerically available showerheads today can deliver pulsating massage shower AND soft aerated shower. From the news, I don't know what is the difference of the new design from the conventional design, except may be the price.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Stanford Initiative on the Environment and Sustainability

via The Scout Report
On their site, they pose this query which will give visitors to the site pause: “Can we adequately meet current human needs while protecting and restoring planetary life support systems for the welfare of people today and generations to come?” A good way to start browsing through the site is by clicking on one of their four primary areas, which are represented by small graphic symbols that read “Energy & Climate”, “Fresh Water”, “Land Use & Conservation” and “Oceans & Estuaries”.

It is good to see first class university showing initiative in the very important question of sustainability.

The world's population has more than doubled in the past 50 years, and will most likely increase by at least half again before stabilizing toward the end of this century. Providing food, energy, water, and other goods for this and future populations presents a huge challenge in itself, but it also exacts an enormous cost on the life-support systems of the planet – the atmosphere, climate, water, and ecosystems that provide the goods and services that make our planet habitable.

"Can we adequately meet current human needs while protecting and restoring planetary life support systems for the welfare of people today and generations to come?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Waterless laundry

This one of a kind washing system uses ultraviolet-C light for cleaning nano-coated fabrics, a durable and stain resistant fabric that many hypothesize, will be used to make the clothing of the future. The nano-coated fabrics are cleaned with the ultraviolet-C light and free radical oxygen. The ultraviolet-C light can penetrate through every article of fabric to kill bacteria and viruses, while the free radical oxygen acts as a powerful oxidizing agent that can break down dirt into carbon dioxide and water, thus sanitizing the fabric.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Kyoto & Australia

If I have understood the Horward Government's argument on Greenhouse gas, the argument can be summarised as following.

Australia has lot of resources (Coal and Uranium included) and hence it would be silly not to utilise them. Since coal is still the cheapest energy source, we should continue to burn coal to power our country. In order not to damage Australia's economy, we cannot agree to lower our green house gas emission.

Unless immerse pressure, Australia has set up a hurdle. We shall agree to reduce green house gas IF everyone agrees, including USA and China, the largest polluters. We also invest in developing technology to store green house gas and consider using nuclear energy (since we have the largest reserve of Uranium anyway).

The Horward Policy is based on short term economical view - maintaining the status quo without significant policy into the future. I see several logic faults in this argument too.

Australia has lot of renewable resources as well - e.g. solar energy. We can, with the correct technology, export energy from renewable sources and minimise digging up our land and polluting our environment (as in coal mining). Alternately, we can "super-charge" natural gas using solar energy and hence command higher price. (Higher energy in solar gas cost the same to transport as natural gas!) If we develop the technology, we can export the technology without polluting our environment. With our beautiful environment, we have additional income from tourism and can keep our employment high. (Instead of keeping the employment high by mining coal!) That is we can continue our economic growth without increasing the mining of coal, but shifting to value-add our existing natural gas reserve with renewable energy source.

Our reserve of Uranium needs not be digged up in order to leverage on that reserve for political gain - Richard Bulter, former UN Weapon Inspector suggested. Nuclear energy, like storage of CO2 has long term consequence which we cannot control.

Technology for storage of CO2 is at its very early stage and the applicability depends on geographic location. hence it is not an EASILY transferable technology limiting its marketability even if it can be developed. Nuclear power is foreign technology and we have nothing to gain from using nuclear power and have a big burden later for storage of the spent fuel. We can maintain current Uranium export without commiting ourselves into nuclear energy!

Australia already has some head-start in solar technology and it is wise to continue investment in this area. Our car industries are foreign-owned and lack vision in leading and investing in future transportation. I believe if our government can activate an green car production, Australia can have an edge. CSIRO, our leading national research, has developed solution to enter hydrogen economy much cheaper.

From CSIRO website:
In the US, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has already put his significant weight behind developing a ‘hydrogen highway’ – hydrogen refuelling stations along the state’s 21 interstate freeways – by 2010.

The infrastructure costs for building new hydrogen service stations are huge, but the unit being developed by CSIRO could be a far cheaper alternative and be more readily usable in a range of applications.


This is where CSIRO’s latest work could make the difference. It is developing a solid-state system based on polymer electrolyte membranes for on-demand hydrogen production at homes, small-to-medium enterprises, remote locations, service stations and other end-user sites, where water and electricity are available.


The technology can best be described as reverse to fuel cell technology. “The hydrogen produced is of such high purity that it can be used directly in a fuel cell or anywhere else without further purification. The electrolyser responds instantaneously to applied load and is capable of accepting large load variations, making it easy to use this technology with solar or wind power.”

The hydrogen generated can be stored for long periods and be converted to electricity when needed. The ability to generate energy on-site and on-demand would reduce up-front infrastructure costs...

By kick-starting a local hydrogen electric car industry, we enable Australia a leading position in the world's future transportation. The potential is order of magnitude better than "status quo".

I hope our government can have a vision!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Is Defeating Aging Only a Dream?

Last year, Technology Review announced a $20,000 prize for any molecular biologist who could demonstrate that biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey's "Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence1" (SENS) [snip] was "so wrong that it was unworthy of learned debate." The purpose of the challenge was to determine whether de Grey's proposals were science or fantasy.

The title of this post links to the result of that challenge: No one has won $20,000 Challenge to disprove Aubrey de Grey's anti-aging proposals but at the same time the judges concluded that de Grey had not convincingly defended SENS and that many of his ideas seemed somewhat fanciful. Please read the article linked to the title.

Whether this generation can reach a technological stage that our lives can be extended indefinitely is a question which the jury is still out. However the implication is that we are also a generation which has the moral obligation to maintain the environment so that it will not be worse than when we started.

1 SENS is a practical, foreseeable approach to curing aging. See also this video of talk by Aubrey de Grey

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Bucket Basics

from Treehugger

What a simple and elegant solution!

Direct FuelCells

via Treehugger

from their FAQ:

Direct FuelCells® are a high-temperature, high-efficiency type of fuel cell designed for stationary applications. These cells use natural gas directly without the need of converting the natural gas into hydrogen using other process first. Hence they claim that their fuel cell is highly efficient with an operating power offerings of 300 kW, 1.5 MW, or 3.0 MW. One of the most interesting application of these fuel cells is to use them in a distributed power generation:
Our electric utility infrastructure in this country is based on a system of large power plants feeding power to customers through a vast transmission and distribution system, collectively known as “the grid”. Distributed generation is a concept where smaller, highly efficient power plants would be built along the existing grid, close to the end-user customer. It is similar in concept to the move from large central computers to desktop computers on a network.

There are significant distribution loss by the grid. By locating the power generator closer to the consumers, the distribution loss can be reduced - hence saving the fueld and the environment. (Of the natural gas need to be available at the point of generation for this to work. I don't have data to compare the distribution cost of electricity and distribution cost of natural gas. :-) Can any one enlighten me?)

Monday, November 13, 2006

Where do you stand on God?

This is a question which usually deals with the beginning of human conscienceness: the debate between "evolution" and "creationism". This is an odd question to ask in a blog about sustaining our future.

This is also an IMPORTANT question about the path.

God(s) and Science are at odds. If we believe in Science, we constantly demand rational logic, demand evidence and constantly re-examining the current linguistic description of world. If the current description of the world is inconsistent with observed events, we question our world view, examine new evidence and adjust our world view in order to enable our world view to predict more events.

This is an IMPORTANT question about the end too.

When we look at the future, when we try to create a sustainable future, we need to examine our motive. Why we want to look beyond today and into a future? A future that we may not be there to see and live.

In a nearby camp, there are people who believe that "Singularity is near" and human may extend our lives indefinitely if we so wish. That's a good motivation to keep a sustainable future!

On the other side, there are people who believe that some day (some say soon, other may disagree) the world will suddenly end. There comes the judgement day. For these people, they don't have a future. They don't see a future and sustainable future is uninteresting to them.

The Church of the Non-Believers points out the irrational double standard that part of our society is adopting. I believe this will seriously negatively impact on our future. To have a sustaining future, we need to be rational and have a strong believe in our capability.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Electric Vechicle

Link to the movie Who killed the electic car?.

Response from GM: Who Ignored the Facts About the Electric Car?

Website about Electric Vechicle and my own post on the future of car


by Daniel C. Dennett

About two weeks ago, Daniel was rushed by ambulance to a hospital. His heart was stopped entirely and his body and brain were chilled down to about 45 degrees to prevent brain damage from lack of oxygen until the medical staff could get the heart-lung machine pumping.

Friends were anxious to learn if I had had a near-death experience, and if so, what effect it had had on my longstanding public atheism. Had I had an epiphany? Was I going to follow in the footsteps of Ayer (who recovered his aplomb and insisted a few days later "what I should have said is that my experiences have weakened, not my belief that there is no life after death, but my inflexible attitude towards that belief"), or was my atheism still intact and unchanged?

DANIEL C. DENNETT is University Professor, Professor of Philosophy, and Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. His most recent book is Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.

Here are some notable quotes from this wonderful, must read essay.

Yes, I did have an epiphany. I saw with greater clarity than ever before in my life that when I say "Thank goodness!" this is not merely a euphemism for "Thank God!" (We atheists don't believe that there is any God to thank.) I really do mean thank goodness! There is a lot of goodness in this world, and more goodness every day, and this fantastic human-made fabric of excellence is genuinely responsible for the fact that I am alive today. It is a worthy recipient of the gratitude I feel today, and I want to celebrate that fact here and now.

Daniel acknowledged that his own a debt of gratitude: the cardiologist, the surgeons, neurologists, anesthesiologists, and the perfusionist, the dozen or so physician assistants, and to nurses and physical therapists and x-ray technicians and a small army of phlebotomists.

More importantly for those who prayed for him, he has gladly forgiven them. "I am not joking when I say that I have had to forgive my friends who said that they were praying for me. I have resisted the temptation to respond "Thanks, I appreciate it, but did you also sacrifice a goat?" I feel about this the same way I would feel if one of them said "I just paid a voodoo doctor to cast a spell for your health." What a gullible waste of money that could have been spent on more important projects! Don't expect me to be grateful, or even indifferent. I do appreciate the affection and generosity of spirit that motivated you, but wish you had found a more reasonable way of expressing it. "

The best thing about saying thank goodness in place of thank God is that there really are lots of ways of repaying your debt to goodness—by setting out to create more of it, for the benefit of those to come.


Or you can thank God—but the very idea of repaying God is ludicrous. What could an omniscient, omnipotent Being (the Man Who has Everything?) do with any paltry repayments from you? (And besides, according to the Christian tradition God has already redeemed the debt for all time, by sacrificing his own son. Try to repay that loan!) Yes, I know, those themes are not to be understood literally; they are symbolic. I grant it, but then the idea that by thanking God you are actually doing some good has got to be understood to be just symbolic, too. I prefer real good to symbolic good.

cross posted to Random Walk in Learning

Friday, November 03, 2006

An ecological farm within a city block

What a great Australian Invention. See video from ABC (Australia Broadcasting Corporation) and their website.

This is setup as a "turn-key, IT supported retail franchise, suitable for use where conventional agriculture is not viable - including urban areas, and remote or environmentally sensitive locations."

The technology is a stand alone, minimal discharge aquaponic system in which fish and plants are combined using our patented modular bio-converter which means all inputs into the system are utilised in the production of fish or plants, overcoming the poor environmental performance of previous aquaponic systems and other forms of intensive food production.
The components are vertically stacked so the system has a production capacity up to 12 times that of existing systems of the same footprint.. This makes it feasible to locate the unit in urban areas where land is expensive, allowing the grower to market directly to consumers.
The food business can therefore cut out the expensive transport costs, pocket the wholesaler’s margin and reduce the environmental effects of embedded food miles.

If the system can also breed small farm animals (e.g. chicken), I believe this has potential for setting up small community-based co-operatives so that everyone in a local community can benefit.