Category: Energy

France uses new law allowing it to ban half the cars in Paris

Paris smog
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Tomorrow will be an odd day in Paris. The government has triggered a pollution control law which allows it to ban half the private cars in the greater Paris area.

Cars with registrations ending in odd numbers will be allowed to drive today. If the air pollution alert continues, it will be the turn of the even-numbered cars on Tuesday.

Over 1,000 police officers will be mobilised to hand €22 on-the-spot fines to offenders. The law, first triggered last year, allows the government to limit traffic if micro-particles in the atmosphere rise above 50 microgrammes a cubic metre.

The use of the law has provoked a spat in recent days between two of France’s best-known female Socialist politicians.

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, asked for the restrictions to be imposed last Friday. The environment ministers, Ségolène Royal, complained that a ban on even-numbered cars without advance warning would be a “punitive” attack on suburban commuters.

The two women have a long-standing quarrel, believed to be private in origin. President François Hollande intervened. He ruled in favour of Ms Hidalgo and against his former romantic partner, Ms Royal.

You won’t see much about this in the mainstream media in the US, of course. In the eyes of the American Establishment the only only air pollution in the world that’s dangerous is in Beijing.

In truth, there are long-standing reasons for much of the air pollution in the world – including geography and topography. Which everyone living in Albuquerque or Denver well knows. Correcting the political economy at the root of most air pollution takes time measured in decades, no magic bullets. Beijing’s problem is almost identical to the cause of London’s famous smog – not the fog – and will take longer to clear than current solutions aimed at transport and electric power generation.

Half of Beijing’s smog comes from coal-fired home fires used for heating and cooking. That will take a network of natural gas pipelines to resolve. Right down to the last mile, the last block, house-by-house.

And in related news? In Los Angeles, exposure to both nitrogen dioxide and small particulates has dropped dramatically since the late 1990s.

Children living in five notoriously smoggy parts of greater Los Angeles showed improved lung growth of about 10% between the ages of 11 and 15, compared with children at the same age 20 years ago.

It’s a never-ending fight, folks. Albuquerque’s determination that MTBE added to winter gasoline also increased deadly smog led to the removal of what was a common additive. And more whining.

Obama tightens regulations on fracking chemicals disclosure – sort of

The Obama administration said Friday it is requiring companies that drill for oil and natural gas on federal lands to disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations.

A rule to take effect in June also updates requirements for well construction and disposal of water and other fluids used in fracking, a drilling method that has prompted an ongoing boom in natural gas production.

The rule has been under consideration for more than three years, drawing criticism from the oil and gas industry and environmental groups. The industry fears the regulation could hinder the drilling boom, while some environmental groups worry that it could allow unsafe drilling techniques to pollute groundwater.

What crap writing/editing. It’s the absence of regulations that allows unsafe drilling techniques to pollute groundwater.

The final rule hews closely to a draft that has lingered since the Obama administration proposed it in May 2013. The rule relies on an online database used by at least 16 states to track the chemicals used in fracking operations. The website, FracFocus.org, was formed by industry and intergovernmental groups in 2011 and allows users to gather well-specific data on tens of thousands of drilling sites across the country.

Companies will have to disclose the chemicals they use within 30 days of the fracking operation.

While the new rule only applies to federal land – which makes up just one-tenth of natural gas drilling in the United States – the Obama administration is hoping the rule will serve as a model and set a new standard for hydraulic fracturing that states and other regulators will follow.

Brian Deese, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said…“Ultimately, this is an issue that is going to be decided in state capitals and localities as well as with the industry,” he said…

Thomas Pyle, president of the pro-industry Institute for Energy Research, said blah, blah, blah.

The League of Conservation Voters called the bill an important step forward to regulate fracking.

Even so, the group was disappointed with the continued reliance on FracFocus, which a spokeswoman described as an industry-run website.

Participation in FracFocus is voluntarily. So, the creeps using deleterious chemicals simply don’t participate.

FracFocus, right now, displays info on fewer than 95,000 oil and gas wells. The industry admits to approximately 441,000 fracked gas wells alone.

After three years of introspection, investigation and time-wasting the White House proposes tightening of regulations based on info from a single voluntary website. No requirements for compliance. And the regulations only apply to federal lands.

Window dressing.

The rest is left in the hands of state legislatures who will use their God-given states rights – and motivational handouts from oil and gas lobbyists – to do absolutely nothing.

France mandates new commercial buildings have green roofs, solar panels


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Rooftops on new buildings built in commercial zones in France must either be partially covered in plants or solar panels, according to a law just approved…

Green roofs help reduce the amount of energy needed to heat a building in winter and cool it in summer. They also retain rainwater, thus helping reduce problems with runoff, while favoring biodiversity and giving birds a place to nest in the urban jungle…

The law was also made less onerous for businesses by requiring only part of the roof to be covered with plants, and giving them the choice of installing solar panels to generate electricity instead.

Green roofs are popular in Germany and Australia, and Canada’s city of Toronto adopted a by-law in 2009 mandating them in industrial and residential buildings.

I’m not confident our current Congress would mandate a roof that was up to standard building codes.

As it is, they can’t wait for a chance to eliminate tax breaks for installing energy-saving or carbon-reducing systems like solar panels.

One step closer to artificial photosynthesis

Caltech scientists, inspired by a chemical process found in leaves, have developed an electrically conductive film that could help pave the way for devices capable of harnessing sunlight to split water into hydrogen fuel.

When applied to semiconducting materials such as silicon, the nickel oxide film prevents rust buildup and facilitates an important chemical process in the solar-driven production of fuels such as methane or hydrogen…

The development could help lead to safe, efficient artificial photosynthetic systems — also called solar-fuel generators or “artificial leaves” — that replicate the natural process of photosynthesis that plants use to convert sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into oxygen and fuel in the form of carbohydrates, or sugars…

The team has shown that its nickel oxide film is compatible with many different kinds of semiconductor materials, including silicon, indium phosphide, and cadmium telluride. When applied to photoanodes, the nickel oxide film far exceeded the performance of other similar films—including one that Lewis’s group created just last year. That film was more complicated…

Lewis cautions that scientists are still a long way off from developing a commercial product that can convert sunlight into fuel. Other components of the system, such as the photocathode, will also need to be perfected.

Still, it’s a helluva big step. There is no more economical power source than the sun available to this planet and populations – once we figure out how to transform it more and more affordably into electricity.

Prototype “pee power” toilet gets test in University

A prototype toilet has been launched on a UK university campus to prove that urine can generate electricity, and show its potential for helping to light cubicles in international refugee camps.

Students and staff at the Bristol-based University of the West of England are being asked to use the working urinal to feed microbial fuel cell (MFC) stacks that generate electricity to power indoor lighting.

The project is the result of a partnership between researchers at the university and Oxfam, who hope the technology can be developed by aid agencies on a larger scale to bring light to refugee camp toilets in disaster zones…

The technology uses microbes which feed on urine for their own growth and maintenance…The urinal – conveniently located near the Student Union bar – resembles toilets used in refugee camps to make the trial as realistic as possible. The equipment that converts the urine into power sits underneath the urinal and can be viewed through a clear screen…

An estimated 6.4 trillion litres of urine is produced by humans across the globe every year, so researchers believe it has great potential as a cheap and readily available source of energy. Ieropoulos said the unit installed at the university would cost around £600 to set up.

There is a seemingly endless number of sources of so-called waste our culture of capitalist profit, first and foremost – ignores.

First ever photograph of light as particle and a wave

Light as particle and wave
Click to enlargeEnergy-space photography of light confined on a nanowire

Light behaves both as a particle and as a wave. Since the days of Einstein, scientists have been trying to directly observe both of these aspects of light at the same time. Now, scientists at EPFL have succeeded in capturing the first-ever snapshot of this dual behavior.

Quantum mechanics tells us that light can behave simultaneously as a particle or a wave. However, there has never been an experiment able to capture both natures of light at the same time; the closest we have come is seeing either wave or particle, but always at different times. Taking a radically different experimental approach, EPFL scientists have now been able to take the first ever snapshot of light behaving both as a wave and as a particle. The breakthrough work is published in Nature Communications.

When UV light hits a metal surface, it causes an emission of electrons. Albert Einstein explained this “photoelectric” effect by proposing that light — thought to only be a wave — is also a stream of particles. Even though a variety of experiments have successfully observed both the particle- and wave-like behaviors of light, they have never been able to observe both at the same time.

RTFA for details of the experiment. Even if I understand quantum-nothing – though SmartAlix explains it to me at least once every year – I really love the photograph. :)

Electricity markets are rigged — consumers robbed!

For decades Wall Street financial engineers, teaming up with electric power producers, have gamed wholesale electricity auctions to earn bigger profits than either a regulated utility or a competitive market would yield. This month they made a major advance in their campaign to get rich by subtly draining your wallet. Yet every major news organization ignored this.

This latest development took place in New England, which already has America’s most expensive electricity. February’s electricity auction saw the annual cost to customers rise to $4 billion, up from about $3 billion in last year’s auction and less than $2 billion in the 2013 auction. That $4 billion figure would have been much higher but for a rule capping prices.

By the way, that $4 billion is not for the electricity, which costs extra. The $4 billion price tag is for capacity payments made to owners just for promising to run their power plants in 2018 and ’19.

If that sounds bizarre, it’s because it is. It is comparable to government taxing us to pay auto dealers to keep enough cars and trucks on their lots to satisfy expected future demand.

Half the states also have auctions that set the price of electricity for periods ranging from a year down to a few minutes. The other half still rely on traditional rate regulation, which has its own problems.

If there is abundant capacity to produce power at peak periods, such as hot summer afternoons, then prices will not rise much, if at all. But if there is barely enough power to meet demand, then prices rise significantly. And if capacity is just 1 percent less than demand, the wholesale price soars.

In these auctions every producer gets the top price even if most bid far less. These are known as clearing price auctions, in which the highest bidder sets the price for all suppliers…

Robert McCullough, an Oregon utility economist known for busting industry myths, says gaming of electricity markets is easy and lucrative, as long as regulators look the other way.

“With perfect competition, you always bid your marginal cost — as the economist Alfred Marshall was pointing more than a hundred years ago,” McCullough said. “However, when your market share is sufficiently high that you have the potential to set the market price, it is in your interest to raise your price above marginal cost, even though you will lose some of your market share” because one or more of your fleet of power plants will produce no electricity and thus not collect any money.

“This gets even better when you can buy someone else’s plant and shut it down,” McCullough added, because the reduced capacity means higher prices. Combined with the savings from not operating the shuttered plant, the result is much bigger profits.

Yes, these are the same schmucks who bankroll Republican agitprop about how free market capitalism guarantees our freedom. They leave out the part about buying politicians, buying off regulators with better-paying jobs as a reward when they’re through pimping the biz.

Then you get to double dippers like North Carolina’s governor Pat McCrory. He had a whole career working for Duke Energy. Left to become the gpvernor and, no doubt, will return to being officially on the payroll, once again, after he’s through directing that state’s legislative mediocrity into further kissing corporate butt.

Biobattery plant turns a wide range of biomass into energy, consumables

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Energy and Safety Technology have developed a “biobattery” in the form of a highly efficient biogas plant that can turn raw materials like straw, scrap wood and sludge into a variety of useful energy sources including electricity, purified gas and engine oil. The new plant design, currently being put to the test in a prototype plant in Germany, is said to be highly modular and economically viable even at the small scale.

The production of biogas  –  gas created by the breakdown of organic matter, by fermentation or through the action of anaerobic bacteria  –  is an interesting complement to other sources of renewable energy since it can not only generate electricity at little cost to the environment, but also create biofuel, fertilizer and engine oil. One issue, however, is that these plants only accept few organic substances as raw materials.

A new biogas plant developed at the Fraunhofer Institute could solve this problem by taking a number of materials that would normally have to be disposed of at great cost – like industrial biomass waste, sewage sludge, straw, scrap wood or manure – and process them with high efficiency into a more useful output, all through a highly modular, flexible design…

The end products can be used in various ways: the oil can be turned into fuel for ships or airplanes; the gases are used to produce electricity in a combined heat and power plant; and the biochar can be used as fertilizer.

Besides the flexibility that comes from accepting multiple raw materials and producing multiple outputs, another crucial advantage to the biobattery is that, according to the scientists’ financial analysis, even a small-scale plant requiring a small investment would be financially profitable. Because of the built-in modularity, the plant could then be gradually upgraded to process more materials with higher efficiency.

In their own way, the Fraunhoher Institute is as interesting a source for advancing life on this wee planet as the Max Planck Institute. Though not as dedicated to basic research as the latter, Fraunhofer turns out more practical science and engineering than most of their peers in the Western world.

This is one more example. RTFA for another few paragraphs of detail. Living as we do on a planet dominated by a species whose progress in economics and commerce is generally accompanied by an inordinate amount of waste – and wastefulness – Fraunhofer’s efforts are more than welcome.