Which methods of heating are most efficient?

Carsten Beier from the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology UMSICHT in Oberhausen, Germany does not believe that “anyone would burn a 50-dollar bill just to keep warm. It’s obvious that it simply is too valuable for that.” But, in contrast to dollar bills, most energy carriers are all too frequently burned for less than they are worth.

Take wood, for example. Beier and his colleagues have analyzed the efficiency of heat supply systems and he explains that “wood is a high-quality fuel that can be compared to natural gas. With adequate technologies we could utilize it for power generation. As a fuel, there’s a lot more in wood that we are taking advantage of at the moment.”

Beyond this, the researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology have come up with a model for comparing various systems and technologies in heat supply ranging from heating boilers for single-family dwellings right down to district heating networks for whole cities. They apply exergy as a criterion of analysis which is a thermodynamic parameter defined by the quantity and quality of an energy.

In contrast to the CO2 balance sheet and primary energy consumption, the exergy analysis indicates whether we are sufficiently taking advantage of the potential lying dormant in the energies we use. Carsten Beier has come to the conclusion that “if we used fuels such as natural gas or wood for power generation and only use the waste heat for heating, we would be able to save large quantities of primary energy and avoid generating CO2 emissions…”

Researchers derived one basic recommendation from their comparison of systems and technologies. Beier demands “we should take advantage of all sources of heat whose temperature level corresponds to our heating requirements.” And we could take advantage of the fact that there are a whole series of applications where heat is needed at different temperature levels.

Beier explains how. “Any type of cascade is very efficient. For instance, if you use fuel for power generation first, then the waste heat for water heating and finally the remaining heat for space heating.” He confesses that there might be discussions on the economic efficiency of these scenarios, especially because the initial investments are rather high. “But, on the other hand, it is essential to restructure our energy system quickly and an exergy analysis is an excellent tool for identifying how power supply should be designed in future.”

Friends, family and I have been discussing this very topic since we discovered the sawmill we get our kindling from – a half-ton at a time – has been busy this autumn installing a milling plant for chipping wood scraps into the most efficient-sized fuel for biomass electricity plants. The potential for this as a small-scale process as well as the larger sort of provider our sawmill is working on sounds very much in line with Fraunhofer’s research.

As an aside, take a peek through this special issue of Fraunhofer Magazine [.pdf]. You’ll probably find a number of ideas worth considering.

Sachin Tendulkar’s 50th test century

Selecting the greatest batsman of all time is a debate restricted by the changing realities of history, but when Sachin Tendulkar nonchalantly dispatched Dale Steyn through the covers, he achieved a feat so monumental, few would dare to dream. 

In bringing up his 50th test century – in the modest manner that to this point defines his career – he carved his name forever into the history books.

By the time the grey clouds of a looming highlands thunderstorm suspended the fourth day’s play in the first test at Centurion, India were circling the abyss at 454/8 in their second innings, still 30 runs shy of South Africa’s mammoth first innings total.

If the weather holds tomorrow, the match will inevitably end in victory for the home side, however the lasting memories from Centurion will be that of Tendulkar reaching an unimaginable milestone.

Testament not just to his natural ability, but to a life time of dedication to a sport that he has illuminated for more than the past two decades.


We don’t get to watch much cricket here in the States – without subscribing to specialized satellite broadcasts. I leave that to my online friends as dedicated to the sport as I am to proper football.

But, what I get to watch always confirms what I read from dedicated and knowing fans. Tendulkar is the best there ever was.

Frank Emi, defiant WW2 internee, honorable and courageous

Frank Emi, 1916 – 2010

For nearly four years, through scorching summer heat, dust storms and frigid winters, 11,000 residents of the United States were forced to live in barracks, surrounded by barbed-wire fences, guard towers and searchlights at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in the northwest Wyoming desert.

They were among more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans, most from the West Coast, who were herded from their homes to inland detention centers after President Franklin D. Roosevelt, within three months of the attack on Pearl Harbor, issued Executive Order 9066, deeming them threats to national security.

“The military escorted us to the camp with their guns and bayonets, so there really wasn’t much thought about standing up for your rights at that time,” one internee, Frank Emi, later told the Japanese-American oral history project at California State University, Fullerton.

The phrase he heard among the detainees was “Shikata ga nai” — it can’t be helped.

That would change two years later, after the government had begun drafting detainees into the military. Ordered to fight for the country that had imprisoned them, many were defiant, Mr. Emi (pronounced EH-me) among them. At Heart Mountain they formed a committee to organize a protest, arguing that they would serve only after their rights had been fully restored. More than 300 detainees in all 10 detention camps joined their cause…

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About as close as I get to a Xmas song

Happened to hear this, this morning, on one of our local country[ish] radio stations. Hadn’t heard it in a spell.

Woody’s son, Arlo, still has one of Woody’s guitars that says “This machine kills fascists” – which is about the best thing about the kind of music I sang and played back in the day. Woody was an inspiration to us all.

So, if you have a friend who is a modern-day Christian American Republican, play this song for them and ask whether or not this kind of Christianity is too old-fashioned for them?

Ancient forest emerges mummified from the Arctic

The northernmost mummified forest ever found in Canada is revealing how plants struggled to endure a long-ago global cooling.

Researchers believe the trees — buried by a landslide and exquisitely preserved 2 to 8 million years ago — will help them predict how today’s Arctic will respond to global warming.

They also suspect that many more mummified forests could emerge across North America as Arctic ice continues to melt. As the wood is exposed and begins to rot, it could release significant amounts of methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — and actually boost global warming…

Over the summer of 2010, the researchers retrieved samples from broken tree trunks, branches, roots, and even leaves — all perfectly preserved — from Ellesmere Island National Park in Canada.

Mummified forests aren’t so uncommon, but what makes this one unique is that it’s so far north. When the climate began to cool 11 million years ago, these plants would have been the first to feel the effects,” Joel Barker said. “And because the trees’ organic material is preserved, we can get a high-resolution view of how quickly the climate changed and how the plants responded to that change…”

Bravo! It’s a treat to watch scientists reverse engineering the climate change processes we’re going through now.

The newly exposed wood rotting contributes only a tiny portion of greenhouse gases, say, compared to methane released from thawing permafrost. But, it’s all part of a process reversed in a geologic instant compared to the millions of years required for this previous serious cooling.

“Let’s Observe Ourselves” = LOO campaign in Singapore toilets

Squeaky-clean Singapore needs cleaner toilets and public awareness is one way to achieve this, a civic group said at the launch of the latest stage of its LOO campaign — Let’s Observe Ourselves.

The city-state has 30,000 public restrooms and is pushing to make 70 percent of them at least “three-star” clean by 2013.

But a survey by the Restroom Association (Singapore) (RAS) found that only some 500 of the island’s public toilets overall were up to its standards of working facilities, lack of litter and odor, and the provision of basic amenities such as hand soap and toilet paper.

“For us, toilet etiquette reflects Singaporeans’ culture. It tells people how civilized we are,” RAS President Tan Puay Hoon told reporters on Thursday, when the association unveiled its 70-page report on public restrooms as part of a campaign to improve island-wide toilet cleanliness.

We are a First World country and we want a gracious society to reflect that.”

Under the RAS Happy Toilet Programme, toilets are rated from three to five stars. A four-star toilet should have a diaper changing station or urinal for children and a five-star should have eco-friendly features such as water-saving taps…

The LOO Campaign began in 2008. The RAS has also conducted the Happy Toilet School Education program and is a founding member of the World Toilet Organization and the Keep Singapore Beautiful Movement.

I hope no one ever lets these kind folks know what public toilets in Western First World nations are really like.

Top CIA spy pulled from Pakistan after terror threats

The CIA has recalled its top spy in Pakistan out of concern for his safety after terrorist threats against him, a U.S. intelligence official said.

The station chief, the highest-ranking U.S. intelligence officer in Pakistan, operates covertly and his identity is considered classified. He had recently been named in a lawsuit filed by a Pakistani man seeking $500 million for the death of his son and brother, who the man alleges were killed in a U.S. drone strike. The spy’s name then appeared in Pakistani media stories about the lawsuit.

The threats “were of such a serious nature that it would be imprudent not to act,” the intelligence official said, describing the decision to pull him from the country…

“Our station chiefs routinely encounter major risk as they work to keep America safe, and they’ve been targeted by terrorists in the past,” CIA spokesman George Little said. “Their security is obviously a top priority for the CIA, especially when there’s an imminent threat.”

The station chief oversees all intelligence operations in Pakistan including managing the drone program, which the U.S. government does not publicly acknowedge, and coordinates with the country’s intelligence office.

Of course, every Pakistan official who has been queried about the leak denies any culpability, any way that bureaucrats under their control may have released the station chief’s name.