This will become the world’s largest solar power plant — Morocco presses the ON button

Click to enlargeFadel Senna/Getty Images

Morocco has turned on its massive solar power plant in the town of Ourrzazate, on the edge of the Saharan desert. The plant already spans thousands of acres and is capable of generating up to 160 megawatts of power. It’s already one of the biggest solar power grids in the world, capable of being seen from space. And it’s only going to get bigger

Right now, the solar farm is made up of 500,000 curved mirrors, each standing at about 40 feet tall. These mirrors concentrate the sun’s light onto a pipeline filled with fluid, heating it up to 739 degrees Fahrenheit. This fluid is used to heat up a nearby source of water, which turns to steam and spins turbines to create energy. Morocco gets about 3,000 hours of sunlight per year, so there will be plenty of solar energy to harness. But the plant can also keep generating power at night. “The heat from the fluid can be stored in a tank of molten salts…”…

Currently, Noor I can provide solar power to 650,000 locals from dawn until three hours past sunset, according to The Guardian. The finished plant will provide power for 20 hours a day. It’s all part of Morocco’s plan to get up to 42 percent of its power from renewable energies at home, such as solar, wind, and hydropower. Right now, the country is dependent on imports for 97 percent of its energy consumption. The new plant could lessen that dependence while saving Morocco millions of tons in carbon emissions.

Helps the Earth. Helps the economy of a North African nation. Bound to piss off patent leather politicians in Western industrialized nations who are in the pocket of fossil fuel barons. And sheikhs.

Thanks, Honeyman

Chinese have been brewing beer for 5000 years

Funnels used at the ancient breweryJiajing Wang/PNAS

A 5,000-year-old brewery has been unearthed in China.

Archaeologists uncovered ancient “beer-making tool kits” in underground rooms built between 3400 and 2900 B.C. Discovered at a dig site in the Central Plain of China, the kits included funnels, pots and specialized jugs. The shapes of the objects suggest they could be used for brewing, filtration and storage.

It’s the oldest beer-making facility ever discovered in China — and the evidence indicates that these early brewers were already using specialized tools and advanced beer-making techniques.

For instance, the scientists found a pottery stove, which the ancient brewers would have heated to break down carbohydrates to sugar. And the brewery’s underground location was important for both storing beer and controlling temperature — too much heat can destroy the enzymes responsible for that carb-to-sugar conversion…

The research group inspected the pots and jugs and found ancient grains that had lingered inside. The grains showed evidence that they had been damaged by malting and mashing, two key steps in beer-making. Residue from inside the uncovered pots and funnels was tested with ion chromatography to find out what the ancient beer was made of. The 5,000-year-old beer “recipe” was published on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The recipe included a mix of fermented grains: broomcorn millet, barley and Job’s tears, a chewy Asian grain also known as Chinese pearl barley. The recipe also called for tubers, the starchy and sugary parts of plants, which were added to sweeten and flavor the beer…

Gotta love it. I think any culture that bumps into natural fermentation – and the products thereof – would have carried on to research and expand uses of the process.

Of course, I’m a devotee. I started my weekly “poolish” a couple hours ago – that will end up in a home-baked loaf of bread Wednesday morning. And my wife brews hard cider every couple of weeks. For a couple of geek hermits, we keep occupied in pretty traditional ways.

DOE wants to dig 3-mile-deep holes to bury our nation’s nuclear waste

The federal government plans to spend $80 million assessing whether its hottest nuclear waste can be stored in 3-mile-deep holes, a project that could provide an alternative strategy to a Nevada repository plan that was halted in 2010.

The five-year borehole project was tentatively slated to start later this year on state-owned land in rural North Dakota, but it has already been met with opposition from state and local leaders who want more time to review whether the plan poses any public danger.

The Department of Energy wants to conduct its work just south of the Canadian border on 20 acres near Rugby, North Dakota — in part because it’s in a rural area not prone to earthquakes — but is prepared to look elsewhere if a deal can’t be reached…

Project leaders say the research will require months of drilling deep into the earth but will not involve any nuclear waste. Instead, dummy canisters without radioactive material would be used in the project’s third and final phase…

The research team will look at deep rock to check its water permeability, stability, geothermal characteristics and seismic activity — a central concern with burying the hot radioactive waste deep underground…

Rugby site has very little seismic activity, he said…

Currently, high-level radioactive waste — both from government sources and utilities’ nuclear power plants — is without a final burial site. The waste at power plants is stored on site in pools of water or in heavily fortified casks, while the government’s waste remains at its research labs.

So, you understand what a thorough job our government has done all these decades of producing highly-radioactive waste. With no final storage site. Cripes! I was working on some of this crap in 1958.

The tank cars of Madison County

stored tank cars
Click to enlargeWalter Hinick/Montana Standard

Alongside a quiet dirt road south of Silver Star in Madison County, the wind now howls around five miles of rail cars that came to rest on a disused rail line more than a week ago.

Migratory ducks and geese land in the All Nations ditch — a 2-mile waterway that snakes alongside the Jefferson River, heading north toward Whitehall — in the spring. Although no one knows for sure yet how long the rail cars will continue to be parked on the track, come springtime, ducks and geese could find empty tank cars throwing a shadow over their watering hole.

About 12 households along Bayers Lane are close to the nearly 500 tanker cars sitting on a line that hasn’t been used since 2001, resident Jeanne Elpel estimated. She’s concerned more cars are coming, and no one knows how long they are all going to be there.

Elpel owns five acres on Bayers Lane, nestled in a valley between the Highland and Tobacco Root mountains, about 10 miles north of Twin Bridges. Her patio overlooks All Nations ditch. In the distance, from her patio, the snow-capped Highlands are within sight.

And now, on the other side of the ditch is a long line of unloaded tank cars.

Montana Rail Link, a Dennis Washington-owned company, owns the rail line, but not the cars. The railroad company, based in Missoula, declined to say who owns the cars other than saying they belong to “regional rail shippers…”

The Federal Railroad Administration in Washington D.C. confirmed that 491 tank cars are sitting in storage on MRL’s track in Madison County. Marc Willis, deputy director of public affairs for the FRA, said the tank cars might contain residual amounts of oil, but the cars are considered empty

Folks understand the rail line is owned by Rail Link. They have a right to do what they want with their property. Concern over environmental damage stemming from the parked tank cars is legitimate however. Anyone who’s ever worked around flammable materials knows an “empty” container often represents more danger from explosion and fire than a full one.

Feds OK $73 million settlement in New Mexico radiation leak

Visitors to Carlsbad, NM, in appropriate attire

In a landmark settlement, the Department of Energy has agreed to fund infrastructure projects in New Mexico worth $73.25 million to resolve fines connected with last year’s radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

The New Mexico Environment Department levied the largest-ever fines against the federal government in December – $54 million – over permit violations at the WIPP nuclear waste repository and Los Alamos National Laboratory after a drum of Los Alamos waste ruptured in February 2014 at WIPP, near Carlsbad. That released radiation into the environment and contaminated nearly two dozen workers.

The higher-dollar settlement resolves all violations linked to the radiation accident – both the initial fines levied last year and the threat of additional fines to come, said state Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn.

It’s the largest settlement ever reached between the state and DOE, he said…

The settlement will fund road, water and emergency management projects around the state, but most of the resources will be focused on the Los Alamos and Carlsbad areas…

Flynn also underscored that the settlement money “is not contingent on a future appropriation.”

“It’s not being diverted from cleanup budgets or the operational budgets of WIPP or Los Alamos,” he said. “It’s going to supplement the money we currently receive.”…

DOE’s own investigations into the radiation leak found dozens of deficiencies in safety, emergency response, training and communications at WIPP, the nation’s only deep underground repository for certain types of Cold War-era nuclear waste.

WIPP has been closed to shipments, leaving waste piled up at sites around the country, including Los Alamos.

Your tax dollars at work.

U.S. protocol for tracking hazardous chemicals is flawed

Fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas

A 27-year-old U.S. program intended to warn the public of the presence of hazardous chemicals is flawed in many states due to scant oversight and lax reporting by plant owners, a Reuters examination finds.

Under the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, private and public facilities must issue an inventory listing potentially hazardous chemicals stored on their properties. The inventory, known as a Tier II report, is filed with state, county and local emergency-management officials. The information is then supposed to be made publicly available, to help first responders and nearby residents plan for emergencies.

But facilities across the country often misidentify these chemicals or their location, and sometimes fail to report the existence of the substances altogether.

And except for a handful of states, neither federal nor local authorities are auditing the reports for errors.

Reuters identified dozens of errors in Tier II reports in recent years and found several facilities that failed to report altogether.

Two states – Illinois and Wisconsin – introduced errors into the public databases through which they disclose information from Tier II reports. The reports document the presence of hazardous chemicals, such as ammonium nitrate, lead, sulfuric acid and diesel fuel…

In June, homes and businesses in Seward, Illinois, were evacuated for a day after a fire and explosion at Nova-Kem LLC injured one employee and released a plume of smoke containing caustic and toxic chemicals, including chlorine gas. The company, which makes compounds used in high-tech applications, did not report storing hazardous chemicals, according to Dennis Lolli, coordinator of the Winnebago County Emergency Services and Disaster Agency.

No firefighters were injured. But for emergency teams, knowing what chemicals they are facing is critical, Lolli said. “I don’t know why they didn’t” file the reports, he said. “It certainly takes away an advantage.”

Representatives of Nova-Kem didn’t respond to requests for comment.

There are hundreds of thousands of sites nationwide required to report hazardous chemical inventories under the Tier II system. Some 500,000 chemicals are subject to the requirement…

…Errors and omissions can go unnoticed for years because the federal regulator that oversees the Tier II system—the EPA—and most state agencies make no effort to verify the data.

RTFA for lots of anecdotal case histories, event after event of wrong information, no information, endangering first responders and the communities concerned.

Toyota recycles old hybrid batteries into energy-storage systems

Cripes. The sexy lines of the Prius Gen 1.

How’s this for a “willing buyer”? Toyota is going to recycle nickel-metal hydride batteries from old hybrids into energy management systems and will then sell those systems to Toyota dealerships in Japan.

Starting in April, the company’s Toyota Turbine and Systems will sell an Electricity Management system to dealers as part of its effort to get those dealers to cut energy consumption costs. Toyota is also getting its distributors to move towards solar power, LED lighting and other tree-hugging energy policies.

The recycled-battery systems can story up to 10 kilowatt hours (kWh) of power…The systems can be used for backup power and can cut costs by, for instance, being deployed as a primary energy source during peak usage and pricing hours of energy consumption.

By the way, those systems weigh about 2,100 pounds each (not all that much lighter than the early Prius models, actually), and are small enough that about six of them can fit into a typical parking space.

I love easy-as-pie solutions for repurposing items like used batteries from hybrids. We still bump into ivory tower undergraduate analysis from folks who believe solutions to recycling problems stop with production of the original product. No one is ever going to support a new remedy – it’s all wasted investment.


New Jersey railway warned about superstorm Sandy – parked their trains in a known flood zone – WTF?

New Jersey Transit’s struggle to recover from Superstorm Sandy is being compounded by a pre-storm decision to park much of its equipment in two rail yards that forecasters predicted would flood, a move that resulted in damage to one-third of its locomotives and a quarter of its passenger cars.

That damage is likely to cost tens of millions of dollars and take many months to repair, a Reuters examination has found.

The Garden State’s commuter railway parked critical equipment – including much of its newest and most expensive stock – at its low-lying main rail yard in Kearny just before the hurricane. It did so even though forecasters had released maps showing the wetland-surrounded area likely would be under water when Sandy’s expected record storm surge hit. Other equipment was parked at its Hoboken terminal and rail yard, where flooding also was predicted and which has flooded before.

Among the damaged equipment: nine dual-powered locomotive engines and 84 multi-level rail cars purchased over the past six years at a cost of about $385 million.

“If there’s a predicted 13-foot or 10-foot storm surge, you don’t leave your equipment in a low-lying area,” said David Schanoes, a railroad consultant and former deputy chief of field operations for Metro North Railroad, a sister railway serving New York State. “It’s just basic railroading. You don’t leave your equipment where it can be damaged.”

RTFA. It’s long, detailed, some of it would be funny except that it all ends up with taxpayers funding the grants and loans that will be need to restore this commuter railway to capacity.

Like any public/political entity,there will be hearings and investigations, fingerpointing and rationales. Maybe someone will thrown under the bus. Maybe not. But, it’s going to take a great of money and time to get back to business – and I’d suggest damned few of current management should be allowed to screw around with either the repairs or the functioning railway.

Hitachi develops incorruptible quartz glass-based data storage

Back when compact discs were first coming out, they were touted as being able to store data “forever.” As it turns out, given no more than a decade or so, they can and do degrade.,,Hitachi has unveiled a system that really may allow data to last forever – or at least, for several hundred million years. It involves forming microscopic dots within a piece of quartz glass, those dots serving as binary code.

The idea is that eons after the dots are applied to the glass, a person (or whatever’s around then) should be able to easily read them using nothing more than an optical microscope – no medium-specific device, such as a CD player, will be necessary. Hopefully, the concept of binary code will still be understood.

The current prototype measures two centimeters (0.8 inches) square by two millimeters thick, and incorporates four layers of dots. It currently has a memory capacity of 40 megabytes per square inch, which is roughly equivalent to that of a music CD. The researchers believe, however, that adding more layers to boost its capacity should be doable.

The glass square has withstood exposure to high-temperature flames along with various harsh chemicals, and survived being heated to 1,000º C for two hours. Not surprisingly, it is also unaffected by radio waves or immersion in water. Of course, glass is breakable, although quartz is known for being particularly hard…

Human beings aren’t especially good at long-term conceptualizing. Wall Street types think it’s a big deal to understand the value of information beyond 3 months. Most politicians think in terms of a year or two. The spookier types who prattle about Methuselah and Noah walk around with all their knowledge stuck into a paper volume assembled by a committee only 7 centuries ago – and first editions are stuck in museums.

Having original and basic knowledge recorded and accessible for millenia makes all the sense in the world. Aiding future historians with insight into the dimness of our earlier visions, records.