Archive for November 22nd, 2009

Transit Use Boom, but in Some Surprising Cities

Transit use boomed from 2006-2008, but not in traditionally transit-friendly areas. This shows hope for more transit use in traditionally car-oriented places in the US in the future.

An analysis of the most recent transit use data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that transit use grew by up to 47% in major metropolitan areas in the U.S. from 2006-2008, with several metro regions in the South and West growing by more than 10%.

The South and West, being more dominated by automobile-oriented development and auto use, have historically struggled to get significant transit ridership. However, the top ten cities with the highest recent increase in ridership include several metro areas in the South and West, including Charlotte, NC (47%), Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA (26.7%), Pheonix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ (23.6%), San Antonio, TX (15.1%) and others. This seems to shine a light of hope on increased transit use in the southern and western U.S. in the future.

First, however, why are we seeing a boom in these places?

Read more of this story »

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Catching Up

Catching Up
Back home now, just trying to catch up on the energy news of note. Four stories that I want to highlight. First was POET’s announcement on their progress on cellulosic ethanol:

Poet hits ‘long shot,’ cuts cellulosic ethanol costs

WASHINGTON – The head of the world’s largest ethanol producer, Sioux Falls-based Poet, said Wednesday that his company has drastically cut its cellulosic ethanol production costs.

It is a breakthrough that will allow cellulosic ethanol to compete with gasoline within two years.

Jeff Broin, Poet chief executive, told reporters during a roundtable discussion that the company has reduced its cellulosic ethanol production cost during the past year from $4.13 a gallon to $2.35 a gallon.

Andrew Leonard of Salon asked me for some comments, which he included in a story on the news:

Who cares about peak oil when you have corn cobs?

In addition to what made it into the story (and those comments were specifically about the kinds of risk factors POET faces), I said that I thought the guys at POET had done a nice job on this (that comment did make it into the follow-up story at Salon). One thing that isn’t clear to me is whether the production cost includes any capital recovery. If not, then they still have some distance to go to get that $2.35 into an economic range with ethanol presently trading at about $2.00 a gallon. Another question I would have is how their version of the process performs with other sources of biomass.

One other thing I said to Andrew (that didn’t make it into the story) is the really big challenge is in getting those ethanol titers up. Low titers mean lots of energy is spent in getting the water out. This is why I have always favored gasification technologies over hydrolysis technologies: You don’t have water to deal with, and thus the BTU efficiency is potentially going to be higher. (Probably your capital costs as well will be higher for gasification – depending on what you are producing from the syngas). If biomass costs rise in the future – as I expect them to – then there will be added incentive for maximizing BTU efficiency.

The second story was sent by a reader. In light of the amount of corn we produce, this could have significant ramifications:

Amaizing: Corn Genome Decoded

A team of scientists led by The Genome Center at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis published the completed corn genome in the Nov. 20 journal Science, an accomplishment that will speed efforts to develop better crop varieties to meet the world’s growing demands for food, livestock feed and fuel.

The United States is the world’s top corn grower, producing 44 percent of the global crop. In 2009, U.S. farmers are expected to produce nearly 13 billion bushels of corn, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The next story is about a trend that I think will continue. In my presentation in Orlando, one of the trends that I pointed out is that more refineries are being built closer to the source of the oil. Saudi produces crude, but would like to capture more of that value chain by refining it as well. There are a number of very large refinery projects underway – especially in Asia and the Middle East – and in a world with stagnant oil production that means some refineries are going to shut down. In the U.S., our refining capacity is more than three times greater than our oil production rates. I see a dismal outlook for refining in the U.S., with a lot of refiners going out of business in the U.S. Valero just announced another refinery closing:

Valero refinery in Delaware City to close permanently

DELAWARE CITY, Del. — Valero Energy said this morning it plans to permanently close its Delaware City Refinery, eliminating hundreds of high-paying jobs, because of weak economic conditions, high local costs and chronic troubles at the 210,000 barrel-per-day complex.

Company spokesman Bill Day said that a plantwide maintenance shutdown, announced late last month, was already under way, and will convert to a final closing. Plant employees will continue on the payroll for 60 days under federal rules for large-scale layoffs.

Day said the plant — which produces about 70 percent of the gasoline sold on the Delmarva Peninsula— has lost $1 million a day since the start of 2009.

About 550 full time workers will be put out of work by the decision. Valero (VLO) also has notified companies that work closely with the refinery, Day said, but effects on those operations were not immediately available.

People forget that refining is a very tough business. They remember when refiners make money – as they were doing a couple of years ago – but forget that most of the time they aren’t making money. Plus, when they do make money they are subjected to accusations of gouging and calls from politicians to tax their windfall.

Finally, readers know that I have consistently avoided wading into the debate over global warming. It takes enough of my time just trying to keep up with the latest energy news, and I decided long ago to sit out the debate on climate change. It is far too politicized and people get too emotional over the issue. However, I do think it is important that the debate takes place, and I don’t like to see people trying to shut it down. Attaching labels like “denier” to people who question the science is an attempt to shut down debate, and I don’t care how right you think you are – in my view the debate needs to go on.

A couple of days ago it was announced that some e-mails from a climate research outfit in England had been hacked:

Global Warming Research Exposed After Hack

I have to say that some of the e-mails I have seen posted are troubling. Whatever history ultimately shows, some of those e-mails appear to be agenda-driven and not science-driven. There is no place for that.

Let the debate carry on, and let science – not agendas – determine the outcome.

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Douglas Doherty Now Installing Renewable Energy Systems in Residences, Businesses and Vacation Homes
Douglas Doherty Electric, a local residential niche electrician, is now providing renewable energy solutions for the local Bay Area. Recognizing the existing increasing demand for “On Grid” power supply, Douglas Doherty is taking a stand towards creating and installing innovative technology here and now, as a standard for our future.
Visit the original post at: Renewable Energy News –

Introducing America’s First Green Pro Sports Team
The NightHawks–who claim to be the nation’s longest-running minor-league basketball franchise–have gone green, changing their name, attracting green-friendly sponsors like Honest Tea and Sweet Green and, and holding an introductory event at which the promise of a bamboo court, hemp nets and uniforms made from either recycled plastic or recycled bamboo were floated.
Visit the original post at: ENN: Lifestyle

US Vehicle Miles Traveled Up 2.5% in September

Based on preliminary reports from the State Highway Agencies, total vehicle miles traveled on all roads and streets in the US increased by 2.5% (5.8 billion vehicle miles) for September 2009 as compared with September 2008, according to the latest Traffic Volume Trends report from the US Federal Highway Administration.

US VMT moving 12-month total through Sep 09. Click to enlarge.

Total VMT for the month is estimated to be 240.7 billion vehicle miles. This total includes 83.9 billion vehicle-miles on rural roads and 156.8 billion vehicle-miles on urban roads

and streets.

Cumulative Travel for 2009 changed by +0.3% (6.7 billion vehicle miles). The cumulative estimate for the year is 2,208.5 billion vehicle miles of travel.

Traffic Volume Trends is a monthly report based on hourly traffic count data. These data, collected at approximately 4,000 continuous traffic counting locations nationwide, are used to determine the percent

change in traffic for the current month compared to the same month in the previous year. This percent change is applied to the travel for the same month of the previous year to obtain an estimate of travel for

the current month.

Visit the original post at: Transportation News

Researchers Develop Method to Enhance Capacitance of Carbon Nanotube Electrodes for Supercapacitors

Carbon nanotubes with controllably induced extrinsic defects could serve as supercapacitor electrodes with enhanced charge and energy storage capacity (inset: a magnified view of a single carbon nanotube). Source: UCSD. Click to enlarge.

University of California San Diego researchers have developed a method to enhance the capacitance of carbon nanotube (CNT) electrode-based electrochemical capacitors by controllably incorporating extrinsic defects into the CNTs. The result is an increase in the magnitude of both the pseudocapacitance and double-layer capacitance by as much as 50% and 200%, respectively, compared to untreated electrodes.

The work, published 5 November in the journal Applied Physics Letters, could result in improved charge storage capacity and energy density for electrochemical capacitors.

While batteries have large storage capacity, they take a long time to charge; while electrostatic capacitors can charge quickly but typically have limited capacity. However, supercapacitors/electrochemical capacitors incorporate the advantages of both.

—Dr. Prabhakar Bandaru

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are cylindrical structures, with diameters of 1 to 100 nanometers, that have been suggested to have outstanding structural, chemical, and electrical, characteristics based on their atomically perfect structures with a large surface area-to-volume ratio. However, defects are inevitable in such a practical structure, an aspect that was first investigated by UCSD engineering graduate student Jeff Nichols and then substantially extended by Hoefer in Bandaru’s lab.

We first realized that defective CNTs could be used for energy storage when we were investigating their use as electrodes for chemical sensors. During our initial tests we noticed that we were able to create charged defects that could be used to increase CNT charge storage capabilities

Specifically, defects on nanotubes create additional charge sites enhancing the stored charge. The researchers have also discovered methods which could increase or decrease the charge associated with the defects by bombarding the CNTs with argon or hydrogen.

It is important to control this process carefully as too many defects can deteriorate the electrical conductivity, which is the reason for the use of CNTs in the first place. Good conductivity helps in efficient charge transport and increases the power density of these devices. At the very outset, it is interesting that CNTs, which are nominally considered perfect, could be useful with so many incorporated defects.

—Dr. Bandaru

The researchers think that the energy density and power density obtained through their work could be practically higher than existing capacitor configurations which suffer from problems associated with poor reliability, cost, and poor electrical characteristics.

While more research still needs to be done to figure out potential applications from this discovery, the engineers suggest that this research could lead to wide variety of commercial applications, and hope that more scientists and engineers will be compelled to work in this area, Bandaru said.


  • M. Hoefer and P. R. Bandaru (2009) Determination and enhancement of the capacitance contributions in carbon nanotube based electrode systems. Appl. Phys. Lett. 95, 183108 doi: X10.1063/1.3258353

  • Sung Hoon Park, Paul Thielemann, Peter Asbeck, and Prabhakar R. Bandaru (2009) Enhanced dielectric constants and shielding effectiveness of, uniformly dispersed, functionalized carbon nanotube composites. Appl. Phys. Lett. 94, 243111

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ARB Report Finds Reflective Glazing to Meet Cool Cars Regulation Will Not Impact Certain Portable Devices

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) has published a report evaluating the potential electromagnetic interference on certain portable devices such as cell phones, global positioning systems (GPS) and ankle monitoring bracelets due to automotive reflective glazing as required under the “Cool Car” regulation . (Earlier post.)

The results indicate that there are no effects from reflective glazing, and thus the Cool Cars regulation, on monitoring ankle bracelets or cell phone usage in an urban environment. Effects on GPS navigation units were observed, but these were completely eliminated by placing the device or an external antenna within a “deletion window”—a relatively small section of the windshield manufactured without the reflective material.

Background. The Cool Cars regulation, which aims to reduce the need for air conditioning by reducing the heat gain of vehicles parked in the sun, was an early action item under AB 32 and adopted by the Air Resources Board (ARB) in June 2009. When fully implemented the regulation will require a 60% reduction in heat absorption through vehicle windows.

Cool Cars specifies that vehicle windows must meet certain standards for heat transmission. Based on these requirements, ARB expects reflective glazing to be installed on windshields in 2012 and on all windows in 2016, unless automobile manufacturers decide to use an alternate performance option for 2016 and beyond.

Reflective windows are known to attenuate electromagnetic waves, and in preparing the rule, ARB staff had researched what methods could be used to mitigate signal attenuation. Staff determined that a portion of the reflective material could be removed in order to facilitate operation of electronic devices.

However, concerns were still raised that devices such as global

positioning system (GPS) monitoring ankle bracelets, cell phones, and GPS navigation devices will not operate as intended in vehicles with reflective glazing. ARB initiated a test program to evaluate the potential effect on these devices.

Testing. ARB tested three types of devices: GPS monitoring and ankle bracelets using both GPS and cell phone signals; GPS navigation devices, evaluating time to first fix (TTFF) and navigation/tracking ability; and cell phones, using both CDMA and GSM networks.

ARB tested manufacturer-installed reflective windows in vehicles from Mercedes-Benz, BMW and GM. Overall, staff found that:

  • Reflective Glazing had no effect on monitoring ankle bracelets or cell phones.

  • GPS navigation devices are the most affected, with the largest effect observed in the TTFF with all around reflective glazing.

  • Effects on GPS navigation devices were completely mitigated by use of deletion window (about 4% of the window area in the test), when placing the device in the window or placing an external antenna in the window.

ARB said that automakers will be required to indicate both with words and graphically in the owner’s manual the location of the deletion windows.

Other devices such as transponders and garage door openers were not tested. ARB staff said it expected those devices to behave similarly to the GPS devices in that effectiveness will be enhanced by placement of the device in the deletion windows.


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Study Finds Elevated Ultrafine Particle Pollution Levels Near Regional Airports

Air pollution may pose an important but largely overlooked health concern for people living near smaller regional airports, according to a new study published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

In the new study, Suzanne Paulson and colleagues note that scientists have known for years that aircraft emissions from fuel burned during takeoffs and landings can have a serious impact on air quality near major airports. Aircraft exhaust includes pollutants linked to a variety of health problems.

However, researchers know little about the impact of such emissions at general aviation or regional airports—which are becoming a more important component of the global air transport system, and which tend to be located closer to residential neighborhoods than major airports, the article notes.

The scientists measured a range of air pollutants near a general aviation airport for private planes and corporate jets in Southern California (Santa Monica Airport) in the spring and summer of 2008. They found that emissions of ultrafine particles (UFP) were significantly elevated when compared to background pollution levels.

Levels of these pollutants were up to 10 times higher at a downwind distance from the airport equal to about one football field and as much as 2.5 times higher at distance equal to about six football fields.

Aircraft did not appreciably elevate average levels of black
carbon(BC) or particle-bound polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons(PBPAH), although spikes in concentration of these pollutants were observed associated with jet takeoffs.

The study suggests that “current land-use practices of reduced buffer areas around local airports may be insufficient.


  • Shishan Hu, Scott Fruin, Kathleen Kozawa, Steve Mara, Arthur M. Winer and Suzanne E. Paulson (2009)Aircraft Emission Impacts in a Neighborhood Adjacent to a General Aviation Airport in Southern California. Environ. Sci. Technol., 43 (21), pp 8039–8045 doi: 10.1021/es900975

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Innovation Reduces Truck Fuel Consumption by 7.5%
Innovation Reduces Truck Fuel Consumption by 7.5%

Sometimes slight modifications in existing machines do wonders for fuel saving. A simple attachment of a tapering protrusion at the back of a truck can save up to 7.5% in fuel consumption. This is a significant amount of fuel saving with a simple alteration. This fuel saving is possible due to dramatically-improved aerodynamics. It [...]
Posted in: Industry, Inventions, Transportation

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Superstition still reigns

Superstition still reigns

I had an appointment on the top floor of a 14-story building in NY City Thursday.  The elevator buttons read:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 12M, 14.

I’d thought that sort of thing was getting rarer since I don’t see it much in Washington DC office buildings.  But this article claims it is very common:

Based on records of buildings with Otis brand elevators, as many as 85 percent of the high rises in the world don’t have a 13th floor, says Dilip Rangnekar, spokesman for the Farmington, CT-based elevator maker.

Interestingly, I first thought the M was for Mezzanine, but Wikipedia points out M is used in elevators in that situation because it is the 13th letter of the alphabet.  OK, but if the number 13 really were unlucky, then wouldn’t the 13th letter of the alphabet be unlucky too?  And, of course, the 13th floor, by any other name, is still the 13th floor.  Such is the logic of the illogical.

The bottom line is that non-science still holds sway with a great many people, as the big story of the weekend makes all too clear.

Visit the original post at: Environment News

Inhofe to Boxer on global warming: “We Won, You Lost, Now Get a Life!”

I had previously blogged on the anti-mature (ante-mature?) antics of the Senator from Oklahoma (see Sen. Inhofe explains he’s going to Copenhagen so that when Sen. Kerry says “Yes. We’re going to pass a global warming bill” then “I will be able to stand up and say, ‘No, it’s over. Get a life. You lost. I won!’ ”).  Now this video has been posted:

Seemed like a fitting tribute to Friday’s big story, from the man who, just coincidentally, said on Wednesday in a lengthy speech on the Senate Floor, “I proudly declare 2009 as the ‘Year of the Skeptic,’ the year in which scientists who question the so-called global warming consensus are being heard.”

While I hardly ever agree with Inhofe, there’s no denying that many scientists who question the consensus are finally being heard … thank goodness!

You can find some of those scientists in my category “Uncharacteristically Blunt Scientists.”  See also my 2008 post, “Disputing the ‘consensus’ on global warming.”  Certainly the majority of the scientific observations and studies since the 2007 IPCC report — which is typically labeled the “consensus” since every single member government must approve the summaries word for word, a process that inevitably waters down the language — makes clear global warming is coming faster and harder than the consensus had suggested.  You can find a variety of those studies here and below.

And, for clarity’s sake, yes, I draw a distinction between what I’d call the “basic scientific consensus” that the climate is changing and humans are the main cause and so on  — which is acknowledged by every major scientific body (click here for links) — and the “future impacts consensus” on what the world faces if we stay on our current emissions path, which recent analysis suggests has been underestimated and underanalyzed by the IPCC.   See, for instance, the presentations delivered at the recent “Four degrees and beyond” conference, one of which I blogged on here — UK Met Office: Catastrophic climate change, 13-18°F over most of U.S. and 27°F in the Arctic, could happen in 50 years, but “we do have time to stop it if we cut greenhouse gas emissions soon.”

Related Posts:

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India To Increase Solar Power Capacity

India To Increase Solar Power Capacity

India has been consistent in their opposition to emission reductions during heated Copenhagen discussions. India points to their per capita emissions, which are lower than the main Western countries involved in the talks. India will not agree to emission reductions unless they are by per capita calculations, which is a method the United States and others are opposed to.

However, India has been speaking about increasing their renewable energy as a way to cut emissions. India announced this week that they will be investing heavily in solar power. The goal of the plan is to have 20 gigawatts of solar energy by the year 2022. Currently, India has 6 megawatts of solar power.

There is expected to be three phases to the program, which will result in upwards of $20 billion spent. The first phase is expected to cost $922 million. However, there is skepticism regarding India being able to increase their solar power so significantly.

Conventional electricity is a touch and go subject in India without even bringing solar power to the table. The government has indicated that their conventional electricity capacity increase will be twenty percent less than they said it would by 2012. In India, it is common for citizens to have on and off again electrical power.

Coal is the main driving force behind electricity in India and the main fuel for their power plants. The government subsidizes diesel, petroleum and kerosene. Experts agree that India will most likely have to subsidize solar energy as well in order to make it competitive in the country. Currently, solar power costs 2.5 times more than energy produced using coal in India.

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Al Gore Receives Global Humanitarian Award in Silicon Valley
Nobel Laureate and former Vice President Al Gore received the 2009 James C. Morgan Global Humanitarian Award this evening for his successful efforts to raise awareness about climate change. The award was inspired by Applied Materials Chairman Emeritus James Morgan’s belief that technology can be a tool to turn ideas into solutions for a better world.

Gore’s most recent book “Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis” is a powerful and inspiring call to action. “Despite the many challenges to solving the climate crisis, there is hope, and the opportunities are everywhere –especially in the form of increasingly powerful technological tools,” Gore said.
At a black-tie gala, attended by 1,500 Silicon Valley business executives, industry and political leaders, Gore accepted the award with an impassioned speech.

“This is Silicon Valley’s best night of the year as we celebrate and support the amazing teams and individuals who are using technology to address our planet’s greatest challenges with vision, impact, creativity and passion,” said Mike Splinter, CEO and Chairman of Applied Materials.

“Technology offers an opportunity to solve this crisis,” said Gore. “We have everything we need to solve it except the political will — but fortunately political will in the United States is a renewable resource.”

Visit the original post at: Environment News

Photos of Strange Deep Sea Creatures from Marine Census Beyond Sunlight
Image: Courtesy of Mike Vecchione


Simply astonishing. The diversity of species that live beyond any hint of sunlight has astounded the team of international scientists as they near the end of … Read the full story on TreeHugger
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