According to OPEC’s 2009 World Outlook, world demand for middle distillate fuel, chiefly diesel, will grow faster than any other refined oil product, up to as much as 34.2 million barrels per day by 2030. The U.S. currently consumes around 19 million barrels of fuel per day, with diesel accounting for 3 million or around 16% of that amount.

Joule Biotechnologies, Inc, a producer of alternative energy technologies based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, announced in 2009 that it had made a major step forward in its’ development of renewable fuels. This step forward involves the direct microbial conversion of carbon dioxide (CO2) into hydrocarbons via engineered organisms, powered by solar energy. I know it sounds convoluted but the creation of renewable energy requires working around.. and I mean a long way around.. current technologies.

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Here is another idea for biofuel: Sunflowers. I know this makes about a hundred ideas that have crossed the table, from algae to corn and back, but they are trying, I suspect, to come up with something that doesn’t take up too much land, is sustainable over the long haul and can be processed inexpensively. So in their search for this miracle, scientists in Canada are trying to determine the genetic makeup of Sunflowers in the hopes that it will lead to a species that can be used for both food and fuel. This is a great idea; something sustainable that has more than one purpose. In this regard, plants that can be used for both food and fuel should be first in line on the testing table.

So the USDA has joined a venture with Genome Canada and France’s NIAR (National Institute for Agricultural Research) which aims to create a reference genome for Sunflowers within the next four years. That seems reasonable to me. I just hope they don’t end up genetically modifying Sunflowers now, creating frankenseeds. That would be another mess like the failed attempt to modify corn for food and fuel. That little experiment had the entire world rejecting our corn, including starving masses who would take the bags and dump them rather than eat them and this during major disasters and war.

The Sunflower comes for the world’s largest plant family. This family of plants contains 24,000 species of food crops, medicinal plants, decorative plants and noxious weeds. As a footnote, I will add that the Sunflower genome is 3.5 billion letters long, slightly larger than the human genome. In modern molecular biology, the genome is the entirety of an organism’s hereditary information. It is encoded either in DNA or, for many types of virus, in RNA. The genome includes both the genes and the non-coding sequences of the DNA.

But once the experiment is completed and the genetic makeup of the Sunflower is known, the species could be crossbred to produce a plant that grows as high as 15 feet with stalks up to 4 inches in diameter and also produces high quality seeds. Sounds like a fantasy, doesn’t it? It’s almost scary when you think about it. But a plant like this, capable of both feeding and fueling, would be a miracle of sorts. The project engineers are saying that the seeds would be harvested for both food and energy, while the stalks could also be used like wood or converted to ethanol. Quite a feat, I believe. A dual use crop that they hope will not be competition with other food crops for arable land. Sustainable. Imagine that! All I hope at this point in time that this isn’t just another scheme dreamed up by folk who want government money to fool around for awhile. We’ve had quite a few busts so far and I am not sure we can afford a lot more of that. I’ll be watching this study closely and I will report back on the results.

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This is the stuff of science fiction movies which are, by the way, my favorite genre. I have been amazed over and over again how the stuff of science fiction eventually becomes scientific fact. I have always loved science and was pretty good at it in school. Now I just write about it on blogs. One scientific dream that was once science fiction is now becoming a fact and that is the collecting of the Sun’s energy in space and beaming it back to earth. This has, in fact, been an idea bounced around in the scientific world for over 40 years. But Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson aside, this idea has now garnered interest from the US Military as well and thanks to advances in technology is close to becoming reality today.

One of the drawbacks in the development of sources for solar power is that it requires the Sun 24/7, which is just not possible from the surface of an orbiting planet. This requirement is the result of the need for electricity every day, around the clock and the drawback is that the Sun is not available all the time and even when it is, it is often reduced by clouds or rain. So how do you fill in the blanks? So that solar power becomes a viable, around the clock source of electrical power?

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I saw this in an online news outlet from New Delhi. I had already become aware of this problem in the past and I spoke about it here on this blog under the article, How To Make eWaste Processing Easier. What is happening is that India has imported a ton of electronics waste from all over the world. This is in addition to its own electronics waste, which is substantial. The end result to this unfortunate situation is a disposal dilemma.

According to the article, there are no separate figures for e-waste generated by Indians and the amount of it that was imported but the scale of the problem is growing. In fact, the local authorities expect it to reach 800,000 tons by the end of this year. This is, I think, outrageous. The effects of this pollution will be devastating to the poor populations of this struggling country and will eventually effect us all through the air and water.

Pollution control officials are saying that India only has six regular recycling units with a total yearly capacity of only 27,000 tons. This is obviously not enough. Consider that a single state in our country has more capacity than this and India is more densely populated than we are!

But they are just as high tech hungry as we are. They have become enamored of the modern mobile phones and televisions with a burgeoning middle class who sees electronic appliances as important status symbols. This is a mirror of our own culture, as Americans hold a similar view. Also, much of the waste from abroad comes to India in the form of charity donations of old technology. Schools and businesses snap this stuff up in order to provide their population with the advantages of modern tools. It also ends up being refurbished and sold to an Indian population that wants badly to join the technology boom that the US and other wealthy countries currently enjoy. But then this stuff finds its way to dumps and recycling centers, creating the dangers of plastics leaking dioxins and LCDs.

One of the worst side effects of this situation in India is that there is no mechanical method of dismantling or breaking down this gear and most of it is done by hand. This exposes the workers to carcinogenic metals including barium, lead, copper and cadmium. I guess cancer will soon be a big problem over there as well.

Add to this that most of the stuff is recycled in hazardous conditions and you have a recipe for disaster. It has been realized over the past few decades that plastic leaks dioxin during the breakdown process so it is no longer recycled in the US. However, this is not keeping India and other poor countries from importing tons of the stuff and then recycling it after use. There is no shortage of sickness, including cancer and other fatal diseases, in the slums that sit adjacent to these recycling centers and landfills.

Currently, the government is trying to bring in legislation to curb the imports of e-waste and regulate recycling. But it may be very hard to do with an eager customer base of people too poor to afford new.

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This is one of the coolest green initiatives I’ve seen so far. And I do a lot of looking. Anyways, this is an affordable housing project in Oakland, California located at Central Station. It is called Ironhorse and it provides 99 apartments for families earning up to 50 percent of area median income. This means low income families or people who are just earning less because of this economic mess we’re living with. This project is an exciting reintegration of about 29 acres of unused industrial land into the surrounding residential neighborhood. So here it is not only good for the economy, it is also conserving wasted land! Already it has 2 stars.

But there are other “green” elements in this project as well. The construction of the units incorporated many “green” or sustainable materials and techniques, such as photoelectric energy generation and a vegetated green roof. This means practically no electric expense and a carbon footprint close to the smallest possible today. I love the vegetated green roof concept and wish I could do it where I am but I rent and the landlord wouldn’t let me. This lovely complex at Ironhorse has been given a GreenPoint Showcase Award for Achievement in Multi-Family Housing by Build it GREEN. All of this great stuff brings it up to 3 stars in my book.

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A project that begins early this year in Kansas will attempt to use cow manure to create fuel that would help produce electricity. Grant County economic development director Gene Pflughoft said the plan to turn cow manure into electricity is a perfect fit for Kansas given the state has two cows for every person.  Cattle country.

The thing about this that is interesting is that manure is renewable. I mean, cows keep pooping, don’t they? As long as people eat meat there will be cows to create manure. In fact, the manure produced by a single cow during a year is the equivalent to 140 gallons of gasoline in terms of energy, according to the Kansas Star.

A report by the Bipartisan Policy Conference in Washington suggested by mixing cow manure with coal as many as 24,000 homes could be powered by the manure produced by 50,000 cows. Personally, I don’t like the coal thing thrown in there because coal is so destructive to the environment. I wish they would find something else that would work.

This project is a demonstration that will involve a mix of 90% coal & 10% manure that will be used to generate electricity at a Kansas power plant. Why is it going to be 90% coal? They just can’t stop raping the Appalachia trail, I guess. Too much at stake for the local business community. But the truth is they have ruined the environmental value of their experiment with this and it is really only an experiment in reducing costs so more money can be made.  Sad and short sighted.

Unfortunately, Plughoft told the Star if the project is successful, expansion would be a likely future step. That is horrible for the local communities because it is unlikely their fuel costs will go down and at the same time, they will keep blowing the lids off of mountains and putting coal dust in the water supplies.

“Our goal is to put one in every feedlot and hook it up to the grid,” the official said.

Oh, goody.

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This is in light of my last post. As I said, many biofuel developers are busy behind the wheel trying to create a viable jet fuel and there are a few airlines already working hard on making it happen. Heck, it would not only reduce carbon footprints but it would do just as much good to the bottom line. Gas prices, especially high end fuels, is going to rise, rise, rise over the next decade and the way out of that expense may very well run through a vegetable or tree farm.

For instance, Air New Zealand has tested a passenger jet powered by a second-generation biofuel derived from plants that do not compete with food crops. This is a much needed variation, no matter what the corn or peanut industries would like us to believe, as food crops are going to become harder and harder to sustain and world food supplies are going to dwindle over the next century. Air New Zealand ran the flight to and from Auckland International Airport using a 50-50 mix of standard A1 jet fuel and oil from Jatropha trees in one of its four engines. Although this is not the ideal ending to the concept, the best solution would be to run on NO jet fuel at all, this is a good beginning. The flight included a series of tests to assess how the biofuel-powered engine operated compared to the ones running on kerosene at different speeds and at different stages of a normal flight.

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