Friday, December 31, 2010

Are we really sure excluding cattle from the Barmah Forest is a good idea?

Are we really sure excluding cattle from the Barmah Forest is a good idea?

I would argue we can't be sure, and that the exclusion was done so fast & unilaterally that it likely to have a number of unforeseen affects.

Earlier this month I saw "Out of the Scientist's Garden" by Richard Stirzaker, CSIRO Land & Water Australia Senior Research Fellow at Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Irrigation Futures, in a local bookshop. Did a quiet skim in the bookshop and borough it.

Got I home and after a few more minutes browsing, I realised I'ld seen him speak & been to his then home in the early '90 to see his back yards 'Clever Clover' plot. There are photos of that back yard in the book.

On further reading I found the following passage on pages 171 & 172, in Chapter 20: Simplicity.

A couple of notes first. Roan are a large antelope that can get to over 250 kgs. The park being talked about is the Kurger National Park in South Africa.
Roan tend to favour area growing taller, less palatable grasses. They wander over large areas of savannah, picking the few tender young leaves from the grassy tussocks. Zebras and wildebeest are more like lawn mowers. They concentrate in huge numbers on the more fertile soils which more palatable grasses, and by grazing patches of the savannah heavily, they ensure a continuous supply of nutritious young leaves.

Roan must cover large distances to select their diet, but they are also very dependent on water. There are large area of park with grazing suitable for roan, but without rivers for the roan to drink. So park managers put in windmills to pump ground water into troughs. The plan worked spectacularly well. The roan spread out over a much larger area around the new sources of water. The still occurred at low densities because the grasses in the region tended to be of lower quality, but their numbers steadily increased.

Over the years, the new water attracted other grazers, particularly zebra and wildebeest. Although the dominant grass was not ideal for these species, they changed some areas with their constant heavy grazing, producing lawn-like areas of young, more palatable grass. In doing so, the density of herbivores increased, and this did not escape the attention of the loins.

Since zebra and wildebeest are the favoured prey of loins, they get a lot of practice spotting predictors and running to safety. Not so the roan. Hunting had been an unprofitable business for loins in the area prior to the new watering points, because of the low densities of prey. Now the loins switched their attention from the ever vigilant zebras to the unsuspecting roan. Roan numbers started to go down alarmingly.

The solution of adding new watering points was put into reverse. The bores were closed and, as predicted, the zebras drifted back to more favourable areas. As always the loins followed them, but not all the loins. A few prides took up residence in the roan areas. They changed their hunting habits. No longer could they hang around the plentiful herds and ambush them at waterholes on the short-grass plains. They started wandering widely, and met up frequently enough with the meandering roan to virtually wipe them out.

It all begs the question of is this being done just to satisfy political needs in Melbourne. The Kruger reversal was done after a few year. The Barmah reversal is being done after well over a century. The lesson of Kruger is that it should be done using a phased approach with control area to compare with. I don't mean little 10 by 10 metre experiments. That scale of research is just preliminary for the real experiment of introducing a new system to the forest.

Is removing the cattle a diversion for not getting water right? My understanding is that the Red Gums aren't getting inundated often enough and that particularly the higher areas are missing out. That cattle are only grazing pressure after the fact?

Cattle grazing would be removing fire fuel load too. Sound like swing-and-round-a-bouts to me.

Given the about story I would think the safest way to proceed is to divide the forest into many zones and spell zones from any grazing for 10 or 20 years after inundation in a long term rotation. Keep the fuel loads low while allowing long periods from germination & establishment after inundations.

What do you think?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Rainy days: curling up with Christopher Alexander's 'The Process of Creating Life'.

Rainy day here, good day to curl up reading! So I've been skimming my newly acquired Christopher Alexander books, starting with 'The Process of Creating Life' (The Nature of Order, Bk 2). The Appendix by itself is a beautiful document. Start page 571.

Appendix title: A Small Example of A Living Process.
1/ A Radical New Process.
2/ Finding A Site.
3/ First Analysis of the Site with Rough Twisted Paper and Balsa Models.
4/ Full-Size Tests of Volume and Position on the Site.
5/ A First Sketch.
6/ Checking The Neighbors' Views.
7/ First Emergence of an Internal Plan.
8/ Extension of the Lot: The Little Plum Tree.
9/ Deeper Questions About The Feeling of The Plan.
10/ A Deeper Conception of the Living Room.
11/ Laying the House Out on the Land.
12/ Starting to Get a General Idea of Construction.
13/ Establishing Rooms.
14/ Upstairs Rooms.
15/ Analysis of Cost.
16/ Concrete Wall Details.
17/ Plasterwork Experiments.
18/ Starting Construction.
19/ The Retaining Wall.
20/ Management Agreement That Feeling Must Guide Even the Most Technical Aspects of Construction.
21/ Setting The Main-Floor Level.
22/ Excavation.
23/ Fine-Tuning the Plan as We Fixed Forms for the Foundation Walls.
24/ The Lily Tiles.
25/ Placing and Fine-Tuning First-Floor Rooms. (What in Australia we would call ground-floor.)
26/ Making and Placing the First-Floor Walls.
27/ Fixing the Living Room: Its Door and Fireplace and Windows.
28/ Remaking Other First-Floor Rooms.
29/ Completing the First-Floor Structure.
30/ Pouring and Forming the Garage.
31/ Getting the Entrance Path Just Right.
32/ Remaking the Upstairs Rooms.
33/ The Master Bed Alcove.
34/ The Kitchen Fireplace Shape.
35/ The Kitchen Floor.
36/ Plasterwork.
37/ Window Openings and Windows.
38/ Balustrades of the Upstairs Balconies and the Concrete Frieze.
39/ Front Door Steps.
40/ Planting Windows and Exterior Woodwork.
41/ Flowers in the Garden.
42/ Use of the Fundamental Process.
43/ Common Sense: An Overview of the Process.
44/ End of the Appendix on the Upham House.
Notes (Pg 632)

I do love how in the notes Christopher observes that "the San Francisco City Hall, a rather large building, was built around 1900 from five sheets of drawings - something almost unimaginable today.".

Definitely not today's red-tape, legalistic nightmare of building. I learn yesterday, that if you want to build a new house on an existing site, the regional council (no local govt. here any more, thank you Anna) requires you to demolish the old house first. That would mean living in a farm shed or off site for a year. Renting a house off site sure does a lot for housing affordability.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Is the #NBN bad for global warming?

Yesterday, I asked a leading question on Twitter about the #NBN and it's negative impact on #globalwarming.

I got a response. There is only so much you can say in 140 characters on the run.

Here is the stream and some notes I've added.

gnoll110 Given that high speed comms is one of the two drivers of globalisation. Is the #NBN, a bad move from a fighting global warming perspective.
djackmanson @gnoll110Absolutely not. The research into new energy production required to reduce global warming can only benefit from faster info tfr.
gnoll110 @djackmanson Miss my point. Localisation is a big factor in reducing fossil fuel use. High speed comm hinders localization.
gnoll110 @djackmanson #NBN is only a tool. Really depends how we use it. Helps R&D but also enabler for distributed manufacturing & outsourcing.
djackmanson @gnoll110 Not so much miss your point as disagree with its underlying philosophy. Don't think localism is the answer. Globalism...
djackmanson @gnoll110 ...with clean energy is what I prefer.
gnoll110 @djackmanson Think you're being techno-utopian. Costs of clean energy will drive re-localisation in part. Solution will have many parents.
gnoll110 @djackmanson In part, high speed comms got us from where we were in 1950 to here. Two edged sword, that one.
djackmanson @gnoll110 No good reason why cheap clean energy won't be distributed over wide-energy grids.
djackmanson @gnoll110 er, wide-*area* grids.
gnoll110 @djackmanson Clean energy will always be dearer. Fossil fuels are a once off free kick. Collecting/concentrating renewable means it's more $
gnoll110 @djackmanson It's a good place to go. But it can never be yesterday, just cleaned up.

I think the improvement to research from the #NBN would be marginal at best. Is this an opertunity cost question? You could do a lot with $40+ billion dollar if applied directly to the problem.

It isn't a philosophical question (localisation vs clean smart grids) for me. It's a question of available energy and what we choose to maintain. It's a continuum, we are replacing cheap energy with more expense energy. Some things won't be viable any more. This has hidden consequences. As something become unviable, other activities to produced inputs for it lose their economies of scale too (increasing unit cost), thus becoming less viable too. A downward spiral to a new status quo. How much we can reduce the reduction in energy yield per energy invested (money is only an easily handled proxy), the less we will have to give up in any new status quo.

I will retract my use of 'techno-utopian', that infers finding new tech that enables grow to go on regardless. It's not where Jack is really coming from. I do think changing the energy base of our society while maintaining the basically unchanged status quo where it is, is unrealistic.

Basically we differ on where we think the new status quo is likely to be. Preferences don't come into it. I would like to be wrong, I like my weekend trips interstate to #railscamp.

A link to One major influence on my thinking.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

LOTR set? No greenland!

Yesterday day in the twitter stream I found a great NatGeo photo, worth sharing.

Looks like a Lord of the Rings set, somewhere in the Riddermark. It's a replica of a church Eric the Red built for his wife, at their farm in Qassiarsuk, Greenland.

Here is what Google Image has to say on the topic 'Qassiarsuk church'

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Water: Cities vs Environment.

On twitter a while back, comments where raised about legal dams in the Upper Darling part of the Murray Darling Basin. There where some city tweeters who thought this would fix their water problems.

They have a mind set that farming isn't part of the environment and takes water away from it and them. This forgets a couple of factors. On a lot of land, farming is the environment. The water that gets to the cities come from three places. The high wet areas of the land, where that is always an excess of water for part of the year, especially the melt in early spring. Big rain events. The last is degraded lands in the rest of the basin.

It's these degraded lands I want to comment on. These lands are degraded due to imported practices and over use. As farmers improve practices and adopt more natural methods, like native perennial pastures, the water yield will continue to fall (even assuming no global warning reductions) back to natural levels. So farming isn't a source of water for the cities, if it's allowed to evolve and improve it will reduce water availability.

Maintaining water yields for cities means retarding the improvement of the farming environment. Better that cities learn to not over tax their local environments too. Rain water tanks all-round!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Coalless steel

Over on ABC's Unleashed there is a article called 'A renewable reality: don't let politics get in the way'.

In it I got onto the energy needed to make steel. I said steel could be made and was challenged on that point. I knew that steel had been made with charcoal pre early 18th century. What I didn't realise is that do to its total lack of coal, Sweden currently has at least some charcoal based production! ;)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Is commercial Aquaponic effectively illegal on most Australian farms?

Is commercial Aquaponic effectively illegal on most Australian farms?

Unless you've got a water licence, yes. It falls outside the 'stock & domestic' clauses as they now apply in most farms. Stock & domestic applies to both surface run off and bores unless there a specific irrigation licences. Affectivly it's classed as irrigation.

The only way you could do it is if you can establish and run the system on only the roof collection of the fish sheds & green houses? Is that possible?

Food for thought.



Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fee & Dividend and the trees.

Australia economist John Quiggin recently added a post dealing with the political machination of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS).

A LOT of debate ensued. In including some denialist noise making and some discussions on the merits of Cap & Trade vs Fee & Divided (F&D). It's part of that Fee & dividend stream I want to preserve here, as it has some of my 'back of the envelope' calculations on how F&D triggers more integrated farming practices.

Carbonsink's initial post.
How about we tax carbon at $20/tonne and repay the proceeds every quarter, split equally between all citizens?

Its simple. Its progressive. It compensates the poor, the old and the unemployed.

James Hansen is a smart cookie.

My first reply.
James Hansen doesn’t support a general carbon tax. He speciality supports a fossil fuel specific Fee & dividend system.
A fee-and-dividend system imposes a fee on the initial sale of a fossil fuel which is then redistributed to the public; the rising cost of carbon-intensive products would, it is hoped, encourage families to keep their carbon footprints low.

‘James Hansen rails against cap-and-trade plan in open letter‘ from the Guardian’s environment blog on 12 Jan ‘10

James Hansen doesn’t support a general carbon tax. He speciality supports a fossil fuel specific Fee & dividend system.

I know. That’s why he’s a smart cookie.

Wouldn’t it be funny if a non-economist came up with the best way to price carbon? I’d like to hear ProfQ’s thoughts on Hansen’s fee-and-dividend idea?
Governments must place a uniform rising price on carbon, collected at the fossil fuel source – the mine or port of entry. The fee should be given to the public in toto, as a uniform dividend, payroll tax deduction or both. Such a tax is progressive – the dividend exceeds added energy costs for 60% of the public.

Fee and dividend stimulates the economy, providing the public with the means to adjust lifestyles and energy infrastructure.

If global emissions trading is DOA, how about we give something else a try?

It’s not about taxing carbon, it’s about fossil fuels specially. ETSs miss the point in that carbon is not all the same. The natural carbon cycle is vast, it’s the relativity small ongoing injection of geologic carbon that’s throwing the whole biosphere/carbon cycle out of whack.

Back when the CPRS was being argured over in the press. A prosal was floated that becuase agriculture was too complex to figure out and that the ‘best approach’ was to simply include it by levying farmers on a per head (for livestock) or per acre (for crops) basis. Figures like $100/head for cattle were being banded about. That struck me as fundimentally ineffective as well as unfair, as it made no distinction between lot fed and grass fed cattle. It also had no way to take changes in farming method at the property level into account.

As a thought exercise I compare how you should treat a car, a lot fed animal & a grass fed animal to try to figure out a better way to include them. That when I realise that an ETS on carbon generally wouldn’t just work poorly, it won’t work at all!

Generally people will try to play with and bend the large natural flows of carbon to get the atmosphere CO2e figure down. Any thing but tackle the actual use of energy/fossil fuels & the problematic ‘new’ geologic carbon flows. Pushing carbon around in the biosphere is like pushing piss up hill. It ain’t going to stay where we put it long term.

The easy, knee jerk reaction is to try to ‘win’ by diverting big natural flows, rather than stopping the small problematic ones. An ETS in quantitative, a Fee & dividend is qualitative. Here is on example of how being quantitative gets it wrong. The cheap ETS reaction is to plant trees, lots of them, in large cheap monoculture forests. The qualitative and resilient approach is mixed forestry in a mosaic with other systems. An ETS here works away from a sustainable lower energy farming ecosystem that better suits local conditions.

Disclosure: I have family members involved in agriculture, including grass fed cattle production.

So how will fee-and-dividend discourage land clearing and encourage “mixed forestry in a mosaic with other systems” ?

Raising energy cost (Fee & Dividend) increases forestry & more diverse land use by a combination of product substitution and return on investment question/harvest frequency changes.

Cheap energy allows lots of product substitution. Steel and concrete for timber of every thing from houses to ships. Petrol & diesel fueled cars, trucks and trains for horses powered by hay. Synthetics for natural fibre. What this has done is remove a lot of demand to use our land surface for things other that food. In each case new fossil fuels replaced old solar based systems.

Cheap energy has also meant we’ve been able to substitute artificial fertility for natural fertility.

When the cost of energy is low, low return annual harvest systems make sense. When you dramatically raise the cost of energy, high return long rotation systems make more sense. We’ll always need a fair amount of annual harvest systems, our staple carbohydrate food stuffs are generally produced from them. If you harvest a system annually, the return is typically between 6% & 10%[1]. Plantation systems can return from 34% (over 6 years) to 310% (over 90 years). Harvest a natural system and you can get 1100% (over 300 years). If you have a cheap energy to drive an annual harvest, you can get more out of given area, over time. But the law of diminishing returns apply to the energy inputs.

Raise energy costs and some of these reverse. In construction I can easy see a time when steel and concrete are only used extensively in public building, where the engineering demands require them. Hoping we don’t have to go all the way down to riding and working horses, and building ships from oak again.

I’ve done some ‘back of the envelope’ calculations. They are based on EMERGY figures; Corn yielding at a 1.10 ratio and Radiate pine yielding at a 2.10 ratio, over 24 years. The figures also assume no cost to moving energy use between years and no yield from unused land.

Say it taken 1000 unit of energy to grow and harvest corn. The harvested corn yields 1100 units of energy. Over 24 years that’s a net gain of 2400 units of energy, for 24000 units in.

Now double the cost on energy. The farmer can now only afford 500 unit/year or 12000 in total.

If the farmer just plants corn, he can only use half the land. That 500 units of energy in and yields 550 units of energy. Over 24 years that’s a net gain of 1200 units of energy, for 12000 units in.

But if the farmer plants 47% to corn each year and plants 53% to Radiate pine in the first year, here’s what the farmer gets. 530 units are used to plant & harvest the pines plus 24 times 470 units to grow the corn each year. Total energy in is 11810 units (11280 units for corn + 530 unit for pines). The net gain over 24 years is 1711 unit (1128 from corn, 583 from pine).

By using a corn pine mix, the drop in production expected with a halving in energy usage can be reduced from a 50% drop to a 29% drop.

[1] David Holmgren, Permaculture Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability, p 65-7

Ultimately what my 'back of the envelope' calculation show is the when you start taking energy out of a farming system, the Law of Diminishing Returns can be used to work with you.

As energy prices go up and usage falls, the more land goes to trees, all thing being equal. Don't you love that last phrase.

In the developed world, that 'all things being equal' included only 3% (or less) of the population being involved on Agriculture, Horticulture, Forestry & Fishing.

So in a really low energy system you could end up with 1ha of market garden & orchards, 9ha of grain & 490ha of mixed trees! How to boost the system? Add labour. Go to ten families, 10ha of market garden & orchards, 90ha of grain & 400ha of mixed trees.

Ten families farming 10ha of gardens & 90ha of grains. What does that tell us? It tells us that food as a percentage of earnings is not going to stay cheap. It's that standard of living thing again. If you can't have standard of living, you gotta work on quality of life. Be happy!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Global Warming: Why 'Go Veg' and cattle miss the point!

Yesterday, Cameron Reilly (@cameronreilly) posted a 'Go Veg' link on twitter. John Johnston (@jjprojects) and I commented on it. This is a topic where 140 character just isn't enough. Here are the relevant parts of the Twitter stream and me considered ramblings about the topic.

The stream

@cameronreilly: "Eat less meat and dairy: official recipe to help health of consumers – and the planet" ( )

Me: @cameronreilly "Eat less meat" still misses the point. Use no fossil fuel, end of cheap fuel will fix any meat problems

@jjprojects: @cameronreilly In Tim Flannery's latest essay, Now or Never, he calls for farming practices to change dramatically, rather than going veg...

@jjprojects: @cameronreilly There seems to be a bit of a debate about what is sustainable in terms of eating meat or veg and how it's grown.

@jjprojects: @cameronreilly Great essay btw, if you haven't read. He got my attention, that's for sure.

@jjprojects: @cameronreilly That would be good. There's also a great chapter about his vision for Oz cleantech, including a new, sustainable city.

@jjprojects: @cameronreilly ...for Oz to lead cleantech on R&D and innovation and export the results. Bold vision. Well worth reading.

Me: @cameronreilly re cattle. The real issues is the source of the flow. 'Cattle carbon' is part of C cycle, in one end out the other.

Me: @cameronreilly natural flows of carbon dwarf the added fossil fuel flows, in size. But the 'new' carbon throws the whole system out of wack

Me: @cameronreilly Cattle don't eat fossil fuel and are natural. But cheap fossil fuel has lead to greatly increase number.

Me: @cameronreilly So cutting cattle numbers is treating a symptom of cheap fossil fuels, not the cause.

@cameronreilly: @gnoll110 so you're saying if we make transport more expensive, people will eat less meat?

Me: @cameronreilly There are lots of fossil fuel input in beef. Transport is one, think about input to grain used in lot feeding...

Me: @cameronreilly ... and in supermarkets, in the home. Increased energy cost ripple across the whole economy...

Me: @cameronreilly ...everyone changes their ways, that how carbon taxes work too. Expect dearer beef that grass fed and produced closer to home

My ramblings

There are so many angle to this. Think I'll try a top down one.

People are talking about 'what the atmosphere sees' in regard to greenhouse gases. I think this is way to simplistic, where a holistic system view is what is really required.

Why is this too simplistic?

Firstly, the interchange between the atmosphere and the other major components (the oceans, soil and biomass) of the bioshere is both dynamic and large, to just measure and pay attention to the atmosphere alone. Of the extra carbon added to the atmosphere by fossil fuel burning each year, about half has moved to other components within a year.

Secondly, all the carbon is being treated the same regardless of whether it's part of a natural or artificial flows.

How can we view it more holistically?

I'm going for borrow an analogue from peak-oiler Richard Heinberg: a bottle of wine. How do you make wine. You put yeast in sugary water (grape juice) and let them do what come naturally. Reproduce, consuming their wonderful abundant source of easy energy. In the process, they produce a toxic pollutant, alcohol. What you end up with is water with most of the sugar gone, lots of alcohol and the detritus of the yeast population collapse at the bottom.

Lets do some substitution.
yeast = humans
sugary water = fossil fuels (both coal & oil)
alcohol = greenhouse gases

Now lets generalise in terms of the universal ecological dilemma.
Humans are population pressure
Fossil fuels use is resource depletion
Greenhouse gases are habitat destruction

We, as a species, have used the last 250 years of fossil fuel to grow our population, both in shear size and in consumption per capita. It looks like habitat destruction is going to be an issue before resource depletion, just.

How do we undo this habitat destruction,

Remove the input of 'new' fossil fuel carbon! That by itself is likely to be enough. Just hope we haven't triggered for run away feedback in the mean time.

Why is cutting cattle number just fiddling? There is an annual photosynthesis cycle. In the spring & summer plants remove net CO2 from the atmosphere and in the autumn & winter it's released back to the atmosphere in net term. Because most land is in the northern hemisphere, this annual cycle clearly shows up in atmospheric CO2 graphs. In the graph, note how the annual peak to trough movement is considerably larger that the annual peak to peak change of the underlying trend. This shows that the natural seasonal carbon flows are larger that the 'new' artificial flow that is the result of fossil fuel burning, as I noted in my twitter update above. Cattle carbon is part of this flow of carbon from biomass back to the atmosphere.

Cut cattle number and what happens? The vegetation will be eaten by other domestic animals (and back to the atmosphere), lamb anyone? In places where there is no domestic animal, a combination of two things can happen. It will be eaten be native and feral animal or it won't be. If it's eaten, back to the atmosphere. What happens to uneaten vegetation? In temperate climate it rots in a year or two, releasing the carbon back to the atmosphere. In dry climate, in a health ecology, its gets eaten (and back to the atmosphere). If the ecology is unhealthy (near death) and thus lacks the grazers, is just sits there. Occasionally fire might burn it (again releasing carbon back to the atmosphere), but without the stomach of the grazers to fore fill the role played be temperate rains, the ecology remains near death. Imagine the great savannahs of Africa without their great herds.

So in any healthy ecology, the grazers do their thing. Remove cattle and the carbon just flows back to the atmosphere via other species (or maybe fire).

Cattle are problematic for two reasons. Their emit a higher ratio of their carbon as methane, a shorter livid, but a 'hotter' gas. Modern cattle production has become fossil fuel intense, by maximising cheap inputs (fossil fuel) & minimising expensive inputs, especially labour. I haven't read Tim Flannery's latest essay, Now or Never. I suspect his call for farming practices to change dramatically will match mine.

I'm sure big oil & coal are delighted be this simplistic push to 'go veg'. Like simplistic carbon accounting, it's a distraction from the underlying fossil fuel cause.

I've already said the real solution is cutting fossil fuel use, preferably to only non energy uses like plastics. That means the end of cheap energy, that's a fundamental change to the whole economy. Doing it would create an inflationary period like that of the 1970's. That inflationary period was partly caused by the first oil shock. This inflation would not be constant across the economy, high energy application would be worst hit. This inflation would change how business is done and what people consume.

How to cause this inflation? An emission trading system (ETS) is just shifting deck chairs. A carbon tax would have an effect, but doesn't target fossil fuel specifically. I would incrementally raise petroleum fuel (liquid & gas) excises and coal royalties based on carbon content. That is what helps bank rolls the required restructuring both domestic & internationally.

Cattle production would move back to traditional grass feed systems and shirk as people cut their consumption to meet their reduced buying power. Transport & refrigeration costs would change the way beef is consumed. More local, less big box, more eat-the-day-you-buy for most of our food stuffs. Not just 'make transport more expensive, people will eat less meat?'. A fundamental change to business as usual.


Sunday, November 08, 2009

Why Co Gen is not just distraction

Yesterday, I tweeted about an Insider Business story on Co Generation (Co Gen). Co Gen is where in a power generation process, you also harvest heat as stream or hot water. @Olga_Galacho and I had a bit a a dialogue about it. This is a topic where 140 character just isn't enough.

The conversation:

Me: #insidebusiness Looking at BlueGen co gen box. Still trying to think of ways to get cattle to shit in the one spot!

Me: @Olga_Galacho did you see #insidebusiness today. Had story about co gen box & it's Aussie manufacturer.

@Olga_Galacho RT @gnoll110 did you see #insidebusiness today. Had story about co gen box & it's Aussie manufacturer.

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 co gen is a distraction from the main game. it helps a little, but we should be putting our energies/money into pure renewables

Me: @Olga_Galacho I was looking at using methane, not petroleum gas. Co gen as part of a integrated distributed power grid

Me: @Olga_Galacho Always take systems apart. CoGen is abt combustion to generate power, while harvesting useful heat. Then question what to burn

Me: @Olga_Galacho the point is that the methane in cow shit was in the atmosphere a year ago, it's bioshere carbon, not fossil #carbonaudit

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 either way, you burn something, you produce GHG- all cogen does is partly filter the crap - still get crap, just less

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 cogen really just serves to justify continuing to validate ff sector - a stepping stone to avoid methinks

Me: @Olga_Galacho If you think co gen is to be avoided then you need to understand the carbon cycle. My view on Algae

Me: @Olga_Galacho correct to 2 tweets back 'the methane in cow shit' should bave read 'the carbon in methane in cow shit'

Expanding of my tweets (aka why 140 character is never enough)

In the Inside Business story they talked about burning petroleum gas. I'll agree with Olga here. It's just burning fossil fuel more efficiently. This isn't an affective global warming strategy.

But to use gas powered Co Gen to simple dismiss Co Gen misses the full implications of the technology, particularly in a distributed electricity grid context.

It really does come down to what you burn and where's it comes from.

What you burn? I would think you could burn methane with little modification in the BlueGen box. The Americans, British and Europeans have a tradition of heating using domestic furnaces. I've only seen this kind of heating used in a small number of schools in Australia. Co gen is one step up from this, generation high grade electricity from the combustion, before it is dispersed as low grade heat. The Austrians are using wood pallet powered co gen in some their apartment block sized heating systems. Clearly, wood pallet isn't a fossil fuel. Therefore, if the production is done correctly, it is a sustainable fuel.

Where's it from? I've said before that "Carbon accounting strike me as simplistic, quantitative (at the expense of qualitative) and proven to creative accounting. Very spinable". Accounting methane is an good example of where you need to be qualitative. Methane can come from any number of sources. For simplicity, I'm just going to use two in this accounting. Coal seam methane and cow shed methane.

Coal seam methane is clearly a fossil fuel, even if the Federal Govt. has included it in the Renewable Energy Target. *poke*

Cow shed methane is part of the ongoing carbon cycle. The carbon in methane came from the grass the cow eat. That grass photosynthesised that carbon out of the air over that last year. A year ago it was most likely in the atmosphere. Don't count this carbon!

Cattle methane has subtle complex. Remember we have far more cattle now than we did 250 years ago, at the start of the Industrial Revolution. The reason we have so many cattle is that we used that wealth of energy from coal and oil to improve production and lifestyle, including increases in meat and milk consumption. Even the quantity of cattle methane is fossil fuel related.

I don't think it should be accounted in Carbon budgets. Why. Because the number of cattle is tied to fossil fuel, as we wean ourselves off fossil fuels, the increased cost of meat and milks production will reduce the numbers of cattle. For example, in Australia, is means that the least viable farm lands with go back to scrub and forest. This both improves local rainfall and increases timber yield. What happens to total yields. How knows? Improved rainfall, changes in technology and practices, and more people involved in agriculture due to less fossil fuel; all effect yield in unforeseeable ways.

The carbon in cattle shit is part of the back ground 250ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere. Part of the seasonal ebb and flow in the atmospheric carbon level.

Stop introducing fossil fuels into the biosphere and the carbon cycle will rebalance itself if we let it.

Harvesting an in balance local system means taking yield where ever one can. Be it vegetable, meat or fibre.

Going veg is a poor substitute for the hard job of going cold turkey on fossil fuels and living locally.

After I posted this post, the conversation re-continued on twitter. I've added some notes in italics.

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 have to fess i didnt read the link...will do and revisit my tweets @gnoll Had story about co gen box & it's Aussie manufacturer

Me: Yesterday, @Olga_Galacho & I tweeted abt Co Generation (Co gen). One of us thinks it's a distraction, the other doesn't

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 You want to harvest cow shed methane? Like battery cows as opposed to free range cows? #Co-Generation

Me: @Olga_Galacho lol No. People harvest methane from dairies at milking time. Cattle shit any where. Imagine if toilet trained like cats!

Me: @Olga_Galacho by the way, they do have battery cattle, it's called feed lotting.

@Olga_Galacho RT @gnoll110 Cattle shit any where. Imagine if toilet trained like cats!

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 we cld train em to tweet too, so we learn what they think of this

Just great, feed lotting in the dark!

Me: @Olga_Galacho Feed lotting is not a sustainable practice. To much oil needed and don't like the practice from welfare point of view.

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 Im sticking to my guns...u cant right a wrong with another wrong ...#co generation doesnt impress me enough

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 dont be selective & forget to add ALL my tweets in this #co gen dialog with u to your blog :)

Done, too much cut & paste :P

Me: @Olga_Galacho Yer, will add the new tweets. Complete when I started writing. I still say co gen has place in an integrated local environment

Me: @Olga_Galacho "cant right a wrong with another wrong" What are the two wrong? Just see co gen as tech. Pick what you need for your situation

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 Ok, we'll have to agree to disagree. When I get my blog started, I'll tell u why in more than 140 characters :)

Me: @Olga_Galacho Just a high tech pot belly stove. You choose where to put it and what to fuel it with.

Me: @Olga_Galacho Real problem is that we've become addicted to the vast amounts of energy that fossil fuel produces. Need to cut the habit!

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 wrong 1. methane. wrong 2. burning methane. & yes i know methane is more wicked than co2

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 it follows that if u encourage All #co-gen then u encourage greater harvesting of fossil fuels for combustion.

Missed this post in the stream. The key word in All. I'm talking about using biomass. Carbon that's already in the carbon cycle.

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 including methane in RET was immoral

That depends on the methane's source, coal seam is a big no. Cow shed/Dariy methane is fine for RET.

Me: @Olga_Galacho Fine, ignore methane. Use wood pallet from forestry by cuts & coppicing. It's small scale, ideal for integrated local economy.

Me: @Olga_Galacho as long as the ash ends up back in the forest/wood lot, system is still sustainable. Sun light in > electricity out.

@Olga_Galacho nope - fewer cows, fewer felled trees. Like I said, dont feed a bad habit RT @gnoll110 @Olga_Galacho Fine, ignore methane. Use wood pallet

Think we well end up with fewer cattle, as meat & milk become more of a luxury. Without fossil fuels, the landscape need to be work again for energy as well as food. See more tree felling, Ben Law style, not less in a post fossil fuel world.

Me: @Olga_Galacho If you drop fossil fuels then you're back to solar, wind, hyrdo, bio mass etc. Like we did before 1750AD, but with more tech.

Me: @Olga_Galacho For me its not weather a particular substance is good or bad. Its the system that produced it.

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 Now you're talkin my lingo RT @gnoll110 @Olga_Galacho If you drop fossil fuels then you're back to solar, wind, hyrdo, bio mass

Me: @Olga_Galacho Coal seam methane = bad. Open grazed dairy = good. Remember that scale of these things will reduce greatly if no fossil fuels.

Me: @Olga_Galacho I think you'll find these co gen systems are efficient in the bio mass to energy stakes.

Think our main source of difference is our different professional backgrounds. Olga as the story telling Journo versus my take it apart and flog the useful bits Analyst/Programmer outlook.

Update, the second

@Olga_Galacho RT @gnoll110 Olga as the story telling Journo versus my take it apart and flog useful bits Analyst/Programmer outlook.

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 Im going to take offence at being called a story teller ... where do you get off, Mr Analyst/Programmer

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 analyse this: Im not telling a story. Im telling the facts. Facts are too much energy time money being spent on distractions

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 Cut the middle man (technology) out and go straight to main game (centralised & distributed renewables) then cows can fart away

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 I object to your last word on I challenge you to add my tweets from this evening

Me: @Olga_Galacho Story teller is good, it a skill I wish I had. Look at #4corners this week.

Me: @Olga_Galacho Facts are generally boring, pgs & pgs of boring. It taking all that facts & building story for the street that's media's job

Me: @Olga_Galacho If you read again, I said we use to much energy now, that's what 'scaling down' is all about.

I'm serous Olga, from my point of view, media's main job is collecting facts and sub stories, then analysing them and building new interesting holistic stories that the street can understand and be educated by. Given how tabloid media uses its story telling skill, I can understand why the term 'story telling' is one you don't want used. If you don't tell a story at all, then your article would be dry proses with lists of references to relevant books, papers and other sources. The stuff of scientific & industry journals. Something that would be read be others already interested in the topic, but not by the street.

Your holistic story (top down) and my reductionist pulling it apart (bottom up) are both of use here. I was just saying we started looking at this from different angles.

I apology for any hurt using the term 'story telling' may have caused, none was intended.

I do understand that we need to use far less energy to fit back into the Earth's 'annual solar energy budget'. That is why I said we need to harvest all renewable sources. It's a rather large turkey we need to go cold on.

Cattle methane is a renewable. They don't eat coal & petroleum. They eat grass that is partly carbon photosynthesised out of the air over the last year, generally. By definition this makes it a renewable too. I'm serous here too. I said it's all about analysing the cycles of nature, particularly energy and carbon. Nitrogen is an interesting cycle to follow too, but that's another story. To not include cattle methane as a bio mass renewable show this analysis of the carbon cycle wasn't done. You may think it too small scale to be useful, but it is still a renewable.

True, the main game for big cities is likely to be is centralised long distance renewables (note I use 'long distance' instead of 'distributed'). I think for towns, rural & remote, the future is many distributed small local energy sources.

Personally I think 'private wire' systems (local unconnected wire systems owned by local co-ops) are a good thing for rebuilding local economies. Exactly because they cut out the middlemen. I'm also sure big business will fight to keep them illegal and unviable using lobbyists, the law, red tape and all the games (near) monopolies play.

System leakage in moving food and power over distance when combined with the steeply increasing value of the energy being lost has implication. I think that ultimately this factor will halt to the growth and then shrink large cities in the long term.

Olga, I'm sticking to me gun here. I do think it's our difference professional outlooks that is the difference. I think you see it as a distraction because you're looking at the short term, big picture story of big fossil fuel using co gen as a stop gap, that in turns delays renewables take up. I see it as a useful bit of new tech in a small package that can harvest energy from environmental energy/carbon flows in well managed post fossil fuel farming & forestry. If me view of your objections to co gen is difference, please say.

Update, the third

@Olga_Galacho As a matter of FACT, I don't disagree with everything you write, truly I dont. 8) @gnoll110 @Olga_Galacho If you read again, I said ...

Me: @Olga_Galacho ok, tweets and extra comments added RT @Olga_Galacho: I object to your last word... I challenge you...

@Olga_Galacho the distributed energy generation u talk of is chicken shit. I dont want to take my eye off main game. RT @gnoll110

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 Repeating I don't disagree with all you say-just don't want to be distracted from, dare I say the dirty word, BASELOAD, renewables

Methane and wood pallet are both baseload renewables. Both can be stored and then burnt when the energy is needed. I understand Austrian companies routinely remote monitor and control apartment size co gen systems across Europe.

There are many battery systems that can be used for storing energy from wind and photo voltaic solar.

As you may have guessed, my favourite technology is the Molten salt thermal system. Like the idea of using for a material that's common and some times a problem.

It this point I'll remind people that there are Solar thermal systems that like methane and wood pallet, include storage/battery function in their design.

I don't think baseload wind and photo voltaic solar is a technical question. It's primaryly a political question.

While Renewable Energy Targets (RET) are low and can include fossil fuel sources like coal seam methane & petroleum gas, there is not reason to add batteries to grid connected wind and photo voltaic solar systems. Why add the expense of batteries while coal and petroleum gas can still be used. You only need to start adding batteried wind and photo voltaic solar when the peak output from these systems gets to a size that it matches total demand in the lowest demand periods. Until this happen there is no reason to 'time shift' energy using batteries.

The refinement of these battery technologies won't happen until governments raise their RET targets to a point where batteried systems must be used. I don't see that happening until a working global agreement on global warming is reached. China & India ain't ready to deal, so I see battery improvement research remaining in limbo with only token green wash money being spent.

Olga, I agree, these methane & wood pallet are generally not applicable in metro area. That's a problem for metro areas, not these systems. Because these systems use trees or grasses and animals to concentrate sunlight as bio mass, they have a natural head start on wind and photo voltaic solar. It remains to be seen if vested interests and economies of scale will produce an energy economy with one or two 'main games'. Pre 1750AD, the landscape was a mosaic of overlapping small systems. The mix determined by the geography, climate, biology and tech at that place and time. Both 'main game' & mosaic are possible, time will tell.


Saturday, October 31, 2009

The corruption of research in Agriculture.

This week Cubbie Station was placed in voluntary administration. The news story blamed drought, but I say it's simply too much debt.

Below is a thread that developed in the comments.

30 Oct 2009 9:42:26am
Yes, I think the governments of the eastern states, south Australia, and federal government should combine financial resources and buy the property, then set in motion a plan to dismantle the disgusting symbol of damn you Jack, I'm alright.

Cubbie is described as an icon of farming, it is nothing more than an icon of gluttony and greed.

Irrigators, not only at the top end of the Murray Darling system, but further south in areas linked to and a part of the Liverpool Plains are continuing with the old farmers attitude of "what is yours is mine, and what is mine is my own", to the detriment of Australias long term welfare. The disadvantage of long term destruction of our river systems can never be outweighed by short term profits and serf type employment for unskilled locals.

Australia needs to adopt a cultural revolution, with regard to its long term farming practices, and the attitudes of the delusionary agrarian socialists benefitting from the rape of our country.

30 Oct 2009 10:32:46am
So are you saying all water should be reserved to the cities and none to the land (& people) on which the rain actually falls.

There is a sensible mild ground here some where. I suggest you read the Queensland water reg and see if the sound reasonable for farmers. I've read & done the calculations for one property. As they stand they are still draconian (but less draconian the the last version).

At one stage the law assumed droughts only lasted one year. One failed summer monsoon meant new dams were dry for February to November of the second year of a drought!

It needs to be remembered that Cubbie is one of a kind (in Queensland). These cowboys found a loop hole is the old laws. The law was immediately replaced and after 20 years still hasn't found a workable middle ground.

30 Oct 2009 11:04:57am
Not by a long shot Gnoll, the city dwellers need to realise water harvesting is an advantage too.

Cubbie as an example of gross misuse, for short term financial gain, should be utilised as an education tool on not what to do, with regard to farming practices in the fragile inland.

Organisations around my locality are advertising regularly of schools for farmers and irrigators to attend educational courses on land care, to become long term carers of their holdings, not rapacious floggers of the land, as has been past practice. The very fact these government sponsored advertisements solicit the farming community to attend indicates the failure of their past practices.

Like everything, it, our land and natural water resource, will evolve, revolve or dissolve. The attitude and past practices will only hasten our fertile fragile inland resources to the point of decimation.

I think Cubbie itself is a bad thing. Too much water taken out in one place.

But I will take exception to the general outlook about farmer as backward & the latest science is the answer. Sounds a little like Moa's re-education camps.

For starter you have just got to look at past advice to farmers to know that at least some of it is wrong. Some advice just plan contradicts other or past advice. As the Scientific American once said “today's scientific truth is tomorrow's earlier scientific dogma". Often research get applied way outside situations that the research is relevant to.

A problem with agricultural science in Australia is that it's become captive to vested interests.

General publicly funded bodies have had their funding largely diverted to global warming research. A good cause, but shouldn't it be additional research funding that doesn't steal from other environment and industry specific efforts.

In grower funded research, vested interest appear to have gained a controlling 'influence' on research budgets. Research that isn't in their interests doesn't get done. It appears that fertiliser companies are blocking research in non chemical approaches to maintaining and improving soils, for example.

Basically, at least some of the research that farmers want done, isn't getting done!

At the state level, governments have pulling resources out of real research and are selling asset like research station land & intellectual property rights as they can.

Farmers have to live with the real results of changes in technology and practice. It's an evolution process. There are many changes/mutations that could take place. Farmer have to select the ones to go with. Make a poor selection and the environment kills you, natural selection at work. People get cautious when real or economic death is involved. To openly accept advice from players who don't have skin in the game is to increase risk. Research needs to build a track record before it will be widely accepted.

I want to sight this ABC story about interference in scientific publishing as a example of vested interest (political or business) influence and the impact it can have on the quality of govt advice.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Why Kyoto mean nothing, personally what to do next?

During the Internet chatter about the recent Eastern Australia Dust Storm. Some overseas people quipped about Australia not being a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol. Others returned fire, saying that Australia had (two years ago). Some even then went on to figure point at the US.

Here is my thoughts about why Kyoto was always irrelevant.

Most countries that 'signed up' don't have any commitments (that was the only way to get them to sign). Most (All?) of those that did sign with commitments look like they won't meet their commitments.

The nature of the problem class (Tragedy of the Commons) means that everyone need to sign up to an agreed system of determining commitments. So they know what level of development will trigger commitments and what those commitments will be. The nature of the problem also meaning any action now (before global agreement) is only political manoeuvring and tokenism, and has no effect on the actual atmospheric carbon levels & climate. For every 'cow' you take off the commons, someone else will putting another 'cow' on (in China and India most likely).

As I've always said, there is no chance of global agreement until China & India fear civil unrest due to global warming (famine etc) more that they fear civil unrest due to poverty (staving because you're jobless). Don't think they are there yet, so I don't think anything will come from Copenhagen. Mind you the rhetoric from India in New York this last week in encouraging.

How best to spend your limited resources?

Building low carbon systems and building for resilience. What kinda low carbon systems to build now?

Resilience simply mean to do things to lessen the effect of global warning on you. Learn to grow you own food, add a rain water tank, renovate your house to be more solar passive, that kinda thing.

By all means build low carbon power sources, but remember what is important is only emissions during operations. You can emit all the carbon you want building it, you're only replacing coal fired power station carbon, in the race to get to China & India's climate pain threshold. Who know where the actual thresholds are? Guess we'll only know after we get there and everyone comes to a meaningful agreement!


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Algae Farming and it's Carbon

A few days ago, David Rush, @EcoEngineering over at Twitter, tweeted about Aquentium buying a New Mexico site for an Algae farm.

I responded with a comment about one line in the press release that looked funny to me. Here our conversation.

@EcoEngineering: Aquentium Announces 475 Acre Algae BioFuel Production Project - World Stock Wire (press release)

Me: @EcoEngineering "Aquentium’s algae-based fuels will emit approximately two-thirds less CO2..." ??? shouldn't an algae system be GHG neutral?

Me: @EcoEngineering CO2 in at pond = CO2 out when it's burnt to product power/motion?

@EcoEngineering: Thx @gnoll110 So your saying more efficient algea system=more fuels to burn=more GHG. Good point!

Me: @EcoEngineering No, that if they don't feed the algae with coal/oil & make the setup using algae fuel, how can it not be GHG neutral?

Me: @EcoEngineering that is, as long as the setup is made using algae fuel, how could if be GHG positive? (all C from the air to start with)

Me: @EcoEngineering isn't the Atlantic Conveyor sinking and depositing huge amount of C (dead algae) of ocean floor how bioshere get ride of C?

Me: Carbon accounting strike me as simplistic, quantitative (at the expense of qualitative) and proven to creative accounting. Very spinable.

@EcoEngineering: Sorry @gnoll110 I think we're on different pages.

@EcoEngineering: @gnoll110 Send me a little more info so I can formulate a response please.

The above comments where made in reference to on-going operations. In a reply I've included the 'build' carbon too. I think a working Algae farm should be greenhouse gas (GHG) negative to start with and over time become slightly GHG positive once all fossils fuel usage (as a fuel) is replaced.

My reply to David and anyone who's interested.

Second attempt at a response. First one was turning into Ben-Hur.

Here is how I see it.

All the carbon in algae come from the atmosphere in the first place, so any burning process no matter how efficient or inefficient should be neutral at worst. Indeed an inefficient burn that produced an algae-char replacement for bio-char (charcoal) could make the process helpfully GHG negative.

Now lets switch to the energy front.

I going to assume that the total energy production over the life of the algae farm & associated processing chain is greater than the total energy consumption involved in building and operation said algae farm & processing chain. (if this is not true what we really got is most likely a coal to oil plant, and a different ball game).

Given the algae farm is a net energy producer, I'm going to assume these guys eat their own dog food and this means:
* they built the farm & chain using energy from the last one they built and
* that operational energy will be drawn from the farm & chain's previous operations

If the above is true, the carbon footprint is the physical carbon embedded in making the steel and other manufactures (ie coking coal needed to make the steel).

In reality this is likely not to be true. I.e. the bio-mass oil produced is likely to be used for transport, while the chain is operated by gas fired electricity (or some other non transport grade energy source). I'm not including this in my logic because this factor is highly situational.

Back to the carbon front.

Assuming that the net energy produced is going to replace the 'worst carbon energy source'. Isn't this what emission trading systems (ETSs) do? Act as a pricing mechanism to transfer resources between players. (I'm not including net changes to total human energy demand, that shouldn't effect the carbon & energy budget of individual artefacts).

Shouldn't any carbon cost of building and operating the farm & chain be far less than the carbon cost of building/continued operation of the low cost 'worst carbon energy source' that it replaces.

Granted the shut down of the low cost 'worst carbon energy source' won't happen on the day the algae farm & processing chain go operational. But the low cost high carbon alternative won't start either. Over time (and assuming governments don't corrupt the working of an international ETS system that includes an escalating carbon cost) the 'worst carbon energy source' will get replaced.

*** A working International Climate Change Agreement that a working International ETS system would be based on is a PRE-CONDITION to successfully fighting Global Warming (what the Australian Labor Party (ALP) is pushing atm does not meet these conditions and thus is a waste of current effort and may have big opportunity costs) ***

If the above happens, isn't an algae farm going to be GHG negative. The better the gross energy production:gross energy cost ratio (for the total life cycle), the more GHG negative the algae farm should be.

At some future date.

Repeating the no build/closures of 'worst carbon energy source' cycle over time would get you to the situation where the next algae farm itself becomes a 'worst carbon energy source'. One would hope that the base carbon cost is building an algae farm without the 'worst carbon energy source' offsets (offset = 0), is low enough that at that mythical future date when the human world as run by algae farm, the carbon load will be well within the Earth's ability to absorb (on an annual basis).

Update: If you get metal recycle percentages increasing, the net energy production would drop. but fossil fuel usage (as a feed stock, not a fuel) would drop too. This would close the introduction of fossil fuel (new) carbon into the carbon cycle down even more. More new carbon now (before the peak carbon), less new carbon later (at and after peak carbon): a good thing.

The end.

David, peer review to you hearts content. This in just a thought experiment on my part. Hope people find it helpful.


Friday, July 31, 2009

World's Greenest Homes: just a Coffee Table Book

Over the last two Thursday, first two episodes of World's Greenest Homes has gone to air on ABC1.

It does not stand up well against Grand Designs.

This tweet about sums it up: #worldsgreenesthomes is a glossy coffee table to #granddesigns DIY manual, comparatively. Good for a few ideas, no detail.

Im going to tweet the good points of each hone as I watch each program. You can search for them with this Twitter Search.