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.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Doing a toaster from scratch

Found this hand made toaster url in my twitter stream. Love New Scientist, had to have a look.

An £5 manufactured artifact cost £1200 to put together from scratch. How far we have come in 250 years. Glad I don't have to be a Shepard because we hadn't got around to inventing fencing wire!

Now to figure out what I can do without to fit back into a 'Annual Solar Input' budget. You know the amount of energy get without burning fossil fuels!


Friday, May 01, 2009

Batteries and Oil to Solar

Talk on twitter last night got on to the topic 'oil to solar'. I think the topic needs a post about batteries just to make things more informed and complex.

The are 3 battery types I wish to expend on. What I call electrochemical, potential energy and thermal.


These are what we normally think of as batteries. It covers many chemical reaction the produce electrical current. They are all example of Galvanic cells. The two most common are the Lead-acid battery used in cars and the ubiquitous Alkaline battery of screaming children on Christmas day fame. Some are rechargeable, some aren't.

In some application, like electric cars, where size and weight is an issue there a many exotic reactions under consideration. Being exotic, cost and rarity become an issue for wide spread application becomes.

At the other end of the scale is the Nickel-iron battery. An old, bulky and relatively benign chemistry that uses cheaper common materials.

Potential Energy

This type of battery system is not common, but where the situation is right, it can be very large store of energy. It involves two bodies of water at different heights (the bigger the difference, the better). Water is pumped from the low storage to the high storage when excess power of available. When power is needed the water is allowed to return to the lower storage, generating hydroelectric power in the process.


These are systems where energy is store at heat. The simplest example is a well design fireplace. A single evenings fire can stores enough heat is the mass of the fire place to keep a well insulated rooms temperate elevated for 48 hours.

I divide these systems into Low temperature differential (LTD) and High temperature differential (HTD). LTD is where the store's temperature is less than 100C above ambient and HTD is where it's greater than 100C above.

A example of a LTD system is a Solar pond. An idea battery for providing heat to industrial processes like desalination. Electricity can also be generated using LTD heat engines.

A example of a HTD system is a Molten salt thermal system (not to be confused with Molten salt electrochemical batteries). There are many salts and these many temperature ranges to play with here. Right up to like 1600C, which start to made designs trickier/more expense, since common materials like iron & steel also melt at these higher temperatures.

Hope this gives people an idea of the range and have exotic battery systems can get.


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Does Queensland Government planning suck?

Yesterday on ABC radio there was an interview with a town planner. He was talking about the Draft South East Queensland plan.

Sounds like they want an Urban & empty green space plan. All high and medium density urban or empty green (forest and farmland) space for urbanites to look at on their Sunday arvo drive in the country.

He seemed to think it was a good idea. As someone who would raised on the land and is not a farmer, but wants some room this move sucks.

New development is all small blocks or high raise (urban consolidation etc). Access to larger block (say an ½ hectare to 100 hectares) seems a thing of the past, specifically locking out sea and tree changers. The country looks to be becoming a patch of larger commercial (family & company) farms and small blocks that can't support a family full time. These smaller blocks are effectively frozen, too big to be subdivided unlocking value for the seller, too big for new smallholder to acquire for niche operations.

It leaves the small towns in a limbo of slow death. As the broadacre operations consolidate, towns and districts loose their population base. This lead to the lose of services (teachers, nurses etc to begin with, then schools, hospitals, banks, post offices etc), the start of a downward spiral if left unchecked. The only way to stop this decline is to allow population increase and that is locked out by these new planning trends. People who want to live in country towns don't move there to live like sardines. They want bigger blocks, either serviced town blocks or unserviced smallholding.


Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Place of My Own

Several months ago I went to order 'A Place of my Own', by Micheal Pollan.

I found that it was Out of Print. I was due to be republished in January O9. I preordered it then.

On the 12, the first week day after getting back from Queensland, I went into Smith Bookshop to check. It was there, They said it arrived just before the weekend, Happiness!

Found there was no wikipedia page for the book, that is now rectified.