Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Algae Ethanol Protocol

My posting on the use of thermophilic algae to directly produce ethanol brought this comment from Prof. Hans-Jurgen Franke about work recently done by Pengchen Fu in Hawai’i.

I have no doubt that we will be seeing many initiatives aimed at maximizing the use of various forms of algae to produce the forms of transportation fuel that we certainly need. I will try to keep up with them as much as possible. Without question, the comparative advantage of algae over any form of field crop appears obvious. Using them to convert agricultural waste and any other organic waste seems to be simply good husbandry.

What I find most encouraging is that I am seeing this happening so fast. We can expect, since we cannot see every project out there, that we will have dozens of pilot operations in play over the next two years. Thus a best practice protocol can be settled on within five years at most assuring a smooth replacement of hydrocarbons in the fuel chain.

In many ways, this will be a historic global transformation of the energy equation. Oil markets have provided the necessary price signal that the age of oil has ended and that we must look elsewhere for transportation fuel. This algae revolution will leave trillions of barrels of expensive oil in the ground were they truly belong.

The rollout of very cheap nanosolar as well as the advent of working Vanadium battery storage secures static power at the same time. Amazingly, this can all become main stream over the next five years. The manufacturing aspects are completely doable and in many cases straight of the shelf.

New comment on Thermophilic Algae converts Agri-waste to Ethanol.

Saturday, September 27, 2008 6:38 PM

Prof.Hans-Jürgen Franke has left a new comment on your post "Thermophilic Algae converts Agri-waste to Ethanol":



University of Hawai'i Professor Pengchen "Patrick" Fu developed an innovative technology, to produce high amounts of ethanol with modified cyanobacterias, as a new feedstock for ethanol, without entering in conflict with the food and feed-production .

Fu has developed strains of cyanobacteria — one of the components of pond scum — that feed on atmospheric carbon dioxide, and produce ethanol as a waste product.

He has done it both in his laboratory under fluorescent light and with sunlight on the roof of his building. Sunlight works better, he said.

It has a lot of appeal and potential. Turning waste into something useful is a good thing. And the blue-green-algae needs only sun and wast- recycled from the sugar-cane-industry, to grow and to produce directly more and more ethanol. With this solution, the sugarcane-based ethanol-industry in Brazil and other tropical regions will get a second way, to produce more biocombustibles for the world market.

The technique may need adjusting to increase how much ethanol it yields, but it may be a new technology-challenge in the near future.

The process was patented by Fu and UH in January, but there's still plenty of work to do to bring it to a commercial level. The team of Fu founded just the start-up LA WAHIE BIOTECH INC. with headquarter in Hawaii and branch-office in Brazil.


Fu figures his team is two to three years from being able to build a full-scaleethanol plant, and they are looking for investors or industry-partners (joint venture).He is fine-tuning his research to find different strains of blue-green algae that will produce even more ethanol, and that are more tolerant of high levels of ethanol. The system permits, to "harvest" continuously ethanol – using a membrane-system- and to pump than the blue-green-algae-solution in the Photo-Bio-Reactor again.

Fu started out in chemical engineering, and then began the study of biology. He has studied in China, Australia, Japan and the United States, and came to UH in 2002 after a stint as scientist for a private company in California.

He is working also with NASA on the potential of cyanobacteria in future lunar and Mars colonization, and is also proceeding to take his ethanol technology into the marketplace. A business plan using his system, under the name La Wahie Biotech, won third place — and a $5,000 award — in the Business Plan Competition at UH's Shidler College of Business. Daniel Dean and Donavan Kealoha, both UH law and business students, are Fu's partners. So they are in the process of turning the business plan into an operating business.The production of ethanol for fuel is one of the nation's and the world's major initiatives, partly because its production takes as much carbon out of the atmosphere as it dumps into the atmosphere. That's different from fossil fuels such as oil and coal, which take stored carbon out of the ground and release it into the atmosphere, for a net increase in greenhouse gas.

Most current and planned ethanol production methods depend on farming, and in the case of corn and sugar, take food crops and divert them into energy.

Fu said crop-based ethanol production is slow and resource-costly. He decided to work with cyanobacteria, some of which convert sunlight and carbon dioxide into their own food and release oxygen as a waste product.

Other scientists also are researching using cyanobacteria to make ethanol, using different strains, but Fu's technique is unique, he said. He inserted genetic material into one type of freshwater cyanobacterium, causing it to produce ethanol as its waste product. It works, and is an amazingly efficient system.

The technology is fairly simple. It involves a photobioreactor, which is afancy term for a clear glass or plastic container full of something alive, in which light promotes a biological reaction. Carbon dioxide gas is bubbled through the green mixture of water and cyanobacteria. The liquid is then passed through a specialized membrane that removes the ethanol, allowing the water, nutrients and cyanobacteria to return to thephotobioreactor.Solar energy drives the conversion of the carbon dioxide into ethanol. The partner of Prof. Fu in Brazil in the branch-office of La Wahie Biotech Inc. in Aracaju - Prof. Hans-Jürgen Franke - is developing a low-cost photo-bio-reactor-system. Prof. Franke want´s soon creat a pilot-project with Prof. Fu in Brazil.

The benefit over other techniques of producing ethanol is that this is simple and quick—taking days rather than the months required to grow crops that can be converted to ethanol.La Wahie Biotech Inc. believes it can be done for significantly less than the cost of gasoline and also less than the cost of ethanol produced through conventional methods.Also, this system is not a net producer of carbon dioxide: Carbon dioxide released into the environment when ethanol is burned has been withdrawn from the environment during ethanol production. To get the carbon dioxide it needs, the system could even pull the gas out of the emissions of power plants or other carbon dioxide producers. That would prevent carbon dioxide release into the atmosphere, where it has been implicated as a major cause of global warming.

Honolulo – Hawaii/USA and Aracaju – Sergipe/Brasil - 15/09/2008

Prof. Pengcheng Fu – E-Mail:

Prof. Hans-Jürgen Franke – E-Mail: lawahiebiotech.brasil@gmail.com
Telefon: 00-55-79-3243-2209

Flirting With Depression

It is hard to believe that the financial system has come to this pass. Can you pay the balance of your mortgage tomorrow? That is what Congress is asking us indirectly to do.

The money has been lost and the banks do not have the assets to cover the losses because high risk loans were allowed to climb from a normal 8% of asset class to 22%. The money has been spent and is out there in the economy were the banks cannot get it. Therefore they have to contract their loan portfolio at the very least or as is happening, go out of business and abandon the bad loans to the government and on directly to us. Certainly the loan portfolios are already shrinking.

The bailout voted down on Monday was no more than getting ahead of the disaster and releasing the banks from the need to call billions of dollars in good loans. The banks will now need to call these loans and this will forcibly shrink the American economy. This is famously called deflation.

If it runs its course, millions will be thrown out of work and that will include government employees.

I am already seeing the first whiffs of heat coming from Main Street. And the fear now been induced will accelerate the effect. The banks are all hunkering down trying to see if they are still in business.

Right now no one seems to know how to sell a solution and I suspect no one there knows quite what a solution looks like.

I know that my suggestion to mark to market the housing market and securitizing the losses by sharing in the equity would clean up the housing sector for almost all participants. What bothers me is what I do not know and what everyone else does not know about the degree of leveraging off balance sheet.

That is the game that wiped out the Japanese system at the beginning of the nineties. It also caused the great depression.

I also think that it is high time that we removed the legal profession completely from the task of creating financial products and their regulation. The accounting profession is much better suited for this task by temperament, whereas lawyers are trained to think in terms of gaming the system without heeding the consequences. We are now harvesting the consequences.

Of course this will never happen.

Been the eternal optimist I hope that they can get over all this. A mark to market on housing would actually give the economy a nice bounce that would coincide with dropping commodity prices and energy replacement swiftly reinvigorating the economy.

We actually stand on the threshold of one of great economic transformations in human history that will completely change our way of life forever. The real challenge should be to make it better than to cause it to be delayed a single day.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bronze Sword Manufacture

I plucked this copy from the site of a craftsman who is making Bronze Age swords using the methods as best reconstructed. We learn something very important. It is that Bronze swords are and were superior to Iron Age swords for a thousand years or so. There was no good reason to switch except in terms of availability.

That means that a long accepted idea that the transition represented technical progress is rubbish. It represented nothing of the kind. What the transition represented was a dramatic loss of supply of top quality copper.

As I have already posted, the primary supply came by the end of the Bronze Age from the native copper mines of Lake Superior. Ample evidence supports mining activity there coincident with the thousand year history of the European Bronze Age that removed at least 5,000,000 pounds of copper. That suggests that the shipping rate toward the end perhaps approached several tons per year. That is volume that is completely believable for the time.

That it then reached Atlantis at the Straits of Gibraltar and was there alloyed with tin from Britain and forged into trade goods is mere mercantile sense. This also meant that all the shipping and skilled artisans concentrated there making it all completely vulnerable to the Hekla Tsunami in 1159 BCE. Not only the head but the arms and legs of this Bronze Age civilization was cleanly wiped out and unable to start over.

The copper supply from Lake Superior was unique inasmuch as it was in the form of native copper without the problem of sulphides and their related metals. It was also in the form of high grade ores which is unusual for copper. A typical grade would be around a hundred pounds to the ton. A good sulphide ore is usually around twenty pounds to the ton and includes iron and other base metals.

My conjecture is that the copper route was up the Hudson River to the Mohawk River and then transitioning over to the east end of Lake Ontario into the portage route through the Canadian Shield to Georgian Bay on Lake Huron. Archeological sites follow this route and include so called controversial sites in the Hudson Valley and a major site at Peterborough in Ontario.

Several tons of copper is well within the haulage capacity of a canoe based transport system.

The rest of the route would be directly to Isle de Royal in Lake Superior which was one of the major Bronze Age mining locales with hundreds of mining pits. I discuss this more extensively in my manuscript Paradigms Shift. I obviously need to add an addendum on the crucial role of the not so legendary Atlantis.

The original difficulty that everyone had with Plato’s tale of Atlantis was that no one could understand a reason for such a civilization to even exist. Egypt and Mesopotamia is obvious. The agricultural surpluses of the Atlantic coast were surely minimal and founded on cattle culture. This was not conducive to the building of Bronze Age cities.

That objection is clearly moot and Rainer Kuhne has shown us the actual location of the city itself. Once excavated, we will surely find plenty of evidence of the Bronze trade.


Apart from the design, the three qualities that you would look for in a bronze sword are, weight, balance and alloy, the level of skill Bronze age sword makers achieved with clay casting technology is stunning, and the fact that no one can match them today, is even more humbling.

WeightBronze swords rarely exceeded 800 grams, if it is over 1 kilo it is way to heavy "(it's a lemon"). Due to the difficulty of casting swords in sand, most foundries will cast on the heavy side, and although the end results would look good in a glass case, they bare no comparison to a genuine Bronze Age weapon.

BalanceIt is interesting that if you were to look at the balance point on bronze age swords, its much nearer the handle than you would expect, the blades taper evenly toward the point, and are not end heavy.

AlloyThe alloys used in the bronze age for swords, on average, vary from 8% to 12% tin and in later swords the lead content varies 1% to 5% depending on the tin content. My personal feelings are that the hardness of sword alloys could not exceed the hardness of the tools used in the process of edge hardening.All bronze age sword edges were hardened and sharpened at the same time, the edges were forged down to a thin, hard wafer. The work is so neat, its not easy to understand how they achieved it.

Over the past couple of years I have had some interesting interactions with archaeologists researching bronze swords. Subsequently I have come to the conclusion that we only see bronze swords in drawings in one dimension, and have little understanding of their weight, balance and how they were used.The first thing we would all say, when a bronze age sword was paced in are hands is, "it's so small", and they were small! It is only by the end of the bronze age that swords were getting any thing like the size we imagine, so 67cm would be a very big sword, and would probably weigh around 700 grams.

"What’s so good about, my swords?"

I hear you ask. I cast my swords vertically in very hot stone moulds. This means I can cast swords at the right weight, it also means I get a better structure to the bronze. As the casting method is nearer the bronze age method, I use a 12% tin/copper alloy which is at the top end for tin content for a bronze age sword. This casts well and gives a nice stiff blade. I mix all my own alloys and never use soft silicon bronzes.

Hardened Edges

One of the most beautiful things about the bronze age swords are the recasso edges, which are forged in. All my swords come with hardened edges, done in the (forged in) bronze age method. The forging is quite time consuming and I believe I am the only person able to do this at the moment. I cast all my blade as near to a sensible weight for bronze age sword as possible, and tuning a mould might take me many days and up to nine castings until I am happy.

In recent television programme for the BBC, one of my bronze swords was repeatedly stuck against a reproduction of an early iron sword, in a test to show the advantages of iron over bronze. Even though both myself and
Hector Cole (the iron sword maker) had advised the programme makers the that the bronze sword would do better than expected, they were very surprised. The bronze sword was more than a match for the iron, both blades received heavy damage. The ability of bronze to rapidly work harden under impact, and the lack of carbon in early iron swords must have created a bit of a technological stand off around 700bc. At this time the art of the bronze caster was at its height and iron working was in its infancy.

In my work as a bronze sword maker i try to catch the essence of sword making in the bronze age and get as close as possible to the originals.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Mediterranean Upheaval after 1159 BCE

Something that I was not aware of is that the cataclysm of 1159 BCE focused on Hekla was apparently contemporaneous with destructive earthquakes throughout the Mediterranean basin. If they all happened on the same day, then we are talking about an extraordinary event in world history that is scary.

That they happened close in time is quite apparent, but the lack of recognition of this in the written records of Egypt suggests instead that they happened over a somewhat longer time period. It seems likely though that the initial event was the Hekla event itself, possibly triggered by an event associated with the Mid Atlantic ridge itself. It seems reasonable that a major displacement would have shaken the Mediterranean Basin causing major after shocks for years to come.

This also handily explains the sequential demise of the Sea People maritime culture probably based in Atlantis by Gibraltar as previously posted. The Mycenaean culture was a likely tributary culture paying tribute and relying on Atlantean support for trade and military backup. Once this ended in 1159 BCE, the raison d’être of the palace cultures of Mycenae ended, forcing the abandonment of these structures.

It is reasonable to presume such fortresses existed throughout the Mediterranean but were likely much more modest in most cases. These were trade stations that justified their presence by trade to the local population. Remember that the currency of the Atlantean culture was bronze and that this needed central distribution and far flung shipping. A little bit like the British empire of later days.

In any event, the archeological record shows that major quakes ravaged Anatolia and the Levantine Coast and a lot more besides. It is as if every likely fault let go and knocked down the adjacent cities.

This does not mean that civilization ended however, although the disruption certainly created security problems and let lose barbarian tribes and the like. It is just that our own experience informs us that the survivors can rebuild completely inside of a generation while completely replacing human loses.

What was lost was the maritime sea empire that supplied huge amounts of bronze into this market. Atlantis itself was not rebuilt and its population base on the Atlantic coast was decimated by a collapse of the harvest thanks to Hekla. This is all shown in the tree ring evidence.

Thereafter, the Iron Age emerged in Anatolia under the Hittites and was likely accelerated by this event. Iron had been worked long before this but had not become common place at all.

Once iron took over from bronze as the metal of choice, there existed a huge surplus of bronze in the various state coffers which likely took centuries to dissipate. If you do not believe me, a reading of the building of Solomon’s temple will make the point.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Phillipine Terra Preta

This is a good field report on terra preta experimentation in the Philippines. This should be useful to many others trying the same thing.

My only comment is that I suspect rice paddy culture is a poor candidate because the paddies are nutrient sinks to begin with, or at the least should be.

I would like to see this work focus on depleted soils and implement a seed hill planting system to increase efficiency. He mentions the growing of corn, so the three sisters is possible here. I think that the three sisters will maximize performance and encourage adoption.

The three sisters is of course the combination of corn, beans and pumpkin in a seed hill carrying all the applied nutrients and manure.

My Projects in the Philippines by Jochen Binikowski

Terra Preta / Biochar Experiments

Making charcoal from rice husk

My name is Jochen Binikowski, from Hamburg, Germany. I am the consignee of Tigaon Handicraft, a small, family owned and run, handicraft business, based in Tigaon, Camarines Sur, Philippines, which is owned and managed by the family of my Filipina wife. Since 1980 I have regularly visited the Philippines.

As a sideline we have been conducting some trials in the local agricultural sector. Since February 2007 we have been experimenting with rice husk charcoal, with a view to improving local soils (Terra Preta) and the production of briquettes. The most common cooking fuels in Tigaon (42.000 inhabitants) are firewood, charcoal and liquified gas. The huge consumption of firewood and charcoal has resulted in the dramatic deforestration of the local rainforest at nearby Mt. Isarog. In the event that we are successful, these problems could become significantly reduced and hence, we are very willing to share our experience with others.

We are exclusively using agricultural waste as our raw material (biomass stream). So far we have experimented with rice husk, corn cobs, corn stems, coconut shells and waste wood from local carpenters. In order to dispose of this �waste�, these materials are typically burnt by local farmers.

Since January 2008 I am back in the Philippines. My brother in law, Elmer L. Orfanel is working with me on these experiments. He is an engineer and very creative in designing new equipment. In the meantime we are testing already our semi-commercial briquette press and charcoal production in drums, the kiln method. Both tests are very promissing so far.

Our current , most pressing priorities are the construction of a permanent site for pyrolysis. It will be designed in a way to accomodate a truckload of rice husks. The rice mills are happy to supply us free of charge because as of now they just dump it at remote places. We do have a feasible site where water, storage places, electricity etc. are abundant and which is far away from residents who might become affected from smoke. At this location we will also operate the briquette press and drying room. This will minimize the cost of transportation. At present our main problem is the lack of capital.

In commercial quantities we can use the process heat i.e. for a rice drier. This would solve another big problem that the smaller farmers suffer from, which is the post harvest losses due to a lack of drying equipment during rainy season. So far we have been using corn starch as our binding material. Provided the briquettes are completely dry they are getting very hard and are easy to store. They must be wrapped in paper to avoid absorption of air humidity. We do hope to reduce our drying time through higher pressure levels produced by the new briquette press. This is an important factor with regards to feasibility.

In order to become feasible the briquetts must compete with the existing fuel prices in Tigaon, 1 US$ = approx. 42 Peso

  • Firewood dried = 3 Peso/KG
  • Charcoal regular = 8 Peso/KG
  • Charcoal from coconut shells = 10 Peso/KG
  • 11 KG Gas bottle 660 Peso
  • Kerosin/Diesel 38 Peso/Liter
  • Electricity about 10 Peso/KWH (Industrial consumption)
  • Electricity about 14 Peso/KWH (Household consumption)

There are huge seasonal differences in the prices of firewood and charcoal. During the dry season (January to June) the market prices are much lower as opposed to the rainy season (July to December). The daily wages are very low: assistant 120 Peso, qualified worker 250 Peso, engineer 400 Peso.

The materials already tested yielded different heating values. So far the best was corn cobs, coconut shell, coconut trunks, bamboo and corn stems. The heating value was even higher than that of traditional charcoal. Rice husks had a much lower heating value due to the high silica (SiO2) content of more than 50%. But the rice husks are required as a filler material during pyrolysis anyway and moreover can be used for soil improvement (Terra Preta). We also did some experiments attempting to separate the SiO2 from the carbon, but so far without any success.

Some of the experiments were carried out just a short time before my departure back to Germany in June 2007. As such we have not yet acquired the proper heating test results for these materials integrated into the graph below.

In February 2007 we prepared 5 adjucent rice paddys at 4x5 meter size:

  1. Traditional planting 100% fertilizer
  2. 1 KG/sqm charcoal, 100% fertilizer
  3. 1 KG/sqm charcoal, 50% fertilizer
  4. 1 KG/sqm charcoal, no fertilizer
  5. 1 KG/sqm charcoal, 1 KG/sqm old compost, no fertilizer

Harvest gross weight of each paddy:

  1. 13,750 KG
  2. 14,175 KG
  3. 11,550 KG
  4. 10,475 KG
  5. 10,550 KG

According to these figures the positive effect of charcoal was just minimal and does not justify the additional expenses for production and distribution on the fields. After the harvest, the paddies were treated again in the same way with charcoal and rice was planted. But unfortunately this harvest was partly damaged by heavy rains and no proper result could be computed.

On April 7, 2008 we started a new rice experiment. Now we are using a special mixure of soil bacterias, complete fertilizer and charcoal for a seedbed starter. The Philippine Government is propagating a simmelar technique to the rice and corn farmers:

BIO-N Fertilizer

The BIO-N is also used in our control seedbeds. We expect initial results by end of April. After transplanting the seedlings the seedbeds will be used as an experimental field for potatoe planting. If this will work it could be a profitable alternative to rice planting during rainy season and it could reduced the emission of the greenhouse gas methane.

Vegetable planting experiments with charcoal enriched soil

In 2006 and 2007 we tried to plant several vegetable species in fields which where prepared using compost and charcoal. We had very confusing results: What was growing well in 2006, suffered drastically in 2007 and vice versa.

In 2008 we experienced big problems with our vegetable seeds. Most of them did not germinate. The lesson is not to store seeds for too long time... Actually we are just experimenting with different typs of lettuce in terra preta soil and it looks good so far.

We are still puzzled by the possible reasons as conditions were replicated to the best of our ability (ie. the same seeds, soil, season, climate conditions etc). At present I am preparing for a new trial. The target is to develop a method to minimize some of the common problems in vegetable farming:

  • Draught and flooding
  • Attacks by soil insects
  • Damages by fungi
  • Different soil conditions
  • Damages by Typhoones

Since we have an abundance of different raw materials , i.e. charcoal, compost, animal waste, seaweeds, lahar (volcanic stones and ashes) etc. what we can experiment with is different soil mixtures. This means the experiments can be reproduced at any location in the tropics. Empty cans, cut plastic bottles, plastic bags, rice bags and disposable plastic cups can be used as containers or pots.

Another target is to harvest out of season when prices are high. Since the pots are portable they can be temporarily transferred to safe places in case of typhoon warnings. We tried this successfully with a few tomato plants in 2006.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

NASA reports 20% drop in Solar Pressure

I find a twenty percent drop in the pressure of the solar wind unexpected and one immediately wonders if this is related to anything or means anything at all. Certainly the little that we know about sunspots seems to support a solar cooling cycle. And as far as we can tell, the effect on earth is a lagging indicator. So the enthusiast are predicting several years of cold weather.

That means that we stand by for several more cold mean winters that bring us back below the twenty year average. At least it is nice to approach each winter with a heightened sense of curiosity.

In any event this is unique over a fifty year span and the real magnitude is large. That alone is significant.

We now have a unique new variable may mean absolutely nothing but can be blamed for other later unique events. Oh well.

Sept. 23, 2008: In a briefing today at NASA headquarters, solar physicists announced that the solar wind is losing power.

"The average pressure of the solar wind has dropped more than 20% since the mid-1990s," says Dave McComas of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. "This is the weakest it's been since we began monitoring solar wind almost 50 years ago."

McComas is principal investigator for the SWOOPS solar wind sensor onboard the Ulysses spacecraft, which measured the decrease. Ulysses, launched in 1990, circles the sun in a unique orbit that carries it over both the sun's poles and equator, giving Ulysses a global view of solar wind activity:

Curiously, the speed of the million mph solar wind hasn't decreased much—only 3%. The change in pressure comes mainly from reductions in temperature and density. The solar wind is 13% cooler and 20% less dense.

"What we're seeing is a long term trend, a steady decrease in pressure that began sometime in the mid-1990s," explains Arik Posner, NASA's Ulysses Program Scientist in Washington DC.
How unusual is this event?

"It's hard to say. We've only been monitoring solar wind since the early years of the Space Age—from the early 60s to the present," says Posner. "Over that period of time, it's unique. How the event stands out over centuries or millennia, however, is anybody's guess. We don't have data going back that far."

Flagging solar wind has repercussions across the entire solar system—beginning with the heliosphere.

The heliosphere is a bubble of magnetism springing from the sun and inflated to colossal proportions by the solar wind. Every planet from Mercury to Pluto and beyond is inside it. The heliosphere is our solar system's first line of defense against galactic cosmic rays. High-energy particles from black holes and supernovas try to enter the solar system, but most are deflected by the heliosphere's magnetic fields.

"The solar wind isn't inflating the heliosphere as much as it used to," says McComas. "That means less shielding against cosmic rays."

In addition to weakened solar wind, "Ulysses also finds that the sun's underlying magnetic field has weakened by more than 30% since the mid-1990s," says Posner. "This reduces natural shielding even more."

Unpublished Ulysses cosmic ray data show that, indeed, high energy (GeV) electrons, a minor but telltale component of cosmic rays around Earth, have jumped in number by about 20%.

These extra particles pose no threat to people on Earth's surface. Our thick atmosphere and planetary magnetic field provide additional layers of protection that keep us safe.

But any extra cosmic rays can have consequences. If the trend continues, astronauts on the Moon or en route to Mars would get a higher dose of space radiation. Robotic space probes and satellites in high Earth orbit face an increased risk of instrument malfunctions and reboots due to cosmic ray strikes. Also, there are controversial studies linking cosmic ray fluxes to cloudiness and climate change on Earth. That link may be tested in the years ahead.

Some of most dramatic effects of the phenomenon may be felt by NASA's two Voyager spacecraft. After traveling outward for 30+ years, the two probes are now at the edge of the heliosphere. With the heliosphere shrinking, the Voyagers may soon find themselves on the outside looking in, thrust into interstellar space long before anyone expected. No spacecraft has ever been outside the heliosphere before and no one knows what the Voyagers may find there.

NASA is about to launch a new spacecraft named IBEX (short for Interstellar Boundary Explorer) that can monitor the dimensions of the heliosphere without actually traveling to the edge of the solar system. IBEX may actually be able to "see" the heliosphere shrinking and anticipate the Voyager's exit. Moreover, IBEX will reveal how our solar system's cosmic ray shield reacts to changes in solar wind.

"The potential for discovery," says McComas, "is breathtaking."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Vanadium Battery

I was reminded recently of the vanadium battery – see attached item from Wikipedia. The low energy density has kept this technology sidelined in the battery business since the apparent demand opportunity is in mobile applications. Now that the solar industry is about to become cheap and mainstream, this demand profile is about to radically change.

These batteries do not consume themselves and are fast. They do not wear out. This makes them excellent for immobile applications such as the solar water generator we have already described. One can live with a few gallons of working fluid.

I am in possession of an article on a large system operated successfully in Japan in an industrial setting. It is still a modest beginning for the industry.

The redox reactions are all vanadium reactions so mixing is not a problem and the separation is on the basis of ionic variety into the appropriate tanks. This becomes very convenient.

The pent oxide form is sold in the $1.00 to $2.00 range which is certainly cheap enough for the battery business, since it is not consumed.

Vanadium redox battery

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The vanadium redox (and redox flow) battery in its present form (with sulfuric acid electrolytes) was patented by the University of New South Wales in Australia in 1986 [1]. It is a type of rechargeable flow battery that employs vanadium redox couples in both half-cells, thereby eliminating the problem of cross contamination by diffusion of ions across the membrane. Although the use of vanadium redox couples in flow batteries had been suggested earlier by Pissoort[2], by NASA researchers and by Pellegri and Spaziante in 1978 [3], the first successful demonstration and commercial development was by Maria Skyllas-Kazacos and co-workers at the University of New South Wales in the 1980's [4]. The Vanadium redox battery exploits the ability of vanadium to exist in solution in 4 different oxidation states, and uses this property to make a battery that has just one electroactive element instead of two.

The main advantages of the vanadium redox battery is that it can offer almost unlimited capacity simply by using larger and larger storage tanks, it can be left completely discharged for long periods with no ill effects, it can be recharged simply by replacing the electrolyte if no power source is available to charge it, and if the electrolytes are accidentally mixed the battery suffers no permanent damage.

The main disadvantages with vanadium redox technology are a relatively poor energy-to-volume ratio, and the system complexity in comparison with standard storage batteries.

Diagram of a Vanadium Flow Battery

Diagram of a Vanadium Flow Battery


A Vanadium redox battery consists of an assembly of power cells in which the two electrolytes are separated by a proton exchange membrane. Both electrolytes are vanadium based, the electrolyte in the positive half-cells contains VO2+ and VO2+ ions, the electrolyte in the negative half-cells, V3+ and V2+ ions. The electrolytes may be prepared by any of several processes, including electrolytically dissolving vanadium pentoxide (V2O5) in sulfuric acid (H2SO4). The solution remains strongly acidic in use.

In vanadium flow batteries, both half-cells are additionally connected to storage tanks and pumps so that very large volumes of the electrolytes can be circulated through the cell. This circulation of liquid electrolytes is somewhat cumbersome and does restrict the use of vanadium flow batteries in mobile applications, effectively confining them to large fixed installations, although one company has focused on electric vehicle applications, using rapid replacement of electrolyte to refuel the battery.

When the vanadium battery is charged, the VO2+ ions in the positive half-cell are converted to VO2+ ions when electrons are removed from the positive terminal of the battery. Similarly in the negative half-cell, electrons are introduced converting the V3+ ions into V2+. During discharge this process is reversed and results in a typical open-circuit voltage of 1.41 V at 25 °C.

Other useful properties of Vanadium flow batteries are their very fast response to changing loads and their extremely large overload capacities. Studies by the University of New South Wales have shown that they can achieve a response time of under half a millisecond for a 100% load change, and allowed overloads of as much as 400% for 10 seconds. The response time is mostly limited by the electrical equipment.

Generation 2 Vanadium redox batteries (vanadium/polyhalide) may approximately double the energy density and increase the temperature range in which the battery can operate.

Energy density

Current production Vanadium redox batteries achieve an energy density of about 25 Wh/kg of electrolyte. More recent research at UNSW indicates that the use of precipitation inhibitors can increase the density to about 35 Wh/kg, with even higher densities made possible by controlling the electrolyte temperature. This energy density is quite low as compared to other rechargeable battery types, e.g. Lead-acid (30-40 Wh/kg) and Lithium Ion (80-200 Wh/kg).


The extremely large capacities possible from vanadium redox batteries make them well suited to use in large power storage applications such as helping to average out the production of highly variable generation sources such as wind or solar power, or to help generators cope with large surges in demand.

Their extremely rapid response times also make them superbly well suited to UPS type applications, where they can be used to replace Lead-acid batteries and even diesel generators.


Currently installed vanadium batteries include:

  • A 1.5MW UPS system in a semiconductor fabrication plant in Japan
  • A 275 kW output balancer in use on a wind power project in the Tomari Wind Hills of Hokkaido
  • A 250 kW, 2MWh load leveler in use at Castle Valley, Utah

Monday, September 22, 2008


It is difficult to stand by watching the American financial system pass through a period of upheaval not seen or even approached since the great depression and not continue to comment. So here goes.

First off, they have grabbed the bull by the horns and stepped up to truly backstop the banking system itself.
Bad loans or paper will be swallowed, restoring the banks’s ability to lend to their good customers. And yes their owners will be getting a haircut as demonstrated by the haircut handed AIG. It is even conceivable that this portfolio now been acquired by the Federal Government will be unwound very successfully, although it is likely too much to ask for a profit. It could happen though that a rejuvenated AIG could quickly regain value on the market.

This is after all a lot about a collapse in confidence triggered by a shift in mortgage portfolios form an 8% exposure to the present 22%. Boy was that dumb!

The result of course is that a trillion dollars at least have been lost beyond recovery by these lenders. And let us understand this. The money is already in the economy beyond the reach of the lenders in any way.

Therefore when the fed pays out a trillion dollars to bail out the obviously reckless lenders, they are actually preventing these lenders from contracting their portfolios by forcing the liquidation of their good business which is actually impossible as was so brilliantly demonstrated during the depression.

And yes it is going to work. The only improvement to what they are doing would be to follow my mark to market strategy in order to salvage as much individual credit as possible to keep folks from walking away. The banks themselves would be well advised to apply this method since they have the regional footprint necessary.
The result would be a swifter recovery.

After this very sobering event, the real estate market will be good business for a generation as prices consolidate and recover
They are also confronting the problem of short selling. I do not take it too seriously but perhaps some good may come out of that.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Thermophilic Algae converts Agri-waste to Ethanol

This adds even more to the algae story. Suddenly we have a bug able to brew up any agricultural feedstock directly into ethanol. Of course nothing is said whatsoever about the actual yield. It seems too much to ask for one hundred percent conversion, but from the sound of this, there is a low temperature cooking process under way not unlike that for yogurt. And it does sound like a protocol that could drain of the pregnant liquor while adding water until the biomass is completely consumed.

I am particularly pleased to see cardboard included.

This also sounds like it will be amenable to small batch work for a small operation. One can assume that the liquid reaches the ten percent plus level of ethanol concentration before it must be drained into a vaporizer or some other separation tool.

However, the lack of news releases over the past year speaks volumes to the present yield situation. If this is the problem, then we may have to wait a long while for the development to reach commercialization.

In any case, coupled with the other recent developments that I have posted on, it is clear that development of algae based solutions is in full swing and that the results are very tangible and happening very fast.

I was quite negative on attempts to convert cellulose based materials, primarily because Mother Nature had not totally already done so. That suggested that it was likely to be very resistant to resolution. That does not seem to be the case.

Now we are seeing a number of methods emerging.

These all lead to all forms of agricultural and forest waste achieving real economic value to the community at large as a direct source of fuel.

The promise of this technology is to be able to process all organic wastes into ethanol with a minimal input of heat while consuming little of the waste while doing so. We may be replacing our landfills with rows of silos brewing at around 65 degrees celsius. This is certainly superior to what we do now.

`This revolution is coming about because of the revolution in real biological engineering. If nature does not supply the perfect organism, then a quick gene splice and we are in business. Nature had little reason to preferentially produce ethanol as a waste material. That it did so with yeast was the exception. That we can then take other useful microorganisms down the same path allows us to chew through organic wastes including cellulose to convert the long chain sugars (see cellulose) into ethanol.

It is also allowing other organisms to convert organic feedstock directly into jet fuel.

This has all blown up over the past year or so, pushed by the realization that we need to end the fossil fuel business because it is unbalancing the environmental CO2 content. The price of oil is only a signal of real supply issues and encourages the influx of money. The real driver is the global recognition that environmental impact must be properly managed and that doing so is usually profitable.

I certainly expect to see many more breakthroughs announced in the algae business because it has a rapid research turn around.

September 16, 2008

Bacteria from Compost

Could Provide 10% of UK Transport Fuel Needs

Dublin, Ireland [RenewableEnergyWor
http://www.renewabl eenergyworld. com/rea/news/ story?id= 53581

Often found in compost heaps, the bacteria that converts waste plant fiber into ethanol could eventually provide up 10% of the UK's transport fuel needs, scientists heard last week at the Society for General Microbiology' s Autumn meeting being held at Trinity College, Dublin.

Researchers from Guildford, UK have successfully developed a new strain of bacteria that can break down straw and agricultural plant waste, domestic hedge clippings, garden trimmings and cardboard, wood chippings and other municipal rubbish in order to convert them into useful renewable fuels for the transport industry.

"The bioethanol produced in our process can be blended with existing gasoline to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions, help tackle global warming, reduce dependence upon foreign oil and help meet national and international targets for renewable energy," said Milner, Fermentation Development Manager of
TMO Renewables Ltd, based in Surrey Research Park, Guildford.

The new strain of bacteria allows ethanol to be produced much more efficiently and cheaply than in traditional yeast-based fermentation, which forms the basis for most current commercial bioethanol production.

"Conventional ethanol production is energy-intensive, expensive and time-consuming as the barley malt or other material being brewed needs to be heated up as a mash in feedstock pre-treatment. Then it is significantly cooled from that high temperature to a lower temperature for yeast fermentation, only to be re-heated when it is later distilled into ethanol. Our process is much more energy-efficient. " said Milner.

TMO's microbiologists screened thousands of different wild types of bacteria, looking for one that could survive high temperatures and fed off a wide variety of plant-based materials.

"We found some heat-loving bacteria in a compost heap, from the Geobacillus family, which in their wild form produce lactic acid as a by-product of sugar synthesis when they break down biomass," said Milner. "We altered their internal metabolism, adapting them to produce substantial amounts of ethanol instead."

"Our new microorganism, called TM242, can efficiently convert the longer-chain sugars from woody biomass materials into ethanol. This thermophilic bacterium operates at high temperatures of 60-70°C and digests a wide range of feedstocks very rapidly," said Milner.

The scientists estimate that some 7 million tons of surplus straw is available in the UK every year. Turning it into ethanol could replace 10% of the gasoline fuel used in this country. "As our process uses agricultural waste materials such as straw, wood, paper and plants and other cellulosic fiber from domestic and municipal waste, it provides significantly greater environmental and economic benefits than crop-derived biofuels, which some believe have contributed to the increased prices of basic food in so many countries," said Milner.

"We have recently completed commissioning the UK's first cellulosic ethanol demonstration facility — one of just a handful worldwide," said Milner. "We are constantly researching new, better ways to produce biofuels. We also believe that our process can be used successfully beyond biofuels to produce other high-value chemicals and drug ingredients that are currently derived from oil."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Final Sea Ice

Needless to say, I am no longer alone in recognizing that the perennial sea ice will be gone in five years. When I posted the aggressive 2012 prediction late last summer, the consensus was many decades. This item shows that most are now bowing to the inevitable. The areal extent was slightly larger than last year, but the unusual winds of 2007 did not come along and perhaps compress it more.

We have no way of knowing for sure, but I expect that this year’s actual ice loss was significant though not as large as last years. It is still a loss rather than a gain and what is now obvious to everyone is that we are observing the dissolution of the perennial Arctic sea ice. As I posted in the past, the average loss per year is linear inasmuch as roughly the same value M will be extracted from the total. But now the exposed area of the Arctic is increasing sharply, the value of M can even be expected to modestly increase as more solar energy is absorbed.

All this adds up to an accelerating collapse of the ice over the next four years. I have yet to see a reason to back of my 2012 prediction. It is necessary to have a much colder and much longer winter than last year’s.

As I pointed out to my readers last year, this decline is all about the effect of a small incremental increase M in available heat to the Arctic. As the total ice mass declines, the effect of m steadily increases, until it becomes the dominant factor when there is little of the original ice left. We are obviously there and it can only get worse now until the long term ice is all gone over the next four years or so.

This summer, the melting and warming of the ice mass continued. Major parts of the super thick floating ice sheets broke free confirming the ongoing weakening and warming of even this ice. And this item reports that new ice that is visible is weak and thin.

I would like to believe that the apparent slight reduction in solar energy is sufficient to induce a cooling of the Northern Hemisphere. Right now the evidence is pretty sketchy and not obvious, reports to the contrary.

We have also just had a lively hurricane season which shows that the equatorial heat engine is not shut down and is winding up again. Maybe with this blow out, we will now get a couple of quiet years.

Last year proved that none of this helped in predicting the upcoming winter. However a mild winter seems to presage a warm summer in the Arctic.

Arctic Sea Ice Season Underscores Accelerating Decline
Written by Dana Nuccitelli

Published on September 17th, 2008

Posted in Environmental & Climate Science

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), Arctic sea ice cover appears to have reached its minimum extent for the year, the second-lowest extent recorded since the dawn of the satellite era.

While above the record minimum Arctic sea ice extent set on September 16, 2007, this year further reinforces the strong negative trend in summertime ice extent observed over the past thirty years.

Despite overall cooler summer temperatures, the 2008 minimum extent is only 390,000 square kilometers (150,000 square miles), or 9.4%, more than the record-setting 2007 minimum. The 2008 minimum extent is 15.0% less than the next-lowest minimum extent set in 2005 and 33.1% less than the average minimum extent from 1979 to 2000.

This season further reinforces the long-term downward trend of sea ice extent.

Even though the sea ice didn’t retreat this year as much as last summer, “there was no real sign of recovery,” said Walt Meier of NSIDC. This year was cooler and other weather conditions weren’t as bad, he said.

“We’re kind of in a new state of the Arctic basically, and it’s not a good one,” Meier said. “We’re definitely sliding towards a point where the summer sea ice will be gone.”

Scientists have predicted that the Arctic will become ice free in the summer by the year 2013, if not sooner. This also does not bode well for global warming, since ice reflects sunlight whereas dark oceans absorb it.

On top of that, the Arctic ice melting trend has shifted. Normally the ice would reach its minimum extent by early September, but after the record melt of 2007, much of the ice reformed with much less thickness, allowing it to continue to melt through mid-September this year.

The Arctic is warming at a faster rate than the rest of the planet, and can be considered a ‘canary in the coal mine’. Right now, that canary is not in good health.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Colony Collapse Disorder Resolved

I got this article over at viewzone.com and am pleased to see an anomaly possibly resolved. Of course we will now have a blast of lawsuits and corporate dodging.

Viewzone is one of the first online magazines and is recommended. They published an article of mine titled ‘Pleistocene Nonconformity’. Go read it.

The collapse of the bee population had the signature of a rogue pesticide. We can see from this article the actual culprit. It is clear from the known distribution of the chemical that the probability of causation is approaching the 95 percentile mark and that it will only take a minimal effort to tighten that up.

This chemical needs to be banned immediately without further discussion.

It continues to be clear that the introduction of new product into agriculture must be by planned step by step distribution that allows ample time for environmental impacts to emerge. This also suggests that the proper test area needs to be stepped up from the initial test field to township size.

Field tests almost certainly missed the impact on the bees. That would not have happened in a township sized test run for three years.

Fortunately most products used have the long benign histories. It is only when we want to launch a totally new product that some thought is needed. This product had the red flags flying, or why would they have bothered with the coating protocol to discover later that it failed.

This is likely one more solution that is simply unusable.

And the disease in question is surely been managed by rotation today as is that other pest, the corn borer (unless we are talking about the same thing) and since rotation is always called for in any event for sound soil management, quit been simply greedy.

At least now that the cause is understood – where is the press? – The stocks can be quickly rebuilt. I wish we could do the same with bird populations that are also hard hit by something other than global warming.

It is noteworthy that the raptor population has hugely recovered in the past thirty years with the change in human attitudes to them. DDT may well have been the causation of the original decline. The only alternative to the DDT explanation is the mythical farm boy and his rifle.

But even with real predation by native hunters, the eagle populations are now increasing strongly. So it is reasonable to accept the DDT model.

This should mean carefully managed application if that is even possible. The problems arise from excessive and reckless application of pesticides. It is not hard to believe that more is better and to over apply the product.

Honey bees are dying all over the globe. Here's why!

by Dan Eden for Viewzone

For over a year, the media has been reporting about the dramatic loss of bees in Europe and North America. As many as 50% to 90% of the bee populations have simply vanished, leaving their hives empty and forcing farmers to demand investigations to determine the cause.

At first it was only the honeybees that were decimated -- then the bumblebee populations began to disappear. Bumblebees are responsible for pollinating an estimated 15 percent of all the crops grown in the U.S., worth $3 billion, particularly those raised in greenhouses. Those include tomatoes, peppers and strawberries. The crisis was eventually given a name: Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD.

CCD is a "fake disease!"

The most popular theory, aside from the varroa mite [right] and cellphone RF radiation, has been the belief that a virus -- similar to AIDS -- has infected the bees. A team led by scientists from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Pennsylvania State University, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, University of Arizona, and 454 Life Sciences found a significant connection between the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) and colony collapse disorder (CCD) in honey bees.

A team of scientists from Edgewood Chemical Biological Center and University of California San Francisco identified both a virus and a parasite that are likely behind the recent sudden die-off of honey-bee colonies. Using a new technology called the Integrated Virus Detection System (IVDS), which was designed for military use to rapidly screen samples for pathogens, ECBC scientists last week isolated the presence of viral and parasitic pathogens that may be contributing to the honeybee loss.

But it now appears that a much more basic culprit has killed the bees -- Bayer Corporation. Colony Collapse Disorder is poisoning with a known insect neurotoxin called Clothianidin, a pesticide manufactured by Bayer, which has been clearly linked to massive bee die offs in Germany and France.
Clothianidin = "Colony Collapse Disorder"

Here's the story. One of the most important crops is corn. It's used as a feed for chickens and pigs and cattle. It's used in flour and in the production of high fructose corn syrup. Just about everything we eat depends on corn. Recently, with the energy crisis, corn has also been pressed to make ethanol to run our cars. But corn has an enemy called the root worm.

This pesky bug, called diabrotica vergifera vergifera, [right] burrows in the newly forming roots of the corn plant and causes the plant to wither and eventually die. Farmers have long sought some type of pesticide to kill the bug and, in 2003, Bayer Pharmaceutical introduced a new product called Clothianidin. Their own studies showed that this pesticide was highly toxic to bees but justified the widespread use because it could be applied to corn seed and would be buried in the soil where it would presumably be harmless to other creatures.

In theory, farmers were instructed to buy special machines that would coat their seeds multiple times with clothianidin and a special adhesive, dry the seeds, and then plant them. The poison is supposed to stick to the seed coat and to be toxic to the rootworm as it attempts to burrow in to the newly forming roots.

Bayer, who make the pesticide, and Monsanto, who make the adhesive, have patented the method of coating their proprietary seeds with clothianidin, which are now growing all over the globe.


The first clue that Colony Collapse Disorder was a simple case of poisoning -- similar to the DDT bird kill-off decades ago -- was when clothianidin was used on corn crops in Germany's Baden-Wuerttemberg state.

In July of 2007, the German crop was infested with the rootworm. The German government ordered that every possible method should be used to eradicate this pest, including the use of clothianidin. Shortly after the seeds were planted, in May of 2008, some 330-million bees abruptly died!

According to the German Research Center for Cultivated Plants, 29 out of 30 dead bees had been killed by direct contact with clothianidin.

Philipp Mimkes, spokesman for the German-based Coalition Against Bayer Dangers, said: "We have been pointing out the risks of neonicotinoids for almost 10 years now. This proves without a doubt that the chemicals can come into contact with bees and kill them. These pesticides shouldnÕt be on the market."

An investigation revealed that the seed coating did not stay in the soil but was introduced to the air (and the rest of the plant) by simple abrasion -- the rubbing together of seeds -- as they are stored, moved and injected in to the soil by farming machines.

German authorities suggested that the seeds were not treated with a special polymer, called a "Sticker," which makes the pesticide adhere to the seed. But it is noted also that the formulation of clothianidin does not require this "sticker" in typical applications and most farmers find this additional coating too cost prohibitive.

The German government quickly banned this pesticide and gave compensation to the farmers and issued a strong warning against using this chemical in agriculture. According to the German Federal Agriculture Institute,

"It can unequivocally be concluded that poisoning of the bees is due to the rub-off of the pesticide ingredient clothianidin from corn seeds."

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (May 30, 2003):

"Clothianidin has the potential for toxic chronic exposure to honey bees, as well as other nontarget pollinators, through the translocation of clonianidin redidue in nectar and pollen."

[In the same report] "The fate and disposition of clothianidin in the environment suggest a compound that is asystemic insecticide that is persistent and mobile, stable to hydrolysis, and has potential to leach to ground water, as well as runoff to surface waters."

"Clothianidin is highly toxic to honey bees on an acute contact basis (killing 50% of tested populations at greater than 389 mg/kg). It has the potential for toxic chronic exposure to honey bees, as well as other nontarget pollinators, through the translocation of clothianidin residues in nectar and pollen. In honey bees, the effects of this toxic chronic exposure may include lethal and/or sub-lethal effects in the larvae and reproductive effects in the queen."

Clothianidin = neurotoxin

The cigarette industry used to brag that one or two cigarettes doesn't give a person lung cancer. Likewise, the pharmaceutical companies are quick to show that feeding bees a specific amount of neurotoxins, like clothianidin, doesn't kill the bees. And, of course, this is true.

While small traces of clothianidin may not kill bees outright, it can and apparently does interfere with their ability to navigate to and from the hive. The pollen that they manage to bring back to the hive is then further concentrated and exposed to the entire colony, causing suppression of their immune systems and subsequent infection by any number of parasites and pathogens. This is exactly what beekeepers and farmers have been reporting -- half empty, infested bees or abandoned hives with no dead bodies to be found anywhere. It has also been noted that the empty colonies are absent the usual parasitic bugs that typically take advantage of an abandoned hive. The colonies appear sterile.

People dressed as bees demonstrate against pesticides 21 April 2007 in front of the Bayer headquarters in Brussels. Three millions bees have been dying each year since the introduction on the market of the pesticide manufactured by Bayer. Poster reads :'Gaucho Bayer, only kills if one uses it.'

Not Just Corn

The tragedy in Germany and France showed that bees who became exposed to clothianidin also infected bee colonies that were not harvesting corn pollen, thus spreading the toxin to regions at some distace to areas cultivating corn plants. It is theorized that they could have become disoriented and mingled with bees from other colonies or contaminated the pollen of plants where other bee colonies were also pollenating.

Same old story...

Money talks. Agro-business is huge and their influence is deep in the sciences and politics. Their own scientists must know very well that their product has threatened the global population of bees, yet they allow the conspiracy theories of a mysterious "Colony Collapse Disease" to endure. Clothianidin and imidacloprid (another pesrticide also banned by Germany and France) account for much of Bayer's agrochemical profits.

I used to think of Bayer as the company that made aspirin and medicine, but I recently saw a list of poisons that they made and marketed to kill everything from microbes to insects. It seems odd to me that a company that makes poisons also makes medical cures... Is there a link there? Perhaps it's just different sides of the same dollar or Euro.


(08-18) 18:37 PDT -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is refusing to disclose records about a new class of pesticides that could be playing a role in the disappearance of millions of honeybees in the United States, a lawsuit filed Monday charges.

The Natural Resources Defense Council wants to see the studies that the EPA required when it approved a pesticide made by Bayer CropScience five years ago.

The environmental group filed the suit as part of an effort to find out how diligently the EPA is protecting honeybees from dangerous pesticides, said Aaron Colangelo, a lawyer for the group in Washington.

In the last two years, beekeepers have reported unexplained losses of hives - 30 percent and upward - leading to a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder. Scientists believe that the decline in bees is linked to an onslaught of pesticides, mites, parasites and viruses, as well as a loss of habitat and food.
$15 billion in crops

Bees pollinate about one-third of the human diet, $15 billion worth of U.S. crops, including almonds in California, blueberries in Maine, cucumbers in North Carolina and 85 other commercial crops, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Not finding a cause of the collapse could prove costly, scientists warn.

Representatives of the EPA said they hadn't seen the suit and couldn't comment.

Clothianidin is the pesticide at the center of controversy. It is used to coat corn, sugar beet and sorghum seeds and is part of a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. The pesticide was blamed for bee deaths in France and Germany, which also is dealing with a colony collapse. Those two countries have suspended its use until further study. An EPA fact sheet from 2003 says clothianidin has the potential for toxic chronic exposure to honey bees, as well as other pollinators, through residues in nectar and pollen.

The EPA granted conditional registration for clothianidin in 2003 and at the same time required that Bayer CropScience submit studies on chronic exposure to honeybees, including a complete worker bee lifecycle study as well as an evaluation of exposure and effects to the queen, the group said. The queen, necessary for a colony, lives a few years; the workers live only six weeks, but there is no honey without them.

"The public has no idea whether those studies have been submitted to the EPA or not and, if so, what they show. Maybe they never came in. Maybe they came in, and they show a real problem for bees. Maybe they're poorly conducted studies that don't satisfy EPA's requirement," Colangelo said.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Crash and Burn on Wall Street

Almost remote from Main Street and just as remote from the American public, the pillars of the US financial system are in a struggle for life or death. Bear Sterns is absorbed by Morgan, Lehman is entering liquidation and Merrill is absorbed by Bank of America. Their real failure cannot be contemplated. But we are looking at a contraction in the supply of available credit. This means massive financial losses throughout the global economy, however well sheltered. Today AIG asked the Fed for help.

A crisis in confidence is visibly shrinking the economy and forcing premature liquidation and scaring sound money from coming to the table.

CNBC: Warren Buffett No Longer In Talks With AIG

Posted By:Alex Crippen


Don't count on Warren Buffett to "rescue" AIG.

A few minutes ago, CNBC's David Faber reported on the air that Buffett is "no longer" in talks with the insurer "about an investment or anything else."

AIG is desparetely trying to sell assets and raise new capital to avoid what would be a disastrous downgrade of its debt by the credit rating agencies.

Faber reports that people familiar with the situation tell him that talks between Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and AIG did take place last Friday and Saturday, but there's been nothing since then and nothing is happening now on that front.

Faber says AIG is focusing its attention on getting billions in bridge financing from the Federal Reserve, to allow for massive asset sales.

This is forced liquidation and it is not the liquidation of AIG itself that is troubling, it is the idea that such liquidation is thought possible in the first place. This is the domino liquidation scenario that is impossible to execute in a crumbling credit market. Again it will be necessary for the fed to step in and bridge every piece of script out there in order to stop the collapse.

And do not get it wrong. A collapse means a collapse in available credit for everyone and a collapse in the value of real assets to match that of the great depression. The ensuing economic collapse will then be driven by a lack of financial liquidity.

Right now this financial disaster is having babies, but the damage so far has been contained to the smart money crowd who are supposed to know better.

There is still time to end this rolling disaster by going to the mark to market strategy partially outlined in earlier posts.

I have been reticent on what I have been saying about the current credit situation for fear of adding gasoline to a forest fire. Right now, I fail to see how it could get any hotter.

A full disclosure of real exposure by all participants is needed followed by a mark to market exit strategy promulgated by the fed and backed by the fed’s guarantee. Right now there is no such strategy and no clarity as to where this will all end. The result is that one failure is feeding the next failure.

This can continue like a string of dominos until every mortgage is made almost worthless and every house selling at a fraction of its cost to manufacture. The objective of the fed is to stop this process, and so far they have been bailing like crazy and every event is a surprise.

The next few short days should tell the story as far as the equity side is concerned. I suspect that another 1500 points of decline is possible. We lost 500 today.

It will then take months for the money managers to get everything rebalanced and count the damage.
In the meantime, oil is heading for $65 to help offset this shock.

Perhaps this spring the public can reenter the housing market and clean up the inventory at double speed and get the big boys off the hook.

We are living through an historic credit contraction, once again brought about by pure negligence. Reckless lending always has champions and naïve lawmakers to play along. Putting armies of financial industry executives may keep them sober for a couple of generations.

Take note that I do not blame greed. That is a constant. What in hell were they thinking when they bought mortgages not guaranteed and managed by a local bank? An acceptable loss ratio for a bank portfolio is half a percent. With no local management you would need an impossible zero percent. It is as if the fix was in and the mafia was running the show laying the paper off onto whoever they could bag.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Solazyme brews Jet Fuel

This item can be described as more good news coming out of the ongoing efforts to harness algae. We are seeing second, third and forth generational ideas paying of quickly.

Replacing jet fuel with an equivalent biological was unhoped for because I have made the natural assumption that like oil, a substantial processing phase would need to be engineered once a biological oil source was built out. Instead we have clearly got another brew master’s operation that can use plant material as feed stock without a lot of fuss.

I hope this means that it can be built out in farm sized units to avoid excessive haulage costs. Just as obviously, if they can produce jet fuel or even an unrefined precursor at this scale, it should also be possible to produce from the same system a gasoline and diesel equivalent.

This sounds a lot easier than the many other protocols that we have discussed so far. Pyrolysis was always a nonstarter for the liquid fuel cycle and so was playing with natural algae. Ethanol was possible if algae or cattails produced the feedstock. The idea that we can side step all these issues and natural complexities and brew up jet fuel from plant waste is almost too good to be true. It is certainly a good objective to achieve and let us hope that this company is not been premature.

The company has focused its research on marine algae and has announced and tested biodiesel produced through their work. My sense is that they are pushing the research envelop to perfect the necessary production protocols. Actual commercialization should be the next step.

It would be a remarkable development if it becomes possible to shift transportation fuel production completely into agriculture at the same time consuming agricultural waste.

The use of agricultural waste as a feed stock for producing biochar is important for manufacturing high quality soils, but is not necessary once such soils are produced. Conversion to fuel nicely consumes this surplus.

Microbes Grow Jet Fuel in the Dark
September 10, 2008

The South San Francisco company
Solarzyme announced this week that it has produced the world's first microbial-derived jet fuel to pass the eleven most challenging specifications needed to meet the Aviation Turbine Fuel standards.

Solarzyme's algal-derived aviation fuel was analyzed by the Southwest Research Institute, one of the nations leading fuel analytical laboratories. The tested areas included the key measurements for density, thermal oxidative stability, flashpoint, freezing point, distillation and viscosity, the biggest hurdles needed to develop a commercial and military jet fuel.

Given Solarzyme's excellent cold-temperature performance and the clean characteristics of the oil, former military fuels specialists note that new algae-based fuels could help the DOD comply with recently enacted mandates to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and utilize environmentally friendly fuels.

In the U.S. alone, 1.6 billion gallons of jet fuel are used every month resulting in significant greenhouse gas emissions. The need for environmentally friendly and sustainable alternatives is growing rapidly. The EU is requiring that every nation landing there
must adhere to their emission standards by 2012.

But it's not merely foreign legislative pressure that's driving change. As peak oil nears, jet fuel already accounts for 36 percent of airline industry costs -- up from 13 percent just six years ago -- and could account for 40 percent of industry costs next year.

While algae-based fuel is currently almost as expensive as oil to produce, it has a significantly different estimated cost going forward, since it is made up of cells that double exponentially over time (2,4,8,16,32, 64...). Oil supplies will be increasingly scarce and expensive to extract over that time period.

Solarzyme is currently producing thousands of gallons of oil a month at scale and is the only advanced biofuels company that has produced fuels that have passed specification testing and are compatible with the existing transportation fuel infrastructure. Solarzyme uses directed evolution to engineer an organism to perform a desired function, the same technique farmers have employed since the dawn of civilization to breed new strains of higher production grain and so on, but this is done at the gene sequence level.

Solarzyme's process needs no sunlight, unlike other algae farming startups such as the New Zealand startup that
will be flying a Boeing test to San Francisco this month. This lack of a need for sunlight makes for an efficient and fast process, and the feedstock is very sustainable: agricultural waste, cellulosic material such as switchgrass and industrial byproducts. Algae doesn't require vast amounts of land. You can even grow algae on the roof of a sewage plant.

Unlike the materials utilized in any other mass production process that we enterprising humans have ever used to make things with, by its very nature, algae just keeps on growing.