There is mounting concern the ongoing flow of oil from the damaged BP Deepwater Horizon well in the Macondo field may be the result of one or more serious structural breaches in the cement well casing below the sea bed. Statements made on 7 June by Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, suggest the well casing has ruptured, there are multiple points of seepage across the surrounding sea bed, and the well can likely only be closed from below, if or when the two relief wells connect with the damaged well.
The news is gravely important, because it would mean that 1) efforts to seal or cap the well from above will not work and 2) the cement lining of the well itself may have been structurally flawed from the outset. Firedoglake has been reporting on this issue, in an effort to bring to light information that has apparently been included in private briefings to members of Congress but never disclosed to the public.
The quest for the most fuel-efficient vehicles has entered a new phase, with major government private-sector investment in research and development for industrial-scale commercial production of a new class of gas-electric hybrid vehicles and EVs (all-electric cars). Swiss-based Solar Impulse is building the world’s first 100% solar-powered airplane, an achievement that will revolutionize the travel, industrial production, transport and fuel sectors. Now comes the news that the Chevrolet Volt will shatter the existing paradigm for fuel efficiency, achieving 230 miles per gallon (mpg).
Nissan claims to have better comparable performance for their LEAF model, and Tesla is preparing a fleet of high-performance “100% torque 100% of the time” EVs. Solar panels are creeping into automotive design, for supplemental power for commercially sold vehicles, though they have long been the subject of engineering competitions that race solar-only prototypes. Organic solar concentrators (dye-treated SV-edged windows) allow for the highly efficient use of existing window surfaces to capture solar power and generate electricity.
Carbon offsets allow the use of carbon-emitting processes to help fund and develop clean alternatives, which can then compete with and possibly replace the offending carbon-emitters. But there are also ways in which carbon offsetting can be used to combat poverty around the world. If offsets are focused on reducing bad habits, resulting from those engaging in those habits having either no alternative or no training to find alternatives, people living in the poorest conditions can find themselves benefitting from the clean energy revolution.
The group CarbonAided, which helps inform, and provide guidance for implementing carbon offsets, is now seeking to establish means by which carbon offsetting can produce real-world benefits for marginalized and poor communities in developing countries. Breaking the cycle of bad carbon practice the world over requires this step be taken, and the logic of doing it through carbon offsetting is that developing countries can be brought up to speed on emissions reductions by the same process that helps developed industrial countries break their bad habits.
Biodiesel is a controversial area of energy sourcing. Many believe it is a poor choice for breaking human dependence on carbon-based fuels, since it is essentially, yet another way of burning carbon to produce energy. But others say it is a healthy, incremental step, which can burn cleaner than petroleum fuels and will help diversify the scope of recycling and related inputs to the energy economy.
Now chocolate is making its way into the biodiesel game. Chocolate fuel: the phrase is charismatic, it draws the ear, alerts the mind, it wakens the attention of people who have rarely thought about what the development of alternative fuels really means. So, how does chocolate biodiesel work? It is actually the waste byproducts made by industrial production of chocolate for human consumption. Those waste byproducts —often simply small chunks, flakes or “misshapes” of chocolate— are concentrated into biodiesel, which can be burned to produce locomotion in motor vehicles.
The converging crises of carbon-induced climate destabilization and unsustainable transport-related costs and land-use are pushing global society toward a moment of major change, in which “fuel” as we know it will be less a matter of resourced-fuel combustion and more a matter of renewable clean electric power storage and delivery. The petroleum industry needs to adjust its business model to operate in a world where burning its prime resource is not the goal.
Until now, and even in the midst of the current ongoing energy debate, we are accustomed to viewing the onset of renewable energy sources and the interests of petroleum companies as diametrically opposed and politically incompatible. That idea is now easily seen as what it is: an ideological assumption based on a world-view informed by too few facts and too little understanding of complex interrelationships among resources, natural systems, and economic activity.
A new study has shown that raindrops can be used to produce electricity. The key is the mechanical energy of the raindrops, meaning the energy contained in their motion and in the way that force is diffused when striking a given type of surface. In this case the surface is PVDF (polyvinylidene difluoride) plastic, which is able to release a charge when temporarily “deformed” by mechanical activity, such as being struck by a moving object.
A sheet of PVDF just 25 micrometers thick (1,000 = 1 milimeter) receives the impact of raindrops, and the effect is the release of energy, which can be harvested and turned into electricity. Romain Guigon, from the research institute CEA Leti-Minatec in Grenoble, France, says the research shows that “even in the most unfavorable conditions, the mechanical energy of the raindrops… is high enough to power low-consumption devices”, but the study does not specify how well circuitry retains a minimum charge sufficient for regular functioning.
A new breakthrough in propulsion technology may enable a fuel-free engine with no moving parts to use microwaves to push satellites through space and automobiles on earth. The science is complicated and controversial, but appears to be sound and takes advantage of Einstein’s landmark theory of relativity to turn contained microwaves into a propulsion system, in the form of a non-mechanical engine.
The electromagnetic drive (emdrive) system is revolutionary because it enables human technology to interact with the physical environment in ways previously only dreamed in science fiction. Observers have referred to it as a Star-Trek-style “warp drive”, though for now it is far less powerful.
Between the years 2008 and 2020, we are likely to see a still unimaginably sweeping shift away from fossil fuels and high-contamination modes of powering our economy. The transition will have a political component, but will be driven mostly by cost concerns, resource scarcity, and public demand for cleaner air and responsible climate policy, a demand which is not ideological in nature.
The long-term overhaul of the global economy, to bring it in line with what would be a responsible climate policy, will be more gradual, and has for some time now been taking its first halting steps toward acquiring momentum. But wealthy countries, ostensibly the most dependent on carbon-based fuels, also enjoy the conditions that permit broader flexibility in fuel resourcing, namely an economic cushion and variety in the marketplace.
Due to the science we already have, the laws we have to govern our own activity and to force government to act for the public health, we face the real possibility of being forced, in American courts, in the future, to pay for damage done to the most affected populations in other parts of the world, as a result of inaction by our government. And if not in court, then as a matter of the de facto urgencies of international political stability.
If we do not find a way to work to mitigate global climate change, future generations will look back and will see clearly that a zeitgeist of selfish convenience and primitive disregard for the wellbeing of our fellow human beings led to a reckless attitude with regard to this snowballing crisis. The public voice, and those campaigning for the level of public respect needed for election to office, should bring this issue to the fore, push for real initiatives to tackle the problem boldly, in a collaborative way, now.