Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Is Arnie a Jolly Green Giant?

Today we thank the Jolly Green Giant for our episode of Green Machine. Is this the Giant on the small screen that ate pees became green and grew into a giant? Actually I was thinking of our Governator who is the new Jolly Green Giant. Just in time for Christmas, Arnie and his Air Resources Board have proposed the Scoping Plan to cut California's greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020. Developing this Scoping Plan was part of the law that Arnie signed into law in September 2006. The problem is that back in September 2006 housing prices were high and GM still was a company with a stock price of thirty three dollars a share.

The same fools at the Air Resources Board who brought us MTBE are now scoping the future and planning for us to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by thirty seven percent between now and 2020. This will primarily be accomplished by the wished for low carbon fuel the Air Resources Board is yet to invent. Also proposed is a "Feebate" for a Cap-and-Trade program to lower greenhouse gas emissions. I read this as a Tax and an increase in the cost of fuel, automobiles, doing business in the Golden State, or simply living here. Instead of coining marketing terms like Feebates these guys should concentrate on improving the quality of life for all in California.

These imbeciles coined the term "Reformulated Gasoline" for the MTBE laden poisonous gasoline that was mandated twenty years ago to clean the air. This was stupidity of the greatest measure as all gasoline vehicles started to deploy catalytic converters and the MTBE served no purpose other than to line the oil companies' pockets with additional profits. Some elite group will make money out of Cap-and-Trade while our greenhouse gas emissions will not decline by 37% by 2020. The only hope for reduction of greenhouse gases in any large measure is to improve vehicle efficiency and provide incentives for folks to carpool and take public transportation. Instead of Feebates (Taxes) we should have rebates (incentives) to those who adjust the driving habits, turn down their home thermostats, get rid of their lawns and SUVs, and live a greener life.

Thank goodness Obama did not take the Kennedy family's advice and appoint the Jolly Green Giant as the Secretary of Energy. Instead he will appoint a Nobel Prize winning physicist Steven Chu as Energy Secretary. Chu won his Nobel Prize in 1997 for understanding the behaviour of gases at very low temperatures. Chu and his co-winner Claude Cohen-Tanoudji, developed a method to use multiple lasers focused on gas atoms that slowed down their velocity of motion to less than one kilometre per hour thereby reducing their temperature to almost absolute zero. Chu was quoted in 1997 when he won the Nobel Prize that he and Cohen had slowed down the velocity of gases to a rate that an ant might walk. I kind of like it that an ant tamer was chosen over Jolly Green Giant for Energy Secretary. Remember that the suddenly green Governor was the celebrity that popularized Hummers and owned a bunch of them at the time Chu and Cohen were trying to think small and slow things down. I think Dr Chu will be a good Energy Secretary, I only wish that the California Air Resources Board had a collective IQ close to his. As tomorrow is Christmas I will use the words of the original Jolly Green Giant and sign off by saying Ho Ho Ho.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Will LEDs save us?

The Holiday Season is upon us and lights will glitter all over the land to celebrate the holidays. Christmas Trees and Hanukah Menorahs are symbols that have lights for decoration. The story of Hanukah is about the miracle of the lamp oil in the temple in Jerusalem lasting for eight days instead of the expected one day. This meant that the lamp increased its efficiency eight fold. Well we too have new lamp technology that is similarly more efficient than the old incandescent bulbs that adorned our Christmas Trees or our homes. This wonderful technology is that of Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs).

I believe I have written previously that LEDs use one tenth the energy of incandescent light bulbs and are long lived and can operate for as long as twelve years. Perhaps we are also witnessing a miracle now that we have replaced the old and inefficient strings of red, green, white or blue incandescent holiday lights. We also will not have to bother with searching which bulb has blown and needs replacement so that the whole string of lights shines once more. The Tiburon Fire Department can also rest easier as LED's do not burn hot and are not a fire hazard.

The National Christmas Tree in Washington DC as well as the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City are lit with LEDs. The tree at the Rockefeller center this year is a seventy two foot Norway Spruce. It will be decorated with 30,000 LED lights that are connected with just over five miles of wire. These lights will consume 1,297 kilowatt hours of electricity each night the tree is lit. Using LEDs saved 2,223 kilowatt hours each night compared with the old string of lights that were replaced. This amount of energy saved each night will power the average Tiburon home for two months. Additionally, the brightness (lumens) of the string of LED lights is also three times as bright as the replaced lights.

It would be interesting to find out if one of our spy satellites is capable of photographing this tree from outer space with the resolution of being able to see the individual lights. Sorry even the Green Machine does not have the answer to this as it is classified.What does one do with a seventy two foot Christmas Tree after the Holiday Season has passed and it is time to pay the bills? The folks at Rockefeller Center will have it recycled for use as smaller toys for the animals in the Brox Zoo as well as having part of it mulched for hiking trails in and around New York City.

Many people ask me if they should use a live tree or a plastic tree for their Christmas Tree at home. Over the whole lifecycle of a decade the plastic tree has a lower carbon footprint than buying a live tree each year. The largest contribution to the carbon footprint over the decade is from the gasoline used to drive the SUV or Station Wagon to and from the tree lot or the tree farm if you fell your own tree. Many folks also like to light their tree until February or March. In this case plastic trees have far lower danger of catching alight. Form a green point of view whether you choose plastic or living trees, please use LED lights to decorate the tree. Of course the colors of the lights must be varied as green lights will be camouflaged by the tree. Happy Green Holidays to all of you.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Can we use diamonds to sequester carbon?

Diamonds are a girl's best friend. Diamonds are also pure carbon. I hear old Alfalfa and the venture capitalists he joined in Silicon Valley are working on a technology to sequester carbon in diamonds. Only joking, the sum total of diamonds sold a year is only one hundred and sixty million carats. A carat is equal to one fifth of a gram, therefore the yearly sales of diamonds only equals thirty two million grams or about thirty five US tons. Fifteen cars emit approximately thirty five tons a year of carbon, so please don't rush out to the local jewellers and buy diamonds thinking you are helping reduce global warming by sequestering carbon. It is interesting that a rough uncut diamond is only worth $100 per carat or $500 per gram. This is less expensive than the new monoclonal antibodies that biotech drug companies have developed.

The GEMs I was thinking about are the street legal electric cars that were first introduced ten years ago. These cars can zip around at 25 MPH and have a range of thirty miles before they need recharging. GEM stands for Global Electric Motorcars. They are produced in a factory in Fargo North Dakota. I guess they chose this town as they thought Fargo would increase the range of the vehicle. GEM is now owned by Chrysler. A 2001 GEM E2 (2 seats) sells on ebay for around $4,500. This is equal to the original price that the vehicle sold for some eight years ago. Chrysler's other vehicles do not have similar resale value. Kelly Blue Books lists a 2001 Chrysler Sebring in excellent condition as having a private party value of $3,100. Anyone who bought a Sebring back in 2001 should rather have bought a real gem rather than a cubic chrysloneum.

I am a very happy vanpooler these days. I just received $300 worth of gas cards from 511 dot org. This money was given to me as I organized a vanpool from Manzanita to Genentech in South San Francisco where I work. We will receiver another $600 over the next six months from 511 dot org if we continue the vanpool. The gas cards are usable at ARCO stations. I filled up the behemoth van at the ARCO station near Goodmans on the Redwood Highway for the paltry price of $1.93 a gallon. I just hope we have learned our green lessons well and don't go back to wasting energy now that gas prices are less than half they were just four months ago.

While I was typing this episode of Green Machine we had a power outage. This is the third power outage to my home in less than a month. There was no storm or inclement weather that caused the outage. I believe it may be that PG and E now stands for Please Go-out and Eat. They may be trying to help the restaurants in this poor economy by cutting power every so often to the homes on the Tiburon Peninsular. I am lucky that Microsoft Word stores a back-up file of the document I was working on when the computer has a sudden shut-down., else I would have had to start this article again from scratch. Microsoft will introduce a new product in 2010 codenamed GEM. The codename GEM stands for Gates Enjoys Money

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Will fewer jet flights lower our carbon footprint?

So what does the Peachtree State have to do with being green? Atlanta's Hartsfield Jackson Airport remains the busiest airport in the country for the number of domestic passengers that arrived or departed on a flight in the month of August 2008. The United States Bureau of Transportation Statistics reports that some 3.5 million domestic passengers used this airport during the month. There were a total of 58.8 million domestic passengers in the entire United States during August 2008. This figure seems large till one compare the data with the corresponding month a year ago of August 2007. In August 2008 there were 6.1% fewer domestic passengers than in August 2007. There were however 2.0% more international passengers in August 2008 than in 2007.

There were 820,100 domestic flights in August 2008 some 6.0% fewer flights than the corresponding month in 2007.Now that I have bored you all to death with flight statistics for the United States, I will tie in what this has to do with being green. Air Transportation is very energy intensive as the airplanes are heavier than air and need massive thrust from their engines to stay aloft. All this thrust comes from kerosene jet fuel that is refined from crude oil. Therefore the fewer flights we have the less jet fuel we consume. The US Energy Information Agency has reported that for the four weeks ending November 15 2008 some 20.3% less jet fuel was delivered Airlines than in the same period last year. The airlines still took delivery of 1,291,000 barrels a day on average of jet fuel during the past four weeks. No doubt the number of total flights in the USA for the month of November 2008 will be well down from the number in August 2008 and also November 2007.

While I am the Green Machine these statistics are frightening as the energy saved was not through conservation but rather due to a precipitous decline in economic activity. The reduced demand for Jet Fuel, Residual Oil, Gasoline and Diesel has significantly lowered the price of oil and hence these refined products. The reduced revenue the oil exporters receive is not my concern. I don't care if it is "Goodbye to Dubai". My concern is that we don't go back to sleep on the energy conservation front. Global warming is continuing irrespective of this small decline in energy consumption. Airlines are trying to conserve fuel by lightening the load. Some planes are never painted as it makes no sense to spend fuel to keep paint aloft. Now that they serve less food and charge for checked in bags the payload of each flight is also decreasing. Also with fewer flight there is far less circling of airports waiting for a slot to land and a space to park at the jetway.

Trains are far more fuel efficient than Airplanes for the simple reason they do not have to have thrust to keep them buoyant. Had the 58.8 million domestic passengers that flew in August 2008 traveled by train, more than half the fuel used by the planes would have been saved. Of course long distance flights will always be needed but hopefully more people will hop on the train or bus for a trip of a few hundred miles. The average domestic flight in the US consumes 2,050 gallons of jet fuel and carries 71 passengers. Don't believe the saying that "the only way to travel is to fly".