Showing posts with label Planet. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Planet. Show all posts

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Should you buy cans or bottles of beer?

Many readers of the Green Machine drink beer and are concerned about their carbon, land, and water footprints that result from their choice of packaging for their beers. There is great debate of whether to opt for aluminum cans over glass bottles. From a taste and quality perspective there is a bias towards glass bottles. I am no beer aficionado and my opinion on quality and taste can only be based on the fact that aluminum cans are coated and do not likely impart any taste to the beer. Also in a blind taste test if the subjects drink the beer out of a glass rather than the original container it has been shown that there is no statistical difference or preference between the two methods of packaging beer.,2933,582616,00.html

Beer packaged in an aluminum can also has a longer shelf life as no oxygen can enter the beer. Caps on bottles do not completely seal out oxygen in the air from diffusing into the bottle and reacting with the beer. Also beer is sensitive to light and photoreactions occur in beer, therefore a can that completely blocks the beer from light is preferable even to amber glass bottles. For the purposes of our eco analysis I will assume that good beer in either method of packaging has no taste difference or price difference and that the consumer is basing their selection purely from a Green perspective.

The analysis of comparative carbon, water and land foot prints is dependant on the following primary parameters. The distance from the brewery to the point of sale, the distance of the brewery from the point of manufacture of the container, whether the container is manufactured from virgin or recycled material (the recycle rate for containers in that location), the distance of the container manufacturer from the recycling center or the glass or aluminum foundry, the source of energy used in the glass or aluminum foundry, and the volume of beer within the container. A local brewery in a major metropolitan area like San Francisco, that does not transport the beer very far for sale nor haul empty bottles very far from their point of manufacturer should continue from a green perspective to use glass bottles unless the recycle rate for aluminum cans is more than 75%. Below this threshold of recycling the mining of bauxite and the upgrading of bauxite to alumina and the final refining of aluminum from alumina simply is too energy, land, and water intensive to displace new glass bottles from an Eco footprint perspective. Remember that the simple act of recycling a single beer can saves the equivalent amount of electricty to run your television three hours.

For larger breweries that are less proximate to their markets, aluminum cans even with a recycle rate of only 50% are likely the more eco friendly option. If the aluminum smelter is in Iceland and the electricity for the smelter is generated by hydroelectric dams, then there is no doubt that an Icelandic brewery should use aluminum cans and not glass bottle. Also I am fairly certain that Iceland has a relatively high recycle rate on their beer cans.

The nutrition value (energy content) of a 12 ounce can of beer is approximately 150 Calories. This is only one half of the energy that was required to produce the can if the aluminum was made from virgin bauxite. If the can was made from recycled aluminum, then the energy content of the beer is about fourfold the energy content of the can. SAB Miller is selling some pretty anemic beer now with only 57 Calories, in this case the sickle cell beer has the same energy content as the can made of recycled aluminum. Drinkers of this type of beer with only 2.5% alcohol don’t really care about taste they only care to be true Green Machines and their selection of this brand is all about eco footprint. Here is an interesting link to the calories in various beer brands. The greater the alcohol content the greater the calories. This makes sense as alcohol has carbon bonds with hydrogen that yield energy when metabolized.

I have used up my space for this week’s blog and I will therefore continue the discussion on beer in my next blog. As they say Skal for Cheers in Iceland. I bid you all Skal and I hope the beer you drink does not hurt your skull. Here is a link on from Denmark on how to say Cheers in many countries.

Please provide comments below. And please recycle all of your beverage containers, plastic, glass and aluminum

Sunday, July 26, 2009

How does the earth’s heat produce geothermal energy?

Geothermal energy is a renewable energy source. Essentially the source of geothermal energy is the radioactive decay of elements deep within the earth. If aquifers are coincidental with geothermal, hot geysers will form that spout steam into the air. If no aquifers are present the hot spot is called dry geothermal. Iceland leads the world in the capturing of geothermal energy to heat homes, offices and factories as well as generating electricity from this renewable energy source. Chevron the San Francisco based oil company claims to be the world’s largest geothermal electricity company. Chevron has large projects in Indonesia and the Philippines which are two countries with significant geothermal potential.

California leads the US in the production of geothermal electricity but there is tons of interest in geothermal in Utah, Nevada, and other states in the intermountain area. The method to extract work from the geothermal source is pretty simple. If an aquifer is present and the geothermal source is hot enough to produce steam the steam is simply run through a turbine and the turbine is connected to a generator that produces electricity. If the temperature of the geothermal sourceis not sufficient to produce pressurized steam then an alternate working fluid is used to power the turbine. The alternate fluids have boiling points lower than water (steam) and will also be routed through a turbine in their vapor state. Much research is being undertaken to invent the optimum working fluid with thermodynamic properties to optimize the amount of electricity that can be generated. Often the process of these alternate working fluids is referred to as an Organic Rankine Cycle. Organic means the working fluid is carbon based and Rankine was a thermodynamicist who has a temperature scale named after him. This link explains the Organic Rankine Cycle further

Ormat technologies traded on the NYSE as ORA is a leading developer of the Organic Rankine Cycle technology. United Technologies is another and this makes sense since UTX also produces Pratt and Whitney turbines. Just a few weeks ago a group working at the Pacific Northwest National Energy Lab discovered a method to use nano particles to agglomerate organic Rankine fluids such as hexane or pentane to improve the performance of geothermally derived heat for electric power generation. This link provides further details I have no doubt that geothermal energy will play an increasing role in power generation in the USA, and elsewhere. Geothermal is a source of renewable energy that can operate on a 24 by 7 basis. Wind and solar are very intermittent and only provide power for some 25% of the hours in a year. Some recent research out of NYU Stern Business School by Mellissa Schilling ranks geothermal as well as wind as the technologies that should attract research money as they are likely to deliver the best improvement in cost of power generation. Solar PV and Solar Thermal according to these researchers will not deliver the cost improvement and research dollars spent on these technologies will likely prove futile.

I like geothermal simply because the word rings nicely in my head. Chevrolet used to market a mini car named a Geo Prizm which was actually a Toyota Corolla manufactured in the factory GM and Toyota shared (NUMI) in Fremont California. GM in bankruptcy has pulled out of the joint venture and just this week it is pretty much assured that Toyota will close the NUMI plant. Numi is the only auto assembly plant on the US West Coast. The left coast will be left out of the auto race, except perhaps Tesla who will get almost half a billion of government money to build their plug in sedan. Here is an idea. Toyota should buy Tesla and use NUMI for the plug in and the feds should keep our tax dollars for fixing potholes that otherwise will destroy vehicles.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Can coal power plants compete with natural gas?

In the construction industry a Greenfield is a site that has never had any construction upon it. The word in this context is a wide open space to construct the new project without any demolition or possible hidden underground structures. Engineers love to have Greenfield sites as opposed to Brownfield sites where all sorts of hidden obstacles can add complexities and costs to projects. Greenfield is also a city in Wisconsin that is a suburb of Milwaukee. Very close to Greenfield is another suburb named Oak Creek. On Elm Road in Oak Creek, Wisconsin Energy Corporation (WEC), the local utility decided to build the world’s showcase coal fired power plant on a Greenfield site. They hired Bechtel and convinced their public utilities commission this mega sized coal power generation station would provide “cheap” electricity for the residents of Southern Wisconsin for many years to come.

Local folks put up quite a fight to stop the construction of the power plant and even though they proved that copious quantities of mercury from the coal would wind up in Lake Michigan, the project was permitted and began construction in 2005. Bechtel felt so confident of their capabilities that they offered WEC a lump sum fixed price contract for the power plant at a price of $2.2 billion. Bechtel set about to design and build a flagship power plant with two 615 megawatt identical units that employed “ultrasupercritical” steam technology. In layperson’s terms this means the steam boilers produce very high pressure and high temperature steam that improves the overall thermal efficiency of the electric power generation. The station also did not include cooling towers that are normally used in power plants. Instead cooling water was drawn directly from Lake Michigan and the warmed water is returned directly to the lake. Here is the link on Bechtel’s web site regarding the project Bechtel was so proud of this project that a senior executive exclaimed “As Elm Road goes, so will go Bechtel’s U.S. fossil power business,” says Project Director George Conniff. “The whole industry is watching to see how we perform.”

Fast forward to 2009 and the project is a disaster. Bechtel is claiming an additional $485 million for cost over-runs. Coal is an expensive method to generate power compared with natural gas that is now much more abundant. Coal generation even with the “ultrasupercritical” technology is much more carbon intensive than natural gas with as much a one pound extra of carbon dioxide emissions per kilowatt hour of electricity generated when compared with natural gas. The 38,000 citizens of Greenfield Wisconsin will be paying a carbon tax on this project for the next thirty years. The fish in Lake Michigan will be paying a mercury tax for the next hundred years. Bechtel and WEC will argue the legalities of the claims for the over-runs and who knows if the claims are valid but the Green Machine would like both the constructer and the owner of the failed facility to be taken to the Green Court that is the Supreme Court for those who disobey the Laws Of Thermodynamics. The project was a dumb idea in 2005 even when natural gas was more expensive. Now that natural gas is much less expensive the project is plain idiotic. Perhaps citizens will be better served if the management of utilities were smarter, the contractors were more in tune with being green, and the public utilities commissioners were “ultrasupercritical” of stupid ideas. Can Bechtel please tell George Conniff that the whole world not just the whole industry is watching to see how the project performed. No doubt this project gets a F.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Can you defy gravity in Gravity Iowa?

A while back I thanked gravity, one of the fundamental forces in nature, for providing renewable energy in the form of hydroelectric power. Today I am thinking more of the town of Gravity Iowa. Yes this little town not far from Council Bluffs has a population of some 218 souls. It is also located along the middle branch of the One Hundred and Two River. Yes some guy named a river in Southern Iowa that is a tributary of the North Platte the One hundred and Two River because it was 102 miles from nowhere.

I just gave two talks the past week at Iowa State University. I was invited back to my graduate school thirty two years after gaining my masters degree in thermodynamics. The first talk was on the subject of “Energy and Agriculture”, the second was on the “Carbon and Water Footprints of Manufacturing Biotech Drugs”. Interestingly the audience for the energy and agriculture talk and debate was not partial toward bio-ethanol and in fact the President of The Iowa Farm Bureau who also spoke was not a proponent at all of converting Iowa farm land to switch grass for cellulosic derived bio-ethanol. His opinion was that Iowa farms should produce corn and soy beans for food. Wow! The people on the ground in Iowa who have the most to gain from the cellulosic nonsense would rather feed us food, while the pretenders at the University of California Bezerkly are promoting this cellulosic scientific dead end. Perhaps Berkeley and its Renewable and Inappropriate Energy Lab should relocate to a new river that I will name the 103 Mile River. This river will flow pure bio-ethanol and a billion vehicles will miraculously get their fuel from it without disturbing the earth in any way.

While in Ames, I also spent an hour with my major professor who guided me through my thesis. I thanked him for lighting the fire in me to study thermodynamics and told him that through my articles and my blog I was trying to make this complex subject more understandable to the lay person. We joked that if I could master the laws of thermodynamics then indeed lay people would become energy gurus. I also drove through the countryside between Ames and Des Moines that is perhaps the most fertile farmland on the planet. The seeds had not yet germinated so all one could see was the rick black topsoil that was recently tilled. Here in Marin County we pay five dollars for a two cubic foot bag of topsoil that is only half as good. Mother Nature intended Iowa to be the breadbasket. In a world short of food and protein, the farms in Iowa should produce food and not let misguided government policy steer them toward switch and bait grass.

I did not pass through Gravity Iowa, but If I had I would have posed this question to the police chief about folks who live there and become drunk and disorderly. Are the drunkards defying gravity? If they are defying gravity then the folks at Bezerkly could bottle the bio-ethanol produced there and the road we travel on will always be downhill.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Is the gazillion a really large number?

Is a gazillion a real number? No it is not, but it is used euphemistically as an indefinitely large number. With our national debt standing at about ten to the power thirteen dollars I say we have reached a gazillion of debt. The French word for Gas is Gaz, so perhaps we are not out of gas quite yet as we can invent the engine that runs on gazillions of paper money.

Talking about numbers, I just read in the Sacramento Bee that in 2008 the number of new vehicles sold in the State of California totaled 1,447,460 down from 1.881,030 in 2007. This means that 433,570 fewer vehicles were sold last year than the year before. In fact the sales of new vehicles in 2008 were the lowest since 1993. The California New Car Dealers Association is predicting some 15.1% fewer new car sales in 2009 with an expected figure of 1,229,000. With all the closures of new car dealerships in Marin County I would estimate that the sales of new vehicles in our county will plunge even further.

Superficially this is good news for the environment, fewer vehicles means fewer carbon emissions, excepting that we need new more efficient vehicles and need to get those fool size SUVs off the road. Also the county as well as the state depends heavily on sales taxes collected from new vehicle sales and the diminished source of government revenue is causing all sorts of ripple effects on the level of basic services we expect from our governments. The ripple is getting so pronounced we may all have to trade down to drinking ripple. Fine wines are also no longer selling in the volumes previously produced. People are trading down to less expensive wines, however on aggregate wine consumption in California is still increasing. Production volume of wines in California increased by 2.5% in 2008. Oregon had us Golden Staters way beat by increasing their wine production by 9.3%.

All these numbers are making my head spin just as if I had drunk a jug of ripple. We are trading down on wine and we are not trading down on the size of our vehicles. My solution to this is the “ultimate stimulus package” of a free Corolla with the purchase of ten cases of Corona. My friend Dave who is my co-host on blog talk radio each Wednesday, bought a brand-new Saab now that that this GM company is in bankruptcy in Sweden. Dave is a very bright MIT engineer and he is willing to risk that parts and service will be hard to get for the substantial discount he received in buying the new Saab. I just hope Saab does not stand for Send Another Able Body when the car breaks down and I have to help push it. It also seems that another of the Generals in the DOW Industrials has drunk too much ripple. Just this week General Electric’s market capitalization dropped to a low of 89 billion dollars and they cut their dividend by two thirds. GE had a market capitalization in excess of 500 billion dollars or almost a gazillion back in July 2000. I just remembered the Y2K ad that was “yes to KIA”, if only we had bought those small cars we would not have today’s headache.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What is the carbon footprint of a massive forest fire?

Today's episode of Green Machine is a tribute to the inhabitants of the town of Geelong Australia. Geelong is in the State of Victoria some fifty miles to the south-west of Melbourne. As of the time that I wrote this article more than two hundred people had perished in the worst fires in the recorded history of the State of Victoria in Australia. Witnesses reported walls of flames that were four storeys high and an area of some 115 square miles has been burnt. The previous most devastating fire in Victoria occurred in 1983 when seventy five people died in what is now referred to as Ash Wednesday. The summer weather in Australia and in particular Victoria has been far warmer than normal. The northern part of Australia is flooded while the southern part is under a massive drought. In fact certain northern towns in the country are so flooded that crocodiles are now a common site slinking around in the streets.

Many Australian politicians and citizens are blaming carbon emission and the perceived effect of global warming for the weather conditions that have lead to the drought and these resulting massive fires. I cannot draw any definitive conclusion that these fires are the result of the almost billion motor vehicles on the planet. What I can conclude is that suburban sprawl has certainly put many families in harms way as their homes are now built in localities that are prone to bush and forest fires. Many of the victims simply could not drive away from these fires and choking smoke fast enough to escape. Numerous deaths occurred due to blocked roads from all the traffic and many folks were suffocated in their vehicles by the sheer amount of smoke from these fires. Had these folks lived in medium or high rise apartments in Melbourne they would not have had to endure this terrible ordeal.

Suburban living places an enormous burden on the environment and we only focus on these issues when an enormous fire or some other natural or manmade disaster is part of the news. Another item reported in today's news is that President Obama has requested fifteen billion dollars of funds to perform research into energy efficiency and alternates to fossil fuels. This is music to the Green Machine's ears. If I were in charge I would spend fourteen and a half billion dollars on energy efficiency and half a billion dollars on alternate fuels. Given the pork barrel way we achieve political compromise, the amount that will be spent on subsidizing and researching alternate bio-fuels will likely far eclipse the amount that will be spent on energy efficiency and conservation.

The crocodiles of Northern Australia are cold blooded creatures that use the sunlight during the day to warm their bodies. That is why they have come to town so they can sun themselves given that all the river banks are now "downunder" several feet of water. If only an enterprising Australian could build a canal from Queensland to Victoria, the law of averages would then combine a flood with a drought and all of Australia would enjoy fine weather to allow them to put another shrimp on the barbie.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

How did Captain Sully combine thermodynamics with flying?

We should actually thank Captain Chesley Sully Sullenberger for his incredible skills at gliding an engineless jet safely into the icy waters of the Hudson River without any loss of life or major injury to the passengers and crew. The skill Sully had mastered was that of gliding. Gliding entails a fixed wing object using the pressure of moving air to create lift to counter the force of gravity. The Chinese invented kites as early at 500 BC. In ancient Chinese and Indian cultures the kite was used to ward off evil spirits. Leonardo da Vinci developed a design for the ornithopter as a device to mimic the flight of birds. Leonardo believed humans had enough muscle power to take off and fly. Alas even to this day no person has accomplished this.

A German engineer Otto Lilienthal was the first true airman in history. He demonstrated in a repeated way that controlled glider flight was possible. When Otto was 14 he attempted to fly using Leonardo’s ornithopter design. After repeated failure Otto realized that flight could not be achieved merely by a flapping of wings. In 1889 Otto published a book titled “The Flight of Birds as a Basis of Aviation”. Otto determined that birds do not only gain thrust by flapping their wings but also from the propeller-like action of their primary feathers. Otto also calculated the size of a wing that is needed to support a certain mass. In 1891 Lilienthal built and flew the first truly successful glider in history. The hang-glider of today is based upon it. Otto made over 2000 flights from 1891 till 1895. His longest glider flight was a quarter of a mile at an altitude of 75 feet attained by having a running start from a 50 foot hill. Otto unfortunately died the day after his longest flight due to a malfunction of his glider when he fell down the very same 50 foot cliff.

The history of motorized aviation starting from the Wright Brothers to today’s jets draws on the experience and knowledge gained by folks like Lilienthal. Jets have very large carbon emissions due to their high speed, large mass and therefore very powerful engines. Without the thrust of their jet engines they are simply too heavy to stay aloft for any extended period of time. Sully did prove however that the engineless jetliner with a mass of 70 tons can be glided for about 5 miles beginning from an altitude of 3,200 feet. The probable speed of the jet on impact into the Hudson was only between 120 and 140 miles per hour. Sully accomplished this by extending the wing flaps to the maximum position, thereby slowing the plane as much as pos sible without putting it into a tail spin. In the past 50 years of jet aviation this is the only emergency water landing a fully laden plane that ended without any fatalities.

Sully is the hero of the Hudson and he proved that there is no substitute for experience and cool nerves using the laws of physics to control an un-powered flight. Lilianthal looking down at US Air Flight 1549 from up there must have remarked “I knew it could be done”.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Did Abraham Lincoln talk about sustainability?

The new president has been inaugurated and we are embarking on a new road toward a less energy intensive lifestyle. Next month we will celebrate the 200 hundredth anniversary of President Lincoln’s birth on February 12 1809 in Kentucky. Honest Abe was the first president to be born in a state outside of the original thirteen colonies. There are several parallels that can been drawn between Obama and Lincoln, however I will use the Gettysburg Address to tie in the Green Theme of Change that must happen if we are all to thrive in these United States.

The Last sentence of the Address given by Lincoln on November 19, 1863 is as follows: ”That this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Our nation needs a new birth of freedom by moving away from living in our carbon intensive past. Most of the environmental legacy of the period since Lincoln has been based on the combustion of wood, coal, oil, and natural gas. On May 10, 1869 the last spike on the transcontinental railroad was driven into the ground and since then, we have extracted BTUs from carbonaceous material to propel engine driven vehicles or devices at an ever increasing rate.

We will not stop deriving BTUS from carbon hydrogen bonds, however we can moderate the pace at which we combust fuels. I have opined previously that is improbable that there will be significant hydrogen fuelled vehicles or power generation station in the next thirty years and that in the majority fuels for the generation of electricity and the propulsion of vehicles, trains and planes will remain carbon based. What is going to happen is that the people as well as the government of the people, by the people, and for the people will embark on a program of energy savings and efficiency improvement that will be massive.

For years the Department Of Energy – Energy Information Agency has forecast that by 2030 the US will be using 30 to 40% more energy than it presently does. The latest preliminary forecast from the agency is that they are now predicting only 13% more energy will be used in 2030 than in 2007. I have news from Gettysburg for the agency, we will be using 13% less energy in 2030 than in 2007. Already in 2008 we used 5.5% less oil than in 2007, albeit because of the recession. More than half the BTUs in our fuel ends up as waste heat in our engines, furnaces, and power generators. Much more than half the electricity we use for lighting ends up as waste heat. Much can and much will be done over the next couple of decades to remedy this waste. The laws of thermodynamics teach us that not all the wasted energy can be eliminated due to our old nemesis “Mr. Entropy”. However much like Gettysburg the efficiency enemy is ourselves and we must commit ourselves in the words of Lincoln that “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us”

The Ford motor company should in honor of Abe’s 200 birthday and the billions of dollars we are likely to have to give them, reengineer the Lincoln brand of vehicles. It is not a fitting testimony to the sixteenth president that gas guzzlers are named in his honor. I pray that if in 100 years time a vehicle is named the “Obama” it will have better gas mileage than the Model T. There is not a single 2008 Lincoln vehicle that exceeds the gas mileage of the 1909 Model T.

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".

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Thank Growth Green Machine

Green Machine

Thank Growth It’s Wednesday

Today’s article is brought to you in a sarcastic fashion courtesy of the unimpeded growth the world has experienced in the past several decades. Of course economic growth is good but population growth, energy growth, urbanization, and correspondingly growth in the concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere has also resulted. I did some research on the internet and found a very interesting article issued by the Metropolitan Transport Commission of our State Government regarding Auto Ownership in the San Francisco Bay Area: 1930 – 2010. The article can be found by going to the following web site

Starting with Marin County where we live, the following statistics hold for the growth our county has experienced. In 1930 there were 11,200 registered automobiles or 1.06 per household or 0.26 per person living in the county. By 2010 we anticipate there will be 241,300 automobiles in Marin County or 2.16 per household or 0.89 per person. Wow we have come a long way since 1930 or have we? The statistics for San Francisco County show less growth in the past 80 years. In 1930 in the city by the bay there 152,700 registered automobiles or 0.85 per household or 0.24 per person living in San Francisco. In 2010 it is estimated that there will be 445,000 registered automobiles or 1.3 per household or 0.54 per person living in San Francisco. Interestingly back in 1930 Marin and San Francisco had a similar number of automobiles per inhabitant, but by 2010 we Hot Tub Enthusiasts have almost as many vehicles as people. It can be inferred that the carbon footprints of those living in the fog are lower than us because of the compactness of their city and the availability of public transport.

Before all of us go cry tears to fill our hot tubs, Sonoma County to our north experienced similar growth. Back in 1930 there were 26,500 registered automobiles or 1.46 per household and 0.43 per person living in Sonoma County. By 2010 we anticipate there will be 455,000 in Sonoma County or 2.18 per household and 0.84 per person. In 2010 there will be more automobiles registered in Sonoma County than in San Francisco County. Now we know why Highway 101 through Marin is choked. Other counties in the bay area such as Santa Clara, Contra Costa, San Mateo, Alameda, Solano, and Napa have all experienced massive growth in vehicles and population in the past 80 years. The following are the frightening statistics for the entire Bay Area. In 1930 there were 461,800 registered automobiles or 1.04 per household and 0.29 per person. It is expected that in 2010 there will be 5,577,300 registered automobiles or 2.03 per household and 0.75 per person. That is three cars for every four people. It is frightening that Sonoma County today has as many registered vehicles as the entire Bay Area had in 1930. While Marin has somewhat limited population growth over the past 80 years we hot tubers have the highest number of vehicles per person at 89 per 100, a statistic that should scare us into immediate action

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Thank Gravity It's Wednesday

Yes gravity is a gift of nature when it comes to renewable energy. Hydroelectric and tidal power are the result of the pull of gravity on bodies of water. The Hoover Dam also known as the Boulder Dam is an engineering marvel and is capable of generating 2,080 megawatts of electric power thanks to the depth of the turbines below the surface of the dam. It is actually Lake Mead that is the lake behind the dam that provides the electric power thanks to the pull of gravity on the water inside the lake. Construction of the Hoover dam was completed in 1935 and at that time it was the largest hydroelectric facility in the world. Presently, the Hoover Dam is only the 34th largest hydroelectric generation station in the world.

In order to produce one megawatt hour of power approximately one million gallons of water have to flow through a turbine if the water has approximately three hundred feet of water above it. The Hoover Dam is 726 feet tall so for this dam to produce 2080 megawatts approximately 860 million gallons of water have to flow each hour if the dam is full. As the dam is not full due to the drought, the turbines are not capable of producing their full nameplate capacity of electric power.

The Hoover Dam is a awesome structure but it really only provides a minute fraction of the power consumed in the USA. Also if we were all to buy Tesla Electric Motor Cars we could not charge too many of these cars simultaneously. The Tesla Roadster has a battery storage capacity of 54 kilowatt hours and charges in 3 hours. This means the Tesla draws 18 kilowatts of power. With a capacity of 2080 megawatts or 2,080,000 kilowatts the Hoover Dam could simultaneously charge 115,555 Tesla Roadsters. The charging is accomplished in 3 hours and the Tesla is good to go for 4 days if you drive 50 miles a day. Performing the requisite math in the 4 days you could charge 32 times 115,555 vehicles or 3.698 million cars provided it takes no time to hook-up the next series of vehicles to their chargers. Unfortunately, this is fewer vehicles than we have in the Bay Area, therefore the entire output of the Hoover Dam would not be sufficient to power all the vehicles on the road in the Bay Area even if they were Tesla Roadsters with state of the art batteries and power control systems.

One cannot fault gravity for the limit of how many vehicles the Hoover Dam can power. Rather we should fault ourselves for driving vehicles that weigh 15 times what we weigh and that we drive all over the place to work, shop, or enjoy some entertainment. Even if we moved to Jupiter, a planet that experiences 2.54 times the gravity on earth, we would still not be able to propel many more vehicles from the power generated by a Lake Mead on the surface of Jupiter. Yes we would generate 5,283 MW from the same lake on Jupiter but alas our cars and our bodies would also be 2,54 times as heavy. The power required to propel a car does have some relationship to the mass but is mostly related to the energy required to overcome air (atmospheric) resistance. No one has been able to measure the atmospheric pressure of Jupiter so I cannot tell you the range a Tesla Roadster would have on that planet. I can tell you it would be better to go to Mars with our Tesla Roadster and our Lake Mead. The atmospheric pressure on Mars is only 1% that of earth so atmospheric resistance will be negligible. Gravity on Mars is 38% that of gravity on earth. Our Lake Mead would only generate 790 megawatts but we would all weigh 62% less on Mars. Hummers would be fuel efficient on Mars due to the low gravity and very low atmospheric resistance. I will call the CEO of GM tomorrow and advise him where he can sell all of his spare Hummers. As for his spare Saturns I have no idea what he can do with those.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Thank Galaxies

TGIT - Thank Galaxies It's Thursday

I was watching a TV show about the universe on the History Channel. Scientists have, since the time of Newton, used mathematics to model the physical world. Much of the modeling has been to describe motion and gravity. Einstein developed the notion of Space-time surfaces that warp in the presence mass. Einstein did not subscribe to the notion of an expanding universe even though his math supported this phenomenon. In order for the big bang theory to hold, there has to be this initial state where all the four fundamental forces (gravity, electromagnetism, strong nuclear forces, and weak nuclear forces) were all combined in a single force. When the big bang occurred the gravitational force was the first to split and break away from the other three forces. Soon thereafter the three other forces also split apart. An observation that led to the unified force theory and the initial inflation after the big bang is that most of the outer universe has the same temperature. This can only be explained in that the initial inflation (Guth's theory) occurred at a speed faster than the speed of light. This is very scary stuff and makes my head spin.

All this physics is fine, but we still have the basic inflation problem of high energy prices on planet earth billions of years after the big bang. Physicists and chemists are trying to develop nano-systems to store more electrical energy so we can use less gasoline and deploy plug in hybrids. This company in Texas (EEstor) claims to have an ultra-capacitor that can store enough electricity to allow an automobile to travel 500 miles. All of this energy is claimed to be placed into the ultra capacitor in five minutes. The rate the electricity is transferred exceeds 1 Mega Watt, so don't rush to buy one of these gizmos as you will need 10,000 amp service in your home at 110 volts. The typical home has 100 to 200 amps of service. If the ultra capacitor short circuits we could reenact the Big Bang right here in planet earth.

A much more likely technology for hybrids and plug in hybrids will be lithium batteries that recharge in three to four hours and let you travel a distance of approximately 100 miles. The recharge rate will be limited by the electrical service that PG&E has connected to your home. I am now doing an hour long radio show on Wednesdays at noon on blog talk radio. Last week I opined on the technical possibilities of the lithium batteries and how they may be the winner of the $300 million prize John McCain has proposed to leapfrog current automotive technology to gain increased fuel efficiency. The show can be heard either by calling on the phone at 347 838 8999 or using your computer to go to

One final word, our neighboring town of Mill Valley, California recently hired a sustainability consultant to guide the city on green policy. The consultant will be paid $30,000 a year. I say Tiburon – Belvedere where I live should leapfrog Mill Valley and let me consult to our town councils and make 94920 the greenest Zip Code in the nation. Maybe I could even run for mayor and my campaign slogan will be “Be Green Vote Leveen”.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Thank Gyrations

Thank Gyrations It's Thursday

Yes today we use Gyrations as our G word, because it has been fifty years since the introduction of the "Hula Hoop". Wham O the company that manufactured the Hula Hoop and sold it for an introductory price of $1.98 back in 1956 sold over 100 million of these devices to one in every two Americans gyrating at that time.

Elvis Presley was also doing his gyrations fifty years ago and in 1956 hehas several hits including: Heartbreak Hotel; I want you, I need you, I loveyou; Don't be cruel/Hounddog; and Love me tender. Given we discuss thermodynamics in this blog I will set out to analyze how many calories are burned using the Hula Hoop as an exercise device. There is an official web site for hooping. Pray that you don't cough at the sametime and then suffer from hooping cough (of course I know it is spelled whooping cough). A ten minute exercise with a 3 pound hula hoop consumes 100 calories.

The flimsy plastic hula hoops of the 1950s only weighed three ounces but still required a good deal of gyration so I estimate a 10 minute hulahooping effort back in '56 burned half as much energy as the modern 3 pound hoop, and equaled 50 calories 50 calories equals 200 BTUs. The heat of combustion of polyethylene approximates 20,000 BTUs per pound, therefore the 3 ounce hoop if used as a fireplace fuel will provide 3,750 BTUs or almost 19 times as much of theenergy used in the ten minute whooping exercise. If a person hooped 190 minutes a day they would burn off energy that is equal to combusting the plastic in the hoop. Pretty good stuff considering plastic has the same fuel value per unit mass as does gasoline.

In researching this episode I found a very interesting site that will calculate the amount of calories one burns by providing your mass and minutes of exercise. The calculator then spits outs calories burned for over 100 different exercises.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Thank Grass It's Thursday

Green Thursday

This week’s episode of the green machine is brought to you courtesy of your lawn. Lawns are water hogs and also require a substantial amount of energy for their upkeep. Each day one can see numerous pickup trucks with gardeners traversing Tiburon Boulevard near where I live on their way to mow lawns and blow leaves to the other end of someone’s yard. I often have thought a great name for a landscaping company would be “mow and blow”.

The typical lawn is 5,000 square feet and requires mowing some 30 times a year. The amount of gasoline used for fuelling the mowing machines and the pick up trucks to bring and return the gardeners from and to their distant homes must at least equal 2 gallons each time the gardeners visit us to perform their landscaping chores. This means each lawn requires some 60 gallons of gasoline a year to be kept in pristine condition. 60 gallons of gasoline has a carbon dioxide foot print of about 1,300 pounds. There are approximately 3,000 houses on the Tiburon Peninsular so our collective carbon dioxide footprint for having manicured grass lawns is some 2,000 tons per year.

A 5,000 square foot lawn generates about 1,200 lbs a year of grass clippings. Grass clippings have a carbon composition of 40%. Performing all the requisite and tedious math calculations, these grass clippings took in 1,800 pounds of carbon dioxide via their photosynthesis or carbon dioxide and water. This means that the lawn carbon intake exceeds by almost 50% the carbon emissions of the gasoline used by the gardeners performing the maintenance of the lawn. If the lawn clippings are composted and used as fertilizer, owning a lawn is positive with respect to the carbon aspect of the environment even if one utilizes the services of a gardener who lives far away.

The water footprint of a grass lawn is another matter. Given the long dry summers here in Marin County each homeowner’s lawn requires nearly 50,000 gallons a year of irrigation water. There is an alternate to grass lawns. A company named Fieldturf has developed a synthetic lawn using recycled rubber and sand. Each square foot of Fieldturf requires 3 pounds of rubber and 7 pounds of sand. The carbon composition of rubber is approximately 90% therefore each square foot of Fieldturn contains 2.7 pounds of carbon. Therefore, the average 5,000 square foot Fieldturf lawn has over 13,000 pounds of carbon that has been sequestered from used tires. The Fieldturf lawn also requires no mowing but will need the occasional blowing. If all the residents of the Tiburon Peninsular changed our lawns to FieldTurf, we would save 150 million gallons of irrigation water a year, and the traffic on Tiburon Boulevard would also be reduced.

There are some 25 million acres of lawn in the USA. This is just more than a trillion square feet of lawn. If the entire US got onto the Fieldturf bandwagon we could recycle almost 3 trillion pounds of old tires. Only 280 million tires that in total weigh 6 billion pounds are sold in the USA each year. Fieldturf will need to wait 500 years to replace all of our grass lawns, but when this happens Goodyear would really have a good year and Sears would never sell another riding mower. The result of today’s analysis is that the grass is greener on the both sides of the hill

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wind Energy

TGIT Thermo Thursday Green Energy Explained Thank Gusts It's Thursday

yeah the wind is gusting to save us from being smothered in carbon dioxide cloud. I have opined on several occasions that wind farms to generate electricty are by far the best new technology for renewable energy. I am very glad to report that 2007 was a banner year for the wind energy business in the USA as well as worldwide. The department of entropy (USDOE) today reported that installation of wind turbines in the USA was up 45% in 2007 over 2006. The US now has 16,818 megawatts of installed wind turbines. Texas is always the bigger and better state and they lead the US by installing 1,618 megawatts of capacity during 2007. The entire US installed 5,244 megawatts of capacity over the same period. Texas, therefore, accounts for about 30% of the wind project in 2007. I say "go longhorns go".

The TECO Westinghouse Motor Company will develop a 10 megawatt turbine for offshore installation. This is quite amazing in size as it will peturb the wind flow for some 200 acres that surround the turbine as wind energy can be harvested at a rate of about 50 kilowatts per acre.

The single largest problem facing developers of wind farms is the problem of birds of prey and bats flying into the turbine blades. Bats can be diverted by sonar and birds should be warned by having LED lights embedded in the blades.

The word of the day is permeate or to pass through. We are all indeed fortunate that air can permeate through the turbine blades so we have wind energy.Permeate is from Latin permeare, "to go through, to pass through," from per-, "through" + meare, "to go, to pass."The Following was reported by the USDOE on 1/23/08

U.S. Wind Power Capacity Surged Up 45% in 2007
The U.S. wind energy industry installed 5,244 megawatts (MW) of wind power capacity in 2007, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). The rapid growth shatters all previous records and boosts the total U.S. wind power capacity by 45% in only one year. The growth even exceeded AWEA's expectations for 4,000 MW of new capacity, a prediction made just two months ago. In fact, wind power provided 30% of the new generating capacity installed in the United States in 2007. The total U.S. wind power capacity is now at 16,818 MW, with wind projects located in 34 states. AWEA estimates that in 2008, U.S. wind power facilities will generate 48 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, or about 1% of the nation's electricity needs. AWEA expects similar capacity growth in 2008, although factors such as the availability of new wind turbines could have an impact on growth. The trade association tallies 3,520 MW of new wind power capacity currently under construction.

Texas leads the states in terms of new wind power capacity installed in 2007, with 1,618 MW of new capacity, further cementing the state's lead in total installed wind power capacity. Among the largest projects built in 2007 are the 198-MW and 161.7-MW Twin Groves I and II wind plants in Illinois; the 264-MW Peetz Table and 300.5-MW Cedar Creek wind plants, both in Colorado; the 232.5-MW phase II of the Buffalo Gap wind plant in Texas; the 205.5-MW Fenton Wind Power Project in Minnesota; the 221.1-MW Klondike III wind plant in Oregon; and the 204.7-MW White Creek Wind Power Project in Washington. The Bluegrass Ridge wind farm is also noteworthy, as it's the first utility-scale wind facility in Missouri. AWEA also estimates that at least 14 new wind power manufacturing facilities either opened or were announced in 2007. See the AWEA press release and the accompanying market report (PDF 238 KB). Download Adobe Reader.

Wind turbines are also getting bigger, as the largest turbines employed in last year's wind projects was a 3-MW Vestas turbine, installed in California and Texas. Of the projects now under construction, one in California is employing a 4-MW Mitsubishi turbine. In October 2007, Clipper Windpower established the Centre of Excellence for Offshore Wind in the United Kingdom to develop a 7.5-MW offshore wind turbine, called the "Britannia Project." At about the same time, American Superconductor Corporation teamed up with TECO-Westinghouse Motor Company to develop a 10-MW generator for use in offshore wind turbines. See the press releases from Clipper Wind and American Superconductor.