Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Brownwashing is the New Green?

I’ve only heard this word "brownwashing" from Riggs Eckelberry of Origin Oil, and it refers to the absorption, by algae, of the CO2 in smokestack emissions from power plants. The algae uses the CO2 to produce oil which can be harvested and re-used as fuel. So, essentially, brownwashing is carbon recycling.

(For a while, some folks thought CO2 from power plants needed to be buried in the ground. But after this farmer in Canada, whose land lies above the world’s biggest carbon sequestration project, found his damp ground and puddles to be bubbling like tonic water, and small animals that live near the ground to be dying, the idea of burying carbon might be defunct.)

Eckelberry and others have been saying for some time that algae, as a fuel source, will first appear in conjunction with some other purpose, and brownwashing is such a purpose.

The first company to make a major attempt to recycle power plant carbon emissions was Greenfuels Technologies. They installed test facilities at Arizona Public Service’s Redhawk natural gas plant, and NRG’s Big Cajun II in Louisiana. But then Greenfuels went out of business. APS seems to be making some attempt to continue the experiment, but no recent news on this can be found.

There are lots of other algae companies around the world working on carbon capture from power plants, but the project that seems to be leading the way is the collaboration between Origin Oil and MBD Energy in Australia.

MBD is a company focused on carbon recycling, while Origin Oil is, for now, focused on extracting oil from algae. Oil extraction has been one of the major obstacles in algae farming, but Origin Oil claims to have cost effective methods. Their Single Step Extraction method is to infuse algae-laden water with extra CO2 to lower its pH; then to use low energy electromagnetic radiation to break the algae cells. They also have Live Extraction which uses electromagnetic pulses to make algae cells leak their oil without killing the cells. The algae can then continue to produce more oil without needing to grow entire new cells.

How cost effective are Origin Oil’s methods? There is no way to tell just from reviewing company press releases. But we can watch what happens in Australia. To my knowledge, this collaboration is the first time an algae-fuel technology has been purchased from a company; and the first phase has been successful, so the next phase, a scaling-up of the operation, is underway.

Continue . . .

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Explaining Conservatives

For some years, I've been explaining liberals and conservatives this way: A liberal is someone who wants to control how much money someone else makes; a conservative is someone who wants to control how much sex someone else has.

Neither side exerts any control over itself -- the distinction is in how each side tries to control others.

For example, if liberals really wanted to help the poor, we would spend our own income, privately, to do so. But instead, we want to tax others -- the rich -- to pay for social programs. And, if conservatives really wanted to save lives, then before engaging in war, they would explore all possible alternatives and consider likely undesirable or mixed outcomes that would show the loss of lives and money to be unwise.

Given today's conservatives' general support of our current wars and death penalty, it would be hard to understand their anti-abortion stance if it were not for my original premise. By forcing us all to give birth to, and care for, all the babies we conceive, they think they can reduce how much sex we have. But if we are allowed to abort our babies, then we are getting away with sex and not having to face the consequences. My premise also explains their stance on gay marriage. Opposing it allows them to at least imagine that they are reducing gay sex, which is a subset of all sex.

Recently, a friend postulated a different explanation of what makes a conservative vs. a liberal. He said that it depends on the degree of exploitation on is willing to tolerate. For example, conservatives may oppose unions and civil rights movements because these rally against exploitation. Conservatives may favor business deregulation because it allows businesses to behave more abusively toward the environment and general public.

Now, I counter with yet another explanation about conservatives and liberals. It's not so much about money and sex, or exploitation. It's about authority. Basically, conservatives align themselves with icons and institutions of authority, and liberals align themselves with questioning, opposing, subverting authority.

For instance, why are conservatives so worried now about the Middle East uprisings against totalitarian governments when the Iraq war was justified, in the mid 2000's, on the basis of bringing self-determinism to the Middle East? My answer is that it's about authority -- with the U.S. needing to be, in conservatives' eyes, the highest authority. Mubarak was playing our game by shutting off supplies to Palestinians and keeping control of the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia was keeping the oil flowing. Gaddafi had renounced WMD's in the early 2000's, which had seemed he was submitting to U.S. authority expressed in our invasion of Iraq. But now these three governments are being removed, questioned, or fought, and conservatives are worried about how the U.S. will maintain its authority in the Middle East.

Opposition to abortion and gay marriage is also related to authority. The process of getting married and having children is traditional, and tradition carries authority. For sex to happen out of wedlock, or for its resultant child to be aborted, or for it to happen between same-sex partners subverts tradition and is thus frowned upon.

"Family Values" is about authority. Opposition to the "Ground Zero Mosque" is about authority -- indeed, it has been called by conservatives a "slap in the face" for being so close to the World Trade Center site, where it was shown that despite our robust military and authority in the world, we can be penetrated.

Fossil fuels are now a tradition and are associated with big international businesses which have lots of money and carry lots of authority. Nuclear energy and its associated weapons also carry lots of authority. However, wind power, tidal power, algae fuel, and other alternative energy sources carry comparatively little authority.

For what other issues can the conservative vs. liberal stance be explained by positions with respect to authority?

Continue . . .