Posts Tagged ‘energy’

I read an article yesterday on John Waylon, a.k.a. Plasma Boy, a tinkerer who fitted 1972 Datsun body with not one but two electric engines — forklift engines — powered by battery packs. His team takes the car racing on public tracks and with its instant acceleration, the car does wonders on the quarter-mile drag races.

The Oregon Public Broadcasting video below shows the car — named White Zombie — leaving Corvettes, BMWs, and other muscle cars on the starting block.

Links of interest:


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According to recent articles in the Seattle Times and EcoGeek, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington are considering a plan that would allow motorists travelling along U.S. Interstate 5 to charge or change electric-vehicle batteries, or to fill fuel tanks with biodiesel, ethanol, hydrogen or compressed natural gas when they stop at rest stops offering alternative fuelling stations.

(The governors are calling this a green highway, but unless we figure out to fuel cars with the trash dropped by drivers daily, I-5 won’t have quite earned that title.)

Apparently, Governor Christine Gregoire of Washington hopes to begin work in her state as early as this summer. Oregon and California are not likely to start on their sections of the project as early. One of the hurdles to the entire project will be to get approval from the federal government for commercial development alongside an interstate.

The National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO) and national gasoline distribution groups oppose the project, which they say provides unfair competition. I confess, I don’t see how they can call it competition unless they start offering alternative fuelling stations of their own, and in sufficient numbers and distribution to provide an equivalent service.

I-5 stretches about 1,380 from Tijuana, Baja California to White Rock, British Columbia. Traffic volume varies along the long ribbon of asphalt, reaching 353,000 vehicles/day in San Diego, 598,000 in Los Angeles, 388,000 in Sacramento, 145,000 near Portland, and 274,000 in Seattle.

There already are dozens of alternative fuelling stations offering compressed natural gas, ethanol or biodiesel in Washington, Oregon and California, but the closest hydrogen station is right here at Humboldt State University.

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[Reprinted from EcoGeek.]

When one considers the myriad of things becoming hybrid, tugboats are not one of those which immediately come to mind. But in southern California (where else?) the world’s first true hybrid tug was recently unveiled.

The Carolyn Dorothy, displayed before a large crowd in the Long Beach, California area on January 23, was built by Seattle, Washington-based Foss Maritime. This tug joins a fleet of existing standard tugboats servicing the needs of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

This hybrid tug, partially built with funds contributed from both ports, is expected to “significantly reduce emissions” compared to its conventional siblings. The design seems to have made the EPA happy, as the governmental agency gave it an award of excellence last year.

So what exactly makes this “Green Assist” tug a hybrid? Foss first detailed this project back in 2007. In place of a traditional tugboat engine, this boat is powered by two 670 horsepower battery packs coupled with two 335 horsepower diesel generators.

The company added that although the main engines in the hybrid tug will have lower horsepower than the existing Dolphin engines, overall the tug will have the same total horsepower as its sister tugs. A key features to the implementation of this design is a specialized power management system, which helps lower fuel consumption and reduce emissions.

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mpj043731900001According to last week’s East Bay Express, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is preparing to place emissions testing requirements for hybrid cars that will make it financially impractical for anyone but the big auto industry to develop and market “plug-in” technology.  The decision is expected to be adopted at this week CARB meeting, January 22-23.  According to EcoGeek:

[Plug-in hybrid kits] are built on top of an existing vehicle architecture (generally a Prius) and sold as upgrade kits by companies like 3ProngPower or Hymotion. These kits have become more prevalent in recent years, and can make a regular Prius look like a gas guzzler.

These kits allow cars to get over 100 miles per gallon or even 150 mpg; however, CARB expressed concern over possible side effects such as increasing the rate of air emissions per gallon.

The new CARB rules would require the new startups to put their technology through the same series of smog tests as new car manufacturers, which could cost between $20,000 and $125,000, depending on how many cars the agency decides must be examined.  CARB would also require the new companies to provide consumers with warranties for the changes they make to hybrids for up to ten years or 150,000 miles.

According to the East Bay Express,

Sherwood and Guzyk [owners of 3ProngPower] say that if the board adopts the new rules at its January 22 and 23 meeting, it likely will force them to shutter their business, which just had its grand opening last month at Green Motors on San Pablo Avenue.

The makers of the plug-in technologies argue that putting this sort of burden all at once on small companies will kill them before their innovations can have a chance to penetrate the market or be further developed.  However, this will give time to the big auto manufacturers, who are not significantly impacted by these new rules, to take a few years to develop their own hybrid technology.

Small manufacturers 3ProngPower and A123Systems say they are not worried about meeting the emission requirements or providing the warranties, only about being able to afford the certification program.  It sounds like we need some sort of loan system to be instituted to help small developers of cutting-edge energy technologies to get over the certification process; and for agencies like CARB to make sure the certification process is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all (since the plug-ins are installed on existing, certified vehicles) but is adapted to the specific technology being evaluated.

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offshore drilling platformI talked last week about last-ditch efforts of the current federal administration to open U.S. coastal waters to oil and natural gas drilling. In Wednesday’s Times-Standard, John Driscoll’s article “Thompson floats no-drill bill” discusses Rep. Mike Thompson’s attempt to protect the California North Coast from this threat.

The most immediate threat generally perceived about offshore drilling is that of oil spills.  The T-S article makes a reference to the fuel spills from the vessels Kure (a freighter) and Stuyvesant (a dredge) in 1997 and 1999 which killed thousands of birds in the Humboldt Bay area.  I worked on the Kure spill response at the HSU Marine Wildlife Care Center; my husband worked on response to both spills.  The scope of these spills is a minuscule fraction of what the spills from an offshore drilling operation look like, and the response time much faster.

Congressman Thompson is trying to protect the waters outside the jurisdiction of the state (i.e., outside the 3-mile limit) off the coast of Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties from drilling.

Despite this and other efforts, the threat is looming. The Charlottesville, VA, C-Ville recently mentioned that Virginia Governor Tim Kaine asked Minerals Management Service (MMS), the office of the U.S. Department of the Interior in charge of mineral exploration and exploitation, to postpone any plans for drilling until President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in and give a two-month extension to the comment period. The governor was turned down; on Wednesday the Richmond Times-Dispatch announced that the comment period would be extended by a mere 15 days to make up for the holidays.

However, the business community expects the Obama team to restore the moratorium on offshore drilling and even strengthen the ban. But hey, investing in the offshore drilling business is apparently considered a great investment nonetheless.

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Yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Department of the Interior, headed by industryfriendly, environmentallychallenged Dirk Kempthorne, is moving to open some or all of the U.S. coastal waters outside state control to offshore oil exploration starting in 2010.

Planned assault

The Bush administration has been gunning for this for a long time. Back in July, an 18-year-old presidential moratorium on oil and gas drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf was lifted. It is perhaps ironic that the moratorium had first been by the first President George Bush.

Congress followed suit in September by passing one of its typical unholy combo acts, funding government operations through March 2009, including disaster relief, and bundling this with a lift of the legislative ban on offshore oil and gas leasing.

This is all, off course, floated by the soaring oil prices we saw earlier this year — which were of course accompanied by record profits for the oil industry. These profits from the exploration and production sectors did not trickle down to refining and distribution operations.

Since then, of course, prices have fallen and the economics of big oil projects look different. It’s not clear whether that makes offshore drilling in U.S. waters more or less attractive compared to other projects right now. However, California reserves are located in much shallower areas than the zones in the Gulf of Mexico where drilling is already open to drilling, making them potentially cheaper for oil companies to explore — and making the environmental costs that much higher as they lie in areas of rich biodiversity and complex, interconnected ecosystems.

How useful?

Off the coast of California, according to the current estimates of offshore oil reserves, lie approximately 10.1 billion barrels of crude. This compares to a U.S. consumption 7.59 billion barrels of oil per year. Between exploration and implementation, any oil from drilling in new areas would arrive several years later in a different economic landscape — though the environmental effects would be felt far sooner.

According to Scientific American, the Minerals Management Service (MMS, the part of the U.S. Department of the Interior responsible for leasing tracts to oil and gas companies and collecting the royalties on them) has estimated that there are around 18 billion barrels in the underwater areas that were until now off-limits to drilling nationwide.

“That’s significantly less than in oil fields open for business in the Gulf of Mexico, coastal Alaska and off the coast of southern California, where there are 10.1 billion barrels of known oil reserves as well as an estimated 85.9 billion more.”

The Scientific American article, which I really recommend reading, goes on to show that there is no chance that drilling in offshore areas would provide the U.S. with energy self-sufficiency. We’re talking bandage on a wooden leg.


Opening the fragile continental shelf areas to oil and gas exploration and drilling invites several environmental impacts. Some of the best known include:

  • spills like the one that hit Santa Barbara in 1969 and led Californians to say no to more offshore drilling, and the Exxon Valdez‘ spill in 1989;
  • drilling platform wastewater and metal cuttings, which contain drilling fluids and heavy metals including mercury;
  • contaminant bioaccumulation in the food web affecting the marine and coastal ecosystems;
  • the direct destruction of habitat, such as kelp beds and reefs;
  • air pollution with emissions that are reportedly equivalent to 7,000 cars driving 50 miles a day per platform;
  • disturbance of marine wildlife such as whales;
  • and of course the contribution to oil addiction and greenhouse gas emissions.

I pray that the new administration will close that door, but although some of the Obama nominations gave me hope, that of Ken Salazar for new Secretary of the Interior does not thrill me. In the past he has voted against increasing fuel-efficiency standards (CAFE) for cars and trucks, to end protections that limit off-shore drilling in Florida’s Gulf Coast, and against a bill that would require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to consider global warming when planning water projects.

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Marbled godwit

Photo by Dennis Paulson

A tossed salad of environmental topics from the Times-Standard:

  1. Report: Wave energy begins in rough waters — A white paper, prepared for the California Energy Commission and the Ocean Protection Council to evaluate the possible socioeconomic and environmental effects of harnessing wave energy, showed mixed blessings from these energy project.  The report suggests that commercial and sport fisheries might be impacted and that projects could affect habitat for species from the high tide line out to the continental shelf.   On the plus side,  new projects would yield construction and operations jobs for nearby communities.
  2. Jam-packed agenda for county supervisors — The agenda for the next meeting of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors tomorrow night is very busy, as everyone tries to push for some decisions before then end of the year, and contains some items sure to be closely followed.
  3. Every dune needs a friend — An overview of Friends of the Dune, the Humboldt nonprofit organization whose mission is to conserve the natural diversity of coastal environments through community-supported education and stewardship programs.  The article talks a bit about the group’s new Humboldt Coastal Nature Center, set to open in 2010 in Manila.
  4. Registration begins for Godwit Days activities — The 14th annual Godwit Days Spring Migration Bird Festival will be held April 17 to 19 at the Arcata Community Center, 321 Community Park Way; pre- and post-festival events will be offered April 16, 20, 21 and 22, and registration is now available.  Godwit Days is, ahem, a hoot.  (Wrong bird!)

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