links for 2010-09-06

  • Despatching 1MW of predictable power at a water velocity of 2.65m/s, the AK1000™ is capable of generating enough electricity for over 1000 homes. It is designed for harsh weather and rough, open ocean environments such as those found off the Scottish coast. The turbine incorporates cutting edge technology from suppliers across the globe, has an 18 meter rotor diameter, weighs 1300 tonnes and stands at a height of 22.5 meters. The giant turbine is expected to be environmentally benign due to a low rotation speed whilst in operation and will deliver predictable, sustainable power to the local Orkney grid.

What does it take to make one A4 size paper?

We start off by doing a small calculation from a reputed text book. The text book is Shreve’s Chemical Process Industries, which is a textbook adopted in the chemical engineering curriculum of many reputed colleges.

An A4 size office paper of normal quality weighs 5 grams. It is easy for one to pro-rate the above table and estimate what it takes to make 5 grams of paper.

Based on 1982 data, to make an A4 paper you would need:

  • 22.5 g  Chemicals
  • 665 ml  Water
  • 3.5 ml  Oil or 5 grams of coal
  • 20 cc Wood
  • 23.76 kJ Power

Well, the story does not stop here. I know that the paper industry has adopted better manufacturing methods and today the specific consumption for making paper could be a little different. Today’s processes use significant amounts of recycle paper, use lesser water. Again, the amount of paper recycled and water conserved in different plants /countries is different, so it becomes difficult to establish an exact global average in a brief article.

Nevertheless, a few parallels can be drawn.

Every time you waste an A4 paper at office, conservatively, I can assume that, you also waste a large cup of water, a spoon full of coal (or oil), another spoonful of various chemicals, energy sufficient to keep a 40 W bulb glowing for 10 minutes and wood whose weight could be 2-4 times the weight of the paper, depending on the amount of recycle paper used.

Every time you throw a piece of paper into a dust bin, imagine yourself wasting all the other resources as well. I’m sure you’ll find it a lot easier to save paper.

Energy ball – Interesting design for a microgeneration device

Microgeneration is small scale distributed power generation where each home, community makes its own power with a low carbon footprint. It is said that if we all make our own power, we can take off 30-40% of production capacity. As an idea, microgeneration sure makes sense. If households dont rely on the government to cook their foods, mow the lawns and take out the trash, why should they rely on the government to produce their power?

Energy ball is an interesting device thats been around for over 2-3 years now and can supposedly produce 15% of the annual power required by a (Dutch) household. The ball has a 25 year life and can produce a maximum of 500 W of power.  It looks kind of cool too, to say the least, I like it better than the look of a power plant.

The cost of a 500 W ball installation without the post is around 3000 Euros (Rs.210,000). The 11 m mast costs another 1000 euros. Based on the present Indian economics, the device is not likely to pay itself back even over its entire lifetime without subsidies. I just wonder what makes such interesting devices so expensive.

India too needs BioPreferred labelling

The US Department of Agriculture recently announced “BioPreferred : A Biobased product consumer label rule”

In principle, this is just a small step that helps the consumers make an educated choice towards consuming a product that can be sustainably produced. The idea is as simple as the red dot and green dot on the food products that help us differentiate the non vegetarian products from the vegetarian. It is a step in the right direction that puts more responsibility in the hands of the consumer.

The USDA announcement outlines the power that lies in this little idea whose time has come:

“Increasing the purchase and use of biobased products is a priority of the Obama Administration because it helps increase our nation’s energy security and independence by using American agricultural products, while spurring economic development in rural areas. Consumers want to make more informed product choice decisions and BioPreferred will help them. This label will help consumers, businesses and Federal government purchasers easily identify biobased products.”

Now, if I dont see a BioPreferred label on a pack in the supermarket rack today, I know I cant find that product on shelves if the oil/commodity prices go up in future. If every one insists on buying stuff that has BioPreferred labelling, soon manufacturers would be forced to resort to sustainable means.

It is ironical that at the beginning of 21st century our focus is shifting from industrialization back to agriculture. Nevertheless, I think the USDA has set an example for the rest of the world to emulate.

In a country like India which feeds over a billion mouths every day, the ability to see what is sustainable will make a whole lot of difference. I am hoping that the Indian Government is watching such changes happening else where and acting on it.

Rules for a planet

I’ve always believed in the truth of Agent Smith’s words:

“I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had, during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you aren’t actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with its surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply, and multiply until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague, and we, are the cure.”

There is yet another equally powerful thought I came across in Yuva Anandan’s blog.

He points to an interesting comment on BBC – “…it’s not the planet we should be worrying about, it’s us.” In principle, I agree with the point of view that whatever damage human activity has caused to the planet till date is not major. With the race being supposedly being well past the peak oil, perhaps our ability to inflict further damage to the planet is limited. When the oil prices go up in the next few years, I would expect the food production to drop and people will dying of malnourishment. The population would drop and people would be forced again go back to living in fertile lands near water sources.

But for the human race, it has never been about the planet. It has always been about us. It is the same callous attitude that prevailed for centuries and still continues to do so. For once people should think about living symbiotically with the host planet. I wish there was a global political body that laid down rules for the planet. As a finite planet, the earth can only sustain finite human activity. What is that point? We will really need a careful scientific evaluation to find out. To me, ideally, politics should be simple human welfare. We need to have an association with this planet such that the damage we do is minimal and every person on this planet has a joyous experience of life on this planet. If it means limiting the population of the planet to a billion, then we should get there in the next 50 years with a clear plan.

Global politics, beyond regional interests, is the need of the day. Like in Starwars, we sure need a galactic republic and a Padme to decide for each planet.

Carbon dioxide emissions don't cause global warming

In April, KLM had an interesting exclusive in-flight documentary on global warming which I happened to watch.

The documentary goes on to present that man-made CO2 emissions do not cause global warming. It states that earth’s present temperature increase is driven by the sun and not by human activity. A few points presented in the documentary are:

1. CO2 is not the major green house gas. Its concentration change has been too small to explain such major temperature differences. Oceans can emit 180 billion tons of CO2 tonnes of CO2 where as human activity emits only about 7 billion tons. It is argued that water vapour and methane are bigger influences than CO2.

2. Earth has seen decades of temperatures which were significantly higher and and also significantly lower. But the ice did not ever vanish completely.

3. Changing of the size of the polar ice caps is explained to be a normal thing which happens routinely with temperature even between summer and winter.

4. Earth’s temperature is more closely related to solar activity and is known to have had a very good co-relation with it for centuries.

5. Change in CO2 concentration in the polar ice caps is an effect of change of earth’s temperature and it has a 800 year lag. This 800 year year lag is the time required for the temperature of the oceans to change to release or absorb CO2.

6. Earth’s temperature continued to drop from 1940 to 1970 when the economic activity boomed. The present upward trend lasts from only 1970.

7. Yet another observation was that the change in temperature profiles of the earth’s atmospheric layers did not seem to support increased green-house activity.

8. The model used to predict the global climate has several hundreds of assumptions on which not all experts seem to be in agreement. Clearly, a model can only be as good as the assumptions that go up to make it.

The documentary goes on to state that the IPCC report is driven by considerations that are non-scientific and serves to retain several jobs which were created by the billions of dollars funded to study this.

Those who are closely following the global warming issue must be already aware that there is a clear second opinion on the need to limit the emissions from developing countries in order to reduce global warming.

One can’t help but wonder if the entire global warming tale is fabricated by an energy thirsty group of nations who are using misleading pointers to prevent the developing nations from creating a stronger demand for energy.

That documentary was an eye-opener to me.