Don’t you find it gratifying when one of the REALLY BIG guys comes over to your side, your way of thinking? Try to imagine for a second that you are reading this while I am speaking in an Irish accent as I say, “It warmed the cockles of me heart t’ hear it!” (It just seems appropriate to have an Irish accent when announcing a major “green” event.) Anyway, enough stalling, the fact is that America’s third largest chain of grocery stores, Safeway, based in Pleasanton, California, has announced that all 1000 of its trucks will be running on biodiesel. Details were sketchy in the Associated Press newswire item released in the San Jose Mercury News online site, but they did say that they wanted to make the company more environmentally friendly by using soy and canola based biodiesel fuels. They also included mention of installing solar panels on a couple dozen California based stores, and buying power from wind farms as part of their greening efforts.
Another big sign is when you start hearing about cross industry development deals. That is, when multi-national corporate interests start to collaborate to explore exploitation of a market. In this instance I am talking about a news release that came out a couple of weeks ago (and I just didn’t want to drag out my column’s length any further at that time, so I skipped it until now) [thanks Charlie for the reminder though] that the D1 and BP alliance on jatropha are also cooperating with both Bayer (you know, the aspirin people) to develop crop sprays for jatropha, and with Daimler (aka formerly known as Mercedes & Chrysler) to test jatropha derived biodiesel in their engines. That’s a pretty broad range of coalition partners from chemical/pharmaceuticals to auto/transportation and fuels/agriculture. Certainly an interesting sign of the depth of interest in jatropha as an organic oil source.
Another project that has just come to my attention is taking place at Hampton Roads Sanitation District sewage processing plant. Old Dominion University is growing algae on their roof. Well, more specifically in tanks on their roof. Reporter Scott Harper of pilotonline.com (aka Virginia-Pilot newspaper) reports the basics in his article, but the “research” purpose (other than giving the Virginia Governor something to crow about in the alternative energy sphere) seems to gone below the reporters notice. The overall ambitious talk of using algae cultivation to sequester carbon dioxide from power plants and other factory smokestacks, as well as agricultural runoff of both nitrogen and phosphates sounds like a good idea, and reportedly the Governor is seeking to expand funding for the research, but why this is at the stage of fundamental research and not at least demonstration gauge is baffling to me. None of this is new, although methods of getting carbon dioxide from power plants to sewage processing plants may prove to be a considerable challenge.
There was one other insight contained in Mr. Harper’s article, however, which is that, “The Pentagon does not want to pay more than $1.50 per gallon of green jet fuel.” Somehow with the price of petroleum crude oil is running at close to $2.00 per gallon, I have difficulty seeing where the Pentagon thinks this $1.50 per gallon “magic green fuel” is going to come from. It is certainly unlikely that this stuff will come from soy or corn oil, chances are pretty slim that palm oil biofuel (upgraded to jet fuel) will make that price benchmark either. The Air Force is just going to have to wait for algafuel, and I guess that’s what the ODU researchers are hoping to achieve.
A little further along the development curve is a small new company with about 4 acres under current cultivation, as I understand it, but looking at a much larger development area in Malaysia. The company is called Aquatic Energy LLC, and has a PhD on the roster, one, Clare Gutteridge, who is presently teaching organic chemistry at the US Naval Academy. Now, be warned that in the video I am point you toward, the company person speaking mistakenly says it is “rain forest” area. It is not, according to the company Chief Executive Officer, David A. Johnson. He explains that the Malaysian land in question is actually underutilized rice growing land that has been inundated by salt water infiltration and therefore unproductive. This is exactly the kind of area that SHOULD be cultivated for an algae crop, since many stains of algae are very tolerant of high salt content. The other point made in the video is that the company is expecting a yield of about 1000 to 1500 gallons per acre as compared to 100 gallons per acre for soy and perhaps 500 gallons per acre from palm oil. The interview is by “ecogeek”. Take a look for yourself.
Next on my list this week is a re-visit to Greenfuels Inc. You may recall that I have been critical of the Greenfuels designs for bioreactors that called for a vertical triangles of translucent acrylic tubes. Well, take a look at this video and see what I discovered this week.
Politics is a puzzle at the best of times, so I am not going to try to unravel the 4 contests 3 winners in the Republican Presidential nomination race, nor the 3 contests 2 winners, except the loser got more delegates in the second caucus than the winner of the popular vote did on the Democratic side. I’ve got my favorites, and apparently so does everybody else, because it was a surprise to me that Ron Paul managed a second place finish at this stage of the game, so even he is not out yet.
On the other side of the world, however, Pakistan is at minimum a conundrum. What baffled me this week was not so much news of any particular even, but a reporter’s update on the status of the country. Fareed Zacharias, frequent guest on This Week with George Stephanopolous and editor of the international edition of NEWSWEEK magazine, appeared this past week, instead, as a satellite video guest on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. That in itself is hardly newsworthy, but what he said about events in Pakistan recently (having just returned from Pakistan, reportedly) was less than clear to me. Or rather, it was less than clear in the implications in particular. Fareed said that the Pakistani Army (remember, President Musharraf is no longer head of the Army, too), has “finally” taken the fight against the Talaban and Al Qaeda seriously enough that they are actually attacking the Al Qaeda strongholds within Pakistan. They are no longer distinguishing between “our terrorists” and “their [US’s “bad guy”] terrorists”. Indeed it is well known (or at least often reported) that the Pakistani Army is well peppered with Islamist sympathizers. Mr. Zacharias said that the army, in now actually taking action against Al Qaeda strongholds within Pakistan, that, “They have turned against their former masters.”
Unfortunately, the clamour of local politics has drowned out any minor news developments from Pakistan, so I am not sure what he means by that statement, or what real actions have taken place. Musharraf, remember is under considerable US diplomatic (and other world) pressure to keep his promise of democratic elections (now scheduled for February, following the disruption and national mourning of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto). If real progress is being made about rooting out Al Qaeda in Pakistan, we have not heard about it here.
Steve Zahn is not the most attractive man on the planet, but he has a certain charm about him. I was horrifically disappointed in the mini-series Comanche Moon in which Mr. Zahn played a fairly significant role. The acting was wooden, the dialogue worse, and although the plot was winding its way into some interesting twists and turns, I had completely lost faith that it would ever improve by the time we had watched an hour of it. Rachel Griffith has never looked worse, and the acting was so broad and course it was no more than caricature. Sorry, Rachel, I really love your work as a rule, but not this time.
Mr. Steve Buscemi, on the other hand, was a real standout in an intimate little grinding drama where the character is less appealing, verging on despicable slime, in fact, but the plot worked extremely well, and considering that the tale was essentially just two characters locked in conflict in a single room for almost the entire movie, Interview which also stars the stunningly beautiful Sienna Miller, who was also prominently featured as the ingénue star in Stardust where the stunningly beautiful Michele Pfeiffer played the villain. In this case the plot twists DO hold together and make it one of the best “intimate” little movies since My Dinner with André.
Mr. Buscemi directed and also wrote the screenplay, in an adaptation re-make of a Dutch movie from just 4 years earlier. That film (also called Interview was directed by Theo Van Gogh, the director who was murdered by Islamist extremists for his less than reverent view of Islam. BBC news quoted Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende as saying “it is unacceptable if expressing your opinion would be the cause of this brutal murder”.
Oh, yes, I almost forgot to mention that according to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the U.N. has declared this to be the International Year of Sanitation
Stafford “Doc” Williamson
Biodiesel, green energy, biofuels, jatropha, Greenfuels, Pakistan, Buscemi, Giffiths, Commanche Moon, Interview, ecogeek, assassination