Gasification of Waste to Energy, Oscars (& Richards & Julies & Marions)

Sometimes a news release is more confusing than illuminating. I am becoming more of a fan of simple gasification of wastes to produce electric energy (as compared to using fossil fuels for this purpose). One such announcement came out a few days back that a company called Global Energy, Inc. has signed two separate deals. For some strange reason they seemed to feel it was only worth one publicity release, and thereby helped confuse more than enlighten me. The press release said that Global had a deal to allow them to purchase projects from the company to which they are licensing their technology (that is, IF I understood correctly, and I am not sure I did). Specifically the release says they will have, “the right to invest a majority of the equity for all of the projects that are developed by,” the other company, which is called Renewable Diesel LLC.
Meanwhile, Global Energy Inc., has also done a deal to license their technology to Covanta, who have recently become involved in power production in Guangzhou province of the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese deal is specifically for converting some of the 27 million tons of annual household wastes in that province. The deal with Global has to do with “certain feedstocks” in the US and some other countries. Meanwhile, Global Energy Inc., seems most intent upon using its Integrated Gasification and Combined Cycle IGCC processing for the (clean?) combustion of coal and “petcoke”. So, I trust you can see where the initial reading of the half page press release left considerable confusion as to what was being announced and who was doing what, and to whom.
Nevertheless, I wish all three companies the very best in their efforts, and hope that we see more of the gasification of MSW and less of coal. Whatever else may be done with coal fired electric generating plants, it is still digging fossil carbon out of the ground, and spewing it into the atmosphere, or at best adding that carbon load to the life cycle carbon in plants and oceans. Until and unless we are forming smokestack carbon directly into sheets of carbon fiber materials for the construction of airplanes and cars and such, I have a great deal of difficulty looking upon combustion of fossil fuels (coal) as a positive step for the environment.
On the other hand, I read an interesting, though unsubstantiated statement this week that I will be giving some thought and perhaps some investigation to follow. In a “pro” forum on biofuels, one gentleman forwarded the proposition (which he claimed was a conclusion) that the temperature of the planet causes the rise in atmospheric carbon and not the other way around. As you may know, if you have been reading my columns for a long time, I am not a subscriber to the idea that ANY scientific theory or “law” is beyond re-examination, and I am certainly not convinced that the verdict of thousands of scientists make “global warming” (or, if you prefer, “climate change”) a fact as regard to the main cause being human originated greenhouse gases concentrations rising in our planet’s atmosphere. There are at least to major alternative theories that still seem viable and neither has been conclusively disproven. If either of those are, indeed, the primary cause of our climate change observations (including greenhouse gas concentrations), this gentleman’s proposition that planet temperature may be effect rather than cause in our situation.
Whole books have been written, I am sure, on both of these postulates, so I won’t try to argue for or against them, except to say that the actual amount of energy transaction initiated by humans for the last few thousand years is probably less than 1% of the energy output of the center and star of our solar system, the sun, in a week. (Probably closer to 1% of the sun’s output in an hour.) So it seems perfectly plausible to me that the much overlooked idea that the upward trend in sun spot activity may well be the real source of additional energy striking the earth and possibly the principal cause for a warming trend in our weather. Nor is that the only alternative explanation.
Similarly, rather than an external force (or human’s bumbling) causing slightly different weather, it could, in fact, be INTERNAL forces, below the surface of the earth’s crust. Down deep in the mantel or even at the level of the earth’s core, the convection currents of molten rock or the expansion or contraction of the core (by even microscopic amounts) could have unimaginably significant effects on the earth’s magnetic fields, the gravitational fields, and thereby subtle but not insignificantly affect ion levels , wind patterns, ocean currents, and much more as well. I am certainly not saying that these are more valid explanations, I am simply saying that not enough is known about either core dynamics or solar radiation to completely eliminate them as contributory, to some large or small degree.
Remember that even Sir Isaac Newton’s “laws” are invalid at the sub-atomic level, if quantum physics has any validity, and for that matter, quantum physics is starting to be displaced in the scientific pantheon by string theory. Who knows what the next generation might discover. I am also not saying that my own personal version of “string theory” is any more correct than anyone else’s, but I do hope that eventually some brilliant young mind(s) may stumble across it (maybe even with my help) :o) and gain an insight from an alternative perspective that may flip on a light bulb in their mind that takes us through the next giant leap for mankind.
Back in today’s energy world, Wired’s Blog reported some substantial improvement in hybrid battery performance was claimed by some folks who replaced the factory installed Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries with their version of a lead-acid battery. Their variation was superior in performance because of more efficient charging. Lead-acid batteries can be recharged on a smaller increase in power than the factory ones (105% vs. 140%, I believe the article said), but also because of more efficient power management which was possible because of the addition of electronic monitoring and modern electronic capacitors, indeed it was called the “Supercapacitor UltraBattery”. Further improvements were also expected by the use of a “foamed” lead plate. The foam structure is actually carbon fiber in the “Firefly” battery. Again the recharge characteristics offer an advantage because the NiMH batteries charge best with a constant flow of current (not really available when being charged by intermittent regenerative braking, for instance), while the lead acid batteries only require constant voltage for the most efficient use of the charging energy, so again, this is better suited to the mobile application, and Firefly touts this as making plug-in hybrids a step closer to your garage.
I watched part of a Bill Moyers program on PBS Saturday night (due to the inconvenience of Arizona having its OWN time zone, PBS may have broadcast this on another date in your area, if you even get PBS, which tends to only be available in the USA and border town to the North and South). His guest, being interviewed, was a former National Public Radio reporter. “After the war,” as she termed it, Sarah Chayes, went back to Afghanistan to develop a business, to try to help, in many ways, including rebuilding the country in a way that we as Americans, or rather the Bush administration, have neglected to do in that country since “winning” the battle with the Taliban, and installing our guy, President Hamid Karzai as president of the “Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” (hey, I kid you not, that’s the link to his web site, just like “”). It is Ms. Chayes contention that the US$1 billion we are sending to Pakistan every year is what is financing the insurgents in the area, and the Pakistani government is turning a blind eye to a certain Mr. Baitullah Mehsud in order not to have him running amok all the time. Ms. Chayes says that the Pakistani army tosses us a token al-Qaeda leader from time to time, but the Pakistani people consider Mehsud to be the main terrorist in their country, according to what Senator Joe Biden said when he appeared on This Week with George Stephanopolous on Sunday) and no one is actually looking for Osama Bin Laden. The National Post ( online) reports that the Pakistani, “the military seem prepared to cut the same sort of deal they made two years ago with Islamist extremists in North Waziristan.”
Meanwhile they also know very well where Mehsud is, too, but they are not attempting to go after him to avoid reactionary actions by his supporters elsewhere. Sarah Chayes still operates a cosmetics business in Afghanistan in Kandahar province. She says that although the roads in town and the road to Kabul have been paved, they are no longer safe for her to travel. Certainly not alone, and not as a woman alone. The locals tell her that during the day they are extorted by corrupt officials, and then the Taliban come with their own extortion threats at night when the government officials have gone home.
Senator Biden also pointed out that our total financial contribution to the rehabilitation of Afghanistan in the past 5 or 6 years has been about equal to what we are spending in Iraq in just 3 weeks. Senator Biden, Senator John Kerry, and Senator Chuck Hagel have just returned from observing Pakistani elections in which President Musharaf’s party was overwhelmed by support for two opposition parties. Yet the “wise men” of Washington advise that it is too soon for the Pakistani Parliament to consider impeaching President Musharaf, even though he now says he has no plans to resign, and that we need to give him “room” to come to that decision on his own.
Although I am tempted to turn to the Oscars here, I will spare you, since I have just put the TiVO on hold to finish this column and haven’t finished watching them myself, yet. However, in the world of entertainment, it is not entirely coincidental that I just watched a film set in Serbia where, this week, protesters set fire to the US Embassy to signal their disapproval of US officially recognizing the new independent government of Kosovo. Oh, don’t mistake my meaning. I had no prescient feelings about Kosovo or US reaction to it.
What I meant was not entirely coincidentally to Ms. Chayes’ account of the Taliban and the “ceasefire” with insurgents in Pakistan, this film was about a what happened after a “massive manhunt” that failed to turn up the leading Serbian war criminal known as “the Fox”, reviled for his slaughter of whole villages Muslims and other unspeakable horrors in the name of “ethnic cleansing.” The film is called The Hunting Party which stars Richard Gere, Terrance Howard (probably best known for his fine performance in Crash) and although his “star” status did seem to rate him star billing, Jesse Eisenberg. (Mr. Eisenberg’s performance was outstanding, and I offer that unbiased assessment on Oscar night, of all nights.) The story goes that “only the most ludicrous details and incidents are true”, that after a supposed massive manhunt by the UN forces, these few journalists are able to locate and meet with this heinous war criminal in just two days of casual journalistic investigation, at which point the film story goes, they are rescued by a secret (non-existent, they are so secret) CIA team from the clutches of this monster mass-murderer just as he is about to kill them. Yet somehow the Serbian leader who was just running out the back door when the CIA arrived, guns blazing, escapes and everyone who had any contact with the journalists is transferred to another country. I am not in the habit of spoiling people’s enjoyment of a movie by giving away the plot entirely, so I won’t reveal the ending, but although the film was at least passable, with many enjoyable moments, the real point of the film, and of my mentioning it, is the parallel to the situations in the Middle East today.
Well, that wasn’t exactly my traditional “good news” ending, so I will take a quick side trip to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (“the Oscars,” to you), to mention that the wonderful young actress who gave such an outstanding performance as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose (I commended her performance in this column a few weeks back, I believe) won the statuette for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role. It was well deserved, even among such luminaries as Kate Blanchett, (who also DID win for Best Supporting for her portayal of Bob Dylan [yes, THE Bob Dylan, the man] in I’m Not There) and Julie Christie (in Away from Her) and the captivating newcomer Ellen Page (from Nova Scotia, by the way), in JUNO.
I was happy for Kate Blanchett in the supporting category, although it might have been nice to see the second “tie” in Academy history so she could split it with the marvelous performance by Ruby Dee who played Denzel’s character’s mother in American Gangster.
Now, I must get back to the rest of the Oscars on TiVo, and I will look forward to chatting again with you next week.
Stafford “Doc” Williamson
p.s. Oh, yes, almost forgot to mention, I opened a new online “Game Mall” at and don’t puzzle too long over the actual name of the Game Mall, it is pronounced “Circus” but spelled “” (well, I thought it was cute). See you at the mall, I hope. ;o)


Hybrid Plug-ins 100MPG & Hydrogen Fuel, Cashmere Mafia v. Lipstick Jungle, AMA Medical Insurance Proposal

Hillary ClintonI am nothing short of amazed at all the news there is each week in the field of renewable energy. I would virtually have to start making this a daily column just to keep up with it all. On the other hand that would be thoroughly un-necessary because most of what is reported as “news” comes down to rather trivial matters of “announced” contracts which may or may not ever amount to anything of substance.

On the other hand, sometimes it takes a half a day of research just to find out if the “announcement” of a “BREAKTHROUGH” is justified, or just hype. One such instance was an item I came across this week claiming that a British firm, ITM Power, of Yorkshire, has achieved a “breakthrough” in converting renewable energy sources into hydrogen for use not only as a portable fuel, but to fuel households (in England at least) for both heating and cooking purposes. They did admit that your “gas cooker” (what we would call a “stove”)(or an oven and stove) would have to be “slightly modified” as would the Ford Focus dual fuel internal combustion engine. In addition, the operating principles of this system are based the assumption that you have a wind turbine on your roof, or that the roof is covered in solar panels to provide you with a source of renewable energy, otherwise the only great advantage of the system is that you could use off-peak electricity at lower costs to accomplish the conversion of ordinary water into hydrogen (and release extra oxygen into the atmosphere, or at least they didn’t mention trying to make use of the oxygen generated when splitting the water molecules).

Now if all of that negativity and intentional deflating description of the so-called “breakthrough” has led you to believe that I am no fan of this accomplishment, I should apologize for leading you down the garden path in this case. The real breakthrough of ITM Power is that they have come upon a method of constructing these electrolysers that reduces the cost from an industry average of some US$2000/kW, to something like US$163/kW.

Now if you want to consider that any 7th grade science student can electrolyze water with a $0.20 battery, $0.02 of wire and some electrodes, a US$163/kW might seem like no great bargain. On the other hand, a commercial grade product that can accomplish this benchtop demonstration in a safe and reliable manner, storing the hydrogen for transmission to “cooker” or the family Volvo, this could, indeed, be good news, worthy of the title.

If you have been reading my column for any time at all, you know how frustrated I get with the too little too late snail’s pace of progress in most places, which is why it puzzles me that I found it very encouraging news that Pacific Gas and Electric has contracted with a company called “Raser” to provide them with a pair of plug-in hybrid SUV’s for evaluation. Reportedly these vehicles would be able to achieve a net of 100 MPG by having a 40 mile range on a fully charged battery alone, and the story makes it sound like the onboard engine generates electricity (rather than powering the car directly) for another 400 miles from a (tiny?) tank of gas.

PG&E has already gone to great lengths to “Green” up their fleet of vehicles. They just purchased 250 new Compressed Natural Gas vehicles to bring their total of CNG and dual-fuel CNG to 1180 cars and trucks. They are also experimenting with a Ford Escape that they have converted to be a PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) and a Ford F550 heavy duty truck. I saw my first F550 at the car wash the other day (I know, I lead a sheltered life, but hey, I don’t get out much since I’ve been married) (27 years next month). This little monster was reported by the owner to be a highly reliable vehicle that had been used to pull 5th wheel style trailers across the continent frequently, though unfortunately he was not using biodiesel in the big V8 diesel engine. He asked about my mini-van, saying his wife was pushing him in that direction. I told me we liked the Pontiac, but our other car was a Ford product, the Mercury Mariner hybrid, and we have been pleased with that so far. He indicated he might consider a hybrid, so I suggested he look at the Saturn VUE hybrid which starting in 2008 was supposed to have electronic vehicle stabilization as a standard feature. The Mariner offered electronic stability control in all models EXCEPT the hybrid.

Speaking of choice in hybrid varieties, I don’t think it elicited a laugh, or even a chuckle from me, but I did appreciate the fact that Lexus now has a whole series of Hybrid model vehicles available, or rather, most precisely, a hybrid for each of their GS, LS and RX series or models. Their lame attempt at humor in their advertising campaign about the “h” disappearing from alphabets everywhere else because they now have to be used for the “h” in the model numbers of the Lexus hybrids is catchy, but falls short of actual humor. On the other hand, the fact that Lexus now offers a line of hybrid is no joke either, so credit where credit is due, this is a good thing.

Speaking of “credit”, yours had better be pretty good if you want one of the Lexus machines, the manufacturer’s base price for a GS 450h is US$54,900, and although the Active Power Stabilizer Suspension System (with run-flat tires) is an available option, it will add another $3300 to the price, add another US$2850 for their “Pre-Collision System (PCS) and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control” package and another US$1500 for the voice activated navigation system.

They also are working on their corporate citizenship by recommending ways for hybrid drivers to help economize with their new cars. From the Lexus website’s “Fuel Economy” page:

  1. 1. Plan ahead. Combine short trips in order to minimize cold starts.
  2. 2. Accelerate slowly.
  3. 3. Avoid heavy braking. Monitor traffic to minimize braking and coast whenever possible.
  4. 4. Avoid speeds in excess of 60 mph. Fuel economy suffers at speeds higher than 60 mph and drops significantly above 70 mph.
  5. 5. In slow-and-go traffic, accelerate to the desired speed, then lift off the accelerator pedal, allowing the vehicle to run more on electric power.
  6. 6. Ensure tires are at the recommended pressure.
  7. 7. Avoid carrying unnecessary loads. Extra weight reduces fuel economy.
  8. 8. Use the air conditioner and the defroster only when needed.
  9. 9. Use premium fuel to improve fuel economy and performance.

Frankly I have to wonder if this last one is not just something to pander to the “snob appeal” of the luxury car buyer market. Generally, premium fuel does not deliver any better gas mileage and most experts recommend against it unless the engine specifically requires it, because any performance increase is likely to be less than the proportional cost increase.

Lexus does list a number of the benefits to owning hybrid vehicles, including, “increased horsepower, lower emissions, smoother ride, reduced noise,” (one of my favorites, it’s just fun to drive down our street with the Mercury SUV making less noise than our neighbors’ electric golf carts), “longer battery life, and better fuel economy.”

I don’t approve the following message, but it isn’t my campaign. However you will note that the story has been very carefully crafted not to “hurt the party” (the Democratic Party, that is, of course), because it is accusing Senator Obama of being complicit in policies of the Bush administration, thus it is not exactly fodder for the Republican side, which has already launch anti-Obama media.

What I do like in recent developments in the campaign is the fact that Senator Obama and Senator McCain have been confrontative of each other. I think this is a far more constructive (so far) route for all concerned. I know that they claim “negative ads work”, but that doesn’t me I have to like to see them, and I don’t. Actually I found the above video clip in an excellent column in Newsweek online by Andrew Romano which is probably worth reading (certainly if you happen to read this column before next Tuesday and the results of the Wisconsin primary are not yet in).

Mr. Romano seems to think that there is a very strong possibility that Senator Clinton will pull out a “surprise” victory (on this point he agrees with CBS political analyst and’s political columnist Jeff Greenfield) in Wisconsin, in part because Wisconsin closely matches Ohio where she is strongly favored because of the composition of the electorate there. Analysis from This Week with George Stephanopolous was of the opinion that Senator Hillary Clinton needs to win all three of Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania to put the outcome of the leadership race to rest before the convention and even then she will need the majority of the so-called “super-delegates” to achieve the necessary majority. Greenfield says, as I have recently, that the “managed expectations game” that the Clinton campaign machine is working is a finely honed strategy that they execute very effectively, and that he expects: “Indeed, its potential for Hillary is so promising that it’s worth pondering whether the “on to Texas and Ohio!” battle cry of her campaign might be one huge head fake, designed to turn a strong Clinton showing—much less a victory—into one of those ‘Oh my God, what a shocker!’ reactions that changes the whole tenor of the political conversation.”

I would really like to see Senator Clinton’s campaign focus turn toward the matchup with the Republican candidate, and not risk damaging Democrats themselves any further with negative attacks.

This falls into the realm of politics too. I meant to get on with the entertainment news but this got me steamed, so the entertainment side will have to wait ’til the steam pressure goes down. Reason for steam: The AMA has a Health Insurance proposal for you to consider.

In the proposal linked above, the AMA shows us that what we need (according to the good doctors) is a tax credit for individuals to buy their own health insurance. Having worked at H&R Block for several tax seasons in the past, I can assure you that most Americans don’t have a tax burden sufficient to be able to use a tax credit of the size the AMA is proposing (their example shows a tax credit to a family [presumably 4 persons]) of US$7500. If the government were to make it a “refundable credit” (the “earned income credit” which is currently available to low income tax “payers” [and I use the term “payers” loosely, because these are people who file income taxes in order to receive this federal income subsidy] to try to extend this benefit to low income families, I assure you that it would not go, in the majority of cases, to purchase health insurance. They might use it to pay off last year’s hospital maternity bill that wasn’t covered by insurance they didn’t have last year, but more likely it would go to purchase a better used car than the rusty old hulk they are driving now, or to buy some “personal watercraft”, or ATV or two. Purchasing health insurance is just not seen as a “necessary” investment of substantial portion of income by most low income wage earners.

The AMA’s magic formula is shown in an example of a US$50,000 household versus a US$150,000 household, where the latter gets NO tax credit, while both families are expected to have employer provided health care insurance that amounts to about US$10,000 per year as a precursor to this example, in which the employer pays 75% of that US$10,000 premium. Now, at no time to my hands leave my sleeves during this “magic” transformation, but the employer provided premiums continue to be paid by the employer, but are now counted as employee salary. (From what well of the milk of human kindness the AMA believes these blessings flow, I don’t know, but it seems like a highly unlikely scenario.) However unlikely, they continue now to show that the US$7500 that was formerly subsidized by the employer for both employees is now substituted for by the corresponding US$7500 tax credit against the US$50,000 family’s now US$57,500 taxable income, thus having transformed healthcare costs for the lesser income family from 18% to just 4% while the upper income family’s healthcare costs rise from only 5% to just 6% overall.

Let’s get reasonable, please. “For profit” organizations providing healthcare insurance are in the business for the benefit of the shareholders, not for the benefit of the policy holders. That’s why we see instances like the recently highly publicized one in which a girl with significant medical difficulties was being denied a liver transplant by the insurance company until the day she died, at which time, due to public pressure they reversed their decision. It doesn’t have to be “single payer” healthcare (as in one monolithic federal health insurance system), but it certainly needs to be a national plan of NOT-FOR-PROFIT. Single payer does have tremendous economies of administrative overhead and costs, plus the advantage that individual health care providers don’t have to maintain elaborate accounting and billing systems that address the demands of every separate insurance provider. I know of a local clinic here in Phoenix that offers a 40% to 60% discount for “self-pay” because of how much cheaper it is to deal with a cash client than insurance claims.

I am rapidly running out of time for today, so I will just mention that two shows cut from the same cloth have caught our attention, Cashmere Mafia and Lipstick Jungle. Lipstick Jungle was rather a disappointment in the debut episode last week, but this week they redeemed themselves. That is fortunate for Lipstick’s cast, because they benefit from being born from the brain of HBO’s now defunct Sex and the City creator Candace Bushnell. The stars of Litpstick Jungle are the still beautiful Brooke Shields, Kim Raver, veteran of several seasons of Third Watch and 24, and a truly sparkling Lindsay Price. Cashmere Mafia is quirkier, and easier to like at first glance, especially the always charming Lucy Liu (formerly of Ally McBeal series, and the Quentin Tarantino film series Kill Bill), Frances O’Connor, and Miranda Otto, and Bonnie Sommerville. In the pilot episode Sommerville’s character is suddenly smitten with another woman, a turn of events she finds both intriguing and unexpected. Neither show is aimed to steal fans from the wrestling or bass fishing channel, but with such a range of choices of beautiful women, they just might end up attracting a few glassy stares from mesmerized males.


Stafford “Doc” Williamson

Wood for Coal?, Propaganda x 3, Video Everywhere (almost), Obama the Beautiful

I saw a documentary film a night or two ago.  The title was “Six Degrees” but although it intended to capitalize on the popularity of that name (the film starring Will Smith and Donald Sutherland)this was about speculations on the effects of global warming.  You’ll find this a “theme” in the stuff I am talking about this week, but this so-called “documentary” television program was bordering on grossly exaggerated propaganda, so of which was highly speculative, and some of it, intentionally misleading.  Rather ringingly absent from the program was anything relating the supposed effects of “global warming” to any kind of time line.  I may have missed it, but nowhere that I saw was there any attempt to correlate degrees of warming (in Fahrenheit, of course, for American audiences) with a time period over which that warming would have the proposed effect.  One year or even two with the whole 6 degrees of warming for JUST that year or two would actually have relatively little effect in the longer term.  More in the realm of reality if we have 2 degrees of warming (Fahrenheit) for 4 decades, yes, we’d probably see changes in ocean currents and the other “global effects” this program purported to be facts, but that was never part of their equation.  They just kept bumping up the temperature and piling disastrous effect on top of devastations from the previous state. 
Barack Obama

This kind of yellow journalism was bad enough, but we hit intentional deception and misleading editing when repeatedly thoughout the program we were shown images of steam escaping from cooling towers, of conventional electric generating plants and from the nuclear cooling towers of Three Mile Island.  The fact that there once was radiation contaminated steam rising from those towers at Three Mile Island is not something to be glossed over lightly, but in this instance, the editors and producers were (barring gross ignorance on their part) trying to imply that all this was heavy releases of particulates and carbon dioxide contributions to global warming.  Water vapor condensing into steam is not a major contributor to climate change, and the use of the images of these billowing white clouds to suggest that we were witnessing “smokestack” pollution is downright dishonest.  Propaganda is too polite a word for it.

“Wood is the new coal,” was the proclamation in a brief article that came to my attention this week.  That’s not all that pleasant a thought to me, but then I gave it a little deeper consideration, and frankly, to some extent that is correct.  The difference is that unlike the unfortunate ignorance of my own forefathers who denuded their native Fair Isle (off the North coast of Scotland) of all but ONE TREE in their desperate attempts to stave off death by freezing (as well as to boil their porridge, of course), we have the chance to apply modern silvaculture and seek alternative sources for the vegetative matter.  Note that I didn’t call them “trees”, because although they are substantially “wetter” to start with, the most efficient green plans we know about these days are still algae.
That is not to say, either, that the development of wood pellet making plants in Northern Florida (by Green Circle Bio Energy, a subsidiary of SCE Group of Sweden) to export 120 truckloads (20 train car loads) of wood in the pellet form to Europe each and every DAY when they enter full production later this Spring is insignificant, because we need to recognize that even with the trees coming, in this instance, (reportedly) from managed tree farming areas, that such practices may not always be strictly observed in every place that attempts to duplicate this process.   The trees are ground to a find powder, dried and compressed as pellets. They are intended specifically for the European electric generating industry.  This report cites coal fired electric generating plants as having successfully tested combined coal and wood pellets combustion for steam generation as high as 10% wood pellets.  The basic premise, of course, is that trees being renewable resource and absorbing carbon dioxide to produce their growth are part of the non-fossil carbon cycle, and therefore not adding to the carbon load in the atmosphere.
The secondary problem, however, may lie in the success of this type of use.  If it becomes widespread enough, we could end up treeless like the Fair Isle.  Okay, perhaps not entirely treeless, but demand is likely to outstrip supply if the trend is allowed to grow for a few decades.
The primary problem is, of course, that although 90% coal combustion is better than 100% it is too small a change to meet the demands we are facing in reducing carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel sources.
Okay, keeping in mind that I found this on a “social networking site” under a label saying, “Modern Propaganda?” this video was just so beautifully done that it was effectively (and affectively) inspirational.  Now that is not to say that it changed by views politically (I am already a “fan”,  just with limited to how fast want to see him rise), but this video, put together in an extremely professional and polished way was truly impressive.

It also didn’t hurt that Kate Walsh (formerly of <A HREF=><B><I>Grey’s Anatomy</I></B></a> and Scarlet Johansson (of <I><B>Lost in Translation </B></I> fame) were in there, supporting Senator Obama.
In Iowa, a state of which I became considerably fonder when Senator Obama was so thoroughly endorsed by members of the Democratic Party caucuses, a certain Mr. Curtis Hartog, a senior technical consultant for Foth Infrastructure & Environment, of Lake Elmo, Minn.,  reported to the Waste Commission of Scott County, that all 5 technologies that produce energy from waste were too expensive to be considered, when, as Executive Director of the Commission, Kathy Morris says that the current landfill being used still has 50 years capacity at this time.  The  was all reported in <A HREF=> an article in the “Quad City Times” (online edition)</A>, in which we are informed that, “The cost of turning waste into energy can run as high as $150 per ton, while the price of the fuel produced fluctuates with market demand.” 
Let me see if I can dig up the Changing World Technologies estimates of mixed MSW to fuel.  Old data I have squirreled away suggests that Changing World Technologies (now a partner with ConAgra in the plant in Carthage, Missouri) expected to get about 20% usable fuel oil from mixed municipal solid wastes via what was then called “thermal depolymerization” (which Mr. Appel and friends now calls TCP for “thermal conversion process”).  Now, even allowing that figure to be pretty optimistic, especially considering that they had trouble scaling up to their current plant, so let’s cut that down to 15% or about 300 pounds of fuel output per ton of waste input.  Assuming diesel fuel at about 6.8 pounds per gallon, that should be about 44 gallons.  Now, admittedly, municipalities may not have to pay retail prices for the quantities of products they buy, but since the gas station I passed today had diesel fuel on sale for $3.29, and I’ve seen it higher lately, that certainly suggests to me that even with Mr. Hartog’s “as high as” scenario of $150 per ton it is pretty close to break-even.  And that is not taking into consideration the environmental impact of the fact that landfill garbage rots over time, producing methane, which although it is possible to collect it from a properly constructed landfill site, is actually a worse contributor to climate changing greenhouse gases than mere carbon dioxide. 
Taking that these facts in combination with the fact that most people who want to construct waste-to-energy plants will cheerfully do so with private capital, accept municipal solid wastes (MSW) into their facility for less than the typical “tipping fee” charged even to municipalities themselves as privately owned landfill sites to dump something there, and can still make a profit (because with “negative cost” feedstock [due to the tipping fee], and the fact that virtually all of the possible energy-from-waste processes are at least partially self-fueling), in most cases the worst case cost scenario does not apply.
For my last point I a return to the point of “modern propaganda”.  One of the films nominated for an Oscar this year is a strange little animated feature.  <I><B>Persepolis  </B></I> (of which I have only seen brief promotional cuts) is the story of a young girl and her family in Iran at the time of the revolution that deposed the Shah.  I reserve final judgment until I have at least seen more of it, but the rather blatant anti-Iranian viewpoint, not just anti-Islamist intolerance viewpoint, it certainly looks like more propaganda (in black and white, a hallmark of propaganda traditionally) than “art”.
Okay, I lied, this last item is one that crosses categories, so while it is “kinda” entertainment news, it is also marketing and publishing news.  There is a new service from Google that allows website owners to put a video feed on every page of their web sites (not that we’d recommend that kind of oversaturation, but in theory it is at least possible).  Not only is that video feed updates on an ongoing basis, but it is also “tunable” content, which is to say, you can request just certain video “producers” like the national (American, as far as I know) television networks, or as specific as YouTube’s “geriatric1927” or “lonelygirl15” (a fictional character from some innovative “soap opera” producers), or just a theme, like “auto racing”.  But it is also publishing and marketing news that Google is offering this because this type of video feed will also have “commercials” associated with it.  Revenue from those commercials will be split between the web site publisher and Google (if you know how to set up this kind of arrangement), so the day of “everybody becomes a broadcaster” on “commercially supported” channels has arrived.  Talk about the democratization of the media!!  You can get more information about this at <A HREF=></A&gt; (That page doesn’t actually contain all the info about the Google ad supported video feeds, but if you sign up in the form provided, the follow up emails will explain it all, and I can also personally attest that the information being sold through the offer on that page was well worth the price, at least from my perspective as a website publisher and author.)

Stafford “Doc” Williamson

p.s. Oh, and just in case you are inclined to think of “diet” as a “dirty” word, you might want to check out our new UNdiet site at <A HREF=></A>.

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