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 “whitehouse.gov”). 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 (www.nationalpost.com 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.
Love
Stafford “Doc” Williamson
p.s. Oh, yes, almost forgot to mention, I opened a new online “Game Mall” at
http://gamemall.winfotech.com and don’t puzzle too long over the actual name of the Game Mall, it is pronounced “Circus” but spelled “Psyrk.us” (well, I thought it was cute). See you at the mall, I hope. ;o)

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