Posted by Martin on Thursday, January 31st, 2013
This is not my normal area of interest but recently I was looking at some high resolution topographical maps of Australia and noticed what looks like a series of impact craters. As they are all in a line and seem to have the same topographic profile, I surmise that they occurred in an event much like the Shoemaker-Levy 9 impact with Jupiter. Take a look at the following images:
In the centre south of the country is the Nullabor Plain
To the north of the Nullabor Plain are a series of features that appear to be impact craters. (click on the below image to see it in full)
Notice the linear nature of the impacts and that the eastern edges appear to have a similar profile. The Nullabor Plain was created by separation of Australia from Antarctica and is structurally similar to the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Curvilinear features like these are unlikely, in my opinion, to be the result of an other event besides that of a celestial impact.
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Posted by Martin on Friday, April 27th, 2012
In the last few years new fossil fuel technologies such as oil shale and oil sand energy extraction, and more importantly fracking, has quietly opened up vast reserves of energy to nations all over the globe. It is rewriting the economic futures of countries like the United States, where access to cheap energy is making manufacturing competitive with the cheap labour in China. This fiscal brightness shouldn’t blind us to the imminent danger that continuing the increase in carbon dioxide emissions creates. Building greenhouse gases, leading to increased global temperatures and ocean acidification, will impoverish humanity in the long term and short term.
We have been here before. In 1970, the American economy was cruising along as it had done since WWII: on cheap energy. The price of a barrel of oil quadrupled in 1973 and this lead to inflation spikes in any nation that did not have domestic supplies of oil sufficient to meet their economic needs. A series of causal relationships created the rust belt in the United States and the current economic/sociopolitical paradigm. The West’s need for cheap energy drives its relationships with the Middle East and this has been merely a bandage to stop the economic haemorrhaging that is masked by the euphemism “trade imbalance”. However, it didn’t need to be this way. The hard choice, the long term choice, would have been to vigorously pursue the technologies that we were investing in at the time. But we didn’t; wind, solar, OTEC, biomass, tidal – all were for the most part shelved for two decades and now are slowly being invested in and investigated. One can only wonder what the world would look like if political leaders had chosen to make energy security a national priority like food security once was in the cold war, and in any case, uncoupling the relationship between fossil fuels and the food we eat is pure fantasy as I wrote about in my post Water and Soil -not Just Oil.
National, globally, we face a crossroads: We can choose to continue to invest in renewable technologies such as the Tidal Irrigation and Electrical System or we can consume the non-renewable energy reserves. If we do choose to go the easy route, the cheaper route, the short term route, humanity will face catastrophic climate change. There will still be jungles and swamps and forests but they will be in new places. Thousands upon thousands of species that can not adapt fast enough will disappear as the climate changes. There will still be creatures like rats and sparrows and anole lizards but specialist or those in isolated populations like the Ethiopian Wolf will be gone. Many of our cities and much of our farm land will be underwater in under a thousand years. Recent research has discovered that phytoplankton can adapt to higher concentrations of CO2 and that some corals can too but many species of plankton and shellfish seem unable to thrive. However, it is certain that the productivity of the oceans will decrease in a world with high levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And ALL of this will be for the meagre benefit of a century’s more use of fossil fuels. The switch to renewable energy and bringing humanity’s carbon emissions in to balance with absorption by the environment will eventually need to happen and it can – it is a goal within our collective reach. However, it will take social movements and political leadership, otherwise the fossil fuel industry will exploit the resources that lie in the ground and leave our future with fewer species, less land and much of our past underwater. A poorer world it will be.
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Posted by Martin on Thursday, March 1st, 2012
There isn’t going to be a single fix to the problem of our race’s need for more energy. It is inevitable that the vast majority of the world will technologically develop and adopt a western style of consumption and energy use – and our population is still rising. Energy efficiencies and new sources of energy will need to be found. In this spirit, the USA passed the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) in 2007. However, sometimes distortions by special interests lead to improper policy.
It is a great idea to use food that would go to waste as source material for biofuels. It is a terrible idea to grow food for biofuel. Crops, like corn and wheat, consume energy. Water needs to be pumped for irrigation; fertilisers and pesticides need to be manufactured and distributed; machines need to harvest and process the food. All of this consumes energy currently in the form of fossil fuels. By all accounts, the system is unsustainable and with the increasing pressure of population rise and globalisation, the crunch will happen sooner rather later. This is a frightening scenario.
Food system crashes have occurred before to humans, and they are happening now. Some are worse than others, but they all leave the societies traumatised. And make no mistake: a food system crash mean poverty, starvation and death. It is a moral imperative to avoid adding to this problem.
It has been apparent for quite some time that growing corn as the source material for biofuel consumes more energy than it produces and uses more water than is sustainable. Unfortunately, this was not taken into account during the drafting of the EISA or perhaps it was and the agricultural lobbyist groups and the politicians chose to manipulate the bill for profit. The call for an increase in production to 136 billion gallons of ethanol by 2022 would seriously compromise the US economy, water supply and food supply. In a recent paper by W. Kolby Smith and associates to Environmental Science and Technology, it was estimated the US would need to devote 80 percent of farmed land to meet the target or convert 60 percent of the land used to raise livestock.
The wider issue of “green washing” (the distorting of facts to give technologies a false appearance of being of ecologic benefit) is fraud of the highest order and industry lobbyists and politicians must think beyond momentary benefits. History teaches that often the elites are not spared during system collapses.
Second and third generation biofuels and alternative energy sources are rapidly developing. By exploiting new resources such as Deep Ocean Water (DOW) via the Tidal Irrigation and Electrical System (the invention to which this website is devoted), it is possible to feed and power human global civilisation.
By growing marine plants we do not need to make additional demands on fresh water supplies and in its production it is possible to produce terrawatts of electricity. For a full explanation please explore this site. However the simplest summery is that, currently we use the oceans as hunter-gatherers and with this technology we can become farmers of the sea: Aquaculteralists.
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Posted by Martin on Friday, January 20th, 2012
Harvesting kelp for biofuels has a huge potential. It can be grown pretty much anyplace where the holdfast at its base can gain an anchor within reach of light and as long as the nutrients that it requires are available for growth. This happens in two kinds of places: the frigid waters of the high latitudes and the frigid waters near where currents upwell from the deep ocean. The link between these things is obviously the cold.
Any body of water when it is warmed by the sun at the surface will tend to separate itself into thermocline gradients. The sharply defined layers prevents the mixing of the waters inside them. This leads to a leaching of nutrients needed for plant growth and so by mid spring in places like the north sea primary biological production has for the most part stopped. Deep Ocean Water (DOW), where these nutrients abound, represents 99% of the volume of the ocean and are just out of the reach of marine plants, separated by a thin skin. This is why the tropical oceans are crystal clear. There are almost no microscopic plants (micro algae) in the water to turn it green.
That is not to say that that the potential of seaweed isn’t huge. A company called Bio Architecture Lab based in Berkeley California has perfected an enzyme and process which liberates the sugar from alginate. This single substance represents 30% of the dry mass of seaweed. BAL’s method has an 80% efficiency rate of the theoretical yield. This is a huge advance and by their figures the harvesting of seaweed from 3% of costal waters would generate 60 billion gallons of biofuel.
The Tidal Irrigation and Electrical System opens up large areas of coastal ocean to macroscopic algae cultivation that would not normally grow commercially harvestable amounts of seaweed. It does this by using tidal forces to syphon DOW into a lagoon where it is isolated from the surrounding ocean and creates a large bioreactor. It does this while producing food and gigawatts of electricity. (Please see the links on the right of this page for further details of the products of the system)
The new increase in efficiency in the processing of seaweed by BOL will result in a huge gain in production for the TIE System. The two technologies are made for one another.
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Posted by Martin on Wednesday, July 20th, 2011
Even though this technology may seem to be in competition with the Tidal Irrigation and Electrical System it actually isn’t, and in any case it is wonderfully exciting. Sun Catalytix has developed a cobalt and phosphate coated silicon sheet that is immersed in water. When exposed to sunlight the water is catalyzed into its component parts i.e. hydrogen and oxygen. This can then be used as fuel for transport or to power the home. According MIT scientist Daniel Nocera the process, which mimics photosynthesis, is robust enough to be used with grey water.
This technology creates power and the potential resource is enormous as does the Tidal Irrigation and Electrical System. However, there are some issues that are poorly addressed by this form of power generation. The coming centuries will find humanity short of fresh water, fertilizers and food as well as power for industry and commerce. A mix of technologies will be called for in the future which achieve desired products so they involve the minimum number of transformative steps because as energy is converted from one form to another roughly 40 percent of its potential is lost.
Sun Catalytix’s research is available via the company website.
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Posted by Martin on Saturday, February 5th, 2011
The growth of homogenic carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since the industrial revolution has convinced the majority of the scientific community that the earth is poised to begin an ever increasing warming trend. It has terrified the most influential scientists and lead to the advanced study of geoengineering schemes. At the cost of billions, if not trillions, of dollars the earth may be shaded by items floating in space or by changing the atmosphere, or some other modification so that less light reaches the ground. A few of these plans attempt to deal with the problem from the other side – by absorbing carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere in the hope to offset the burning of fossil fuels. Flue filters and artificial trees seem like good ideas, except that the energy cost is very large and there are no storage solutions that can guarantee containment for geologic time. By this reasoning, shading the earth seems like the way to go.
There is, however, a whole different set of problems created by having an excess of CO2 in the air. This is about how the atmosphere and the oceans interact to create carbolic acid and is known as ocean acidification. I blogged about it here. The long and the short of it is that as the ocean becomes more acidic, corals and some planktons find it harder and harder to grow until they die off. As the effect increases, the whole oceanic food web breaks down. The major geologic models we have eventually resulted in extinction events, the largest of which killed off 95% of the life in the ocean. We are a long way off of that but even a slight change can have remarkably deleterious effects on the ocean’s ability to produce food. Some of the latest horrifying figures can be found in this article, which details a report from the UN and this one about a model of surface uptake.
One biologist, Ronald Osinga, presented an interesting idea at a symposium involving the growing of sea lettuce (ulva lactuca) to combat the acidification of the ocean. Roelof Kleis wrote an article about the symposium which was held at Wageningen, the Netherlands by the International Society for Reef Studies (ISRS). It had an emphasis on climate change and the deleterious effects it will have on coral reefs. Presented on the last day, Osinga pointed out the pollution caused by current fish farming techniques could be utilised to grow sea weeds for human consumption or for food for fish.
Osinga and his colleagues have calculated that a ‘marine garden’ of 180,000 square kilometres could provide enough protein for the entire world population. A sea lettuce bed of such gigantic proportions would raise the pH (acidity level) of the Mediterranean Sea by one tenth. That may not seem much, but according to Osinga, it would be enough to compensate for the rise in acidity that started with the industrial revolution.
My criticism of the scheme is that it fails to account for the eventual nutrient loss if either the fish or the sea lettuce are taken from the system for consumption by humans. This aside, the proposal does have huge implications for the Tidal Irrigation and Electrical System (TIE System), the subject of this blog. One of the key components of a TIE System is its ability to deliver the nutrients necessary to a lagoon isolated from the surrounding ocean, in order to create a sustainable aquaculture. It does this while producing electrical power.
The TIE System is driven by tidal action and so it is difficult to estimate the amount of power generated by Osinga’s 180,000 square kilometre figure. But, if there was a tidal swing average of 2.33 meters and each TIE System had a diameter of 20 kilometres, the 573 aqua farms should produce about 36.3 TeraWatt Hours every flux. This is on top of producing the sea weeds necessary to change the pH of the oceans to offset the consequences of fossil fuel use AND feed the whole population of the world.
It is worth noting that 36.3 TeraWatt hours per flux is about 23,849 TeraWatt hours per year. In 2007 world consumption of electricity was 17,109.7 TeraWatt hours. The economic and societal imperative to develop the Tidal Irrigation and Electrical System seems to become increasingly evident as time passes.
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Posted by Martin on Friday, November 26th, 2010
A team based at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has developed a novel way of turning biomass like grass cuttings, kelp or even wood pulp into the basic components of plastics and resins. This yearly $US400 billion industry is currently being supplied by the refining of fossil crude oil.
According to the US Department of Energy it represents 4.6% of domestic fuel consumption and less than 1% of electricity production. Unfortunately, these numbers are misleading, as we all know, most of the things in the US that are made of plastic are made outside the country. The ubiquitous child’s toy originates in China. This distortion of public information is employed by most governments around the world. It is safe to assume that when factoring in the imported shipping and manufacturing of plastics the amount of petroleum used is much higher than official numbers.
The low value source material biomass that forms the feed stock for the pyrolitic bio-oils used by the Amherst team are creating high value olefins and aromatics like benzene, toluene and xylene in a high yield process. To achieve this they use a variable-reaction hydrogenation phase and this is followed by zeolite catalyst step. Zeolite is commonly used in kitty litter but it has many other uses. Check out the abstract for Renewable Chemical Commodity Feedstocks from Integrated Integrated Catalytic Processing Pyrolysis Oils. The company Anellotech has the licence.
As useful as this is the issue remains of sourcing the water and fertilisers that are needed to grow the biomass in the first place. (please see my previous blog Water and Soil – not just Oil) The nutrients that are represented by the plants themselves must be replaced in order for the soils to remain capable of growing quality vegetation but even more fundamentally, world wide, droughts and water profligacy has lead to ever more energy consumption in the quest to get water to agricultural land.
The fixing of nutrients into a usable form is an integral part of the biomass potential of the Tidal Irrigation and Electrical System. It does this without consuming fresh water or the need for petrochemical fertilisers. Check out the flash based demo.
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Posted by Martin on Wednesday, November 10th, 2010
One of the limitations of the flash based demo for the Tidal Irrigation and Electrical System (TIE System) is the way that it depicts the walls which constitute the barrier between the lagoon and the surrounding ocean. The original patent documents depict the walls in terms of barrier islands and this technology is what would be cost effective in some locations, in others something more like the monolithic sea walls in the demo should be constructed.
The technology for creating stable off shore islands has been developed for the luxury home market in Dubai. The World and Palm projects have proven that stability is just a matter of engineering. The adaptation of the island creating technology to generating, food, fuel, electricity and fertiliser should be a small matter.
On another matter, one of the main concerns for the walls and the overall structure is that of tropical depressions (cyclones, typhoons and hurricanes) and tsunami. Any potential realisation of a TIE System will experience forces many thousands of times stronger in extreme events than it will face during normal day to day operations. Like any other structure, an architect will need to make a decision about how robust to make the structure versus what is the frequency of the event and the effects of the destruction of the structure on the surrounding environment. In the case of a TIE System the type and frequency of these hyper-events is dictated by the location of construction. However, it should be noted that in all tropical depressions the ocean itself rises around 10 meters. This could be used to a TIE System’s advantage. By keeping the profile low to the tidal maximum’s mark, once submerged, the TIE System’s structure would be protected from the most damaging waves and extreme tidal streams.
The other factor in the equation; the effect of a breach of a TIE System should be minimal. Certainly, if not returned to the nutrient rich deep oceanic water (DOW), any macroscopic algae will die off after a couple of weeks. Depending on what animals are being grown in the lagoon some will die. The vast majority of the life in the lagoon will probably be eaten by the animals living around the TIE System. Once the system is running again, by seeding the DOW with the desired species (and other methods of mariculture) normal production can resume.
The last thing to consider in this forum about extreme events on the walls of the lagoon of a TIE System is that a failure of one part of the structure will not lead to a failure of another part. If the pressure builds to any point on the walls to where it bursts, this will instantly start a tidal stream that will completely release the pressure that allows the overall system to work. It should only fail in one spot and that should be relatively easy to fix.
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Posted by Martin on Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010
Microbes for biofuels need carbon dioxide, sunlight, water, space to grow in and fertilizers. The last of these can come from several different places. People can make fertilizer with heavy industry out of fossil fuels or they can collect animal waste or they can collect their own waste or they can pump water from deep in the ocean to the surface. It is such a shame then that The Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) should focus soley on the potential for harvesting municipal waste in the service of growing algae for biofuels. As reported at Physorg.com on November 2, 2010 “Algae for biofuels: Moving from promise to reality, but how fast?” the EBI has looked at five conceptual facilities for algae growth, all of which use sewage as the source material for the fertiliser. In fact, the report goes on to point out that other “co-products” like animal feeds have low value and limited markets.
This is a major oversight by the EBI because of the limitations of municipal waste as source material for fertilising algae or “co-product”, as it refers to it. The first major obstacle for any open pond using municipal waste is the availability of flat ground on which to build the ponds. The EBI estimates that 1000 acres would be needed to break even economically. That is a huge area for any city to acquire. Most flat land close to big cities was long ago used for houses. The second major obstical to using municpal waste as the source material for algae is due to its limitted potential. Despite the vastness of the world wide human populations only about half of us live in what could be described as cities and it will be a long time before any significant proportion of those people will have sewage systems capable of being converted to biofuel making.
Most importantly there are two conceptual failures of the EBI’s report best illustrated by a couple of metaphors; No animal can live on it’s own waste and you do not collect rain with a thousand cups, you collect rain by building a dam in the valley. Our waste simply is not sufficient to power our industry, no more so than any animal could live on it’s own waste and as most of our food is ultimately derived by turning fossil fuels into fertilisers or by pumping fresh water for irrigation, this means we are recouping some by turning municipal waste into feed for algae but it will not replace the ultimate source material, the fossil fuels. The rain metaphor is more to the point of looking at the nutrient cycle from a macro-scale as opposed to the micro-scale. From the point of view of the earth a single city no matter how big is still fairly small. On the big scale nutrients generally move from continental interiors down rivers to the sea or are blown to the oceans in the form of dust storms. In the oceans the nutrients sink in to the deep and there they remain until they are eventually recycled in the form of mountains built as a result of subduction. Of course, there are countless eddies in this nutrient flow where plants utilise them and these take form in the shape of a blade of grass, a sandwich, a swamp, a forests, a single cell of blue green algae, the polar oceans in spring, deep ocean water upwellings, etc., but these are merely slowing down points in the long term trend.
The largest reservoir of free nutients for plant growth on the planet are the deep oceans. The ocean below the direct influence of light is unbelievably vast and it is the perfect medium for biofuel growth. It is the closest thing there is on earth to a limitless resource. The Tidal Irrigation and Electrical System harnesses the tidal flux on the surface to pump DOW, deep ocean water, into a thermodynamic exchange in order to generate electricity and then it is held in the tidal barrage as the source material for algae growth (please see the sections on how the TIE System works on the right side of this page or http://demo.seavac.org/ for a flash based audio/visual tour of the project) This gets around the two major issues of land based ponds that are fertilised by municipal waste. Being built on the continental shelf the TIE System does not require the all too scarce flat land and the potential for scaling up to meet the huge demand is also possible.
By not paying attention to the large scale issues of the nutrient cycle the EBI has focussed on expensive and ultimately limited biofuel systems. DOW based systems are a much better bet.
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Posted by Martin on Thursday, September 2nd, 2010
The Tidal Irrigation and Electrical System can be considered a giant open pond for the growth of marine plants which can then be turned into biodiesel. The potential growth rates of aquatic plants far outstrip terrestrial plants. The question has been what is the best method to grow the plants so they can be converted to biodiesel. The first of these methods has been to fill clear plastic tubes with water, fertilizer and some of the algae that will be grown and then pump the water around to maximize mixing and exposure to sunlight. The second of these methods is to grow the algae in an open pond.
There are advantages to both systems but now a detailed analysis by Anna Stephenson at the University of cambridge has compared them and found that open air ponds are 16.8 times more efficient than perspex tubing (Energy and Fuels, DOI: 10.1021/ef1003123). In an article published in the New Scientist, it is pointed out that pumping through plastic tubes results in a higher energy cost per unit than traditionally sourced fossil diesel. However, this is not the case for open air ponds.
As Ms. Stephenson says, the major drawback to open air ponds is evaporation. So much water can be needed that ponds in many countries would be in direct conflict with traditional demands for water, if they want to produce enough biofuel to replace their domestic consumption. This is not an issue for the Tidal Irrigation and Electrical system because it does not use fresh water, it uses the ocean. Also, the tidal flux is being harnessed in a TIE System to do the pumping and deep ocean water is used as the both the fertilizer and source water for the open air pond, making it much more efficient than the land based ponds envisioned by Ms. Stephenson.
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