In the interest of keeping Kossacks informed about environmental advances around the world, here's another diary of recent climate change news down under. Most of the good news is from New Zealand and the bad from Australia in this edition.
In this diary:
- Cheaper solar from dyes
- US investment in ethanol from steel mill waste
- Howard refuses climate change action
- Australians pray for rain
CHEAPER SOLAR FROM DYES
A breakthrough announcement on an alternative to expensive silicon-based solar panels, from a University that is getting a great reputation for its energy efficiency research:
Taking nature's cue for cheaper solar power
Press Release, 4 April
Solar cell technology developed by the University’s Nanomaterials Research Centre will enable New Zealanders to generate electricity from sunlight at a tenth of the cost of current silicon-based photo-electric solar cells.
Dr Wayne Campbell and researchers in the centre have developed a range of coloured dyes for use in dye-sensitised solar cells.
Dr Campbell says that unlike the silicon-based solar cells currently on the market, the 10x10cm green demonstration cells generate enough electricity to run a small fan in low-light conditions -- making them ideal for cloudy weather. The dyes can also be incorporated into tinted windows that trap to generate electricity.
He says the green solar cells are more environmentally friendly than silicon-based cells as they are made from titanium dioxide -- a plentiful, renewable and non-toxic white mineral obtained from New Zealand’s black sand. Titanium dioxide is already used in consumer products such as toothpaste, white paints and cosmetics.
"The refining of pure silicon, although a very abundant mineral, is energy-hungry and very expensive. And whereas silicon cells need direct sunlight to operate efficiently, these cells will work efficiently in low diffuse light conditions," Dr Campbell says.
"The expected cost is one tenth of the price of a silicon-based solar panel, making them more attractive and accessible to home-owners."
New solar cells developed by Massey University don't need direct sunlight to operate and use a patented range of dyes that can be impregnated in roofs, window glass and eventually even clothing to produce power.
This means teenagers could one day be wearing jackets that will recharge their equivalents of cellphones, iPods and other battery- driven devices.
The breakthrough is a development of the university's Nanomaterials Research Centre and has attracted world-wide interest already - particularly from Australia and Japan.
"We now have the most efficient porphyrin dye in the world," said the centre's director, Ashton Partridge.
"It is the most efficient ever made. While others are doing related work, in this aspect we are the world leaders."
The use of dyes is not in itself new, but the main drawback of this approach until now has been efficiency. The Massey team seem convinced they have made a major advance in that area.
This research sounds very promising, as it addresses some major obstacles that solar power currently faces: construction costs, raw material costs, and the envronmental effects of photovoltaic panel construction. I'll be watching this for future progress.
U.S. INVESTMENT IN ETHANOL FROM STEEL MILL WASTE
This one made the New York Times:
Carbon Gas Is Explored as a Source of Ethanol
By LAWRENCE M. FISHER
Published: April 24, 2007
SAN FRANCISCO, April 23 -- A New Zealand company said Monday that it had secured financing from an investor in Silicon Valley to produce ethanol from an untapped source -- carbon monoxide gas.
The company, LanzaTech, based in Auckland, said it had developed a fermentation process in which bacteria consume carbon monoxide and produce ethanol. Ethanol can be used as an alternative fuel or an octane-boosting, pollution-reducing additive to gasoline.
Sean Simpson, LanzaTech’s co-founder and chief scientific officer, said the company would use the $3.5 million investment from the venture firm, Khosla Ventures, to establish a pilot plant and perform the engineering work to prepare for commercial-scale ethanol production.
Vinod Khosla, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems who formed Khosla Ventures in 2004, has invested in more than a dozen start-ups involved in "clean fuel" technologies. He said in a telephone interview that LanzaTech stood out from the scores of proposals he sees each day for both its ability to scale up to industrial proportions and the credibility of the company’s founding scientists. ... He said his firm "sent the best process engineers we know to evaluate the technology and could it be industrialized, and the answer was yes."
LanzaTech is working on a process to turn waste carbon monoxide into ethanol and has secured $4.7 million from Khosla Ventures, led by Vinod Khosla, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems.
Energy Minister David Parker says the potential for this kind of research is huge.
"These researchers estimate their technology could produce 50 billion gallons (190 billion litres) of ethanol from the world's steel mills alone by turning unwanted emissions into useful fuel. This is exactly the kind of new technology we need to make a difference to world's security of energy supply and to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change."
I was surprised to see that make the New York Times, as it's not exactly a huge amount of investment. It will be interesting to see how this progresses.
HOWARD REFUSES CLIMATE CHANGE ACTION
Facing reelection later this year, Australian Prime Minister John Howard has begun a startling media rampage downplaying Australia's role in climate change, using stronger rhetoric than ever before and being so skeptical as to almost be a complete global warming denier.
Climate not main challenge: PM
April 23, 2007
... Mr Howard said Australia was a minor emitter of greenhouse gases and could not influence the global climate by acting alone.
[Selected quotes from John Howard in the article follow]
"Do we need to lower carbon emissions over time? Of course we do. But to say that climate change is the overwhelming moral challenge for this generation of Australians is misguided at best and misleading at worst. It de-legitimises other challenges over which we do have significant and immediate control."
"At the same time we know that independent action by Australia will not materially affect our climate. Australia emits fewer greenhouse gases in a year than the United States and China emit in a month."
"As the Productivity Council has warned, there are potentially very serious costs to Australia from acting alone."
"I will not sub-contract our climate change policy to the European Union."
"It is technological progress funded by economic growth that holds the key to environmental progress."
He downplayed the role of renewable energies, saying they could not take the place of fossil fuels and nuclear power in energy generation. "It will be a contribution at the margin," of the renewable sector, he said.
All that was said the day after Earth Day. Sounds like someone forgot his meds that morning!
It's interesting how often he talks about the dangers of Australia acting alone. The irony appears to be lost on Mr Howard, that acting alone is precisely what Australia is doing now. He wants to pretend that running a country with only 20 million people allows his government to ignore global warming and let Europe and the larger (by population) nations bear the costs of climate change action. He has even called his opponents "zealots" simply for proposing achieveable emission cuts. Temper, Mr Howard, temper!
This tantrum against science has earned him a rebuttal from the CSIRO -- which is still the nation's top scientific body despite dwindling funding and attempted gagging of scientists on climate change issues under Howard's decade as Prime Minister.
CSIRO contradicts Howard over climate action
April 25, 2007
BIG greenhouse emissions cuts are affordable and achievable, the CSIRO says, contradicting statements from Prime Minister John Howard yesterday that put economic prosperity ahead of reducing emissions.
An official CSIRO submission to Mr Howard's emissions trading task group last month said most international studies now showed developed countries would need to slash emissions by 60 to 90 per cent by 2050 to avoid "dangerous levels of climate interference", Fairfax newspapers reported today.
The Greens yesterday set goals of a 30 per cent cut in emissions by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050, while Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd has committed Labor to 60 per cent by 2050.
[Mr Howard said,] "I think it is crazy and irresponsible of any political party in this country to commit to a target when you don't know."
He calls the Green and Labor politicians crazy and irresponsible? Australia relies on coal for most of its electricity generation and uses far more coal per person than any other developed or developing nation. The response of John Howard's government has been to promise mining companies the status quo, and announce a plan to phase out incandescent bulbs. It's simply not good enough. Australia needs to make huge emission cuts, and is capable -- the nation has amongst the best natural resources for wind and solar power in the world.
AUSTRALIANS PRAY FOR RAIN
Whenever he has not been verbally attacking every person in Australia who dares to suggest the scientists who have formed overwhelming consensus on global warming might actually be right, John Howard has recently made public calls for Australians to pray for rain.
Pray for rain, says Howard
April 22, 2007
PRIME Minister John Howard has urged Australians to pray for rain as hard-hit agricultural regions face zero water allocations due to drought.
Mr Howard warned last week that farmers in the Murray-Darling Basin faced having no water for the coming irrigation year unless heavy rain fell in the next six to eight weeks.
Today, he said he intended to meet irrigators over coming weeks to discuss the grim situation. Meanwhile, he encouraged people to seek divine intervention.
"So we should all, literally and without any irony, pray for rain over the next six to eight weeks."
The Murray-Darling basin contains 70% of Australia's irrigation resources, and produces 40% of the nation's food. Years of drought have brought about crisis conditions, with massive food price increases and electricity shortages (Australia actually gets a small amount from hydro, amongst all their coal plants) expected if there is no significant rain soon. Some scientists called the 2006 drought a "once in a thousand years" event, but so far 2007 is even worse. Like in so many other places around the world, global warming in Australia is making phrases like "once in a thousand years" outdated and fanciful. Extremes that were once every ten or twenty years, are now happening almost every year.
Finally, other brief news: New Zealand's largest city Auckland is tipped to get an additional 30 US cents per gallon gasoline tax, on top of the existing gas taxes that apply across the country. The new gas tax revenue may go towards electrification of trains (good) and completing motorways (not so good). It will be interesting to see if this happens, and where the money is spent. New Zealand has an extremely high per capita car use (probably second in the OECD only to the USA) and transport accounts for 41% of NZ total energy use, which is much higher than comparable developed nations -- so measures to reduce car use are the nation's highest climate change priority.
If you read this far, I hope you found something of interest. Later...