Archive: Environment & Energy

May 11th, 2012 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Art & Society, Environment & Energy, Innovation | Comments Off

Our Past, Our Future: Welcome to the Anthropocene

A colleague at the Association of Professional Futurists just shared his discovery of a most impressive and interesting website, in beta right now, Welcome to the Anthropocene. The site is “designed to improve our understanding of the earth system.

The home page features a really excellent short film, “Welcome to the Anthropocene.” It is a 3-minute journey through the last 250 years of our history, from the start of the Industrial Revolution to the Rio+20 Summit. The film charts the growth of humanity into a global force on an equivalent scale to major geological processes.

The film was commissioned by the Planet Under Pressure conference, London 26-29 March, 2012, a major international conference focusing on solutions.

Really great video – enjoy, learn.

ht to Lloyd Walker,

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April 10th, 2012 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Environment & Energy | Comments Off

Re-thinking the Future of Energy

Last week I attended an excellent monthly breakfast program of the Washington Clean Tech Alliance. The April program featured a panel on the future of natural gas. I attended because I am very interested in whether the energy picture has changed as much as it appears, in the past three years.

In 2006 when I wrote my last book, Turning the Future Into Revenue, I began the energy chapter with the following words, “The world is running out of oil. Just in time.” At that time, two years before oil prices hit their (so far) historical high of $147 a barrel, investors and institutions were catching up to peak oil, the knowledge that at some point we will have used up half the oil in the world and started down the back side of the supply curve. The only question is when. It seemed to many observers, circa 2006-2009, that the halfway point had been reached. It is still safe to say that the cheap and easy oil days are mostly behind us, but the energy picture has become more complex recently.

Hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas bearing shale rock, or fracking, when combined with improved horizontal drilling has begun to push the peaks forward in time. The biggest change in the energy picture, we learned last week, comes from shale gas. At the same time I was writing about energy in 2006, the natural gas industry was warning utility commissions that big price increases were on the horizon, because of short supplies, increases that would take the price per million BTU’s to $14. The U.S. and Canada were gearing up to build port facilities to import liquefied natural gas. Today the price hovers a bit below $2, because there is a glut of gas being developed in the shale oil fields in North America, and instead of anticipating import facilities, the focus is on the need for export facilities.

This chart, from the Energy Information Agency, illustrates how much more natural gas is anticipated by 2035, and how much of that comes from shale fields. At the WCTA session that I attended, there was confidence expressed that the gas is there and recoverable. The larger concerns focused on how to develop sufficient demand for all the gas by switching much electricity production and transportation to natural gas. In addition there is concern that the price has been driven so low that exploration and development will slow, having become uneconomical.

On the risk side there are concerns about water supply, as it takes a lot of water to produce a barrel equivalent of natural gas. While gas is cleaner than coal or diesel at the point of combustion, there is concern that gas leakage at the well head can make it actually a dirtier fuel in terms of green house gases, although the industry assures us that this is a technical issue that can be fixed by best practices. And of course there is concern about long run contamination of ground water from fracking chemicals used to force the gas from the shale rock. Again, the industry assures everyone that the shale is so much deeper than ground water there is little chance of contamination through migration. However, since the fracking pipes are left behind when a well plays out, leaving a long term channel between layers of rock, it seems reasonable to predict that some migration will occur in the very long run.

Regardless of the long-term risks, it is pretty safe to assume that an energy hungry world will continue to develop these resources. Whether there is really a 100-year supply, as industry advertising insists, is open to conjecture. But, on the whole, natural gas appears to offer a cleaner and cheaper bridge to the long-term energy future.

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April 9th, 2012 | By Glen Hiemstra | Posted in Asides, Environment & Energy | Comments Off

Record Warmth Ends Winter in Seattle

Yesterday, Easter Sunday, we here in Seattle finally joined most of the rest of the nation in setting a high temperature record. It has been an unusual year in that regard. Is it a harbinger of the future, or a one-year anomaly?

It was nice to be warm here, for the first time this year. The day finally put a long, unusually cool and wet winter and early spring behind us. I will use the occasion for one last memory from the winter, a day of snow shoeing with David on the one of more gorgeous winter days of the year. Enjoy some highlights.

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December 9th, 2011 | By Mallory Smith | Posted in Environment & Energy, Innovation, Science & Tech, Space | Comments Off

10 Best Innovations of 2011

Popular Science recently featured the 100 Best Innovations of the Year. Here are 10 of the most exciting and interesting ones.

Lifesaving Wetsuit
The Billabong V1 is more than just a wetsuit. This suit inflates a bladder in the back of the suit once an attached ripcord is pulled, helping the wearer float in case of an emergency. Learn more from Billabong.

Versabar VB10000
This rig remover can unearth an entire oil rig from under water in a few short hours and for a quarter of the price. The Versabar VB10000 is extremely necessary, as the U.S. has identified 1,800 rigs that have to be excavated within 10 years.

Green Tech:
Bio Soil Enhancers Forage Boost
These bio soil enhancers raise productivity and lower watering needs. Grass yields increase by 20% over standard fertilizer. Learn more about the inventors at AuroraAgra, LLC.

The world’s first transparent photovoltaic film. Wysips turn almost anything into a power source. This film has thin strips filled with solar cells alternating with transparent areas, so it appears transparent has thousands of potential applications.

Diagnostics for All
All it takes is a drop of blood on a stamp-size paper chip and in 15 minutes a color will appear that indicates liver health. Diagnostics for All’s “chip lab” costs less than a penny to make and allows patients to pay about a nickel for treatment.

Avita/ReCell Spray-on-Skin
ReCell Spray-On-Skin grows cells quickly and applies new skin to a bad burn, helping it heal more quickly.

Aviation and Space:
NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab’s Messenger probe was the first spacecraft to enter Mercury’s orbit. The probe sent back the first close-up photos taken of Mercury since 1975.

Recon Scout XT
This bot is tough enough to be thrown into any environment, even through a window, beaming back to its handler live video footage.

Eye-Fi Direct Mode
Eye-Fi SD cards do not need Wi-Fi to share photos and video from a camera on the Web. All you need is a location with cell service and you can download, upload and share through e-mail any photos you want.

Home Entertainment:
Samsung SUR40 for Microsoft Surface
This 40-inch thin tabletop computer sees and responds to whatever gets placed on it.

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