Hinterland Green

Sunday, December 28, 2008

British Scientists Plan to Ignite Tiny Man-Made Star

Man's quest for knowledge is limitless and it shows in profound ways. It seemed like an impossible feat eons ago, scientists at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in Livermore, today now believe that they are on the verge of harnessing the power of nuclear fusion, which is the reaction that burns at the heart of the sun. A team of scientists will begin attempts to ignite a tiny man-made star inside a laboratory and with the goal of triggering a thermonuclear reaction.
Its goal is to generate temperatures of more than 100 million degrees Celsius and pressures billions of times higher than those found anywhere else on earth, from a speck of fuel little bigger than a pinhead. If successful, the experiment will mark the first step towards building a practical nuclear fusion power station and a source of almost limitless energy.

At a time when fossil fuel supplies are dwindling and fears about global warming are forcing governments to seek clean energy sources, fusion could provide the answer. Hydrogen, the fuel needed for fusion reactions, is among the most abundant in the universe. Building work on the £1.2 billion nuclear fusion experiment is due to be completed in spring. Source: UK Telegraph
This is absolutely fascinating. Scientists at the NIF will use a laser that concentrates 1,000 times the electric generating power of the United States into a billionth of a second. The result should be an explosion in the 32ft-wide reaction chamber which will produce at least 10 times the amount of energy used to create it.
"We are creating the conditions that exist inside the sun," said Ed Moses, director of the facility. "It is like tapping into the real solar energy as fusion is the source of all energy in the world. It is really exciting physics, but beyond that there are huge social, economic and global problems that it can help to solve."

Inside a structure covering an area the size of three football pitches, a single infrared laser will be sent through almost a mile of lenses, mirrors and amplifiers to create a beam more than 10 billion times more powerful than a household light bulb. Housed within a hanger-sized room that has to be pumped clear of dust to prevent impurities getting into the beam, the laser will then be split into 192 separate beams, converted into ultraviolet light and focused into a capsule at the center of an aluminium and concrete-coated target chamber.

When the laser beams hit the inside of the capsule, they should generate high-energy X-rays that, within a few billionths of a second, compress the fuel pellet inside until its outer shell blows off. This explosion of the fuel pellet shell produces an equal and opposite reaction that compresses the fuel itself together until nuclear fusion begins, releasing vast amounts of energy. Scientists have been attempting to harness nuclear fusion since Albert Einstein’s equation E=mc², which he derived in 1905, raised the possibility that fusing atoms together could release tremendous amounts of energy. Under Einstein’s theory, the amount of energy locked up in one gram of matter is enough to power 28,500 100-watt lightbulbs for a year. Until now, such fusion has only been possible inside nuclear weapons and highly unstable plasmas created in incredibly strong magnetic fields.

The work at Livermore could change all this. The sense of excitement at the facility is clear. In the city itself, people on the street are speaking about the experiment and what it could bring them. Until now Livermore has had only the dubious honour of being home of the US government’s nuclear weapons research laboratories which are on the same site as the NIF. Souce: UK Telegraph
This is fascinating and bodes well for the world. If all goes well, the NIF will be able to fire its laser and ignite a fusion reaction every five hours, but to create a reliable fusion power plant the laser would need to ignite fusion around 10 times a second. According to the UK Telegraph, the scientists are already working with British counterparts on the next step towards a fusion power station. A project known as the High Powered Laser Research facility aims to create a laser-powered fusion reactor that can fire once every couple of minutes. This experiment just proves what the mind can conceive, it can achieve.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Power Struggle Brews As Environmentalists, Smart-Growth Advocates Seek to Influence Priorities of Barack Obama's Ecomonic Stimulus Plan

Green jobs in the Obama administration? Well, Barack Obama made that a campaign platform and now the expectations are that he will tackle that in the early years. But a power struggle of some sort is in the works. Environmentalists and smart-growth advocates are trying to influence the priorities of the economic stimulus plan set to be introduced in Congress next month. They are trying to shift the allocation of tens of billions of dollars to highways, bridges and other and other traditional infrastructure spending to more projects that create "green-collar" jobs.

According to media reports, the debate has centered on two competing principles in the evolving plan: the desire to spend money on what President-elect Barack Obama called "shovel-ready projects," such as highway and bridge construction, and other infrastructure to spending on more environmentally conscious projects, such as grids for wind and solar power.
Lawmakers opposed to the emerging-technology projects accuse their colleagues of using the financial crisis to push through pricey policy proposals that they say would do little to boost the economy in the immediate future.

"If we're going to call it a stimulus package, it has to be stimulating and has to be stimulating now. I think there are members of our caucus who are trying to create a Christmas tree out of this," said Rep. Baron P. Hill (Ind.), incoming co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition, a caucus of 51 fiscally conservative House Democrats.

The largest beneficiary of the shovel-ready construction projects would be labor unions. There are fewer of the green-collar jobs, a key focus of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi(D-Calif.). These projects often have the long-term potential to revolutionize the economy but tend to lack the short-term bounce of old-fashioned infrastructure work. Not as many of them involve union labor. Labor leaders have refrained from criticizing other stakeholders in the infrastructure debate, saying that the stimulus legislation will provide plenty of money to fund quick-starting pavement projects and environmentally friendly efforts.

"It shouldn't be one or the other," said Anna Burger, chairman of Change to Win, a union group. "In fact, we do have crumbling roads and bridges that need to be repaired. It's not about pitting one against the other. It's about how we find a sustainable economy." They also see opportunities for their membership in long-term "green" projects. "We're committed to green jobs and rapid transit and all the rest of it," said Terence M.O'Sullivan, head of the Laborers' International Union of North America. Source: MSN
I am positive that there will be some middle ground and the results pleasing to both camps. The government has allowed the infrastructure such as bridges, roads, for example, to go so long without maintenance that it will be expensive to repair and rebuild, but vital. The incoming administration has to see that a lot of money is filtered into the broken system to stimulate the economy on all fronts.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The EPA Unveils a New Hit List, A Roster of 23 Environmental Fugitives

The EPA has unveiled a new kind of most-wanted list -- a hit list for environmental fugitives accused of assaulting nature. These fugitives have allegedly smuggled chemicals that eat away the ozone layer, dumped hazardous waste into the oceans and rivers, as well as trafficked in polluting cars.

This list, which is similar to the FBI's most wanted list, is the first to focus on environmental crimes, the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday unveiled a roster of 23 fugitives, complete with mug shots and descriptions of the charges on its Web site.
Pete Rosenberg, a top EPA enforcement official, said the people on the list represent the "brazen universe of people that are evading the law." Many face years in prison and some charges could result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

"They are charged with environmental crimes and they should be brought before the criminal justice system and have their day in court," said Pete Rosenberg, a director in the agency's criminal enforcement division. Source: MSN
So, who are the unlucky stiffs to make the list? According to the EPA, the list includes

  • Mauro Valenzuela, who in 1996 is alleged to have illegally transported hazardous waste oxygen generators onboard ValuJet flight 592 without proper markings and other safety measures. The jet crashed, killing all 110 passengers and crew onboard. Valenzuela failed to appear in federal court nine years ago.
  • John Karayannides, who allegedly helped orchestrate the dumping of 487 tons of wheat tainted with diesel fuel into the South China Sea in 1998. Karayannides is believed to have fled to Athens, Greece.
  • The father and son team of Carlos and Allesandro Giordano, who were arrested in 2003 as the owners of Autodelta USA, a company that was illegally importing and selling Alfa Romeos that did not meet U.S. emission or safety standards. The two men are believed to be hiding out in Italy.
  • Raul Chavez-Beltran, who ran an environmental cleanup company in El Paso, Texas, that is accused of transporting hazardous waste from factories along the Mexican border and improperly disposing and storing it in the U.S. In one case, he allegedly stockpiled mercury-laced soil from an environmental spill in a warehouse.

The Web site also lists captured fugitives, among them David Allen Phillips, who escaped prison in 2005 after being convicted of Clean Water Act crimes in Montana. He fled to Mexico, was turned over by Mexico last March and now awaits further sentencing. David Ortiz fled after appealing of his conviction for Clean Water Act crimes in 2004. He was captured last March in Colorado and is currently in prison.

I think this list will help in some way. The EPA's criminal enforcement has waned in recent years. According to media reports, in fiscal 2008, the EPA opened 319 criminal enforcement cases, down from 425 in fiscal 2004. And criminal prosecutors charged only 176 defendants with environmental crimes, the fewest in five years. It is important for them to beef up their ranks to fight environmental crime.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Recycling Goes From Boom to Bust in West Virginia Town

The economic tailspin has hit the recycling business, most notably in West Virginia. According to the Huffington Post, Norm Steenstra's budgeting woes mount with each new load of cardboard, aluminum cans and plastic jugs dumped at the state's largest recycling center.

Faced with a dramatic slump in the recycling market, the director of the Kanawha County Solid Waste Authority has cut 20 of his 24 employees' work week to four days from five, shuttered six of the authority's drop-off stations and is urging residents to hoard their recyclables after informing municipalities with curbside recycling programs that the center will accept only paper until further notice. "The market is just not there anymore," Steenstra said.

Just months after riding an incredible high, the recycling market has tanked almost in lockstep with the global As consumer demand for autos, appliances and new homes dropped, so did the steel and pulp mills' demand for scrap, paper and other recyclables.

Cardboard that sold for about $135 a ton in September is now going for $35 a ton. Plastic bottles have fallen from 25 cents to 2 cents a pound. Aluminum cans dropped nearly half to about 40 cents a pound, and scrap metal tumbled from $525 a gross ton to about $100. It's getting more difficult to find buyers in some markets, Steenstra said.

While few across the country appear to be taking such drastic measures as Steenstra, the recycling market has gotten so bad that haulers in Oregon and Nevada who were once paid for recyclables are now getting nothing or in some cases are having to pay to unload their wares.

In Washington state, what was once a multimillion-dollar revenue source for the city of Seattle may become a liability next year as the city may have to start paying companies to take their materials.

"It's never gone from so good to so bad so fast," said Marty Davis, president of Midland Davis Corp. in Pekin, Ill., who has been in the recycling business since 1975.

The turnaround caught everyone off guard, said Steven Kowalsky, president of Empire Recycling in Utica, N.Y. "Nobody saw it coming. Absolutely nobody," Kowalsky said. "Even the biggest players didn't see it coming."

At the height of the market just months ago, customers lined the street outside Kowalsky's business, hoping to hawk scrap to pay rising food and fuel costs. "That's not happening anymore," he said.

The Kanawha County authority, which sells donated recyclables from residents and municipalities, sells about 7,500 tons of paper, plastic and aluminum a year, Steenstra said.

Last year, Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash, according to the U.S. They recycled about 150 million tons of material _ roughly 80 million of that in iron and steel _ supporting an industry that employs about 85,000 with $70 billion in sales, said Bob Garino, director of commodities at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based trade association that represents more than 1,600 companies worldwide. Most recyclables are shipped to Asian countries that use the material to make products that are shipped backed to the United States to be sold.

But the market shift is now jeopardizing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of long-term contracts for scrap metal as some companies that signed when prices were high are trying to cancel or postpone deliveries to take advantage of the cheaper spot market, Garino said.

Davis, of Midland Davis Corp. in Illinois, said he hopes to wait out the market and may rent warehouse space to store his more perishable recyclables, like paper, until he can find buyers. He has some room to stockpile cans and plastics because in July, when prices were high, he unloaded more material than during any month in the past 10 years.

It is very interesting to see how this will play out. Social responsibility should not be jeopardized but this economic nightmare is slowly spreading to encompass everything.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and School of Arts Offers New "Green" MBA

I came across an interesting article on Green Biz about the University of Pennsylvania offering a "green" MBA. According to media reports, the new degree is being offered by Wharton School and School of Arts & Sciences. The degree will enable students to earn a dual master of business administration-master of environmental studies degree in three years or less.

The university said that the program is intended to groom its participants for global leadership roles in environmental management, finance and other business specialties, according to the university.

The University of Pennsylvania now joins about 30 other colleges and universities around the world that now offer advanced degrees in courses of study that focus on sustainability and other green issues, according to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

The organization said that there are 13 MBA programs on sustainable enterprise in the United States and one in Norway, according to AASHE. Another 16 universities in the U.S. and Canada have MBA programs that emphasize, concentrate or specialize in environmentally and socially responsible business.

At the University of Pennsylvania, the students in the program will take business classes full-time for three semesters at Wharton and spend a year in SAS's College of Liberal and Professional Studies, which oversees the environmental studies portion.
"Wharton is very pleased to establish this new multi-disciplinary degree that advances educational goals in both the business and environmental studies disciplines," said Eric Orts, a professor of legal studies and business ethics and director of the Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership at Penn/Wharton, in a statement. "It is a good example of the Penn Compact's promise to integrate knowledge across disciplines."
So, way to go University of Pennsylvania. This is a good move on your part.