Friday, June 30, 2006

New Water Battleground: Bottled Water vs. Public Interest

Maine has become a battleground in a growing fight that pits environmentalists against an industry that has become rich by selling the purity of nature: the bottlers of spring water.

The water in Lovewell Pond in Fryeburg, Maine, has turned from clear and sandy to dark and weedy in the past year. The problem is a cutback in clean water from a nearby natural spring, which used to dilute the murky flow coming in from the Saco River. Now, though, millions of gallons of the spring's water are pumped into tanker trucks bound for a Poland Spring bottling plant.

In a series of lawsuits and statehouse debates that reached critical mass in the past year, activists and lawmakers have questioned whether bottling companies have become too greedy about the water they take from the ground, and -- in some cases -- what gives them the right to take it at all.

This year two Eastern states, New Hampshire and Vermont, have tightened their restrictions on large-scale water withdrawals, both with bottlers in mind, and another such bill has been proposed in Michigan. In California, Michigan and New Hampshire, local groups opposed to new water wells have filed suit.

Last year in Maine, a citizens group proposed a measure thought to be the first of its kind: to tax every gallon of water extracted. That effort failed, but now the group is pushing a proposal that declares, "The citizens of the State collectively own the State's groundwater." It would create a system in which companies would have to bid against one another to tap prime water aquifers, with the proceeds going to the state.

Resource wars are upon us, and the are not necessarily of the military kind.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

World's Largest Solar Plant to be Built in California

Seeded by money from the founders of Google, the new company, Nanosolar, plans to build the world's largest solar power cell factory.

The plant will make paper-thin, flexible solar cells, and hopes to produce enough each year to generate 430 megawatts of electricity. By comparison, all other solar manufacturing plants in the U.S. combined only produce 153 megawatts a year.

Demand for solar cells has grown so rapidly that there is a shortage of the highly refined silicon that is required to make them. Nanosolar will move to a new technology that prints photovoltaic cells onto flexible plastic and foil, using a copper alloy that absorbs light and creates electricity.

Nonosolar will choose a location for it's plant in San Jose, Santa Clara, or San Francisco. They hope to begin production in 2007.

This new technology is a promising development, but it too may face supply limitations in the future. Copper prices have tripled in the last four years as world demand has soared and stockpiles dwindled. The dominant copper producing regions, such as the south western US and Chile, are maturing with few new projects projected to come online.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

"Alternative Fools: E85"

The Truth About Cars has a critical analysis of the limits of ethanol as an alternative fuel.

As with most alternative fuels, ethanol faces limits to growth. Bush wants ethanol production to double by 2012, but even if gas consumption were to stop growing, it would only be enough to turn U.S. gas supplies to E05. Double again by 2018 and U.S. gas would be E10--the same as the gasahol sold now that any car can use. Furthermore, to be economicly viable gasahol needs to be sold close to the cornfields where it is produced because it has such a low EROEI.

But the Auto industry has jumped on the ethanol craze and will design new E85 capable cars and new E85 pipelines and pumps. A great publicity stunt, but not a real solution.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Green Living Writing Contest

Greenlight Financial Services, has launched an essay contest to create awareness and promote healthy and sustainable living. The winner will receive a $2,500 cash.

Greenlight is inviting consumers to write about why it's "Good To Live Green" as it relates to protecting the environment in the home, office, school or auto. Entries of 500 words or less will be judged on creativity, articulation and strength of theme. The essays must be submitted through by July 20, 2006, and winners will be announced the week of August 7, 2006.

We would like to drive awareness to environmental issues and use a platform that is not only beneficial to our community but also for our earth. "It has always been a priority of Greenlight's to give back to the community," said Joann Pham, CEO of Greenlight Financial Services. "It's important to us to take a leadership role and create a dialogue with our customers on this very important issue of the environment. Positive change comes through the flow of ideas and we hope that all our customers will submit an essay."

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion

It is estimated that the amount of solar energy absorbed by the oceans per year is 4,000 times the amount currently consumed by humans.

Proposals to turn this energy into electricy date back to Jules Verne's "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" published in 1870. Eleven years later French physicist Jaques-Arsène d'Arsonval proposed using the relatively warm surface water of the tropical oceans to vaporize pressurized ammonia and use the resulting vapor to drive a turbine-generator. D'Arsonval's proposal was finally demonstrated in 1979.

Now several islands are considering plans to build
Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) plants, including Saipan, Taiwan, and Hawaii. Last Friday
Ocean Engineering & Energy Systems announced plans to build the world's two largest power plants making electricity from sea-water heat. In addition, the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii will build a 1-megawatt OTEC power plant.

An additional benefit of OTEC power is the production of fresh water as a by-product, something that is increasingly in short supply in many parts of the world.