Month: July 2008

Huge Potential Breakthrough for Solar Energy

The utilization of solar energy on a large scale requires its storage. In natural photosynthesis, energy from sunlight is used to rearrange the bonds of water to O2 and H2-equivalents. The realization of artificial systems that perform similar “water splitting” requires catalysts that produce O2 from water without the need for excessive driving potentials. Here, we report such a catalyst that forms upon the oxidative polarization of an inert indium tin oxide electrode in phosphate-buffered water containing Co2+. A variety of analytical techniques indicates the presence of phosphate in an approximate 1:2 ratio with cobalt in this material. The pH dependence of the catalytic activity also implicates HPO42– as the proton acceptor in the O2-producing reaction. This catalyst not only forms in situ from earth-abundant materials but also operates in neutral water under ambient conditions.

In Situ Formation of an Oxygen-Evolving Catalyst in Neutral Water Containing Phosphate and Co2+ — Kanan and Nocera, 10.1126/science.1162018 — Science

Don’t you just love the title of the paper? I would have titled the paper “Splitting Water for Cheap”. The author is interviewed here. This catalyst can split water into H2 and O2 using the energy from a solar cell. Then, when you need electricity, you recombine them in a fuel cell to make water and electricity. So, a closed loop with the only external input being the solar energy. Solar energy can now be stored almost painlessly.

It is so simple. I am listening to the interview and the author says this can be replicated in a chemistry lab as it only needs a phosphate buffer, cobalt electrode and a conducting glass.

Wonderful. Now, please stop building coal plants.

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Energy efficiency, electricity, power plants

Suppose I paid you for every pound of pollution you generated and punished you for every pound you reduced. You would probably spend most of your time trying to figure out how to generate more pollution. And suppose that if you generated enough pollution, I had to pay you to build a new plant, no matter what the cost, and no matter how much cheaper it might be to not pollute in the first place.

Well, that’s pretty much how we have run the U.S. electric grid for nearly a century. The more electricity a utility sells, the more money it makes. If it’s able to boost electricity demand enough, the utility is allowed to build a new power plant with a guaranteed profit. The only way a typical utility can lose money is if demand drops. So the last thing most utilities want to do is seriously push strategies that save energy, strategies that do not pollute in the first place.

Energy efficiency, electricity, power plants | Salon News

There are some things you wish you could have written, and the first paragraph is one of those. Romm nails it. Clearly, the most efficient MW of electricity is the one that was never used. But unless utilities are paid to conserve, not paid to produce, they will always build, build build.

Excellent summary of arguments he makes all the time over at the gristmill. Now to find out what BC does. Canada is one of the worst in terms of energy use per capita. Some of it can be linked to the cold climate, but Germany is plenty cold too, and uses a third less per person.

This article compares BC and California and finds BCHydro lacking in its incentives to save. The key is “decoupling”

Significantly, California adopted regulations so that utility company profits are not tied to how much electricity they sell. This is called “decoupling.”

BC’s per capita energy consumption is 0.26, well below the Canadian average and on the decline as Canada as a whole is getting worse. But more can be done.

The key value judgment to be made here is that reducing energy use benefits all of us. The system should be set up in such a way that it benefits the utility as well. This way, they’re on the same side.

Also, while a carbon tax is all well and good, it is not sufficient. Energy efficiency requires investment up front and people would rather pay 50 bucks a year in carbon tax than pay 300 bucks up front to insulate their homes better and save a 100 bucks a year in energy costs. Rebates only work if you have money up front. Giving people a $100 check is nice, but only if they spend it on improving energy efficiency. But, it’sjust money and we all know that money gets spent (beer, beer beer!) Subsidies work better as they reduce the cost of things. I would rather buy 10 compact fluorescent lamps for a buck each with the government chipping in the extra 10 bucks than get it back at the end of the year as a rebate, or pay 20c extra per incandescent lamp as a carbon tax.

All rambling aside, a really good article on the value of energy efficiency.

More on Terrorism in India

The trend towards the radicalisation of the Indian Muslim youth started in the late 1980s.Groups of Muslim youth from Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) started going across the Line of Control (LOC) to Pakistan and were trained and armed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). After the training, some of them were taken to Afghanistan to get an exposure to jihad as practised by the Afghan Mujahideen.In December 1993, coinciding with the first anniversary of the demolition of the Babri masjid at Ayodhya, there was a number of explosions in different railway trains in North India. The interrogation of one of the suspects arrested during the investigation revealed that the SIMI had organised them.

Al Qaeda And India :

Long article by B. Raman on the recent history of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism in India. It is an interesting read and makes the point that recruits are increasingly local and the organization is local as well. While the ISI (Pakistan’s most diabolical intelligence agency) set up, trained and funded these groups, they’ve not become independent. What does that mean? I don’t know. But the targeting of BJP governments is deliberate and aims to increase tensions…

Terrorism in Bangalore and Ahmedabad

For the second time in two days, small explosions rocked an Indian city, this time in Ahmedabad on Saturday evening, killing at least 29 people. The Indian government said cities across the country had been put on alert for similar attacks.

At Least 29 People Killed in Explosions in Indian City –

It’s sad, and clearly a deliberate attempt to frighten people and politicians into extremism. After all, nothing like escalating the tension and provoking the BJP government into an over-reaction. It did work before in Gujarat. And on the 25th anniversary of the Anti Tamil Pogroms in Sri Lanka, a frightening reminder that in general, state sponsored retribution acts as a force multiplier of huge proportions. Terrorist groups know this, and as anyone American or otherwise knows, 9/11 worked as the perfect force multiplier to get the Americans to widen the conflict and add more fuel to the fire.

It’s burning well now. The last few terrorists attacks in India have not resulted in escalation of violence. But how much longer can this situation last? Things are crazy and lawless on the Durand Line and though not as well known, Bangladesh is another safe haven for “insurgents”.

India is surrounded by turmoil and it is a testament to the resilience of the population that life goes on without much fear.

Oak Bay goes electric

Oak Bay has found the vehicles that fit its green policy and low speed limits — electric cars that top out at a maximum speed of 50 km/h.The municipality is drafting a bylaw that would allow electric cars on its public streets, making it possibly the first municipality in B.C. to take advantage of new provincial legislation that expands where the innovative vehicles can be driven.”I don’t think we’ll see any speed differences in Oak Bay just because we have slower-moving vehicles like electric cars,” Coun. Nils Jensen said yesterday of the impact on traffic movement in the notoriously slower-moving community.

Oak Bay nears electric-car nirvana

 gv.gifFor those not in the know, Oak Bay is a municipality that is part of the Greater Victoria area. We have 11 separate municipalities, which makes for some serious inefficiencies and redundancy in administration, but does tend to preserve local character. Oak Bay, in my humble opinion, is insufferably British and proper, very wealthy and quite beautiful. And yes, it is a slow moving town, perfect for 50 kmph vehicles.

But Oak Bay is not an island, it is flanked by Victoria and Saanich, and the boundaries are not always clearly demarcated. What’s going to happen when someone randomly wanders into Saanich?

Except for the stretch of 17 going up to Sidney and the stretch of 1 going West and North out of the area, 50kmph ought to cover most of the area. I suspect Victoria will follow suit soon.

Victoria, not so quiet after all

One man is dead and two others are in hospital after a shooting near a popular downtown Victoria nightclub early yesterday.Officers were called to the scene around 2:50 a.m. after a report of shots fired outside 751 View St., between Douglas and Blanshard streets.Yesterday morning, forensic investigators inspected the body as it lay covered by a white tarp on the edge of the sidewalk in front of the exit to the View Street city parkade, about two buildings down from the Red Jacket nightclub.

One dead, two in hospital after shooting outside bar

Carolina Everywhere

durant.jpgSo, reading some random article on Canadian Football, and who do we have starting for Saskatchewan Roughriders, but an old Carolina favourite (must say I am happy to be putting the u between the r and o as it should be done!) Darian Durant, only the best quarterback to ever wear a Carolina uniform bringing his team back from 8 points down with 4 minutes to go to an 8 point win, 16 unanswered points. Go Darian! He was an excellent quarterback who was deemed too short to play in the NFL. Glad he’s doing well for himself with the defending CFL champions. Turns out he got his chance to start when the number 1 QB got injured. Watch out, he’s good, he’s not going to let go of the ball!

Carolina connections do crop up in odd places.

Child Soldiers


The U.S Government Department of State Factsheet about child soldiers:

Child soldiering is a unique and severe manifestation of trafficking in persons that involves the recruitment of children through force, fraud, or coercion to be exploited for their labor or to be abused as sex slaves in conflict areas. Government forces, paramilitary organizations, and rebel groups all recruit and utilize child soldiers. UNICEF estimates that more than 300,000 children under 18 are currently being exploited in over 30 armed conflicts worldwide. While the majority of child soldiers are between the ages of 15 and 18, some are as young as 7 or 8 years of age

The two (now) men pictured above were both well under the age of 18 when they were “recruited” by coercion and fraud, one by his father’s brainwashing and the other by strangers. They were both eventually found on battlefields. One has admitted to carrying arms, killing people and burning villages at the age of 13. One is accused of possibly throwing a grenade in a battlefield at the age of 15.

One of them is the author of a highly acclaimed memoir of his time as a child soldier which details his capture, long nightmare of drug induced fighting/killing, and slow and painful, if very inspiring story of rehabilitation. He now lives in Brooklyn, NY and hopes to go to graduate school. While his story has been criticized for not being completely true, most of it is shared by the thousands on other children who are made to fight their elders’ battles.

The other languishes in a cell in a prison well known for its utter disregard for all international law and documented incidence of torture. He has now been there for more than 5 years, where he has been subjected to torture threats, sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, no family visits, and utter disregard for due process.

One of them was successfully rehabilitated by a system that kept faith in him by refusing to judge him for the acts he carried out as a child soldier and slowly helped him get back to some semblance of normality.

The other was betrayed by his country and can never get out because he is imprisoned by the most powerful nation on earth.

It is very easy to point to videos/pictures of kids assembling bombs or setting up land mines and point out that they were responsible for their actions. The hallmark of a mature and civilized country is to apply guiding principles and laws equitably and without regarding popularity. A child soldier cannot be prosecuted for his/her actions, they must be rehabilitated. They will never get back their lost childhood, but they should not pay for their elders’ sins.

Prime Ministers Chretien and Harper both went out of their way to forget the fact that they lead a civilized and mature country. They fudged facts, hid behind walls, trotted out due process and stoked fears of terrorism to keep a child in prison.

Rooting for a 21 year old Muslim son of a known terrorist is not easy, especially when he was captured wounded and accused of killing Americans (the highest crime possible). But, to belabour a point, the hallmark of a mature and civilized country is to apply guiding principles and law without regarding popularity. This kid is being held for alleged actions at the age of 15. Even if he participated in battle and killed people (which apparently is the point of battle, much as I hate it), he was a child!

Will Canada eventually do the right thing? Who knows. I sure hope so. Today’s release of the interrogation video is revealing of the fact that there is a shred of hope and decency in the system. Please watch this kid being “interrogated” by people in power he thought were going to help him “go home”.

You picked up a kid in the battlefield, imprisoned him for several years. In doing so, you committed a crime far worse than what he’s being accused of, child abuse…

I leave you with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s quote today

“Mr. Khadr faces serious charges. There is a judicial process underway to determine Mr. Khadr’s fate. This should continue,”

This week's New Yorker Cover

I think this cover is way too misogynistic. Yes, of course, the obvious flag burning, the Barack muslim thing, the Osama picture, yeah yeah, we get it, satire. But, what the hell’s with Michelle Obama’s Afro? and the Gun, and the Shoes? The hair especially is disgusting. As my partner (see, I do listen!) has pointed out to me many a time, there’s a long history of black women being made to feel funny about their hair, remember the Don Imus Nappy Headed comment (which was offensive even without the whole sex for money insult – Don’t bother clicking on the link, you’ll only see the stupid comment again).

I stand by my earlier contention that America is not ready for a non-white president, hopefully, I will be proven wrong, now that we know John McCain can’t even get on the internet without help. But the attacks on Michelle Obama are going to get very nasty before this is all over. Every black woman stereotype is going to be thrown at her.

Mooning Cheney and Big Oil

Opus Comics, by Bloom County’s Berkeley Breathed – Salon

A little simplistic, perhaps, but plugin hybrids need to get here soon. I want my next car to be a plugin hybrid. Hell, I would even buy an ugly ass GM car if it turns out to be as good as advertised, 65 km without gas. Note also the cool solar panels and power inverter.

GM Volt

Can I get a compact plugin hybrid instead of this behemoth two door, or is the size due to battery storage?

Photo courtesy Corvair Owner Flickr photstream, used under a creative commons licence.