Sunday, May 31, 2009

Anatomy of a silent crisis: human impact of climate change

Here’s the new report by the Global Humanitarian Forum:

Human Impact Report

Climate Change is here. It has a human face. This report details the silent crisis occurring around the world today as a result of a global climate change. It is a comprehensive account of the key impacts of climate change on human society. Long regarded as a distant, environmental or future problem, climate change is already today a major constraint on all human efforts. I has been creeping up on the world for years, doing its deadly work in the dark by aggravating a host of other major problems affection society, such as malnutrition, malaria and poverty. This report aims at breaking the silent suffering of millions. Its findings indicate that the impacts of climate change are each year responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths with hundreds of millions of lives affected. Climate change is a serious threat to close to three quarters of the world population. Half a billion people are at extreme risk. Worst affected are the world’s poorest groups, who lack any responsibility for causing climate change. …

The findings of report indicate that every year climate change leaves over 300,000 people dead, 325 million people seriously affected, and economic losses of US$125 billion. 4 billion people are vulnerable, and 500 million people are at extreme risk. These figures represent averages based on projected trends over many years and carry a significant margin of error. The real numbers could be lower or higher. The different figures are each explained in more detail and in context in the relevant sections of the report. Detailed information describing how these figures have been calculated is also included in the respective sections and in the end matter of the report. …

Human Impact Report

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

New Matt Simmons presentation

Via The Oil Drum:

New presentation by Matt Simmons: Two Energy Oxymorons: 1. Energy Independence 2. Energy Security (PDF)

G4 Cube given wheels, automation, the will to race Woz's Segway

Not wanting the Allspark to beat them to the punch, the gang at thinkingbricks has given life to an Apple G4 Cube, complete with LEGO Mindstorms NXT-borne retractable wheels, a Bluetooth controller, automation via sensors, and a creepy red LED. That transparent base really makes the wheel deployment much more dramatic, a nice touch if we do say so ourselves. There aren't any step-by-step instructions, but there should be plenty of information at the page if you're thiking of making your own as a weekend project. Either way, be sure to check it out on video, located after the break. …

G4 Cube given wheels, automation, the will to race Woz's Segway

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Growing trees into chic, living chairs

growing chair swiss photo 

Image via Yanko Design

If you're not so into hugging trees, how about taking a seat on one? Swiss designer Michel Bussien has designed a new way to help you get up close and personal with nature--by turning it into furniture. The "Growing Chair" shown is a sharply designed mold that allows you to turn greenery into a chic seat. ...

Growing Trees Into Chic, Living Chairs

Friday, May 29, 2009

Cost viability and algae

GreenFuel has called it quits.  I haz a sad.

Posted by Heading Out on May 29, 2009

Robert Rapier recently drew attention to the demise of GreenFuel Technologies, the company founded on ideas from MIT and Harvard and supported by millions of dollars in venture capital funding. One of the creative ideas that the company has was to located their plant at existing power stations so that the carbon dioxide generated in the flue gas could be fed into the bio-reactors holding the algae, with the gas also keeping the algae at an optimal growing temperature. It was a company that was in the vanguard of promoting the use of algae in both carbon dioxide collection and liquid fuels production.

The company, however, ran into problems in raising more money in the current climate, and with the technology. According to to a recent news report:

Getting the whole thing to run smoothly, though, was tougher than expected. GreenFuel could grow algae. The problem was controlling it. In 2007, a project to grow algae in an Arizona greenhouse went awry when the algae grew faster than they could be harvested and died off. The company also found its system would cost more than twice its target.

It is that latter part of the paragraph that is the more telling. When folk first consider using algae as a future fuel source, it is often because, when tabulated, algae can produce more fuel per acre per year, than any other crop.

Source Biodiesel - Growing a New Energy Economy - Greg Paul, Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2005, 281 pages

However, getting what has been achieved in the short term into a production mode that sustains the same yield for year after year is not that easy. Nor is simply finding the best algae the only solution required for the problem.

Given the collapse of GreenFuel, it is perhaps useful to look at some of the things that need to be considered, if you are going to have a shot at a viable algae operation. …

Cost Viability and Algae

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

French award-winning design for wind turbine towers

By Harry Tournemille

Winners of the 2009 Metropolis Next Generation Design Competition, Nicola Delon, Julien Choppin, and Raphael Menard, have come up with an innovative solution for renewable energy called Wind-It. The proposal: inserting wind-turbines into ailing electrical towers to generate and provide additional power to any existing grid.

The design is innovative on two fronts.

First, it utilizes existing structures, thereby reducing the need to further deface the landscape and build more power-structures. The design is also adaptable to different tower styles, and has the potential to be quite efficient. Delon went so far as to suggest if a third of France’s electrical towers were outfitted with these turbines, they could rival the energy production of two nuclear reactors–approximately 5% of the country’s total electrical demand.

The idea first came about as the three designers commuted regularly on the TGV. They would invariably see wind turbines and electrical structures, but never the two together. Thus, the question was raised, can we combine them? …

French Award-Winning Design for Wind Turbine Towers

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Concentrated solar power goes mainstream: Lockheed-Martin to build large CSP plant with thermal storage in Arizona

What is the best evidence that concentrated solar thermal power (CSP) aka solar baseload is indeed a core climate solution with big near-term — and very big medium-term — promise?  One of the country’s biggest companies, Lockheed-Martin, with 2008 sales of $42.7 billion, has jumped into the race to build the biggest CSP plant with thermal storage.

The CSP market was already exploding (see “World’s largest solar plant with thermal storage to be built in Arizona — total of 8500 MW of this core climate solution planned for 2014 in U.S. alone“).  Now big players are getting on board, as Phoenix’s East Valley Tribune reports…

Concentrated solar power goes mainstream: Lockheed-Martin to build large CSP plant with thermal storage in Arizona

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

EIA projects wind at 5% of U.S. electricity in 2012, all renewables at 14%, thanks to Obama stimulus

From Climate Progress:

The renewables safe sources of energy that never run out are coming!  And if it was braggin’ time for wind when wind power hit 1.25% of U.S. electricity generation in 2008, what’ll it be in 2012, when it hits 5%, as projected by the Energy Information Administration?  Well, it’s probably time for a tougher renewable energy standard than the Senate is considering.

Significantly, the EIA, which is the DOE’s independent analytical arm, is no fan of safe sources of energy that never run out.  When I was at the DOE in the mid-1990s, we uncovered a key reason there was so little wind in EIA’s modeling of federal climate action:  Their original forecast had in fact shown a huge upsurge, so the EIA analysts tweaked the model to artificially suppress wind.  And today, the EIA is run by my old friend, Howard Gruenspecht, who was a Bush Sr. holdover at DOE’s office of policy when I started there in 1992 and a Bush, Jr. appointee at EIA.  He ain’t progressive.  Obama should replace him.  But I digress.

So it is all the more shocking that EIA’s remarkable, if little noted, report from last month, Updated Annual Energy Outlook 2009 Reference Case Reflecting Provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and Recent Changes in the Economic Outlook projected this response to the Obama stimulus package:

EIA projects wind at 5% of U.S. electricity in 2012, all renewables at 14%, thanks to Obama stimulus! Now can we get a stronger renewable standard?

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Good news: most ecosystems can recover in one lifetime from human-induced disturbance

wetland restoration photo 

photo: Partners for Fish and Wildlife via flickr.

There's a reason the phrase "let nature take its course" exists: New research done at the Yale University School of Forestry & Environmental Science reinforces the idea that ecosystems are quiet resilient and can rebound from pollution and environmental degradation. Published in the journal PLoS ONE, the study shows that most damaged ecosystems worldwide can recover within a single lifetime, if the source of pollution is removed and restoration work done:

Forests Take Longest of Ecosystems Studied
The analysis found that on average forest ecosystems can recover in 42 years, while in takes only about 10 years for the ocean bottom to recover. If an area has seen multiple, interactive disturbances, it can take on average 56 years for recovery. In general, most ecosystems take longer to recover from human-induced disturbances than from natural events, such as hurricanes. …

Good News: Most Ecosystems Can Recover in One Lifetime from Human-Induced or Natural Disturbance

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Plastiki boat made of plastic bottles prepares to set sail

plastiki, boat made of plastic bottles 

It’s been several months since we brought you news of the Plastiki, a boat made of 12,500 plastic bottles, so we figured it was time for an update. When we left the Plastiki expedition last, David de Rothschild, the founder of Adventure Ecology, was making preparations to steer his plastic sailboat towards the floating landfill in the Pacific Ocean. Some time has passed, but we’re excited to report that Plastiki is nearly ready to set sail upon the open sea! …

Plastiki Boat Made of Plastic Bottles Prepares to Set Sail

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Who's laughing now? Tesla Motors now worth half of GM's value (on paper)

tesla motors gm logos photo 

 Photos: Michael Graham Richard

"It's sort of amusing," remarked Tesla co-founder Martin Eberhard. Last week I wrote about Daimler buying an almost 10% stake in elcetric car maker Tesla Motors. Andrew S. Ross, writing for the San Francisco Gate, made an interesting observation. Based on the ±9% stake that Daimler purchased for $50 million, Tesla's valuation is about $550 million. That's about half of GM's market valuation ($1.17 billion)...

Who's Laughing Now? Tesla Motors Now Worth Half of GM's Value (On Paper)

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Eating Brazil nuts protects the Amazon rainforest - literally

Patricio Cracking Open Brazil Nut Coco Photo

Image via: Author's collection

Probably the most entertaining interview we conducted during my South American tour with Green Living Project was interviewing Brazil Nut Concession Owners, and in particular, Patricio León. This 75 year old man has been harvesting brazil nuts since he was about 14 years old and is still out doing it, though he admits that now he has staff to help with the work because he’s not as young as he once was. If you’re not familiar with brazil nuts, but have ever eaten a can of mixed nuts, then you’ve probably eaten or at least seen a brazil nut. They’re the really large moon-sliver shaped nuts that you usually find hanging out at the bottom of the canister. Listen up, because eating those directly helps to protect the rainforest.

So who cares about brazil nuts and why does eating them protect the rainforest? Well, when it comes down to it brazil nuts (or castañas, in Spanish) only really grow under healthy, pristine conditions in the rainforest. Thus far, farmers and commercial organizations haven’t really successfully been able to grow the trees in brazil nut plantations, so eating them means you are supporting healthy rainforests. Farmers can’t chop down the surrounding trees to more easily get to the brazil nut trees (which are typically found 1-2 per hectare), because the trees won’t produce as well as if they were in a healthy, primary forest. Patricio told us that the trees that were in “secondary forest” areas produce 2/3 or fewer "seeds" compared with trees that are grow in primary rainforest. ...

Eating Brazil Nuts Protects the Amazon Rainforest - Literally

Big impact of climate change on India's farm yields: World Bank

New Delhi, May 25 (IANS) Dryland farmers in Andhra Pradesh may see their incomes decline by 20 percent, the sugarcane yield in Maharashtra may go down 30 percent, and there may be much more flooding in the Orissa coast, says a new World Bank report.

Pointing out that this will have a serious impact in a country where 57 percent of the people are directly dependent on agriculture, the report, Climate Change Impacts in Drought-and Flood-Affected Areas: Case Studies in India, says the country can improve its resilience to climate change through a combination of measures and right incentives aimed at multiple levels of government.

The report, the first of its kind in South Asia, was released here Monday. It looks at options of adaptation to climate change in two drought-prone regions of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra and a flood-prone region in Orissa.

“Although climate change impacts may take decades to manifest, there is a need for action now to avoid higher future costs and missed opportunities associated with a development path that compromises on climate risk management,” said Richard Damania, environmental economist in the World Bank and leader of the study.

“For example, the report says incomes on the small rain-fed farms in Andhra Pradesh could decline by five percent under modest climate change and by over 20 percent under harsher conditions, bringing farmers closer to, and in many cases, under the poverty line.

“Many of the actions and policies that would build future climate resilience produce development benefits here and now. Focussing on these measures would thus yield a double dividend for development and climate sustainability.”

At the release of the report, acknowledging the need for action, J. Mauskar, additional secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Forests, said: “This report endorses our approach and shows the way forward in addressing future problems.” …

Big impact of climate change on India's farm yields: World Bank.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Wind and solar-powered street lighting skips the grid


French company Windela has created a street lighting system that works without any connection to the grid. The Windelux is powered by both a small vertical wind turbine and a solar PV panel.

The lamp is comprised of 84 LEDs and automatically switches on when a photosensitive cell detects that it's dark. A built-in control system stops the wind generator if the wind speed is too high and also allows the pole to act as a Wi-Fi relay.

Inside the pole is the battery that makes all this possible. A rechargable LiFePo battery stores the energy generated by the solar PV panel and wind generator and supplies four nights worth of light before needing to be recharged.

Street lighting accounts for a huge percentage of most cities energy use and costs. The Windelux seems to be an ideal solution for providing both street lighting and distributing Wi-Fi, without ever touching the grid. Currently, units have only been installed in France and Algeria, but it'd be great to see the technology make it's way across the Atlantic. …

Wind and Solar-Powered Street Lighting Skips the Grid

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Window Farms: An experiment in urban agriculture

window farms, britta riley, rebecca bray, city food sources, urban food source, diy gardening, urban agriculture, urban ecology, urban farming, environmental diy project, eco diy project, environmental diy project, urban gardening 

Gardening enthusiasts living in cities will certainly cheer for Britta Riley and Rebecca Bray’s Window Farms experiment. The artist-in-residence duo at Eyebeam have teamed up to develop a DIY system for creating “suspended, hydroponic, modular, low-energy, high-yield light-augmented” vertical gardens that will enable anyone to start their own garden right in their very own window. Britta and Rebecca were showcasing their prototype at Eyebeam last week and have enlisted a dozen or so volunteers that are building their own farms — all to go on display in windows throughout NYC from May 31 to July 14. …

Window Farms: An experiment in urban agriculture

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Gordon Graff’s Skyfarm for Toronto

gordon graff, skyfarm, canada, toronto, vertical farms, urban farms, skyscraper farms, self-sustaining, urban agriculture

The UN predicts that we will need 60% more food over the next 30 years in order to meet the demands of the world’s ever-growing population, and one designer has found an interesting place to look for other alternatives for growing food as agriculturally viable land becomes more and more scarce. That is, up! Skyfarm is a vertical farm designed by Gordon Graff, a student in the Master of Architecture program at the University of Waterloo. The vertically set farm for Toronto is intent on meeting the needs of a tightly packed planet in the face of a limited food supply, while removing dependence on the food transportation via energy intensive and emission heavy methods. 

Gordon Graff’s Skyfarm for Toronto

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Rapid climate change forces scientists to evaluate 'extreme' conservation strategies

 A tortoise on the edge of Athens, Greece. (Credit: Dov Sax)

Scientists are, for the first time, objectively evaluating ways to help species adapt to rapid climate change and other environmental threats via strategies that were considered too radical for serious consideration as recently as five or 10 years ago. Among these radical strategies currently being considered is so-called "managed relocation." Managed relocation, which is also known as "assisted migration," involves manually moving species into more accommodating habitats where they are not currently found.

A new, ground-breaking tool to help decision-makers determine if, when and how to use managed relocation is described in the May 25, 2009 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by a multi-disciplinary working group.

Partially funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the working group is co-led by Jessica Hellmann and Jason McLachlan of the University of Notre Dame, Dov Sax of Brown University, and Mark Schwartz of the University of California at Davis. David Richardson of Stellenbosch University in South Africa led the writing of the paper.

The researchers' tool is ground-breaking because managed relocation has been categorically eschewed by some scientists for fear that relocated species would overpopulate their new habitats, cause extinctions of local species, or clog water pipes as invasive zebra muscles have done in the Great Lakes. Nevertheless, some conservationists and groups have already used managed relocation or are currently considering doing so. …

Rapid Climate Change Forces Scientists To Evaluate 'Extreme' Conservation Strategies

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Solar sparkle for Arizona

The team behind a new solar heating plant recently unveiled in Arizona expects the performance not only to be "sensationally high," but that this may turn out to be the solar array with the best output worldwide. The plant provides industrial process hot water -- a sector that could be set to grow very rapidly.

Solar Sparkle for Arizona

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iPhone-generated artwork featured on cover of The New Yorker


Well, what do you know? It looks like our favorite fingerpainter is really making a name for himself with his handset artwork. Like his other New York City-scapes, Jorge Colombo's cover for the June 1, 2009 issue of The New Yorker was composed entirely in the Brushes iPhone app. And it looks like the artist's switch to a digital format is no gimmick -- he tells The New York Times that the device allows him to work "without having to carry all my pens and brushes and notepads with me." And he can work in anonymity -- to complete the cover he spent about an hour on 42nd Street, with no interruptions (try doing that with a canvas, an easel, and a full compliment of art supplies). Mr. Colombo, if you're out there: we'd like to add you to our Mafia Wars family. Drop us an email.

iPhone-generated artwork featured on cover of The New Yorker

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Groundbreaking proposals unveiled for the inclusion of climate change data in annual reports

(Carbon Disclosure Project) The Climate Disclosure Standards Board today proposed a global framework to guide corporations on which climate change-related data to include in annual reports. Unveiled at the World Business Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen, proponents say the standardized inclusion of such data in annual reports will enhance corporate transparency for the benefit of shareholders and prospective investors alike. …

Groundbreaking proposals unveiled for the inclusion of climate change data in annual reports

U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions down in 2008

WASHINGTON, DC, May 22, 2009 (ENS) - Energy demand across the United States fell in 2008, leading to the largest annual decline in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions since the federal government began annual reporting on greenhouse gas emissions in 1990.

Record-high oil prices and a decline in economic activity in the second half of the year resulted in a decrease of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions of 2.8 percent last year, according to preliminary estimates issued Wednesday by the federal Energy Information Administration.

Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions account for more than 80 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

These emissions decreased from 5,967 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2007 to 5,802 MMTCO2 in 2008, the EIA reported.

The economy, as measured by Gross Domestic Product, GDP, grew by 1.1 percent in 2008, even taking into account the economic downturn at the end of the year, but energy demand declined by 2.2 percent, indicating that energy intensity - energy use per unit of GDP - fell by 3.3 percent in 2008, the agency said.

Carbon dioxide intensity - carbon dioxide emission per unit of GDP - fell by about 3.8 percent, the EIA estimates. …

U.S. Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions Down in 2008

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Corals upgrade algae to beat the heat

This fan coral is in good health, and many of its relatives may stay healthy if they can upgrade their in-house algae (Image: Jurgen FreundBy Catherine Brahic

In oceans around the world, heat-resistant algae are offering the prospect of a colourful future for corals. The reef-forming animals are upgrading their symbiotic algae so that they can survive the bleaching that occurs in waters warming under climate change.

"The most exciting thing was discovering live, healthy corals on reefs already as hot as the ocean is likely to get 100 years from now," says Stephen Palumbi of Stanford University.

Corals have a symbiotic relationship with tiny algae called zooxanthellae. The corals give the algae a home and, in exchange, the algae provide the corals with food. When water temperatures get too hot, the corals expel the algae. This is what is known as coral bleaching and it is expected to kill coral reefs around the world as global temperatures rise.

In the past few years, biologists have discovered that some zooxanthellae can live at warmer temperatures than others, making the corals that host them naturally heat-resistant. What's more, during a heatwave on the Great Barrier Reef in 2006, an Australian team found that many corals that survived the hot period had swapped their algae for more heat-resistant ones. …

Corals upgrade algae to beat the heat

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Growing biofuel without razing the rainforest can't cultivate biofuel crops without cutting down trees, right? Not so, says Marcos Buckeridge, who tells Jan Rocha how Brazil can supply the world with green ethanol

Your aim is for Brazil to produce sustainable biofuel while preserving its rainforests. Isn't that close to having your cake and eating it?

It's true that those of us who think like this are in a minority, caught between those who don't worry about the environmental costs of bioethanol and those who claim it is impossible to produce biofuels sustainably. The answer to those who condemn all biofuels has to be to differentiate where these fuels are being produced: we must ensure that Brazil's biofuel is green and sustainable.

How do you do make it sustainable?

A few years ago, when the search for fossil fuel replacements became more urgent, Brazil rediscovered the sugar cane ethanol programme it put into place in the 1970s because of the oil crisis. Back then, nobody worried about sustainability. Now we have to show why Brazil's sugar cane ethanol is different from America's maize ethanol. It is unfair to lump the two together. Our bioethanol is produced by using less than 1 per cent of Brazil's total agricultural area. It does not destroy preserved areas or compete for land with food crops. In fact, Brazilian food production should increase in the next five years. People fear sugar cane will be planted in the Amazon rainforest, but it is too humid for sugar cane there. We want to supply the world with green ethanol without cutting down a single tree. That's the challenge. …

Growing biofuel without razing the rainforest

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Fundamental mechanism for cell organization discovered

An embryo treated with RNA interference to delay the onset of cell polarization. At the beginning of the process, P granules (green) have already nearly completely dissolved throughout the embryo. However, when the embryo ultimately polarizes, the polarity protein PAR-2 (red) appears on the posterior cortex, and P granules reform by condensation in the vicinity of this posterior region. Credit: Clifford Brangwynne (Credit: Image courtesy of Marine Biological Laboratory) 

Scientists have discovered that cells use a very simple phase transition -- similar to water vapor condensing into dew -- to assemble and localize subcellular structures that are involved in formation of the embryo.

The discovery, which was made during the 2008 Physiology course at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), is reported in the May 21 early online edition of Science by Clifford P. Brangwynne and Anthony A. Hyman of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, and their colleagues, including Frank Jülicher of the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, also in Dresden.

Working with the worm C. elegans, the scientists found that subcellular structures called P granules, which are thought to specify the "germ cells" that ultimately give rise to sperm or eggs, are liquid droplets that transition between a dissolved or condensed state. In newly fertilized one-cell embryos, the P granules are dissolving throughout the cell, like water droplets at high temperature. But prior to the first cell division, the P granules rapidly condense at one end of the cell, as if the temperature were suddenly lowered there. The progenitor germ cell subsequently forms where the P granules have condensed.

"This kind of phase transition could potentially be working for many other subcellular structures similar to P granules," Brangwynne says. P granules are ribonucleoprotein assemblies (RNPs), and a given cell may contain dozens of different types of RNPs.

"It is interesting to think about this in the context of evolution and the origin of life," he says. "What we have found is that, in some cases, simple physical-chemical mechanisms, such as a classic phase transition, give rise to subcellular structure…This is likely the kind of thing that happened in the so-called primordial soup; but it's not surprising that even highly evolved cells continue to take advantage of such mechanisms." …

Fundamental Mechanism For Cell Organization Discovered

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Climate bill packed with protections for coal industry

Amos Coal Power Plant, Winfield, West Virginia 2007 (Mitch Epstein)

By Ken Ward Jr.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A climate change bill working its way through Congress this week has been packed with amendments aimed at giving the coal industry a chance to survive if technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions is eventually perfected and deployed.

Lawmakers have put off the most major pollution reductions until after 2020, have weakened carbon dioxide limits that would apply to specific coal-fired power plants, and are giving tens of billions of dollars in free pollution permits to coal-fired utilities.

While the changes weren't enough to placate the coal industry lobby, they have won backing from some key coal state lawmakers and somewhat qualified support from the United Mine Workers union.

But some environmental groups and other critics worry that the amendments go too far. They say the legislation's authors may have given coal operators and coal-fired utilities too much, especially while the bill is still early in the stages of being reviewed in the House and faces certain efforts to further water it down once it reaches the Senate.

Brent Blackwelder, president of the group Friends of the Earth, praised Chairman Henry Waxman and members of his House Energy and Commerce Committee for "their effort to find a path forward on global warming."

"Unfortunately, the result of their effort has been corrupted by members of Congress backed by oil and coal interests," Blackwelder said. …

Climate bill packed with protections for coal industry

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Owls replace pesticides in Israel

Farmers are installing nest boxes to encourage the owls

Owls and kestrels are being employed as agricultural pest controllers in the Middle East.

Many farmers are installing nest boxes to encourage the birds, which hunt the crop-damaging rodents.

In Israel, where there is a drive to reduce the use of toxic chemical pesticides, this has been turned into a government-funded national programme.

Jordanian and Palestinian scientists and conservation charities have joined the scheme.

According to the charity BirdLife International, hundreds of birds of prey - including many endangered species - have been killed in the region through eating rodents containing poisonous "rodenticides" sprayed on to crop fields.

But scientists in Israel are now working with farmers to combat this problem - deploying the birds as natural pest controllers.

"There is a real need to reduce the use of chemicals in agriculture here," said Motti Charter, a researcher from Tel Aviv University and team leader of the Global Owl Project in Israel. …

Owls replace pesticides in Israel

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Green activists protest at Australia power plant

Greenpeace activists shut down a coal digger at Hazelwood, the developed world’s most polluting power station. Carrying the message 'coal - powering climate change', the activists are demanding that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd take real action on climate change by transitioning away from coal. (c)Greenpeace

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Environmental activists tried on Thursday to disrupt operations at an Australian power station that provides 8 percent of the country's coal-reliant electricity market, in a protest against government climate policies.

Greenpeace said the dawn protest by around 14 activists at the Hazelwood Power Station in Victoria state was the latest part of an ongoing campaign to reduce Australia's carbon emissions.

"Australia is digging itself into a hole. By phasing out coal and investing in renewable energy, we can protect our environment and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs," said Greenpeace campaigner Simon Roz.

Hazelwood, in Victoria's Latrobe Valley, is a brown coal fueled power station with a 1,600 megawatt capacity, and supplies up to 25 percent of the state's base load electricity. The station relies on brown coal from the adjacent Morwell mine.

Majority owned by the UK-based company International Power and scheduled to be decommissioned by 2009 due to its excessive carbon dioxide emissions, the state government in 2005 extended its life until 2031.

A mine spokesman told Reuters the protest had "no impact whatsoever" on output and police removed the demonstrators, who chained themselves to a dormant digger with banners reading "coal - powering climate change." …

Green activists protest at Australia power plant

Indian state achieves Western standards on fraction of income: a slideshow


The state of Kerala in southwest India is a socio-economic abberation: despite a per capita GDP of US$247, far below the world average, its 32 million people enjoy good health care, US-level birth rates, literacy rates and life expectancies. “Demographically, in other words,” Bill McKibben wrote in 1998, “Kerala mirrors the United States on about one-seventieth the cash.” Today its economy is hurting as its foreign remittances dwindle – Kerala is known for providing much of the now shrinking Middle Eastern migrant workforce. But the template for the state's strange demographics began long before, with Hindu rulers, missionaries and then leftist governments emphasizing widespread education and health care. …

Indian State Achieves Western Standards on Fraction of Income: A Slideshow

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Are vertical farms the answer after all?

Casey Houweling in his sustainable vertical greenhouse photo

High-Tech Greenhouses See 20-Fold Increase in Yields

Adam Stein of Terrapass was famously skeptical about vertical farms, describing them as "pie in the sky". So I was surprised to read one of his latest blog posts, in which he links to an LA Times article about high-tech California greenhouses that are employing vertical farming techniques, and boosting crop yields per acre by a factor of 20. Could it be that Adam was wrong about vertical farming? …

Are Vertical Farms the Answer After All?

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sonic alarm saves marine mammals from ship strike

Manatee showing propeller injuries (Image: Jeff Foott / Discovery Channel Images / Getty) 

By Phil McKenna

A new sonic alarm could warn off whales and manatees threatened by approaching ships. Endangered North Atlantic right whales are especially at risk from collisions – only about 350 remain, and at least a third of all right whale deaths over the last decade were due to ship strikes.

A team of researchers at Florida Atlantic University believes that many collisions occur because there is region in front of moving ships where propeller sounds are blocked.

"If the ship is wide enough, the sound of the propellers is deflected off to the sides," says Edmund Gerstein, who presents his team's findings this week to the Acoustical Society of America.

Gerstein notes that individual manatees in Florida have been hit as many as 50 times by boats. "They seem to actually seek out the quieter zone in front of the ship as a refuge," he says.

So he and his colleagues developed a small device to fit on the bow of a ship below the waterline, which emits sound waves focused into a narrow beam. Gerstein says that in preliminary testing of the device, manatees always changed course to avoid the approaching ships. …

Sonic alarm saves marine mammals from ship strike

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Voluntary carbon markets double in 2008

Voluntary carbon markets greatly expanded in both transaction volume and value in 2008, providing critical funds for projects aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new report from Ecosystem Marketplace and New Carbon Finance.

Fortifying the Foundation: State of the Voluntary Carbon Markets 2009 — a survey of over 190 voluntary carbon credit retailers, brokers, accounting registries, and exchanges — found that voluntary carbon markets transacted 123 million metric tons of carbon credits valued at $705 million in 2008, up from 65 million tons of credits valued at $331 million in 2007. …

Voluntary carbon markets double in 2008

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World Oil Production Forecast - Update May 2009

From The Oil Drum:

World oil production peaked in July 2008 at 74.82 million barrels/day (mbd) and now has fallen to about 71 mbd. It is expected that oil production will decline slowly to about December 2010 as OPEC production increases while non-OPEC production decreases. After 2010 the resulting annual production decline rate increases to 3.4% as OPEC production is unable to offset cumulative non-OPEC declines. The forecast from the IEA WEO 2008 is also shown for comparison.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) should make official statements about declining world oil production now to renew the focus on oil conservation and alternative renewable energy sources.

World Oil Production

World crude oil, condensate and oil sands production peaked in 2008 at an average of 73.78 million barrels per day (mbd) which just exceeded the previous peak of 73.74 mbd in 2005, according to recent EIA production data. Production is expected to decline further as non OPEC oil production peaked in 2004 and is forecast to decline at a faster rate in 2009 and beyond due mainly to big declines from Russia, Norway, the UK and Mexico. Saudi Arabia's crude oil production peaked in 2005. By 2011, OPEC will not have the ability to offset cumulative non OPEC declines and world oil production is forecast to stay below its 2008 peak. …

World Oil Production Forecast - Update May 2009

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Obama officials push for catch-share plan

New England fisheries are on the verge of transitioning to a cap-and-trade regulatory system. (Photo: Stock File/FIS)  

The administration of President Barack Obama has asked for USD 18.6 million in fiscal 2010 budget money for new cap-and-trade regulatory fisheries programmes. The catch-share programme initiative would signify major changes in fishery management and an effort to preserve and recover wild fish stocks.

The amount requested is triple the National Marine Fisheries Service's (NMFS) bid for catch shares in its 2009 budget and about nine times over the USD 2 million it granted to catch shares last year, reports The New York Times. The NMFS received a budget proposal of USD 921 million - the proposal would amount to 2 per cent of this.

The proposal signals officials government backing for the management system, which is still in the minority but spreading ever since a federal moratorium expired five years ago.

At present, 12 catch-share programmes are in operation when two years ago there had been seven. Four more are in the implementation or development phase, NMFS said.

The scheme's supporters say it puts an end to the "race for fish," that is, when fishers race to harvest as much as they can before the fishery's total allowable catch limit is reached.

In the cap-and-trade programme, the shares of a total catch are distributed to commercial fishers, based on either their historical catch or an auction. Fishers can buy and sell their shares. …

Obama officials push for catch-share plan

MIT: Climate change odds much worse than thought

 The wheel on the right depicts researchers' estimation of the range of probability of potential global temperature change over the next 100 years if no policy change is enacted on curbing greenhouse gas emissions. The wheel on the left assumes that aggressive policy is enacted. (Credit: Image courtesy / MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change)

The most comprehensive modeling yet carried out on the likelihood of how much hotter the Earth's climate will get in this century shows that without rapid and massive action, the problem will be about twice as severe as previously estimated six years ago -- and could be even worse than that. The study uses the MIT Integrated Global Systems Model, a detailed computer simulation of global economic activity and climate processes.

The study uses the MIT Integrated Global Systems Model, a detailed computer simulation of global economic activity and climate processes that has been developed and refined by the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change since the early 1990s. The new research involved 400 runs of the model with each run using slight variations in input parameters, selected so that each run has about an equal probability of being correct based on present observations and knowledge. Other research groups have estimated the probabilities of various outcomes, based on variations in the physical response of the climate system itself. But the MIT model is the only one that interactively includes detailed treatment of possible changes in human activities as well - such as the degree of economic growth, with its associated energy use, in different countries.

Study co-author Ronald Prinn, the co-director of the Joint Program and director of MIT's Center for Global Change Science, says that, regarding global warming, it is important "to base our opinions and policies on the peer-reviewed science," he says. And in the peer-reviewed literature, the MIT model, unlike any other, looks in great detail at the effects of economic activity coupled with the effects of atmospheric, oceanic and biological systems. "In that sense, our work is unique," he says. …

Climate Change Odds Much Worse Than Thought

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Retired US generals call for low carbon revolution

James Murray, BusinessGreen, Tuesday 19 May 2009 at 00:15:00

Report from influential generals and admirals warns fragile US energy infrastructure poses serious national security threat

The US needs to diversify its energy mix to incorporate more renewables, reduce its reliance on both foreign and domestic oil, improve the resilience of its energy grid, better prepare for the impact of climate change risks, and make wider use of federal procurement to drive the development of low carbon technologies.

Not the latest wish list from Greenpeace or the WWF, but a hard-hitting new report from an influential panel of retired US admirals and generals, which argues that the fragility of US energy supplies and the likely impact of climate change pose a serious security threat that is "exploitable by those who wish to do us harm".

The report, Powering America's Defense: Energy and the Risks to National Security, was developed by a Military Advisory Board (MAB) of former high ranking figures from across the US military brought together by US security think tank CNA.

It recommends that a major overhaul of US energy policy is required to address burgeoning security threats, and reiterates warnings from a 2007 report which concluded that the impact of climate change would pose serious and escalating threats to US national security.

Describing the report as "a sobering but honest, and necessary assessment" of current US energy policy, MAB chairman General Charles F. "Chuck" Wald said that the current recession should not be used as an excuse to delay efforts to diversify US energy supplies.

Retired US generals call for low carbon revolution

Monday, May 18, 2009

Scientists make first direct observations of biological particles in high-altitude clouds

Airborne dust and microbial matter appear to play large role in ice formation in clouds

Photo of clouds taken from the window of an airplane.

A team of atmospheric chemists has moved closer to what's considered the "holy grail" of climate change science: the first-ever direct detections of biological particles within ice clouds.

The team, led by Kimberly Prather and Kerri Pratt of the University of California at San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, sampled water droplet and ice crystal residues at high speeds while flying through clouds in the skies over Wyoming.

Analysis of the ice crystals revealed that the particles that started their growth were made up almost entirely of either dust or biological material such as bacteria, fungal spores and plant material.

While it has long been known that microorganisms become airborne and travel great distances, this study is the first to yield direct data on how they work to influence cloud formation.

Results of the Ice in Clouds Experiment - Layer Clouds (ICE-L), funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), appear May 17 in the advance online edition of the journal Nature Geoscience.

"If we understand the sources of the particles that nucleate clouds, and their relative abundance, we can determine their impact on climate," said Pratt, lead author of the paper.

The effects of tiny airborne particles called aerosols on cloud formation have been some of the most difficult aspects of weather and climate for scientists to understand.

In climate change science, which derives many of its projections from computer simulations of climate phenomena, the interactions between aerosols and clouds represent what scientists consider the greatest uncertainty in modeling predictions for the future.

"By sampling clouds in real time from an aircraft, these investigators were able to get information about ice particles in clouds at an unprecedented level of detail," said Anne-Marie Schmoltner of NSF's Division of Atmospheric Sciences, which funded the research.

"By determining the chemical composition of the very cores of individual ice particles, they discovered that both mineral dust and, surprisingly, biological particles play a major role in the formation of clouds." …

Scientists Make First Direct Observations of Biological Particles in High-Altitude Clouds

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Warming climate is affecting Cascades snowpack

Seattle WA (SPX) May 18, 2009 - There has been sharp disagreement in recent years about how much, or even whether, winter snowpack has declined in the Cascade Mountains of Washington and Oregon during the last half-century.

But new research leaves little doubt that a warmer climate has a significant effect on the snowpack, as measured by water content on April 1, even if other factors keep year-to-year measurements close to normal for a period of years.

Water content can vary greatly depending on temperature and other conditions at the time of snowfall. Typically an inch of snow at temperatures near freezing will contain significantly more water than an inch of snow a colder temperatures.

"All things being equal, if you make it 1 degree Celsius warmer, then 20 percent of the snowpack goes away for the central Puget Sound basin, the area we looked at," said Joseph Casola, a University of Washington doctoral student in atmospheric sciences. …

North Cascades Cumulative Snowpack

Warming Climate Is Affecting Cascades Snowpack

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Logica joins carbon software battleground Staff, BusinessGreen, Wednesday 13 May 2009 at 15:07:00

Just days after SAP buys its way into the market, UK-based Logica launches environmental reporting toolkit

Logica has become the second IT company in the past week to beef up its presence in the increasingly crowded market for carbon management software, with the launch of a new reporting application designed to help firms track their environmental performance.

The UK-based firm today unveiled a Sustainability Indicator Reporting Application (SIRA), which it said would provide firms with a central point for monitoring and managing environmental metrics, such as carbon emissions, water use and waste levels.

Judith Halkerston, UK managing director for energy, utilities and telecoms at Logica, said the new application had been developed in line with international environmental reporting standards and would help firms comply with the growing number of green regulations.

"Organisations today need to navigate their way through a maze of international environmental regulation, with a number of FTSE companies now actively reporting on their sustainability performance," she said. "Often, this requires a significant investment in resource and raises challenges to present the data in an intuitive and engaging manner." …

Logica joins carbon software battleground

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Super reefs fend off climate change

New York NY (SPX) May 07, 2009 - The Wildlife Conservation Society has announced a study showing that some coral reefs off East Africa are unusually resilient to climate change due to improved fisheries management and a combination of geophysical factors. WCS announced the results of the study at the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), which met in Phuket, Thailand.

The study, published in the online journal Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, provides additional evidence that globally important "super reefs" exist in the triangle from Northern Madagascar across to northern Mozambique to southern Kenya and, thus, should be a high priority for future conservation action.

Authors of the study include Tim McClanahan and Nyawira Muthiga of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Joseph Maina of the Coral Reef Conservation Project, Albogast Kamukuru of the University of Dar es Salaam's Department of Fisheries Science and Aquaculture, and Saleh A.S. Yahna of the University of Dar es Salaam's Institute of Marine Sciences and Stockholm University's Department of Zoology.

The study found that Tanzania's corals recovered rapidly from the 1998 bleaching event that had wiped out up to 45 percent of the region's corals. Along with monitoring Tanzania's reefs, WCS helps coral conservation in this region through training of park staff in protected areas.

The authors attribute the recovery of Tanzania's coral reefs due in part to direct management measures, including closures to commercial fishing.

Areas with fishery closures contained an abundance of fish that feed on algae that can otherwise smother corals, while the few sites without any specific management measures remain degraded; one site had experienced a population explosion of sea urchins-pests that feeds on corals. …

Super Reefs Fend Off Climate Change

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Real live astronauts are watching ‘Star Trek’ in outer space - right now

By Rebecca Cathcart

Right about now in outer space, three men are crouched in a node of the International Space Station, watching J.J. Abrams’ reboot of Star Trek on a laptop. They chose the node, said NASA spokeswoman Nicole Cloutier, because it was “dark and quiet” and would be “a good spot” for three Star Trek fans to hunker down for the ultimate viewing experience.

“They just ended their crew day,” said Ms. Cloutier, “so they’re watching it now, or just finishing it up. They can go all day without seeing each other, so this is a good chance to get together.”

Michael Barratt, the American astronaut, requested the film before boarding a space-bound shuttle in March, said Ms. Cloutier. He told NASA officials that he was a lifelong admirer of the TV series and did not want to miss this latest big-screen installment while off-planet. It was beamed up to them - really - after being reformatted by NASA technicians in a five-hour procedure Thursday night and beamed up Friday morning.

Mr. Barratt, 50, Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, 50, and Koichi Wakata, 46, of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency settled into the node, named Unity, after dinner and secured their feet with floor straps to keep from floating during the screening, she said. …

Real Live Astronauts are Watching ‘Star Trek’ in Outer Space - Right Now

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Patent for a concentration solar power module that integrates into façades and roofs

Mòdul tèrmic desenvolupat per la UdL 

UdL has obtained the Spanish patent for the creation of a concentration solar power system, and has already started the proceedings for obtaining an international patent. This system produces heat, cold and electricity and can be architecturally integrated into the buildings where it is installed.

A concentration solar power module that produces heat, cold and electricity and that can be integrated to façades or building roofs constitutes the new patent obtained by UdL. This system has been developed by Daniel Chemisana, member of the research group in Agrometeorology and Energy for Environment, leaded by UdL lecturers Manel Ibáñez and Joan Ignasi Rosell.

This thermal-photovoltaic modular system has a solar concentration of 10 suns, that is, it only needs a tenth part of a standard system’s active surface to produce the same energy, be it electricity, heat, or both simultaneously. Besides the reduction in the surface of used solar cells and the cost reduction this implies, this new technology can generate cold by connecting a heat pump to the system.

Rosell highlighted the architectural integration that these modules will allow either in roofs or in façades, which will reduce their visual impact. They can be directly installed in roofs, on the closure of concrete or brick blocks, forming a curtain wall in the façades or as a part of the railings in terraces, "as if they were a building’s second skin". They can also be used in residential buildings, companies or farms.  …

Patent for a concentration solar power module that integrates into façades and roofs

Dell bans export of e-waste to developing countries


Dell -- which scored pretty poorly in the latest Greenpeace report -- has just officially adopted a ban of the export of e-waste as part of its policy. The company, which also has a recycling program, says it's been holding its partners to high standards for several years, but has revised its policy to conform to the Basel Convention, an international treaty that governs e-waste handling. E-waste is growing, toxic problem in developing countries like China and Ghana. …

Dell bans export of e-waste to developing countries

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Smart solutions for a retail apocalypse

Malls are being mauled. In case you’ve been paying closer attention to Wall Street or the housing market, rest assured that America’s once-bustling shopping meccas are doing just as poorly.

Last month, General Growth Properties, the country’s second largest mall owner, declared bankruptcy. Anchor chains are dropping like flies, from Circuit City to Filene’s Basement. The trend has even reached the level of irony as liquidation resellers are being liquidated. The practical implication of all this is that local malls are going dark all the time across the country, with the carnage being documented at sites like

It’s fair to assume to that these vacant structures are now done forever–at least as old-school malls. But rather than let them become gaping holes in the fabric of our communities, it’s time embrace the national project of finding ways to reimagine them as vital, forward-looking developments. This is exactly what Ellen Dunham Jones and June Williamson have done in their book Retrofitting Suburbia. Recently we spoke with Dunham-Jones, the director of the architecture program at Georgia Tech, about how repairing the legacy of this failed American institution. …

Smart Solutions For A Retail Apocalypse

Monday, May 11, 2009

High human impact ocean areas along US West Coast revealed

Scientists have developed a map showing West Coast ocean areas most affected by humans.

(National Science Foundation) Climate change, fishing and commercial shipping top the list of threats to the ocean off the West Coast of the United States.

"Every single spot of the ocean along the West Coast," said Ben Halpern, a marine ecologist at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at the University of California at Santa Barbara, "is affected by 10 to 15 different human activities annually."

In a two-year study to document the way humans are affecting the oceans in this region, Halpern and colleagues overlaid data on the location and intensity of 25 human-derived sources of ecological stress, including climate change, commercial and recreational fishing, land-based sources of pollution and ocean-based commercial activities.

With the information, they produced a composite map of the status of West Coast marine ecosystems.

The work was published online today in the journal Conservation Letters, and was conducted at NCEAS. NCEAS is primarily funded by NSF's Division of Environmental Biology.

"This important analysis of the geography and magnitude of land-based stressors should help focus attention on the hot-spots where coordinated management of land and ocean activities is needed," said Phillip Taylor, section head in NSF's Division of Ocean Sciences.

The lead scientists on the study conducted a similar analysis on a global scale; the results were published last year in Science. …

High human impact ocean areas along US West Coast revealed

Orlov: The new new money

Well, this portends good things for the U.S. …

It's official: The government in Beijing has announced that the Yuan can now be used in international trade. Their mouthpiece for this occasion was the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, a private entity, which made the announcement on their behalf. By the end of this year, it is expected that fully 50% of all transactions with Hong Kong will be denominated in the Yuan. In turn, Hong Kong re-exports 90% of its Chinese imports. Importer #1 is the European Union; importer #2 is the United States. Some of these countries may soon find themselves hard-pressed to earn enough Yuan to continue importing Chinese-made products. …

The new new money

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Tidal Energy preps 1.2MW sea bed generator

James Murray, BusinessGreen, Monday 11 May 2009 at 00:15:00

UK firm on track to start manufacture of prototype underwater turbines this summer

UK startup Tidal Energy Limited is on track to begin construction of a full-scale prototype of its underwater turbine technology within the next two months, according to the company's recently appointed managing director.

Speaking to, Martin Murphy said that the company was close to finalising £8m in funding from renewable energy investment firm Eco2 and the Welsh government, which it plans to use to begin manufacture of its Delta Stream tidal stream generator.

He added that should the Welsh government approve the EU-backed investment, work could begin on manufacturing the 1.2MW prototype within six to eight weeks. ...

Tidal Energy preps 1.2MW sea bed generator

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