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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Vignettes: Indian Monsoon

Digging our own grave

NY Times reports:
If groundwater can be thought of as a nation's savings account for dry, desperate drought years, then India, which has more than its share of them, is rapidly exhausting its reserve. That situation is true in a growing number of states.

Indian surveyors have divided the country into 5,723 geographic blocks. More than 1,000 are considered either overexploited, meaning more water is drawn on average than is replenished by rain, or critical, meaning they are dangerously close to it.

Twenty years ago, according to the Central Groundwater Board, only 250 blocks fell into those categories.

"We have come to the worst already," was the verdict of A. Sekhar, who until recently was an adviser on water to the Planning Commission of India. At this rate, he projected, the number of areas at risk is most likely to double in the next dozen years.

Across India, where most people still live off the land, the chief source of irrigation is groundwater, at least for those who can afford to pump it.

Here in Jaipur District, a normally parched area west of New Delhi known for its regal palaces, farmers depend on groundwater almost exclusively. Across Rajasthan State, where Jaipur is located, up to 80 percent of the groundwater blocks are in danger of running out.

But even fertile, rain-drenched pockets of the country are not immune.

Consider, for instance, that in Punjab, India's northern breadbasket state, 79 percent of groundwater blocks are classified as overexploited or critical; in neighboring Haryana, 59 percent; and in southern tropical Tamil Nadu, 46 percent.

The crisis has been exacerbated by good intentions gone awry and poor planning by state governments, which are responsible for regulating water.

Indian law has virtually no restrictions on who can pump groundwater, how much and for what purpose. Anyone, it seems, can - and does - extract water as long as it is under his or her patch of land. That could apply to homeowner, farmer or industry.

Electric pumps have accelerated the problem, enabling farmers and others to squeeze out far more groundwater than they had been able to draw by hand for hundreds of years.

The spread of free or vastly discounted electricity has not helped, either. A favorite boon of politicians courting the rural vote, the low rates have encouraged farmers, especially those with large landholdings, to pump out groundwater with abandon.

"We forgot that water is a costly item," lamented K. P. Singh, regional director of the Central Groundwater Board, in his office in the city of Jaipur. "Our feeling about proper, judicious use of water vanished."

Without Renewable Power, U.S. Army Could Fail in Iraq

Worldwatch reports:
In a July 25 memo to the Pentagon, U.S. Marine Corps Major General Richard Zilmer made a “Priority 1” request for solar—and wind-powered generators to help with the fight in Iraq. “Without this solution, personnel loss rates are likely to continue at their current rate,” Zilmer writes. “Continued casualty accumulation exhibits [the] potential to jeopardize mission success.”

The “thermal signature” of diesel-powered generators currently in use can enable enemies to detect U.S. outposts, experts say. And missions to supply the generators with JP-8, the standard battlefield fuel, are vulnerable to ambush. Without “a self-sustainable energy solution,” Zilmer notes, the U.S. Army will “continue to accrue preventable… serious and grave casualties.”

Although Zilmer’s memo shows a growing focus on incorporating renewable energy sources into combat operations, it is not the first time the U.S. military has embraced the benefits of renewables. A 2004 study conducted for the Army reported that using solar panels to recharge equipment batteries was a better option than having soldiers carry disposable batteries into combat. Pentagon research from June 2005 illustrates the costs and benefits of using solar power to reduce fuel use. And four wind turbines currently supply roughly 25 percent of electricity needs at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Bowlers rule but chokers croak

The folding of the top and middle orders in pursuit of a small score shows one why Australia are the champions and our much feted and admired indian batting lineup are chokers. Lets not mince words and stick to the path of wisdom by calling a spade a spade. Australian coaches dont help, boot camps in military camps dont help, balls help. However the technique to grow them apparently is not part of the training program. The bowlers did a fantastic job that the batting did not support. I take consolation in the fact that the bowling is shaping up. Afterall we all know that bowlers win matches and batsmen get the endorsments and laugh all the way to the bank...

Read why here. How decent but useless.
Failures are more important than success if one can learn from it.

Kudos to Australia for their celebration of human spirit.

Thermocline energy for indoor climate control

Worldwatch has this article on a chinese project to use the temprature gradient across ocean thermoclines to generate usable climate control. A useful technique that can save millions of dollars in power that is used for airconditioners. Airconditioners consume a lot of power that can be saved.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

What global warming ?

While the nero's of our age emulate their famed predecessor in denying global warming etc, time is running out for us. For the first time in recorded history there is a direct sea route from northern europe to the northpole itself. Sea ice is rapidly melting. From the article
European scientists voiced shock as they showed pictures which showed Arctic ice cover had disappeared so much last month that a ship could sail unhindered from Europe's most northerly outpost to the North Pole itself.

The satellite images were acquired from August 23 to 25 by instruments aboard Envisat and EOS Aqua, two satellites operated by the European Space Agency (ESA).

Perennial sea ice -- thick ice that is normally present year-round and is not affected by the Arctic summer -- had disappeared over an area bigger than the British Isles, ESA said.

Vast patches of ice-free sea stretched north of Svalbard, an archipelago lying midway between Norway and the North Ple, and extended deep into the Russian Arctic, all the way to the North Pole, the agency said in a press release.

"This situation is unlike anything observed in previous record low-ice seasons," said Mark Drinkwater of ESA's Oceans/Ice Unit.

"It is highly imaginable that a ship could have passed from Spitzbergen or Northern Siberia through what is normally pack ice to reach the North Pole without difficulty."

Spitzbergen is one of the Svalbard islands, which are Norwegian.

Drinkwater added: "If this anomaly continues, the Northeast Passage, or 'Northern Sea Route' between Europe and Asia will be open over longer intervals of time, and it is conceivable we might see attempts at sailing around the world directly across the summer Arctic Ocean within the next 10 to 20 years."

The images are for late summer. In the last weeks, what was open water has begun to freeze, as the autumn air temperatures over the Arctic begin to fall, ESA said.

Regular satellite monitoring over the last 25 years shows that the northern polar ice cover has shrunk and thinned as global temperatures have risen.

But this year's images are unprecedented, and fierce storms that fragmented and scattered already thin pack ice may be to blame, the scientists believe.

The images were released less than a week after a paper, published in the US journal Science, found that year-round sea ice in the Arctic shrank by one seventh between 2004 and 2005.

Loss of sea ice does not affect global sea levels. Ice that floats in the water displaces its own volume.

However ice that is on land, as an icesheet, glacier or permanent snowcap, adds to sea level when it melts and runs off.

Retreating ice cover also creates a vicious circle, adding to the warming caused by greenhouse gases -- carbon emissions, mainly from fossil fuels, that trap the Sun's heat.

Ice, being white, reflects the Sun's rays. Less ice therefore means the sea warms, which in turn accelerates the shrinkage.

The shrinkage of the Arctic icecap is viewed with alarm by scientists, as it appears to perturb important ocean currents elsewhere, notably the Gulf Stream, which gives western Europe its balmy climate.

It also threaten animals such as polar bears and seals that depend on ice.

There are geopolitical implications, too, as Canada, Russia and the United States jockey to claim rights over transpolar passages that open up within their newly ice-free waters.

Bowlers rule

More fireworks are in the cards with some kangaroo to fry yet. Always good to see a cricketing wicket that seperates that men from the boys. The batting of Tendulkar was a tutorial on batting on bowling wickets and Lara was as skilful as ever. All credit to the pace attack and the turbanator.
More match coverage here and here.

eWaste: Responsible LCD disposal has an article on the need and advantages in recycling LCD panels. From the Article
A project to extract the materials from redundant liquid crystal displays is expected not only to make safe these materials, it will also recycle millions of dollars worth of valuable chemicals.

Scientists at the University of York are to play a key role in new research aimed at recycling discarded liquid crystal displays.

Some 40 million LCD television sets were sold worldwide in 2005 with expected sales likely to exceed 100 million by 2009. But the chemicals they contain are potentially hazardous and technological advances are so rapid that society is already discarding millions of LCD screens each year.

Lepomis macrochirus as a bio sensor for toxins

The use of biological agents to aid in many tasks that are currently done electronically is a progressive move for many reasons. One good example is the use of Bluegills (a kind of native north american sunfish) to keep track of toxins in drinking water. From the article
A type of fish so common that practically every American kid who ever dropped a fishing line and a bobber into a pond has probably caught one is being enlisted in the fight against terrorism.

San Francisco, New York, Washington and other big cities are using bluegills -- also known as sunfish or bream -- as a sort of canary in a coal mine to safeguard their drinking water.

Small numbers of the fish are kept in tanks constantly replenished with water from the municipal supply, and sensors in each tank work around the clock to register changes in the breathing, heartbeat and swimming patterns of the bluegills that occur in the presence of toxins.

A similar strategy is adopted in some Indian industrial units (especially metal smelters etc) where the Pollution control board requires the effluent to be discharged through a pond where carp are reared as a bio indicator of the effluent quality.

Infosociety : Trends in patents

Real Geek has this perspective on the trends in software patents. From the article
US Patent and Trademark Office made a new record for the number of software patents awarded in a single year. The agency has issued 893 new patents yesterday, pushing the total to 30,232 in this year.
Software patents are considered a growing problem for the high-tech industry. In a highly publicised court battle, BlackBerry maker Research in Motion was forced to pay $612.5m to settle a dispute with patent holding company NTP.

The patent at the centre of the battle is likely to be invalidated in the future because of prior art, which essentially means that somebody invented the technology before the patent filer.

The threat from software patents primarily affects small software vendors and open source projects.

California sues auto makers over emissions

Reuters 11:30 AM Sep, 20, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO -- California filed a global warming lawsuit on Wednesday against Ford Motor, General Motors, Toyota and three other automakers, charging that greenhouse gases from their vehicles have cost the state millions of dollars.

State Attorney General Bill Lockyer said the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Northern California was the first of its kind to seek to hold manufacturers liable for the damages caused by their vehicles' emissions.

The lawsuit also names Chrysler Motors, the U.S. arm of Germany's DaimlerChrysler, and the North American units of Japan's Honda and Nissan.

The lawsuit charges that vehicle emissions have contributed significantly to global warming and harmed the resources, infrastructure and environmental health of the most populous state in the United States.

Read more here and here.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Engine on a chip

MIT researchers are putting a tiny gas-turbine engine inside a silicon chip about the size of a quarter. The resulting device could run 10 times longer than a battery of the same weight can, powering laptops, cell phones, radios and other electronic devices.

It could also dramatically lighten the load for people who can't connect to a power grid, including soldiers who now must carry many pounds of batteries for a three-day mission -- all at a reasonable price.

The researchers say that in the long term, mass-production could bring the per-unit cost of power from microengines close to that for power from today's large gas-turbine power plants.

Read more here.

Renewables Becoming Cost-Competitive With Fossil Fuels in the U.S.

Worldwatch reports
Many of the new technologies that harness renewables are, or soon will be, economically competitive with fossil fuels. Dynamic growth rates are driving down costs and spurring rapid advances in technologies. Since 2000, global wind energy generation has more than tripled; solar cell production has risen six-fold; production of fuel ethanol from crops have more than doubled; and biodiesel production has expanded nearly four-fold. Annual global investment in "new" renewable energy has risen almost six-fold since 1995, with cumulative investment over this period nearly $180 billion.

The full pdf of the report is freely downloadable here.

Monday, September 18, 2006

State of the Planet: The Economist goes green

The increasing number of articles about alternate energy and non conventional energy utilization in the mainstream economic press are a welcome phenomenon. The frequency of such articles is going up and clearly this is an indication that the cost of conventional power has crossed that line, where alternatives are incresingly attractive, economically. The article is quite detailed though a kind of a solar energy technology 101. Guess the investor community needs a new bubble to invest in. Read more here.

Landlubbers to cross Atlantic in Solar catamaran

A Swiss group is planning to cross the atlantic using a solar powered craft. From the very teutonic sounding blurb on the site..
""SUN21" is a 14-meter-long catamaran powered exclusively by solar energy. In the fall of 2006, the ship will undertake the first motorized crossing of the Atlantic without using a drop of gasoline. This new world record will demonstrate the great potential of the solar technique for ocean navigation."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

borohydride breakthrough

has this story on better hydrogen fuel cell technology. From the article
Chemist Don Gervasio and colleague Sonja Tasic, both at Arizona State University in the US, set out to develop a fuel cell that would generate more electricity for its weight than the best batteries, and would also work at room temperature.

Gervasio's solution was to use the alkaline compound borohydride. A 30% solution of borohydride in water actually contains one-third more hydrogen than the same volume of liquid hydrogen.

"The difference is that the borohydride is at room temperature, and it's stable, non-toxic and cost-effective," Gervasio says.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Patents : New patents in the LED space

LED Magazine has some new patents in the LED applications area in this article. Most as application patents go are quite obvious, however we are not going to see any genuine innovations till the process is improved.

Myanmar: Gas & Geopolitics

Myanmar is a rather mysterious place given the political scenario and history. has this fine analysis of what the Gas reserves are likely to do to Sino-Indian conflicts. The salient aspects from the review.
The illegitimate and oppressive nature of the current Burmese regime has been a key concern in European and American policymaking on Burma, and has also represented a problem for Burma's fellow member-states in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Several of the ASEAN countries, as well as India and China, have sought to downplay or even ignore this problem so as not to undermine their national interests in maintaining close relations with the Burmese power-holders.

The energy-security concerns of Thailand, India and China are key factors in the relations of all three countries with Burma. In principle, India and China have pledged to cooperate in the field of energy security in order to avoid costly rivalries. In practice, however, commentators expect that the two oil-importing giants will find it more or less impossible to avoid such rivalries. In relation to Burma, this seems difficult indeed. The immediate issue is competition between India and China over gas from Shwe, a newly discovered gas field off the coast of Arakan. An underlying Indian concern is China's naval presence and intelligence-monitoring both in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, where the Indian navy has been used to operating without interference, and in the Strait of Malacca.

For fear of losing influence with the Burmese regime, both India and Thailand have chosen a 'pragmatic' approach to the country's State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), whereas China tends to support Burma's rulers whenever they come under external pressure to undertake reforms. All three of Burma's neighbours are set to maintain a strong strategic interest in Burma, but the importance of Burma to the Chinese security agenda deserves particular attention. China relies on its bases on Burmese territory to monitor the Indian Ocean and the entrance to the Strait of Malacca, a waterway of crucial importance for the provision of oil and other necessities to China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. The strategic importance of the Malacca Strait has become even greater over the last decade, with China's growing dependence on imported oil. About 80% of all oil supplies to China are currently shipped by tankers through the Malacca Strait. Military planners in China fear an embargo in the event of war or an acute crisis in their relationship with the United States. Chinese assistance to port development in Burma is linked closely to China's objective to reduce its dependence on tanker transports through the Malacca Strait and South China Sea. The current Sino-Indian rivalry over Burmese natural gas from the Shwe field may give rise to further competition to assist the Burmese regime in building deep-sea ports and maritime facilities, as well as connecting infrastructure such as roads and airstrips, and of course gas pipelines. Calls by the Burmese pro-democracy movement for a tightening of the current EU and US sanctions regimes are premised on the assumption that it would be difficult for the Burmese military regime to remain in power without foreign trade and investments. That may be so, but the likelihood that Burma could be economically isolated is currently growing ever more remote. Burma's single most valuable export commodity is natural gas, which is becoming increasingly important to Burma's neighbours and key trading partners. Thailand has already invested heavily in Burmese natural gas and is currently entering into new energy deals with the Burmese regime. China plays a key role as a trading partner. Its trade with Burma reached $1.2 billion in 2005, of a total Burma trade of $5 billion. [2] China will further consolidate its economic ties with Burma with the building of two new pipelines through the country, one for oil and the other for gas. India is set to become a third major partner to the Burmese regime if its new gas pipeline plans are realized. Considering the vital significance of Burmese natural gas, both as a major source of revenue for the military regime and as an important aspect of the current energy security strategies of the neighbouring states, the present report takes a comprehensive look at the geopolitics of Burmese gas. It describes the history of oil and gas exploitation in Burma, the political context and the main stakeholders involved, with a focus on the emerging rivalry between India and China over Burmese gas. In conclusion, the report outlines some basic policy implications of the analysis, suggesting issues to consider in a much-needed re-examination of how to 'constructively engage' the Burmese junta.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Global warming, it now seems, is for real : Really

The Economist reports that Global warming has become real enough for even the most die hard nay sayers to deny. Guess dying of global warming can be bad for business :)

Chlorophyll Nanoswitch

ATHENS, Ohio – Nanoscientists have transformed a molecule of chlorophyll-a from spinach into a complex biological switch that has possible future applications for green energy, technology and medicine.

The study offers the first detailed image of chloropyhll-a – the main ingredient in the photosynthesis process – and shows how scientists can use new technology to manipulate the configuration of the spinach molecule in four different arrangements, report Ohio University physicists Saw-Wai Hla and Violeta Iancu in today's early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The scientists used a scanning tunneling microscope to image chlorophyll-a and then injected it with a single electron to manipulate the molecule into four positions, ranging from straight to curved, at varying speeds. (View a movie here.) Though the Ohio University team and others have created two-step molecule switches using scanning tunneling microscope manipulation in the past, the new experiment yields a more complex multi-step switch on the largest organic molecule to date.

The work has immediate implications for basic science research, as the configuration of molecules and proteins impacts biological functions. The study also suggests a novel route for creating nanoscale logic circuits or mechanical switches for future medical, computer technology or green energy applications, said Hla, an associate professor of physics.

Plasma Arc Gassifiers : Future of solid waste disposal ?

USATODAY has a story on plasma incinerator technology for Solid waste disposal and co-generation of power from garbage gassification.The 100,000-square-foot plant, slated to be operational in two years, is expected to vaporize 3,000 tons of garbage a day. County officials estimate their entire landfill — 4.3 million tons of trash collected since 1978 — will be gone in 18 years.

No byproduct will go unused, according to Geoplasma, the Atlanta-based company building and paying for the plant.

Synthetic, combustible gas produced in the process will be used to run turbines to create about 120 megawatts of electricity that will be sold back to the grid. The facility will operate on about a third of the power it generates, free from outside electricity.

About 80,000 pounds of steam per day will be sold to a neighboring Tropicana Products Inc. facility to power the juice plant's turbines.

Sludge from the county's wastewater treatment plant will be vaporized, and a material created from melted organic matter — up to 600 tons a day — will be hardened into slag, and sold for use in road and construction projects.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Mark Ginsberg speaks

Rediff has an interview with Mark Ginsberg, Member, US energy efficiency boadd. Ginsberg points out that more than 20 % of india's pwer goes to just 4 appliances ! An excerpt from the interview below.

"It really is as simple as that. It's not rocket science. You want to produce more electricity from renewable resources, and reduce your waste in what you do use, so that it goes further.

For example, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California did some research on India's energy situation, and they found that four energy consuming products alone use about 22 per cent of the electricity produced in India: refrigerators, motors, window A/Cs, distribution transformers.

We know that there are high efficiency motors, we know that there are better efficiencies in the other products as well. The analysis that the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory did said that nationwide, you can save 2.5 per cent of all the electricity with just those four products.

If you save 2.5 per cent, it would save a huge sum of money for consumers. We estimate that at $5.5 billion, which could go to better purposes. But also think about 2.5 per cent less electricity used.

Your outages will be less, your productivity would go up, businesses would not be as interrupted, and because electricity is fairly heavily subsidized in India, you'd be able to put that 2.5 per cent into more productive economic development issues.

So, with just four products, you get 2.5 per cent, imagine if your energy efficiency in lighting and buildings and appliances, all the things that use energy, so that we can really reduce consumption. "

We are working on the lighting part so stay tuned !