August 31, 2016
One more research initiative where tech breakthroughs could ripple through just about every aspect of society.
With 14 electric motors turning propellers and all of them integrated into a uniquely-designed wing, NASA will test new propulsion technology using an experimental airplane now designated the X-57 and nicknamed “Maxwell.” This artist’s concept of the X-57 shows the plane’s specially designed wing and 14 electric motors. NASA Aeronautics researchers will use the Maxwell to demonstrate that electric propulsion can make planes quieter, more efficient and more environmentally friendly.
“With the return of piloted X-planes to NASA’s research capabilities – which is a key part of our 10-year-long New Aviation Horizons initiative – the general aviation-sized X-57 will take the first step in opening a new era of aviation,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, during his keynote speech Friday in Washington at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) annual Aviation and Aeronautics Forum and Exposition.
NASA’s aeronautical innovators hope to validate the idea that distributing electric power across a number of motors integrated with an aircraft in this way will result in a five-time reduction in the energy required for a private plane to cruise at 175 mph.
Several other benefits would result as well. “Maxwell” will be powered only by batteries, eliminating carbon emissions and demonstrating how demand would shrink for lead-based aviation fuel still in use by general aviation.
Energy efficiency at cruise altitude using X-57 technology could benefit travelers by reducing flight times, fuel usage, as well as reducing overall operational costs for small aircraft by as much as 40 percent. Typically, to get the best fuel efficiency an airplane has to fly slower than it is able. Electric propulsion essentially eliminates the penalty for cruising at higher speeds.
Finally, as most drivers of hybrid electric cars know, electric motors are more quiet than conventional piston engines. The X-57’s electric propulsion technology is expected to significantly decrease aircraft noise, making it less annoying to the public.
If there were no need for massive batteries, electric propulsion could dramatically reduce aviation’s contribution to climate change from carbon dioxide emissions. But what if the plane, itself, were the battery?
August 31, 2016
Putting windmills offshore, where the wind is stronger and more reliable than on land, could theoretically provide about four times the amount of electricity as is generated on the American grid today from all sources. This resource could be readily accessible to areas on the coasts, where 53 percent of Americans live.
This technology is already used extensively in Britain, Denmark, Germany and other European countries, which have in the last 15 years invested billions of dollars in offshore wind farms in the North, Baltic and Irish Seas. In 2013, offshore wind accounted for 1.5 percent of all electricity used in the European Union, with all wind sources contributing 9.9 percent of electricity. By contrast, wind power made up only 4.7 percent of electricity in the United States last year.
While electricity generated by offshore wind farms is more expensive than land-based turbines, costs have fallen with larger offshore turbines that can generate more electricity. Construction firms have also become more efficient in installing offshore farms.
There are 22 other offshore wind projects in various stages of development across the country, according to a recent report by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Many of them are in the Northeast, including a proposal before the Long Island Power Authority for a wind farm 30 miles off the coast of Montauk that would supply electricity to the Hamptons. The Atlantic coast is a good place to build wind farms because the water is relatively shallow, which makes it cheaper to install the turbine platforms. Pacific coast waters, being much deeper, would require placing turbines on more expensive floating platforms.
A few decades ago, the idea of harnessing the power of ocean winds seemed entirely impractical. In the next 10 years, these offshore farms should become commonplace.
Britain could scrap the 18 billion-pound ($23 billion) nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point and get the same amount of electricity from offshore wind turbines for roughly the same investment. Read the rest of this entry »
August 30, 2016
Noticed this ad some time ago, was waiting for an excuse to use it.
August 30, 2016
Society is in trouble if “I believe in Science..” are now fighting words. But here we are.
August 30, 2016
New conversation about exactly when the Anthropocene – a new geological age in which Man has been the primary driver of planetary conditions.
Current discussion is around the idea that a “golden spike”, or marker, will be the agreed upon event that future generations will fix as the new age’s beginning. Will that marker be radioactive isotopes from the nuclear age? or bits of indestructible plastic in sedimentary rock?
A growing group of scientists maintain that the real impacts of human civilization on climate go back even much further, to the beginning of agriculture, as Steve Vavrus outlines above.
Humanity’s impact on the Earth is now so profound that a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – needs to be declared, according to an official expert group who presented the recommendation to the International Geological Congress in Cape Town on Monday.
The new epoch should begin about 1950, the experts said, and was likely to be defined by the radioactive elements dispersed across the planet by nuclear bomb tests, although an array of other signals, including plastic pollution, soot from power stations, concrete, and even the bones left by the global proliferation of the domestic chicken were now under consideration.
The current epoch, the Holocene, is the 12,000 years of stable climate since the last ice age during which all human civilisation developed. But the striking acceleration since the mid-20th century of carbon dioxide emissions and sea level rise, the global mass extinction of species, and the transformation of land by deforestation and development mark the end of that slice of geological time, the experts argue. The Earth is so profoundly changed that the Holocene must give way to the Anthropocene.
Below, John Cook and I interviewed Bill Ruddiman himself on the issue:
August 30, 2016
Two politicians: one right-wing, and one left wing, made stunningly ignorant statements about climate change in the past two weeks.
A U.S. Senator from Wisconsin (Ron Johnson) claimed the globe is not warming and actually is cooling, while Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for President claimed we will see “yards of sea level rise” in 50 years.
First let’s talk about the sea level rise. This is a serious issue, and the last IPCC report indicated that we are likely to see somewhere around a 1 meter rise by 2100. Dr. Michael Mann at Penn. State Univ. tipped me to a Nature paper earlier this year that shows it might be as much as 2 meters, or around 2 yards by 2100. This will change the face of the world’s coastlines, and cause billions to mitigate. If you are going to run for President, you should be science literate, and Ms. Stein fails the test here.
Next, the myth that the planet has stopped warming. This claim has been shown (over and over) to be nothing but silly propaganda. I’ll let some graphics below show you why.
August 29, 2016
Natural gas has been neck and neck with wind power for largest source of new electrical production in the US. Could this be the year renewables pull away?
Natural gas is predominately composed of methane. When methane is burned to produce electricity or heat, it releases carbon dioxide and water vapor.
But not all natural gas produced is burned. Some of it is leaked at gas wells, in compressor stations, from pipelines, or in storage. Methane is a powerful but short-lived greenhouse gas. While it is in the atmosphere, it is around 120 times more powerful than carbon dioxide per ton, but it quickly decomposes through chemical reactions and only about 20 percent of the methane emitted today will remain after 20 years.
Carbon dioxide, on the other hand, has a much longer atmospheric lifetime. About half of the carbon dioxide emitted today will be around in 100 years (and virtually none of the methane will be), and about 15 percent of today’s carbon dioxide will still be in the atmosphere in 10,000 years.
This difference in longevity makes a comparison between the two tricky. Essentially, how much methane emissions today matter for the climate depends largely on the timeframe you are considering. If you care about avoiding warming later in the century (as the United Nations does with its 2°C warming by 2100 target), there is relatively little problem with short-term methane emissions, as long as they are phased out in the next few decades. If you care about short-term changes, however, methane is a much bigger deal.
How much methane leaks from the natural gas system is very much an open question. For a long time official Environmental Protection Agency numbers suggested the emissions were small and falling fast, only amounting to around 1.5 percent of total production.
But dozens of independent academics doing research using aircraft, satellite data, and other instruments have consistently found higher emissions than officially reported.
Adam Brandt at Stanford University published a high-profile paper in the journal Science in 2014 summarizing all the research to date. He found that overall emissions were likely between 25 and 75 percent higher than reported by EPA, suggesting that actual natural gas leakage rates are probably somewhere between 2 and 4 percent of gas production. (Some researchers have found leakage as high as 10 percent for individual fields, but there isn’t evidence that those findings are characteristic of the sector as a whole.)