Future Energy eNews March 17, 2004
1) Nanopulses tweak the innards of cells
Anil Ananthaswamy, 06 February 04, New Scientisthttp://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99994635
A method that would allow doctors to tweak the innards of cells without even touching a patient's body is being developed in the US.
The technique is still in its infancy, and it is still not clear exactly what it does to cells. But initial experiments suggest it might one day be possible to use the technique to treat cancer, speed up healing or even tackle obesity.
The method involves exposing cells to an extremely powerful electric field for very brief periods. "The effects of these pulses are fairly dramatic," says Tom Vernier of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, who will present some of his team's results at a nanotechnology conference in Boston in March. "We see it as reaching into the cell and manipulating intracellular structures."
Applying electric pulses to cells is not new. In a technique called electroporation, electric fields that last hundreds of microseconds are applied to cells. The voltage charges the lipid molecules in the cell membrane, creating transient holes in the membrane. The method can be used to help get drugs or genes into cells.
Major physiological event
But the latest technique involves more powerful electric fields, with gradients of tens of megavolts per metre, applied for much shorter periods. These nanosecond-pulsed electric fields are too brief to generate an electric charge across the outer membrane of cells, but they do affect structures within cells.
One of the main effects seems to be calcium release from a cellular structure called the endoplasmic reticulum. "In a nanosecond, we cause this major physiological event in the cell," says Vernier. "It's completely indirect and remote, and it's an extremely rapid transition."
The nanopulses can also trigger cell suicide. Teams led by Vernier, Karl Schoenbach of Old Dominion University and Stephen Beebe of Eastern Virginia Medical School, both in Norfolk, Virginia, have shown that nanopulsing can kill tumour cells in culture.
The pulses do not just fry cells, but lead to changes such as the activation of enzymes called caspases, an early step in cell suicide. How the pulses do this is not clear, but Vernier says the effect is not related to calcium release.
So could nanopulsing help treat cancer? In a preliminary test, Schoenbach and Beebe used needle-like electrodes to generate pulses near tumours in mice. Nanopulsing slowed the growth of tumours in four mice by 60 per cent compared with tumour growth in five untreated mice. The researchers hope that with better delivery systems they could make the tumours shrink.
Beebe's team has also found that the pulses can trigger suicide in the cells that give rise to fat cells, possibly opening up a new way of treating obesity, Beebe speculates.
And Vernier is working with doctors at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles to see if nanopulses can speed up the healing of wounds. "We do see an effect, but that's about all I can say now," he says.
The next step is to develop a way to deliver the pulses to cells and organs deep within the body. Theoretical models suggest that nanosecond pulses of broadband radio signals could do it. "An array of such antennas would create, through superposition of electric fields, a very high electric field right where we need it," says Schoenbach.
By SIMON ROMERONew York Times, February 10, 2004 http://www.nytimes.com/2004/02/10/business/worldbusiness/10CND-OPEC.html?hp
ALGIERS, Feb 10 — OPEC sought to strengthen its grip on world oil markets today with a surprise announcement that it was cutting its production, in an aggressive display of its desire to maintain oil prices at their highest level in two decades.
The formal output cut by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries would remove one million barrels a day from the market starting in April and lower the group's production to 23.5 million barrels a day. OPEC members also called for stricter adherence to their own output quotas in an effort to cut another 1.5 million barrels a day from overproduction.
"We will do what it takes to keep the price stable," said Ali al-Naimi, the oil minister of Saudi Arabia, OPEC's largest and most pivotal member. "Saudi Arabia could not countenance waiting until the next meeting to decide on a cut, as that would be too late."
OPEC's announcement today emphasizes a more forceful approach in its strategy to pre-empt such developments as increased production by non-OPEC members like Russia or Norway that might cause oil prices to decline.
Officials from large oil-importing nations such as the United States and Japan reacted to OPEC's move with apprehension.
"It is our hope that producers do not take actions that undermine the American economy and American workers, and American consumers for that matter," Trent Duffy, the White House spokesman, said shortly after OPEC announced the cuts in its production quotas.
Still, it remains to be seen how much production OPEC will actually cut in the weeks and months ahead. Together, the measures announced today would effectively cut OPEC's output by 10 percent, an ambitious objective met with skepticism by energy industry executives and analysts who see little incentive for OPEC to reduce production while oil prices remain at historically high levels.
OPEC, whose 11 members produce about a third of the world's oil, only needs to cut one million barrels a day to keep prices at the higher end its self-proposed trading range of $22 to $28 a barrel, said Jim Burkhard, director of oil market analysis at Cambridge Energy Research Associates.
Oil prices surged today. Crude oil for March delivery jumped $1.04, to $33.87 a barrel, on the New York Mercantile Exchange this afternoon.
OPEC's desired price range is of keen interest to oil markets after several members recently voiced concern that the declining value of the dollar, the currency in which oil is priced, made their trade relations in euros costlier. In fact, OPEC appears to be prepared to allow oil prices to remain comfortably above $28 a barrel for some time.
OPEC's president, Purnomo Yusgiantoro of Indonesia, asserted that despite the currently high oil prices, the world's supply of petroleum was growing large enough to raise fears that prices would ultimately fall sharply.
"Crude oil prices have remained high since our last meeting on 4 December, and there have been calls for OPEC to raise its output ceiling to help bring prices down," Mr. Yusgiantoro said in a speech that was posted on OPEC's Web site.
He said that the market was well supplied with crude, but that low inventory levels in the United States, "excessive speculation and continued geopolitical tensions" were mitigating factors to the benefits.
"Even if we could make a significant and immediate increase in supply now, we would be reluctant to do so," Mr. Yusgiantoro said.
He added, "Our projections indicate that there will be a significant surplus of oil in the second quarter of this year, and if this is not handled in a timely and effective manner, there is likely to be excessive downward pressure on prices, leading to a protracted spell of volatility in the market, which will be in nobody's interests."
Revenue from international sales by OPEC, which accounts for about a third of world oil production, surged nearly 25 percent in 2003 — to $247 billion from $199 billion the previous year — as oil prices climbed to their highest annual average level in two decades, according to Cambridge Energy Research Associates.
Crude Oil Jumps to One-year High as OPEC Officials Pledge to Cut
Annual Energy Outlook with Projections to 2025
Empty space can set objects in motion, a physicist claims.
The empty space between stars contains energy from virtual particles.
Motion can be conjured out of thin air, according to a physicist in Israel.
Alexander Feigel of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot says that objects can achieve speeds of several centimetres an hour by getting a push from the empty space of a vacuum.
No one has yet measured anything being set in motion by emptiness. But Feigel thinks it should theoretically be possible to make use of the effect to shunt tiny amounts of liquids around on a lab chip, for example. Such small-scale experiments could be useful for chemists interested in testing thousands of different drugs at the same time, or for forensic scientists who need to do analyses on tiny amounts of material.
The whole idea of getting movement from nothing sounds like a gift to advocates of perpetual-motion machines. But there's nothing in Feigel's theory that violates the fundamental laws of physics, so this doesn’t provide a way to cheat the Universe and get free energy.
Instead, Feigel draws on the well-established notion that empty space does contain a little bit of energy. This ‘vacuum energy’ is a consequence of the uncertainty principle — one of the cornerstones of quantum mechanics.
Because of the uncertainty principle, subatomic particles or photons can appear spontaneously in empty space — provided that they promptly vanish again. This constant production and destruction of 'virtual particles' in a vacuum imbues the vacuum with a small amount of energy.
He started with the fact that electrical and magnetic forces between objects are mediated by photons that flit between them. So an object placed in strong electric and magnetic fields can be considered to be immersed in a sea of these transitory, virtual photons.
Feigel then showed that the momentum of the virtual photons that pop up inside a vacuum can depend upon the direction in which they are travelling. He concludes that if the electric field points up and the magnetic field points north, for example, then east-heading photons will have a different momentum from west-heading photons.
So the vacuum acquires a net momentum in one direction — it’s as though the empty space is ‘moving’ in that direction, even though it is empty.
It is a general principle of physics that momentum is ‘conserved’ — if something moves one way, another thing must move the other way, as a gun recoils when it shoots a bullet. So when the vacuum acquires some momentum from these virtual photons, the object placed within it itself starts to move in the opposite direction.
Feigel estimates that in an electric field of 100,000 volts per metre and a magnetic field of 17 tesla — both big values, but attainable with current technology — an object as dense as water would move at around 18 centimetres per hour.
By BARNABY J. FEDER,New York Times, February 28, 2004, http://query.nytimes.com/mem/tnt.html?tntget=2004/02/28/business/28lovins.html&tntemail1
SNOWMASS, Colo. - Today's oil industry reminds Amory B. Lovins of the whaling industry of the 19th century.
"When oil was discovered, the whalers ran out of markets before they ran out of whales," Mr. Lovins said. These days, opportunities to improve energy efficiency and meet increased needs profitably with other sources, he argues, are accumulating so rapidly that demand for oil is likely to tumble more rapidly than the industry has projected.
"When you add up all the alternatives,'' Mr. Lovins said, "the game is moving away from oil much faster than people think."
Who would pay Mr. Lovins, 57, for such unconventional opinions in an era when a former oilman is in the White House, the government routinely opposes proposals to raise mileage requirements or other energy standards and many industry officials fret about whether Saudi Arabia can pump enough oil to avoid global shortages.
Try Shell Oil, which has turned to Mr. Lovins to help figure out how the oil industry can profit from leading the transition away from today's main uses of its core product. Major companies like Shell,Coca-Cola and Texas Instruments do not always agree with Mr. Lovins, but they value his iconoclastic views enough to pay the Rocky Mountain Institute, the nonprofit consulting and research group he leads, up to $20,000 a day for his consulting services.
Mr. Lovins is hoping his scrutiny of the oil industry, which will be published as a book this summer, could provide a jolt to debate about the world's energy future. By most accounts, he remains the best-known freethinker in the energy and environmental policy world and he routinely weighs in on important issues, like the role of hydrogen in the world's energy future. But it has been a while since any of his insights have made headlines.
"Hunter once remarked that I have a good idea every five years," Mr. Lovins said, referring to his former wife, L. Hunter Lovins. "I'm due and there are several cooking."
In the Lovins lexicon, a "good idea" is not simply a technical suggestion that saves a client a lot of money. Such services have added to Mr. Lovins's credibility in the business world, but his real power comes from weaving together insights from many fields into a new perspective that can shake up how clients see their world and also how they manage energy and environmental challenges.
"Amory is not a maverick," said Thomas Feiler, a former senior executive at the Rocky Mountain Institute. "He's an enabler of mavericks."
Mr. Lovins, a balding slightly built man with a trace of middle-age paunch, pursues his grandiose goals without a hint of flamboyance. He is equally at home chatting about energy minutiae - like the proper size for a motor controlling the pump he is viewing on a tour of a chemical plant - as he is pontificating about the transformation of entire industries.
Sometimes he does more than talk and write about it. Hypercar, a venture started by the institute, is developing manufacturing machinery that Mr. Lovins hopes will hasten the replacement of steel in cars with lightweight carbon-fiber reinforced plastics.
Mr. Lovins first gained notoriety in the mid-1970's for predicting that nuclear power was doomed because of the steadily rising cost of building new plants. He warned a disbelieving Wall Street and the utility industry that it would be financially reckless to invest in large new power plants of any sort because investments in energy efficiency, or "negawatts," as he called them, would almost always be cheaper than new megawatts.
His reputation was forged in an article in Foreign Affairs in 1976, when he argued for a soft path emphasizing energy efficiency over what he called the hard path based on expectations that the nation had no choice but to build thousands of large new power plants to meet its energy needs.
"It was the most influential thing I have ever read on energy," said Ralph Cavanagh, co-director of the energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading environmental group.
Long before other experts worried about such things, Mr. Lovins also described the nation's reliance on big power plants and a nationwide electric grid as a brittle power structure vulnerable to terrorism and extensive blackouts.
Although harshly criticized at the time by the utility industry, his projections proved more prescient than the conventional ones. These days, energy industry executives who have never heard of Mr. Lovins are probably as rare as theologians who have never picked up a Bible. Mr. Lovins and the institute are also widely known in architecture and engineering circles as advocates of "green design."
"I view Amory as my older, much smarter brother," said Paul Westbrook, Texas Instruments' project manager for worldwide construction, who arranged for an institute team of 11 design and energy experts led by Mr. Lovins to conduct a three-day brainstorming session in December with engineers and executives responsible for planning a chip factory and office near the company's Dallas headquarters.
Among the conclusions that violated what currently passes for common sense in Texas was the proposal that a new office building, if properly designed, might not need air-conditioning - only ceiling fans.
"He's not preachy,'' Mr. Westbrook said. "He's just showing you a better path and hoping you will walk along with him. He recognizes that the devil is in the details but he doesn't let that deter him.''
Not everybody is so charmed by Mr. Lovins. Plenty of critics say many of his arguments are wrong. Even many energy experts who support much of what he proposes disagree, for example, with his conviction that there is no place for any form of nuclear energy.
More recently, his "Twenty Hydrogen Myths," published last summer on the institute's Web site (www.rmi.org), ignited arguments about whether Mr. Lovins had misleadingly played down or ignored hurdles to moving from an economy based on oil to reliance on clean-burning hydrogen, which still must be produced from some basic energy source.
Critics said the paper, among other things, glossed over the potential effect on the price of natural gas, the most obvious source for hydrogen fuel in the foreseeable future. (Mr. Lovins calculated that it would actually reduce overall gas demand and prices.)
Even more common than assertions that Mr. Lovins is wrong are complaints that he is far too optimistic. The complaint, in which many admirers join the critics, is that Mr. Lovins repeatedly fails to account realistically for the many ways that business, government and society resist change.
"He thinks that if he talks to seasoned technology people it rises to the top,'' said Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate. "He won't listen to anyone with experience to the contrary."
Mr. Nader's qualms about Mr. Lovins trace in part to the Hypercar, a vision Mr. Lovins began developing in 1991. He calculated that such a vehicle would get well over 100 miles to the gallon.
Mr. Lovins optimistically viewed Detroit's subsequent expressions of interest as genuine. Mr. Nader saw them as one of many tactics the industry adopted to put off pressure from Washington to improve mileage with more readily available technology.
In the end, Mr. Lovins was unable to find an auto company to embrace Hypercar fully. The concept was spun off as a for-profit subsidiary in 1999. This spring, Hypercar will show off a forging process for making high-quality carbon-fiber parts that Mr. Lovins contends can be done at 15 percent of the current cost.
"We have a lot of companies that want to see it," Mr. Lovins said.
Whatever becomes of Hypercar, it has been a classic example of the kind of research and demonstration program that the Rocky Mountain Institute has taken on since Amory and Hunter Lovins founded their "think-and-do tank" in 1982.
More than 70,000 people have made the journey to the 4,000-square-foot home that doubles as the institute's headquarters here, it said. Facing south and embedded in a hill, the building bristles with seven types of solar panels. Its rock faces regulate its absorption and heat loss. The centerpiece is a greenhouse where banana and other tropical fruit trees surround a fish pond fed by a small waterfall. The only heating comes from two small woodstoves that are dormant on all but the most frigid days.
"Snowmass tells you something about the values and mythology of R.M.I.," said E. Kyle Datta, a former intern who rejoined the institute in 2002 as director of research and consulting after pursing more conventional work, including a stint as head of the energy practice at Booz Allen Hamilton.
The mythology was rocked during the late 1990's by the board's desire to make the institute more businesslike and capable of surviving without Mr. Lovins. The transition added more seasoned experts to the institute's staff, many of whom do extensive work for clients with little or no input from Mr. Lovins. The added expenses, however, helped plunge the organization deeply into the red in 2001 and 2002.
It also created conflicts between Marty Pickett, the institute's executive director since 1999, and Ms. Lovins, who had continued to work both on administration of the institute and on research projects with Mr. Lovins after separating from him in 1989 and their quiet divorce 10 years later. The battle with Ms. Pickett culminated in the board's decision, unopposed by Mr. Lovins, to fire his former wife.
The firing was presented publicly as Ms. Lovins's voluntary departure to concentrate on her own pet projects. The raw reality of the transition required Mr. Lovins to pay more attention than ever before to issues like employee morale. Since then, the institute has recovered financially and life there is calmer, but it may be more Amory-centric than ever.
"There's people on staff now who complement Amory's brilliant optimism," said Adam Albright, a board member, adding that Mr. Lovins was the central processing unit. "If you don't have the rest of the computer built around it, you don't have useful output."
5) Life After The Oil Crash
Excerpt from: The Oil Age is Over: What to Expect as the World Runs Out of Cheap Oil, 2005-2050.
While I am about the world's biggest advocate for "New Energy" technologies such as Cold Fusion, and Zero Point, my optimism about their ability to help us cope with oil depletion is guarded.
So are these alternatives useless?
No, not at all. Whatever civilization emerges after the crash will likely derive a good deal of their energy from these technologies.
While traditional alternatives such as solar and wind are certainly worth investing in, they are in no way the magic bullets they are so often advertised as.
The following is an excerpt from Professor Richard Heinberg's book,The Party's Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Civilizations, in which he explains why the notion that "All we have to do is switch to solar, wind., etc . . ." is delusional in its' simplicity:
Clearly, we will need to find substitutes for oil. But an analysis of the current energy alternatives is not reassuring.
The hard math of energy resource analysis yields an uncomfortable but unavoidable prospect: even if efforts are intensified now to switch to alternative energy sources, after the oil peak industrial nations will have less energy available to do useful work - including the manufacturing and transporting of goods, the growing of food, and the heating of homes.
To be sure, we should be investing in alternatives and converting our industrial infrastructure to use them. If there is any solution to industrial societies' approaching energy crises, renewables plus conservation will provide it. Yet in order to achieve a smooth transition from non-renewables to renewables, decades will be needed - and we do not have decades before the peaks in the extraction rates of oil and natural gas occur.
Moreover, even in the best case, the transition will require the massive shifting of investment from other sectors of the economy (such as the military) toward energy research and conservation. And the available alternatives will likely be unable to support the kinds of transportation, food, and dwelling infrastructure we now have; thus the transition will entail an almost complete redesign of industrial societies.
That's the paradoxical scenario gaining credibility among many climate scientists. The thawing of sea ice covering the Arctic could disturb or even halt large currents in the Atlantic Ocean. Without the vast heat that these ocean currents deliver--comparable to the power generation of a million nuclear power plants--Europe's average temperature would likely drop 5 to 10°C (9 to 18°F), and parts of eastern North America would be chilled somewhat less. Such a dip in temperature would be similar to global average temperatures toward the end of the last ice age roughly 20,000 years ago.
The view from orbit clearly shows a long-term decline in the "perennial" Arctic sea ice (the part that remains frozen during the warm summer months). According to a 2002 paper by Josefino Comiso, a climate scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, this year-round ice has been retreating since the beginning of the satellite record in 1978 at an average rate of 9% per decade. Studies looking at more recent data peg the rate at 14% per decade, suggesting that the decline of Arctic sea ice is accelerating.
Some scientists worry that melting Arctic sea ice will dump enough freshwater into the North Atlantic to interfere with sea currents. Some freshwater would come from the ice-melt itself, but the main contributor would be increased rain and snow in the region. Retreating ice cover exposes more of the ocean surface, allowing more moisture to evaporate into the atmosphere and leading to more precipitation.
Because saltwater is denser and heavier than freshwater, this "freshening" of the North Atlantic would make the surface layers more buoyant. That's a problem because the surface water needs to sink to drive a primary ocean circulation pattern known as the "Great Ocean Conveyor." Sunken water flows south along the ocean floor toward the equator, while warm surface waters from tropical latitudes flow north to replace the water that sank, thus keeping the Conveyor slowly chugging along. An increase in freshwater could prevent this sinking of North Atlantic surface waters, slowing or stopping this circulation.
Once considered incredible, the notion that climate can change rapidly is becoming respectable. In a 2003report (http://www.whoi.edu/institutes/occi/currenttopics/climatechange_wef.html), Robert Gagosian cites "rapidly advancing evidence [from, e.g., tree rings and ice cores] that Earth's climate has shifted abruptly and dramatically in the past." For example, as the world warmed at the end of the last ice age about 13,000 years ago, melting ice sheets appear to have triggered a sudden halt in the Conveyor, throwing the world back into a 1,300 year period of ice-age-like conditions called the "Younger Dryas."
Will it happen again? Researchers are scrambling to find out.
"The sea ice thawing is consistent with the warming we've seen in the last century," notes Spencer, but "we don't know how much of that warming is a natural climate fluctuation and what portion is due to manmade greenhouse gases."
If the Great Conveyor Belt suddenly stops, the cause might not matter. Europeans will have other things on their minds--like how to grow crops in snow. Now is the time to find out, while it's merely a chilling possibility.
7) Ethanol provides break through for the hydrogen economy
By Sorcha Clifford, Environmental Data Interactive Exchange, Feb. 13, 2004http://www.edie.net/gf.cfm?L=left_frame.html&R=http://www.edie.net/news/Archive/8065.cfm
Scientists in the US think they may have overcome the barrier to the hydrogen economy. By using ethanol, a renewable fuel, to power their newly invented unit, coupled with a hydrogen fuel cell, one kilowatt of power - enough to power a home - can be produced, scientists at the University of Minnesota have discovered.
The researchers say their invention could reduce dependence on imported fuels, reduce carbon dioxide emissions and boost rural economies, by moving away from the non-renewable, usually fossil based hydrogen sources. Their findings are published in the current edition of Science.
Currently steam reforming is the process through which hydrogen is produced, this requires huge amounts of energy through high temperatures and large furnaces, making it unsuitable for applications other than large scale refineries.
Lanny Schmidt, Regents Professor of Chemical Engineering, explains: "The hydrogen economy means cars and electricity powered by hydrogen. But hydrogen is hard to come by. You can't pipe it long distances. There are a few hydrogen-fuelling stations, but they strip hydrogen from methane - natural gas - on site. It's expensive, and because it uses fossil fuels, it increases carbon dioxide emissions, so this is only a short-term solution until renewable hydrogen is available."
Ethanol, which is already being produced from corn and has been used in cars, is easy to transport and relatively non-toxic. Using this energy to power a fuel cell could triple the energy output, compared to using the energy directly extracted from the corn.
"We can potentially capture 50% of the energy stored in sugar (in corn), whereas converting the sugar to ethanol and burning the ethanol in a car would harvest only 20% of the energy in sugar," said Schmidt. "Ethanol in car engines is burned with 20% efficiency, but if you used ethanol to make hydrogen for a fuel cell, you would get 60% efficiency."
The technology, which utilises the ethanol, is based on two innovations. "A catalyst based on the metals rhodium and ceria, and an automotive fuel injector that vaporises and mixes the ethanol-water fuel. The vaporised fuel mixture is injected into a tube that contains a porous plug made from rhodium and ceria. The fuel mixture passes through the plug and emerges as a mixture of hydrogen, carbon dioxide and minor products. The reaction takes only 50 milliseconds and eliminates the flames and soot that commonly accompany ethanol combustion," say the scientists.
The researchers, who were supported by the University of Minnesota's Initiative on Renewable Energy and the Environment, the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Energy, say they will continue improving the unit to increase the yield of hydrogen.
More about sudden climate change:
Abrupt climate change, from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute http://www.whoi.edu/institutes/occi/currenttopics/ct_abruptclimate.htm;
Climate change and Arctic sea ice, from Greenpeace http://archive.greenpeace.org/climate/arctic99/reports/seaice3.html;
Climate rides on ocean conveyor belt, from Environmental News Network http://www.enn.com/news/enn-stories/1999/09/092699/conveyor_5908.asp;
The Great Ocean Conveyor, from the David Suzuki Foundation http://www.davidsuzuki.org/Climate_Change/Science/Conveyor.asp;
The Pentagon's weather nightmare, from Fortune magazine http://www.fortune.com/fortune/print/0,15935,582584,00.html;
The discovery of rapid climate change, from Physics Today http://www.physicstoday.com/vol-56/iss-8/p30.html
Forwarded as a courtesy fromhttp://www.integrityresearchinstitute.org Become a member! Help support our work! Now posted online - free IRI download - Bush-Cheney Energy Study (125-page PDF 2 MB) - an analysis of the National Energy Policy written by IRI. An Executive Summary is also available.