Jason Barton

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Archive for the ‘China’ Category

Obama and the New Brazil

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After a first visit to Brazil earlier in the 20th Century, a foreign diplomat boldly stated that “Brazil is the country of the future!” Self-deprecating Brazilians quickly added, “And it always will be.”

Based on my four years of living in Brazil and many return visits in the four years since, I don’t think Brazilians are saying this any longer, nor are the popular media or President Obama.

It has been fascinating to watch the changes in Brazil since my first arrival shortly before Lula’s election in 2002. I feel very fortunate to have earned the job that first brought me there, and to have stayed in close contact with the amazing colleagues and friends with whom I worked and laughed during the past decade.

Mr. Obama, Meet the New Brazil

By JULIA SWEIG and MATIAS SPEKTOR
Published: March 18, 2011

When Barack Obama lands in Brazil this weekend, he will find a country transformed. In little more than a decade, some 30 million people have been lifted out of poverty and the country has risen to seventh place in the world economy.

Change at home has revolutionized policies abroad. Brazil has woken up to the 10 states along its borders, becoming the eminent power and driver of regional integration in South America. It has set out to develop closer ties simultaneously with Israel, Syria and Iran.

[…]

With most of the Amazon within its borders, the world’s 10th largest oil stores, and nearly a fifth of the world’s fresh water, Brazil is an environmental power, an energy power, and guarantor of global food security.

Read the entire article here.

Confusion on the Future of Energy

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Well this article is puzzling. The first paragraph is tongue in cheek (I hope), and yet it has some important and accurate points, as well as some dubious ones.

Gilbert seems to be making some sort of a comment on the proceedings in Davos, but it’s not clear what his comment is, or even if he knows very much about the energy issues he’s discussing. Bloomberg is a trusted media channel, but there appears to be little to trust in Mr. Gilbert’s article.

No, oil disasters are not good. I get the point that when one happens we tend to pay more attention to safety, but it shouldn’t take that. I also get the sarcasm, but would appreciate some clarity.

Yes, our appetite for energy does threaten to compete with food and water. Biofuels can compete with food not only when we divert corn or sugar from food to fuel, but also when we divert land used for food to produce non-food crops such as grasses for cellulosic ethanol, though there are definitely ways to avoid having to make this Hobson’s choice. I’ve written about the validity and exaggeration of the competition between these two at other times, so will leave it for now, but you can read more here if you like.

Traditional fuels such as natural gas and petroleum can also stress our water supplies. Read more about water used in the tar sands for petroleum here, or about natural gas and the potential impacts of fracking on water here.

So it’s tough to know from that first paragraph what Gilbert’s take is on the developments n Davos.

He continues to obfuscate the situation further in the paragraphs that follow.

He goes on to talk about China and their use of coal, proposing they use more hydro power (see paragraph excerpted below). I wonder if Mr. Gilbert is familiar with the Three Gorges Dam. It’s not a small project.

Yes, China will use a lot of coal as they grow their economy in the coming decades, but they are also doing an admirable job of investing in and implementing renewable energy. Read more about that here.

Next is nuclear energy.  Gilbert seems to deride it, but, again, it’s unclear. He mentions the possible security concern, which is a very credible threat, since the technology used for plants such as breeder reactors brings more use and awareness of  the technology used in nuclear weapons. Risky, but potentially worth it since nuclear power can bring energy to disenfranchised people who are at risk of being wooed by terrorist organizations. We can put political or religious faces on the fights, but they are most often between the haves and the have-nots, and helping more people to be haves reduces the motivation to attack. It’s also a nice thing to do, reducing the number of have-nots, just on moral grounds.

Back to energy, Gilbert moves on to biofuels, grossly over-simplifying the issue I touched on above. Yes, the competition with energy can raise food prices, but if energy supplies are constricted, because of dwindling supplies of non-renewable energy resources or geopolitical events in the Middle East or any number of other issues, food prices will rise as well. In fact, the rise in food prices we saw in 2008 had less to do with biofuels than it did with petroleum prices (See Abbot, Hurt, and Tyner, 2009).

It takes energy to fertilize, irrigate, process, package, and transport our food, so if we resign ourselves to the current, non-renewable energy matrix, those ever-decreasing supplies will continue leading to ever-increasing food prices. Diversifying our energy matrix, prudently over time, will help to mitigate if not eliminate this threat. Bread wars could come much more easily from rising energy prices than rising energy prices could be caused by biofuels.

So, thank you, Mr. Gilbert, for giving us all of this food for thought.

Green-Energy Future Looks Black as Recession Bites: Davos Diary

By Mark Gilbert – Jan 26, 2011 6:07 AM MT
Gilbert

The future is black, not green. Get used to oil trading at $100 a barrel. Drilling disasters are good because they focus the oil industry’s attention on safety. Oh, and our insatiable thirst for yet more energy sources threatens to deplete the world’s food and water supplies.

That’s the bleak message from the World Economic Forum’s opening discussion on global energy at its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Fatih Birol, the chief economist of the International Energy Agency, led a panel that delivered a somber outlook for renewable energy.

[…]

Hydropower, for example, would be a great way to meet China’s future needs, especially during demand peaks in the morning and early evening, because you can switch on water- generated supply in eight minutes, whereas coal takes 32 hours to come on line, while a nuclear power reactor takes 56 hours. The problem is the huge capital-expenditure cost because the hydropower plants are typically far away from where the electricity is needed, demanding transmission networks.

[…]

The gloomiest aspect of the energy debate is the impact on agriculture. As governments champion the use of biofuels, diverting agricultural resources to producing energy raises food prices. That’s a worrying trend for those of us who reckon food and water security will be the world’s most pressing issue in the coming years.

Read the entire article here.

The US and China Can Collaborate on Energy Innovation without Losing Competitive Edge, or National Sovereignty

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This article reminds me of conversations I’ve had with a friend who was an electrical engineer in Silicone Valley. He talked about meeting with colleagues, usually people who worked with other companies, even competing companies, over dinner or drinks. The conversation would often turn to a certain circuit or other piece of technology one had been working on, and they would draw models on cocktail napkins, brainstorming ways to meet their objectives.

Look at my buddy Matt Raible’s website (www.raibledesigns.net) and you will see how computer programers work together to solve their problems as they work to accomplish goals like bringing TV to our computers and the internet to our TVs.

These people are all competitors. They are also innovators, capitalists (regardless of their particular political stripe), and collaborators, and they work together to solve problems while also protecting their respective niches, and making a lot of money in the process.

It’s encouraging to see the US and China work together on clean energy innovation. Done wisely, this will work for the betterment of each country, and the rest of the world, without either one sending jobs overseas or compromising our respective national sovereignty.

Obama, Hu Jintao have clean energy opportunity

S. Julio Friedmann,Orville Schell

San Francisco Chronicle January 16, 2011 04:00 AM

Pool / Getty Images

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (left) and China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi meet at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing.

Among the many difficult issues Presidents Obama and Hu Jintao will confront when they meet this week stands one possible bright spot: collaboration on clean energy technology. It represents a critical, urgent need, an enormous market opportunity for both nations and an area of potential common interest – if we can just avoid being our own worst enemies.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

January 16th, 2011 at 8:28 pm

Should China Award Subsidies to US Clean Energy Firms?

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One way for us to boost domestic clean energy production is to enact protectionism that excludes foreign firms from receiving U.S. government grants, as was discussed in a post earlier this year. Another way is to urge others, namely China, to open their economies further so that U.S. firms can earn Chinese government grants.

US wants China to reciprocate green energy subsidies

(AFP) – Nov 15, 2010

SHANGHAI — US Energy Secretary Steven Chu said on Monday China should allow foreign companies to qualify for its subsidies aimed at encouraging renewable energy projects.

Chu said foreign firms, including Chinese companies, qualify for US clean energy subsidies but barriers, such as Beijing’s local content requirements, exclude US companies from receiving government help in China.

“The United State recognises the right of China to give subsidies just as we use subsidies… but in the United States, we make a point of including all industries,” Chu told reporters on a visit to Shanghai.

“We would ask China to consider the same reciprocity, namely if a foreign company wants to come to China to set up manufacturing and production that it would be open to the same kind of help,” he said.

Read the entire article here.

China, Oil Will Dominate Energy Matrix for Decades

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These are predictable, and not necessarily disappointing. Petroleum is an abundant (for now) and relatively inexpensive energy resource. China is also leading the charge in research and development of clean, renewable energy technologies.

Our best bets here in the U.S. are to increase our efforts in energy innovation so that we can maintain our current position as global leaders in such positive and economically advantageous efforts. Foremost among these objectives should be increasing our efficiency, especially in transportation. This will give us a competitive edge as we are less dependent on imported petroleum, improving our balance of trade as well as environmental health, and will ensure that petroleum is available for generations to come.

A final point on petroleum, as we saw this past summer, is that more and more of petroleum reserves are in places that are difficult to access safely. As we reduce our dependence, we allow time for further innovation, meaning the technologies to access those reserves are less expensive and more reliable.

Energy in 2035: China and oil dominate

By Aaron Smith, staff writerNovember 9, 2010: 8:05 AM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — China will continue lead the charge as the No. 1 energy consumer over the next quarter-century, and oil will remain the dominant fuel despite huge investment in alternatives, according to a International Energy Agency report released Tuesday.

The agency forecasts that China’s demand will soar by 75% between 2008 and 2035, compared to an overall surge of 36% in international energy use. While Americans still lead the world in per capita energy use, China overtook the United States last year as the primary energy user.

Read the entire article here.

Soil is essential, non-renewable, and disappearing

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The headline on the article below borders on yellow journalism (I hope I sufficiently toned down my own headline above), but the problem of soil erosion is very, very real. If there’s any doubt in your mind, head to the rural Midwest and take a look at a church yard nestled amongst the corn and soybean fields. The churchyard will be six to ten feet higher than the surrounding farm fields.

Why? Modern industrial agriculture, the methods widely practiced around the world, too often leads to massive amounts of erosion. The soil simply blows away or is washed downstream.

Deforestation leads to more erosion as plants that would have held the soil, and the water essential to healthy soil, are removed for timber or to make way for agriculture. The crops may be beneficial to the soils, a nice symbiotic relationship common in systems untouched by humans, but if the soil is left bare for months at a time, as is usually the case in the Midwestern US during the winter, that soil is still highly vulnerable to erosion, hence the church yard phenomenon.

Civilization’s Foundation Eroding

September 28, 2010

Lester R. Brown

The thin layer of topsoil that covers the planet’s land surface is the foundation of civilization. This soil, typically 6 inches or so deep, was formed over long stretches of geological time as new soil formation exceeded the natural rate of erosion. But sometime within the last century, as human and livestock populations expanded, soil erosion began to exceed new soil formation over large areas.

Sinai Desert
Credit: iStock Photo/stevenallan

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In a section of his report entitled “The Hundred Dead Cities,” he described a site in northern Syria, near Aleppo, where ancient buildings were still standing in stark isolated relief, but they were on bare rock. During the seventh century, the thriving region had been invaded, initially by a Persian army and later by nomads out of the Arabian Desert. In the process, soil and water conservation practices used for centuries were abandoned. Lowdermilk noted, “Here erosion had done its worst….if the soils had remained, even though the cities were destroyed and the populations dispersed, the area might be re-peopled again and the cities rebuilt, but now that the soils are gone, all is gone.”

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During the late nineteenth century, millions of Americans pushed westward, homesteading on the Great Plains, plowing vast areas of grassland to produce wheat. Much of this land—highly erodible when plowed—should have remained in grass. This overexpansion culminated in the 1930s Dust Bowl, a traumatic period chronicled in John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath. In a crash program to save its soils, the United States returned large areas of eroded cropland to grass, adopted strip-cropping, and planted thousands of miles of tree shelterbelts.

Amazon Deforested

Credit: iStock Photo/Brasil2

During the late nineteenth century, millions of Americans pushed westward, homesteading on the Great Plains, plowing vast areas of grassland to produce wheat. Much of this land—highly erodible when plowed—should have remained in grass. This overexpansion culminated in the 1930s Dust Bowl, a traumatic period chronicled in John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath. In a crash program to save its soils, the United States returned large areas of eroded cropland to grass, adopted strip-cropping, and planted thousands of miles of tree shelterbelts.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

September 29th, 2010 at 7:56 am

Nuclear Energy, Big and Small

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The biggest problem with nuclear energy, much bigger than the overblown fears of future accidents such as Chernobyl or Three Mile Island, is the potential for weapons proliferation, as the article below from The Economist discusses.

On another front, the BBC article further down presents a whole different side of nuclear: a very small fusion reactor, hand built in an amateur’s New York workshop. Individual inventors like this, not just in nuclear, may be key to helping the U.S. achieve energy independence. I’m quite certain the creator’s lack of hair is unrelated to his work in nuclear energy.

Finally, the Energy Central article at the bottom of this post gives some of the more practical concerns for the use of nuclear energy in the U.S.

Enjoy!

Nuclear proliferation in South Asia

The power of nightmares

China’s proposed sale of nuclear reactors to Pakistan will intensify nuclear rivalry with India. But the damage will go far wider

Jun 24th 2010

AT FIRST sight, China’s proposed sale of two civilian nuclear-power reactors to Pakistan hardly seems a danger sign. Pakistan already has the bomb, so it has all the nuclear secrets it needs. Next-door India has the bomb too, and has been seeking similar deals with other countries.

[…]

America argued that India had a spotless non-proliferation record (it doesn’t) and that bringing it into the non-proliferation “mainstream” could only bolster global anti-proliferation efforts (it didn’t). The deal incensed not just China and Pakistan but many others, inside and outside the NSG. An immediate casualty was the effort to get all members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), who have already promised not to seek the bomb, to sign up to an additional protocol on toughened safeguards. Many have, but on hearing of the America-India deal Brazil’s president is reputed to have flatly ruled that out. And where Brazil has put its foot down, others have also hesitated.

Read the entire article here.

Extreme DIY: Building a homemade nuclear reactor in NYC

Wednesday, 23 June 2010 09:01 UK

By Matthew Danzico
BBC News, Brooklyn, New York

Many might be alarmed to learn of a homemade nuclear reactor being built next door. But what if this form of extreme DIY could help solve the world’s energy crisis?

By day, Mark Suppes is a web developer for fashion giant Gucci. By night, he cycles to a New York warehouse and tinkers with his own nuclear fusion reactor.

Read the entire article here.

Nuclear’s New Path

June 18, 2010

Ken Silverstein, EnergyBiz Insider
Editor-in-Chief

BP’s oil spill cuts two ways in terms of nuclear energy. On the one hand, it would tend to bode well for the growth of the non-fossil-fired energy. On the hand, it begs for a greater dialogue about nuclear safety.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

June 24th, 2010 at 8:13 am

Brazil: The Bossa Nova of Biofuels

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The transition to the bioeconomy is a fascinating topic. At a conference I helped to organize in St. Louis in 2008, the discussion was around refineries that use biomass as a feedstock, producing the wide range of products, including fuel, fiber, pharmaceuticals, and others currently delivered from petroleum refineries. It is unclear if or when such a transition will occur, but with volatile oil prices and the current situation in the Gulf of Mexico, it may be more appealing now than ever.

A new wave of investment will transform sugars and cellulosic carbohydrates into hydrocarbon fuels

By Biofuels Digest columnist Will Thurmond

Shell, BP, Bunge, LS9, Dow and Amyris are collectively investing more than $20 billion into advanced, sustainable biofuels in Brazil. This new relationship between Brazilian, US and EU public and private industries is kicking off a new era in international biofuels investment.

[…]

US And The EU Dance With Brazil

Another wave of next- generation renewable drop-in fuel companies Amyris, LS9, Gevo and Dupont are also investing in and partnering with Brazil’s sugarcane fermentation biorefineries. Why? Because their emerging technologies from cellulosic microbes (yeast, algae, fungus and bacteria) can use the same ethanol fermentation facilities in the US corn belt and in Brazil’s sugarcane belt to produce bio-crude, green diesel, petrol and biojet.

[…]

Integrated Biorefineries In Sight

The future benefits of these integrated cellulosic biorefineries, especially in Brazil, will demonstrate leadership, proof of concept, and much-needed economic certainty that is challenged by US and EU cellulosic biofuels economics, mandates and markets today. This will benefit the other big emerging markets of China and India as the dance progresses. Long before the Olympics arrive in Rio in 2017,  Brazil’s leadership in sustainable biofuels, coupled with advanced technologies from US and EU industry partners, will illuminate evolutionary pathways in achieving successfully integrated, diversified, biorefineries.  In particular, India, the world’s second
largest sugar producer, and the world’s most populated nation, is most likely to benefit from this progress along with China and other key emerging market nations interested in attracting increased investment and emerging technologies for sustainable growth.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

May 26th, 2010 at 11:49 am

The emerging world, long a source of cheap labour, now rivals the rich countries for business innovation

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These trends are also extremely important to apply to energy markets. In terms of energy and resources, it’s much more efficient to transfer technology than to transport physical resources such as petroleum or coal. In the past, we could have assumed the technology would come from the U.S. and Europe. Now China is ahead of the U.S. in clean energy technology, and Brazil is not far behind, in terms of biofuels and other areas as well.

IN 1980 American car executives were so shaken to find that Japan had replaced the United States as the world’s leading carmaker that they began to visit Japan to find out what was going on. How could the Japanese beat the Americans on both price and reliability? And how did they manage to produce new models so quickly? The visitors discovered that the answer was not industrial policy or state subsidies, as they had expected, but business innovation. The Japanese had invented a new system of making things that was quickly dubbed “lean manufacturing”.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

April 17th, 2010 at 8:42 am

IEA Warns Rising Oil Prices Could Hinder Economic Recovery

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We could definitely do better than to leave the health of our economies so dependent on fluctuations in one volatile energy resource. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t continue to use oil, even lots of oil, but it’s time to diversify our portfolio. A rise in projected demand of 30,000 barrels a day, though slight, does not bode well for our efforts to wean ourselves off oil

LONDON—The International Energy Agency warned that rising oil prices, which have been flirting with 18-month highs recently, could squeeze economic recovery in the U.S. and other industrialized nations.

The Paris-based agency said Tuesday there was plenty of oil around to sate increasing demand, but it said that higher crude prices could “stall [rich nations’] economic recovery or render it more ‘oil-less’ than we currently envisage.”

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

April 13th, 2010 at 12:51 pm