Shale gas: ‘The dotcom bubble of our times’

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Workers exploring a potential shale field in Pennsylvania. Photo: AFP

Courtesy of Tim Morgan @ The Telegraph:

Public opinion has been divided very starkly indeed by the government’s invitation to energy companies to apply for licences to develop shale gas across a broad swathe of the United Kingdom.

On the one hand, many environmental and conservation groups are bitterly opposed to shale development. Ranged against them are those within and beyond the energy industry who believe that the exploitation of shale gas can prove not only vital but hugely positive for the British economy.

Rather oddly, hardly anyone seems to have asked the one question which is surely fundamental: does shale development make economic sense?

My conclusion is that it does not.

That Britain needs new energy sources is surely beyond dispute. Between 2003 and 2013, domestic production of oil and gas slumped by 62pc and 65pc respectively, while coal output decreased by 55pc. Despite sharp increases in the output of renewables, overall energy production has fallen by more than half. A net exporter of energy as recently as 2003, Britain now buys almost half of its energy from abroad, and this gap seems certain to widen.

The policies of successive governments have worsened this situation. The “dash for gas” in the Nineties accelerated depletion of our gas reserves. Labour’s dithering over nuclear power put replacement of our ageing reactors at least a decade behind schedule, and a premature abandonment of coal has taken place alongside an inconsistent, scattergun approach to renewables.

Those who claim that Britain faces an energy squeeze are right, then. But those who claim that the answer is using fracking to extract gas from shale formations are guilty of putting hope ahead of reality. Continue reading

A Maryland inventor’s big energy ideas have promise and big ifs

Courtesy of G G McClathy @ Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

WASHINGTON — While scientists are engaged in an all-out, worldwide scramble to avert the energy and climate change crises, the biggest discoveries could come from a surprising quarter: a modest redwood home on a wooded, 5-acre tract in rural Maryland, where a lone inventor toils day and night.

Ronald Ace lacks hefty academic credentials or any of the billions of dollars that have flowed to other researchers. That hasn’t diminished his zeal in a years-long crusade to accomplish what many scientists deem unattainable.

If the 73-year-old inventor is right, he is on the brink of two historic breakthroughs.

If his novel ideas are validated and take hold, they could change the world.

Those are big ifs.

Ace has applied for patents for two inventions that he believes could speed a dramatic transition to cheap and abundant clean energy, shrink oil consumption to a gurgle and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a smidgen of today’s levels.

His “Solar Trap,” first reported by McClatchy in May 2013, has gained some credence from a former solar engineer at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., who did a confidential review and found “no apparent deficiencies.”

Ace calls his flat-panel trap “a fundamental scientific and environmental discovery” and contends that it could collect sunlight at high enough temperatures to shatter the barriers to a solar age. The device can capture more than 90 percent of the rays that hit it, as much as 10 times more than sun-tracking photovoltaic panels being installed around the globe, he said.

More recently, Ace filed a second patent application, for an invention that he touts as likely able to transform heat into electricity with nearly 100 percent efficiency, 20-fold that of comparable devices in the clean-as-you-can-get field of thermoelectrics. Continue reading

Why Hemp, The Sustainable Wonder Crop, Is Sweeping The Nation

This one is courtesy of Huff Po but shame they left off number 10, it cures cancer:

There’s a new hemp trend sweeping the nation and it has nothing to do with those beaded friendship bracelets from the ’90s.

Twenty-three states have now enacted pro-industrial hemp legislation (Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie signed the latest bill this past week), making the cousin crop to marijuana a national phenomenon. Since the beginning of the year, more than 70 bills related to hemp have been introduced in more than half of the country’s states. Passage of the recent Farm Bill, which legalized the crop for research purposes, further cleared the way for industrial hemp production.

Hemp, which is the same species as marijuana (Cannabis sativa) but contains little to no THC, was grown widely in America before anti-drug sentiment helped make it unpopular in the 1950s. Today, however, the nation’s turning tide on marijuana means its “sober cousin” is also making a comeback.

Hemp policy is “not just turning a corner,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) told The Huffington Post earlier this year. “It’s turning a corner and running downhill.”

So what’s with America’s new obsession with hemp? Below, 9 reasons this wonder crop is sweeping the nation, almost all of which are rooted in the crop’s sustainable and environmentally-friendly characteristics:

1. It’s a farmer’s best friend

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Not only does hemp grow in a variety of climates and soil types, it also grows very tightly spaced (decreasing land use) and has a fast growing rate (which leads to high yields). Farmers in Canada are reportedly making $300-per-acre profits from growing hemp. Moreover, because the crop improves soil health (see below), farmers can grow food crops immediately after a hemp harvest without a fallow period.

2. It’s an environmentalist’s best friend Continue reading