Jun 10, 2010

Through the Wormhole : Science Channel

File:Morgan Freeman, 2006.jpgHosted by Morgan Freeman, Through the Wormhole explores the deepest mysteries of existence — the questions that have puzzled mankind for eternity.
What are we made of? What was there before the beginning? Are we really alone? Is there a creator? These questions have been pondered by the most brilliant minds of the human race. Now, science has evolved to the point where hard facts and evidence may be able to provide us with answers.
http://science.discovery.com/videos/through-the-wormhole-the-god-experience.html EXCELLENT EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM! ... Monte

Jun 8, 2010

New BP Logo [PIC] Cool Pictures


Proposed hay solution to clean up oil disaster

Does Biochar Deliver Carbon-Negative Energy?

EXCELLENT 1 HOUR PRESENTATION ON BIOCHAR by Johannes Lehmann, Associate Professor of soil biogeochemistry at Cornell University ... Monte

StanfordUniversity — June 07, 2010 — (May 19, 2010) Johannes Lehmann, Associate Professor of soil biogeochemistry at Cornell University, discusses the characteristics of naturally occurring terra preta including its agricultural and carbon sequestering benefits and then turns to considering the factors involved with implementation industrial biochar systems for large-scale carbon sequestration and energy provision.

RMI: Making Solar Technology a Competitive Force

By Ben Holland

In an effort to reframe the renewable energy conversation in the U.S., many pundits have resorted to good old-fashioned competition.
And who better to serve as antagonist? The one country that seems to make everything these days: China.
China currently makes nearly half of the world's solar modules and is far and away the world's leading producer of the silicon-based cells.
But by exporting 98 percent of that product, the country hasn't made much of an effort to power itself with the sun. Until now.
China has set an audacious goal of 10 gigawatts (GW) of solar power by 2020. Putting that into perspective, the world today has, in total, a little over 6 GW of installed solar photovoltaics. Similar growth in wind production can also be expected, judging by the country's aggressive expansion in the sector.
A Green Race?
But the U.S. isn't exactly lollygagging around. In fact, the country has seen a steady climb in solar growth. And despite a rocky economy in 2009, the domestic PV industry still managed to expand by 38 percent in installed capacity, while total installed cost of solar panels and systems dropped by 10 percent.
The solar power industry is expected to grow in the coming years, but it's uncertain at what pace, or whether it will be great enough to compete with more traditional sources of electricity generation, such as coal.
As environmental and economic concerns surrounding fossil fuel use mount, Rocky Mountain Institute believes that solar PV offers enormous potential to enable a low-carbon electric system and to stimulate the economy. But with solar currently accounting for less than one-half of a percent of the energy mix, multiple efforts are needed to make the technology a real player.
A Federal Shot in the Arm
A new study by the Solar Energy Industries Association found that extending tax breaks for solar manufacturing companies under a federal grant program, which is slated to expire in December 2010, could inject an additional $48 billion into the industry. In turn, the investment would create 200,000 extra jobs.
In addition, U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu recently announced new funding for the solar industry. Nearly $170 million could be distributed to several efforts aimed at driving the U.S. solar market. The bulk of that funding, about $125 million, seeks to spark the PV manufacturing industry in the U.S. It's an important move, and one that will help promote competition across the market.
Whether the U.S. will ever catch or surpass China in the solar PV market remains to be seen. It will certainly be difficult, which is why two other DOE-funded programs valued up to $40 million over the next three years could play an important role.
The programs are looking to attack two areas in need of improvement: a fractured supply chain and a workforce that still hasn't developed best practices for assembling and installing panels. As module prices continue to decline, the U.S. would do well to apply its resources to this side of the solar cost equation.
Balance of System
RMI is currently researching ways to streamline the solar "balance-of-system" elements, which refers to the non-modular costs of solar panels -- wiring, converters, racking systems and various components -- which make up about half of the total installed cost of solar.
A Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study, Tracking the Sun II, found that these costs declined from 1998 through 2007, causing a considerable impact on the overall installed cost of solar. But costs have remained stagnant since. In identifying the elements that drive this side of the equation, we can find areas for improvement.
For instance, the actual assembly of solar PV systems is highly labor intensive. Installers often spend an exorbitant amount of time on-site putting together non- factory assembled racking systems. Instead, what if they were manufactured in a standardized manner, allowing for easy and quick on-site installation?
The fractured nature of the solar market is another hurdle. Today, a host of non-interchangeable, proprietary technologies has prevented significant cost reductions. In addition, without federal guidelines, a hodgepodge of undefined best practices and regulations has created state-by-state disparity in installed costs of solar. Standardizing regulations and technologies could encourage greater adoption and, in turn, economies of scale.
Putting the U.S. to Work
Healthy competition is a good thing for the United States. And if we need to invoke a green race to kick-start our role in the global solar PV market, then all the better.
But there is much we can do in the domestic market. We can bring costs in line to create greater demand, and we can build a stronger, thriving industry. In doing so, we'll create new jobs and develop a generation of workers skilled in green technologies to power our new energy future.
Ben Holland is outreach and marketing coordinator for Rocky Mountain Institute.

Rock Island Arsenal Command Blurs Line Between Civilian and Military Labor

by Tracy Kurowski I conducted an interview with Diane Scott, President AFGE 2119, which represents the people who work at the Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center (JMTC) of the Rock Island Arsenal (RIA) located on an island in the Mississippi River between Iowa and Illinois. Recently, RIA command decided to hire new workers through Personnel Force Initiative (PFI) rather than direct hire. PFI workers cannot join the union and are not entitled to union benefits and protections. What is PFI or Personnel Force Initiative? PFI is basically a program where National Guard and Reservists are used for supposedly “hard to fill” positions. National Guardsmen and women or Reservists apply for civilian jobs at the Rock Island Arsenal. On the outside this appears to be a good idea, but when investigated further this is not as rosy as one might think. The members of AFGE 2119 are largely veterans themselves and strongly back veteran’s rights and veteran’s preference and rights to government jobs. But PFI is not pro-veteran. What happens is the reservists or guardsmen and women hired through PFI are put on active duty, given orders and get sent to where that job offer is at. They are not paid according to union wages, but according to their rank. Our big concern is that this initiative should only be used for hard-to-fill positions and should be cheaper than directly hiring government workers who have a choice to join the union. But the trouble with this initiative is the government has to pay for housing for the called-up soldiers, their meals and transportation, and pay the hiring firm an 8% surcharge for each PFI hire. How is this a cheaper alternative? Also, with 10% unemployment in the Quad City Area, how is the RIA not able to find local people for these jobs? What kinds of jobs are being listed through PFI? The RIA had fourteen jobs listed, a combination of blue collar, white collar, and management positions. PFI circumvents hiring for manufacturing jobs our local represents as well as AFGE 15 [union representing white collar] and even management positions. The problem you have here is when you have a Colonel that is in charge, there is nobody in management that is going to speak out against it. A lot of things about PFI management likes. For example, management doesn’t have to do appraisals [job reviews] which are really time consuming. Management hates doing them; employees are not that crazy about them either, but they are important for job reviews, upward mobility, etc. We had an earlier problem and still do with RIA hiring contractors to do our work. It was like working next to a scab. If contractors want to take leave, all they have to do is tell their contractor supervisor, who in turn contacts the federal manager – it cuts down on management’s workload. Tell me more about the situation with contractors doing bargaining unit work. Being a federal employee is a never-ending fight. During the 1990s we had constant layoffs or reductions in force. The Army and Department of Defense were trying to force us out by starving us for work, yet somehow we managed to survive. Then in 2005, we barely survived being placed on the BRAC list. But due to 9/11 and the ongoing conflicts, we ended up with more work than we could handle. The Arsenal contracted out work to local companies and hired around 700 people who were forced to work ungodly overtime. We finally seemed to have hit a plateau where things are calming down and the majority of overtime is done voluntarily. But then in 2009, management started hiring contractors from an out-of-state agency to contract out our bargaining unit work. They are working side by side with our people. We objected to management, but we are prohibited from striking. If we were in the private sector this is just like having someone cross the picket line. Are there any Guardsmen or women or Reservists hired through PFI now working at the Arsenal? No. They said a while ago they had selected three people to fill some positions. I don’t know what happened or if they turned the positions down. No one has showed up. Also since RIA has to pay for moving expenses for PFI hires – it is open throughout the U.S. – maybe they found the cost was too much if someone from Florida wanted a position, RIA has to pay for the move. Can PFI be stopped if the union is able to prove it is more expensive? We brought it up, but their alibi is that the initiative it doesn’t say that. They’re just turning a blind eye to it. We start asking questions, and they tell us it’s non-negotiable. In fact, it isn’t in your contract? Right. Describe the blue collar jobs listed in PFI. Most of our positions are for electricians, machine repair, or machinists. Are PFI hires eligible to join the union? No. They are considered active duty. They’ll be in military uniform. There is no grievance procedure like what bargaining unit members have. It is the same with the contractors. Reservists or national guardsmen and women only have recourse for discipline or layoff through their chain of command. What is the current employment situation at the Arsenal? Glad you asked that – we are at one of the highest levels we’ve been in years with 1700 workers, 1200 in our bargaining unit. JMTC has had 160 contractors. Now this is what is so strange. RIA has let go of thirteen contractor machinists. There are still twelve other contractor machinists, yet on their website the RIA is trying to hire through PFI for the same positions that were let go. They keep saying they can’t get machinists, but then turn around and lay off contractor machinists and start seeking PFI machinists instead of just hiring someone through the normal process. It just doesn’t make any sense. How does RIA list positions for regular hiring process? They would normally go through the civilian personnel website, the Resumix system. The trouble is with some of these jobs, like maintenance, I know the supervisor has been given resumes, but the supervisor didn’t want to hire any of them. We have an electrician school right here in the Quad Cities, and you’re telling me you can’t hire a local qualified electrician? Has the PFI been used before? When the war started we were short of welders, we were really hurting for welders. The RIA brought thirty navy welders in for about thirty days. That’s it. And I remember years ago when I first started they had a few machinists, but nothing else recently. Why do you think they are doing this? RIA is circumventing the government hiring process, and veterans’ preference. I served in the military, and the whole meaning of veterans’ preference is gone with PFI. Under normal hiring, after one year probation ends, the employee is entitled to recourse rights – but with PFI there is no grievance, no arbitration, they cannot join the union or participate in negotiating or have job protections. The PFI hires are pretty much out on their own. Our union feels this is an illegal practice. We submitted the contractor issue to arbitration, and should have had the arbitration in May but it was postponed until September 2010. I feel a lot of this is retaliation against us, the union, since we opposed the contractor issue, so now they’ll do this out of spite. And like I said, it makes management’s job easier. Contractors really have no rights. If the manager said Joe contractor is not working out, he can be fired that day with no recourse. They can’t do that with a federal employee. They have to prove cause. Even a term has some rights to try to fight a termination, such as EEO. Can a PFI get hired into a full-time position? Some do get full time jobs through this but it’s rare. Plus why wouldn’t a person, even if a reservists or guardsmen, apply through normal channels instead of PFI? PFI is choking off any promotional opportunities for our current employees. People are stuck in the jobs where they’re at. Some PFI positions are supervisor jobs. There are union people who would want to be supervisors or go into other positions such as Machine Repair. In the past machinists could apply and get selected for Machine Repair where they are not under the same scrutiny and pressure and time standard’s criteria. Have you contacted the Congressional delegation? We are working on getting a letter ready and next week we will start to make appointments. But we don’t have much faith. They did nothing to change the contractor issue last year. We met with both Republicans and Democrats, met with all of our delegation. They made a few phone calls, but never firm demands that they stop contracting out our work. I was like, are you scared of the Colonel? I think they’re more worried about their relationship with the Colonel than with the union. As far as we can tell they haven’t done anything. Now it’s leading to this – to PFI. It’s not going to stop unless they speak up for us. As far as we can tell, there is no law governing this except a charter established by the Assistant Secretary of Defense. As far as we are concerned PFI isn’t intended for stateside use, unless it’s for this oil spill, as an example, but not for community-based employment where there are likely qualified candidates to be found in the local area. This Colonel leaves in September, and we hope whoever comes next will listen to our concerns. Tracy Kurowski has been active in the labor movement for ten years, first as a member of AFSCME 3506, when she taught adult education classes at the City Colleges of Chicago. She moved to the Quad Cities in 2007 where she worked as political coordinator with the Quad City Federation of Labor, and as a caseworker for Congressman Bruce Braley from 2007 - 2009. Tracy Kurowski writes a labor update every Monday on Blog for Iowa

Biochar benefits for farmers: University of Waikato

Biochar Boys Waikato University PhD student Prakash Srinivasan (with glasses) and Landcare Research scientist Dr Ajit K Sarmah with biochar samples.
Each year, farmers use around 60 tonnes of veterinary antibiotics to prevent and treat diseases and to promote growth. But 60-80% of each dose passes straight through the animal and ends up in the environment.
Soil- and water-dwelling microorganisms exposed to these antibiotics can develop resistance, which in turn can be transferred back to both livestock and humans.
The problem is made worse by muckspreading, which further loads the soil with contaminants.
But now researchers at Landcare Research and the University of Waikato have come up with a novel way to soak up these unwanted contaminants – and increase soil fertility at the same time.
The solution may lie in biochar – which is what you get when you burn any form of biomass in the absence of air. It’s how charcoal is made from wood, but biochars can be made from many materials – green waste, sawdust and even corn cobs.
“Biochar has many advantages,” says PhD student Prakash Srinivasan, who is working with Landcare Research scientist Dr Ajit K Sarmah and Waikato’s Professor Merilyn Manley-Harris on the biochar project, funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.
“It’s easy to make from organic waste, and being 80% carbon it’s a form of carbon sequestration, so it contributes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and can potentially help increase soil fertility. What’s more, our research shows it’s a good way to absorb organic contaminants, such as antibiotic residues.”
Mr Srinivasan has tested the absorption properties of three different biochars, and his initial findings show that biochar made from pine sawdust, sourced from Rotorua’s Lakeland Steel Products Ltd, is the most effective.
“Pine sawdust biochar absorbs 150 times more contaminants than soil alone. That’s because it has a very high surface area and high carbon content of around 91%, which makes it more porous. The surface area of pine sawdust biochar is four times bigger than that of other biochars.”
Mr Srinivasan says biochar applied at the rate of 10 tonnes per hectare would be an effective way to slow down the release of these contaminants to a manageable level.

Reforestation & Biochar: Two Geoengineering Methods That Won't Cause More Harm Than Good : TreeHugger

tree planting photo
US Forest Service via flickr

Geoengineering has been a slow burning controversy for some time now, with some truly wacky ideas proposed, as well as some which take a more sober look at the prospect of intentionally tinkering with the climate to stop the effects of human activity disturbing it in the first place. Let's look at a couple of those geoengineering methods which won't cause more harm than good: Biochar and Reforestation/Afforestation.

But Wait! What is Geoengineering?

Geoengineering when it comes to climate change refers to technological methods to reduce the amount of warming that occurs. These can be divided into two broad categories: Those which try to manage solar radiation (injecting aerosols into the atmosphere, mirrors in space, etc) and those which attempt to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere (ocean iron fertilization, artificial CO2 scrubbing trees, etc).
In the eighteen months or so there have been a couple of studies done which attempt to weigh the effectiveness, the speed, and the risks of different geoengineering methods. The Royal Society did one and scientists from the University of East Angliadid another, to name two.
They have slightly different findings than each other, when assessing specific methods' effectiveness and the amount of further research needed to before they are deployed, but in general techniques which remove CO2 from the atmosphere are less risky than those which attempt to manage solar radiation. As for effectiveness, there are ways in either category which could work more quickly and ones which work more slowly.
Often times the quick ways are the ones which carry the greatest risk of creating problems if things don't work as simulations predict. For example, injecting aerosols into the atmosphere to block the sun could work very quickly, but also trigger unintended weather consequences leading to geopolitical problems.
All of which makes slower-working methods like biochar and reforestation/afforestation more attractive.
pine tree saplings photo
Pine trees ready to plant. Photo: Trees For the Future via flickr.

Reforestation & Afforestation: More Trees = More CO2 Sucked From The Sky

If you follow TreeHugger regularly you probably know that the amount of CO2 that a given area of land can absorb changes depending on what a piece of land is used for, how much and what type of vegetation covers it. Higher biomass both above and below ground (think tropical rainforest for the former and boreal forest or forest on peaty soil for the latter) means greater potential for sequestering carbon.
Chop down all the trees in a forest and you've radically lowered the the forest's ability to suck carbon out of the atmosphere. When you replant the land with crops (whether for food or timber) you gain some carbon storage potential back, but it's at best no better than what you had and generally much lower. All of this is why deforestation is such a large component in global warming--nearly as many greenhouse gases are released from chopping down trees as the entire transportation sector.
Which is all a big lead-in to a pretty simple definition: If deforestation is the removal of forest cover, then reforestation is simply planting trees in areas that have been cleared to help regrow the forest; afforestation is planting trees in areas which either have never been forest or haven't been forest in many years.
There's no doubt that reforestation and afforestation could be serious help in reducing the effects of global warming--both the Royal Society and University of East Anglia studies agree on this regard--but if you think about how long it takes for trees to regrow, and all that biomass on the forest floor to rebuild, you can easily grasp that the benefits of planting more trees won't be seen overnight. It's not a switch you can turn on and start sucking CO2 from the atmosphere.
biochar spreading photo
Biochar test plot after two passes of biochar spreading. Photo: Dynamotive Energy Systems.

Biochar: Enriching the Soil, Storing Away CO2

The effects of starting reforestation and afforestation programs are easily visible; the effects of biochar not so much, unless you dig up the soil.
Biochar is essential using charcoal made through pyrolysis of biomass and then burying it mixed in with the soil. It has a long history of use in Amazonia, where it's known as terra preta, for its benefits in making soil more fertile. In regards to long-term carbon storage potential, biochar can work on a millennial scale with, in most cases, no negative soil side effects. Some estimates show biochar having the potential to sequester one billion tons of CO2 each year.
Which, despite being no miracle cure for climate change, sounds really pretty great. The problems with biochar aren't with the technique itself, but with scaling it to a large enough level that it has a global impact. The Royal Society survey says that "substantial research" is needed to prove biochar's effectiveness when deployed widely. Some critics suggest that we'd need to chop down 4% of our forests to deal with half of our carbon emissions.
Clearly chopping down forest to produce biochar is a bad idea, and this really isn't the way to go about it. A more reasonable way is proposed by big biochar backer James Lovelock:

What we have to do is turn a portion of all the waste of agriculture into charcoal and bury it. Consider grain like wheat or rice; most of the plant mass is in the stems, stalks and roots and we only eat the seeds. So instead of just ploughing in the stalks or turning them into cardboard, make it into charcoal and bury it or sink it in the ocean. We don't need plantations or crops planted for biochar, what we need is a charcoal maker on every farm so the farmer can turn his waste into carbon.
Everyone can easily visualize planting trees, less so with biochar production. Check out this overview of biochar from re:char.
Like this? Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.
More on Geoengineering:
7 Geoengineering Solutions That Promise to Save Humans from Climate Change
Geoengineering Risk Potential Not An Excuse for Inaction, Scientist Says
Hands Off Mother Earth! Online Campaign Against Geoengineering Launches
More on Biochar & Reforestation:
Jason Aramburu on the Promise of Biochar
Biochar Offers Answer for Healthy Soil and Carbon Sequestration
Reforesting 20 Million Square Kilometers by 2020 (Video)
Peru to Plant 40 Million Trees in Reforestation Campaign

Jun 7, 2010

Hines Farm Blog - Recent Visitors 2010-06-07

Johan Galtung on "The Fall of the US Empire"

What the United States has spent on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq surpassed the $1 trillion mark last week, according to the National Priorities Project Cost of War counter. To date, over $747 billion has been appropriated for the war in Iraq and $299 billion for the war in Afghanistan. The US is spending over $136 billion on the wars this year. Johan Galtung spent the past half-century pursuing nonviolent conflict resolution in international relations. He’s known as a founder of the field of peace and conflict studies. He correctly predicted the downfall of the Soviet Union. He predicts US downfall in 2020! IS HE RIGHT?

BP Oil Spill Threatens Future of Indigenous Communities in Louisiana

The indigenous Atakapa-Ishak people in this coastal Louisiana village have relied on the land and water around them to survive for generations. They live mostly off the oysters, shrimp and fish they draw from the marshes. Now the traditions and very survival of this small community are at risk. We went to Grand Bayou on the same day as a visiting delegation from Alaska who survived the Exxon-Valdez spill and spoke to indigenous leaders from both disaster-affected communities. ... Worth reading / viewing; lots of lessons have been learned from Exxon-Valdez spill; how many more more spills before we change our energy policy or screw up our environment so bad we can't recover??? ... Monte

John Ikerd speaks in Madison, WI

Smart man dealing with reality with meaningful words and logic! ... Monte

Hines Farm Activities 2010-06-07

Eileen trimming trees in her dad's yard!
John Deere wanted $35 for a replacement pin for 5410 Tractor loader.  I bought closest over sized pin at Farm and Fleet for $6.95 and used metal lathe to machine to size.  This time I welded in place so I won't lose again

Hawai'i Agriculture Notes: Biochar by Ben Discoe

Seedlings illustrating the difference between plants grown in biochar-amended soil (darker soil on the right).
Ben Discoe is doing an outstanding job of leading the way for change to "hands on" biochar agriculture!  ... Monte