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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Energy and Global Warming News for June 9th: Drinking water from air humidity; Greens gain in EU parliament vote

Facilities “producing large quantities of drinking water from moisture in the air could look like this” — and it looks to me this could be powered by the waste heat from concentrated solar thermal plants.

Drinking Water From Air Humidity

Not a plant to be seen, the desert ground is too dry. But the air contains water, and research scientists have found a way of obtaining drinking water from air humidity. The system is based completely on renewable energy and is therefore autonomous….

In the Negev desert in Israel, for example, annual average relative air humidity is 64 percent – in every cubic meter of air there are 11.5 milliliters of water.

Research scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart working in conjunction with their colleagues from the company Logos Innovationen have found a way of converting … air humidity autonomously and decentrally into drinkable water.

“The process we have developed is based exclusively on renewable energy sources such as thermal solar collectors and photovoltaic cells, which makes this method completely energy-autonomous. It will therefore function in regions where there is no electrical infrastructure,” says Siegfried Egner, head of department at the IGB.

The principle of the process is as follows: hygroscopic brine –- saline solution which absorbs moisture -– runs down a tower-shaped unit and absorbs water from the air. It is then sucked into a tank a few meters off the ground in which a vacuum prevails. Energy from solar collectors heats up the brine, which is diluted by the water it has absorbed….

Greens make big gains in EU parliament vote

Riding a wave of public concern over the effects of climate change, the Green-European Freedom Alliance bloc captured 53 of the EU parliament’s 736 seats, compared with 43 spots in the last 785-seat assembly.

“To have increased our side with the parliament seats going down in number is a nice surprise,” said Greens-EFA spokesman Chris Coakley.

Green candidates now account for 46 of their Green-EFA’s seats, compared with 36 previously, according to the political bloc, which also includes independents and members of smaller pro-EU national parties. The bloc’s final size could change slightly, depending on alliances.

Europe’s Greens were the only major bloc whose parliamentary proportion increased — from 5.5 percent to 7.1 percent in this election. Far-right groups and anti-EU parties, including the UK Independence Party, also saw big increases in the independent group.

Planes, trains or automobiles? Air travel may be no worse for the environment than rail

Jet-setters get a bad rap for their role in spewing greenhouse gases into the upper atmosphere, but a new study says that flying is really no worse for the environment than taking the train.

When most people think about air pollution and carbon emissions, they usually just consider just what’s coming from a vehicle’s exhaust pipe. But a new study in the journal Environmental Research Letters compares the impact of different transportation modes by taking into account everything from the steel in train tracks to the tires on aircraft landing gear.

A large aircraft emits about three times the greenhouse gases per passenger kilometer traveled than a train during operation. But if you consider the infrastructure that supports train and light rail travel, it effectively increases greenhouse gas emissions by a factor of 155 percent. A similar calculation for jets only increases the effective greenhouse gas emissions by 31 percent.

Indian farmers to insure themselves against climate change crop failure

For more than half a million farmers in rural India the age old fear of crops failing due to bad weather could soon be banished, thanks to an innovative insurance scheme that UN negotiators gathering in Bonn this week are considering as a central component of climate change adaptation measures in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Following a successful trial last month, MicroEnsure, a company specialising in providing insurance to poor communities, plans to launch a scheme next year for up to 600,000 farmers in India’s Kolhapur province allowing them to insure against their rice crops failing due to drought or heavy rains during the plants’ flowering period.

[Austin’s Note: Raymond Fisman and Edward Miguel, prominent developmental economics both, have long argued for an insurance scheme like this]

Amsterdam: A Smart City Goes Live

On the streets of Amsterdam last week, major changes were afoot. The first of 1,200 households installed an energy-saving system from IBM and Cisco aimed at cutting electricity costs. Others were given fresh access to financing from Dutch banks ING and Rabobank to buy everything from energy-saving light bulbs to ultra-efficient roof insulation. And on Utrechtsestraat, a major shopping avenue in the center of the Dutch capital, solar-powered panels on local bus stops were installed to transform the road into a “Climate Street” piloting clean technology.

The projects are Amsterdam’s first steps toward making its infrastructure more eco-friendly. Other projects are expected to follow soon. They include 300 power hookups around the city to recharge electric cars, solar panels that will be installed on Amsterdam’s historic 17th century townhouses, and infrastructure upgrades that will allow households to sell energy they generate from small-scale wind turbines or solar panels back to the city’s electricity grid for a profit.

Energy panel will back gulf drilling plan — Dorgan

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will vote on an amendment today that would bring eastern Gulf of Mexico oil and gas leasing closer to Florida’s coast.

“I expect my amendment to pass,” said the measure’s sponsor, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.). The committee is resuming its markup of a broad energy bill this morning and hopes to complete the bill this week.

Dorgan said his amendment to the oil and gas title would shrink the no-leasing zone around Florida’s gulf coast to 45 miles from shore, which is less than half the current buffer.

Climate vows insufficient to hold back climate change, expert says

Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said on Monday that the pledges made so far were well below the target for emissions reduction laid down by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The proposals from representatives of more than 30 of the world’s richest nations meeting in the former West German capital amount to a reduction in the range of 17 percent to 26 percent of 1990 levels by 2020.

“This is not enough to address climate change,” de Boer said.

The IPCC proposals, made in a 2007 report, call for a 25 percent to 40 percent reduction in emissions to limit the risk of climate change caused by human activity. The Bonn meeting, which ends on Friday, is discussing new emission targets to be put in place after 2012 when the Kyoto Protocol on curbing greenhouse gas emissions expires.

Energy, Climate and the U.S. Virgin Islands

Last year, when energy prices soared, things got so bad in the United States Virgin Islands that some businesses in St. Croix shut down and people protested in the streets.

That’s according to Donna Christensen, the territory’s nonvoting delegate to Congress, who said that the islands’ power plants were almost completely reliant on imported diesel fuel. “Thank God it’s gone down,” she said of the price of energy. “People got some relief.”

The islands are now urgently trying to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, Ms. Christensen said. She is hoping that ocean thermal technology — generating electricity from the difference between the ocean’s cold depths and warm surface — will catch on, and the territory plans to host a pilot project on renewable energy for a partnership called Energy Development in Island Nations, although the particulars are unclear.

Future Of Metals

Could metals become extinct? That question has popped up in magazine articles and in the blogosphere in response to predictions by several scientists—taken out of context—that some metals running up against high demand and low supply could go the way of the dinosaurs.

Metals can’t really become extinct because their atoms are immutable, at least under most conditions. But it’s not such a farfetched idea that as world population and the average standard of living increase, some metals could become unavailable for new uses.

That realization is inspiring some scientists and economists to develop forward-thinking approaches to achieving sustainable cycles of metal use—that is, a continuous supply loop of a metal that runs from starting material to product to end-of-life recycling and back to starting material, with minor additions of virgin metal as needed to balance any inevitable processing losses.

Airlines promise global emissions cap by 2020

The International Air Transportation Association announced its committment today to setting a global cap on emissions in 2020.

“After this date, aviation emissions will not grow even as demand increases,” IATA chief Giovanni Bisignani said today during the IATA’s annual meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. “Airlines are the first global industry to make such a bold statement.

Airlines reject new tax to fight global warming

The airline industry has rejected calls for a compulsory tax on international flights to help the world’s poorest countries fight global warming.

The chief executive of the International Air Transport Association, Giovanni Bisignani, said carriers were “absolutely against” another levy in a year that the industry is expected to lose $9bn (£5.65bn).

“We are absolutely against,” he said. “We have seen so many taxes that we are fed up. We are serious about what we pay in emissions [taxes] going towards the environment in a serious way.”

The world’s 50 least developed countries have proposed a levy on all international fares that would raise $10bn a year, increasing the cost of tickets by about 1%. The idea has been raised as the second week in the latest round of UN climate talks gets under way in Bonn, where 192 countries are negotiating an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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