Clean Break blog pickin’ up steam…

I’m happy to report that Clean Break, the blog, will end June with more than 8,000 unique visitors for the month (or distinct hosts, if you prefer). That’s a 60 per cent jump over last month. Thanks for dropping by, and I hope to draw even more eyeballs over the coming months. I’ve been bogged down in a project for the last few weeks so haven’t posted as regularly as I should. July will be back to what I would consider normal. I’ve got lots of cool — clean — stuff on the burner.

Happy Canada Day! Happy Independence Day!

Clean Break blog pickin’ up steam…

I’m happy to report that Clean Break, the blog, will end June with more than 8,000 unique visitors for the month (or distinct hosts, if you prefer). That’s a 60 per cent jump over last month. Thanks for dropping by, and I hope to draw even more eyeballs over the coming months. I’ve been bogged down in a project for the last few weeks so haven’t posted as regularly as I should. July will be back to what I would consider normal. I’ve got lots of cool — clean — stuff on the burner.

Happy Canada Day! Happy Independence Day!

Wanted: Wind enthusiasts to reply to wind critic

I got the following e-mail from an academic who is critical of all the hype around wind power production. Here’s an excerpt of his comment. I invite any wind experts out there to reply through this blog and I’ll forward all comments to this individual. Seems like a good way to stimulate some necessary debate.

Here’s the excerpt:

On average, windmills only put out about 25% of their capacity, rarely producing their nameplate rating and, when the wind doesn’t blow, the production is zero. Unless you expect society to adapt to having electrical power only when the wind blows at just the right speed, you have to have a rapid response backup system. The costs for such a backup should be included in the cost associated with the windmills.  As long as these (wind turbines/farms) are a minor component of the grid, normal fluctuations in demand will hide such a requirement. Unless the cost is assigned to the intermittent producer, everyone else has to pay for capacity that will sit idle part of the time and hence will have a higher capital cost component.  (Fast response systems are usually powered by natural gas. If the present plans for tar sands upgraders continue, then Alberta will become a net importer of natural gas.

So, any clever replies out there?

Will plug-in hybrids erase the need for fuel-cell cars?

I’m fascinated by the idea of plug-in hybrids, an issue that I plan to write about in more detail in an upcoming Clean Break column. But first a little commentary here…

I was speaking today with Felix Kramer, the founder of the California Cars Initiative, or CalCars for short. Kramer has made it his life mission to convince auto makers in the United States to produce hybrid-electric cars that you can plug into a power socket, if you choose to do so. As you might have read in a recent column by the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, there is growing acceptance of this idea among those often divergent political groups in the United States who either want to crack down on global warming, want to reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil, or those who want to creates jobs domestically — or all of the above.

And why not? It’s a no-brainer, really. How hard could it be to design a car that runs like a Prius but, instead of relying strictly on regenerative breaking to charge the battery, the owner has the option of plugging the car into a household power socket at night? More than that, how hard could it be to design a car that could run strictly on that battery for about 30 kilometres (more than most people drive every day) and then automatically kicks into gas-electric hybrid mode when the battery is running low?

The answer? It’s not that difficult at all. It’s just that the auto manufacturers, for some bizarre reason, don’t seem to grasp the opportunity.

“If you have plug-in hybrids you could get 60 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2009,” Kramer told me.

And by shifting demand to domestic power utilities you dramatically reduce dependence on foreign oil. You’d think the power companies would be all over this.

Kramer said there are some studies suggesting that 30 million cars could be plugged into the U.S. grid at night with minimal impact on the grid. Those figures come from the Electric Power Research Institute. Not sure how they came up with that number — it’s something I intend to ask them.

You may point out that this shifting of dependency from oil to the grid will just mean the spewing of more pollution and greenhouse gases from coal and natural gas power plants. That’s true, but Kramer says when you do a well-to-wheels analysis you’re still reducing pollution/GHGs by shifting to the grid. Plus, gradual transition to renewable energy systems in the grid in effect make all plug-in hybrids on the road greener.

Now imagine if the fuel component of these plug-in hybrids was biodiesel or cellulose ethanol instead of gasoline or diesel? Once more, this reduces dependency on foreign fuel, and it would be easier to meet demand because if you’re relying more on grid power you wouldn’t need as much fuel.

Kramer has all kinds of good arguments… and on the surface at least they all make sense. His immediate goal is to organize fleet owners representing between 10,000 and 100,000 cars who would commit to buying plug-in optional hybrids. With that demand, he hopes one or more of the major auto manufacturers would step in with the supply, thus kicking off more mainstream production for the general public.

It’s funny, Honda just announced last week that it plans to have a fuel-cell car by 2020 that’s not that much more expensive than a conventional car. The question is why, in pursuing a hydrogen economy and fuel-cell cars, would we go about a major fuel infrastructure overhaul if we could keep existing infrastructure in place with a plug-in hybrid and still reach similar goals of reduced dependency and dramatically lower emissions?

I’ve written too much already… keep your eye out for my more detailed column on the issue. Hopefully I’ll be able to answer some of the questions posed here. I’ll provide a link when appears in The Toronto Star.

Sonic expanding technology from soil to groundwater

Sonic Environmental Solutions Inc. of Vancouver, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, said today it has applied for a provisional patent with the U.S. Patent Office that would cover the use of its low-frequency sonic technology for treating certain contaminants in groundwater.

This may be an overly simplistic explanation, but the company’s patented sonic generator technology uses low frequencies to cause intense agitation of PCB contaminated soils and fluids. Its so-called Sonoprocess speeds up chemical and biological processes in the material and, using comparatively less energy than alternatives, effectively treats the soil or fluid so that it’s non-harzardous enough to be properly disposed of or reused. The end product after treatment is apparently just clean soil, salt and low-grade fuel. (See video demo here)

The company has built its first soil decontamination plant in Delta, B.C., and now appears ready to expand its attention to groundwater treatment.

“Now that we have moved to commercial scale operation for our first Sonoprocess for treatment of PCB contaminated soil, we can begin to explore some of the other applications identified by the board for future consideration,” Dr. James Hill, executive vice-president, said in a press release today.

I haven’t had a chance yet to talk to company executives in detail about the technology, but I have to say I remain intrigued by what I’ve read so far. The system is mobile — it can go to the soil, eliminating the cost of having to remove the soil for treatment elsewhere. It uses a novel process that’s much more environmentally sound, a nice contrast to soil incineration processes that have received a huge amount of public criticism. Sonic does appear to have some competition out there, but as I said before, it’s a homegrown company to watch.

BTW: At the company’s recent annual meeting management confirmed that “interest in the PCB Sonoprocess is building rapidly with inquiries from across North America,” according to a release. The company is also working on joint venture possibilities in Europe and Japan, which could be concluded by year’s end.

Another interesting statement that recently came out of the company: “Brownfield opportunities are becoming increasingly important as urban land development opportunities become limited.”