Wave power is the wave of the future
Wave power can provide an endless source of clean cheap power.

Hey, Dude, let’s catch some waves! Surely, every surfer in the world knows the power behind those waves, as does anyone whose ever fought the undertow to swim back ashore.  An Australian company Carnegie Corporation believes that waves are indeed the wave of the future, and could supply up to 35% of Australia’s energy needs.  Acknowledging that wave power faces stiff competition from other renewable forms of energy particularly wind and solar, managing Director Michael Ottaviano is none-the-less optimistic that wave power will become popular over time as the cost of harnessing the awesome power of the sea decreases.

“We know that our first plant will generate power at about the ame price as wind,” Orraviano explained, “Solar was twice as expensive 10 years ago … if we start out where wind is, we know that in five to 10 years we’ll be fossil fuel competitive.”Dr Ottaviano cites an RPS Met Ocean report that shows that more than 17,000 megawatts of wave energy can be extracted at any given time off Australia’s coasts.  “This means that around 35% of Australia’s current power usage could be met by harnessing wave energy,” Dr Ottaviano concluded.

The system works by capturing the motion of buoys that are tethered to the sea floor which then drive compressed water to the shore where it is converted into electricity by forcing it through a Pelton turbine generator.  Compressed water has some distinct advantages over offshore wind turbine generators in that compressed water can be stored in tanks for use during peak loads, and aside from some slight friction losses there is very little loss of power traveling the distance to the shore.  When sending electricity from a wind turbine, or any time you transmit electrical current, transmission line losses are a real challenge.

The thing I like best is that the schematic includes powering a water desalination plant and then transmitting the remaining power off to wherever it’s needed.  What this world really needs now, and more so in the future is an answer to the water shortage that is coming that will make peak oil seem like a walk in the park.  This system seems to address both issues, so I will be keeping a close eye on developments!

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Biodiesel is the common name for a variety of ester-based oxygenated fuels made from vegetable oils or animal fats.  Dr. Rudolf Diesel developed the first diesel engine to run on vegetable oil and demonstrated his engine at the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris using peanut oil as fuel. One of the first wide uses of biodiesel (transesterified vegetable oil) was powering heavy vehicles in South Africa before World War II. biodiesel can be used in a typical diesel generator without any need for modification, and can be blended with petroleum diesel fuel, the most common of which is a mix of 20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum diesel known as “B20”.  Pure biodiesel is also known as “B100”.

The primary benefits of using biodiesel include:

  •  Biodiesel is biodegradable and non-toxic.
  •  Biodiesel produces approximately 80% fewer carbon dioxide emissions than standard diesel fuel and almost 100% less sulphur dioxide.
  •  Biodiesel is safer to store and transport as its flash point is about 125°C compared to petroleum diesel fuel, which has a flash point of 55°C.
  •  Biodiesel is more lubricating than diesel fuel, increasing the life cycle of the engine or generator, while fuel consumption and power output are relatively unaffected.
  •  Biodiesel can be made from domestically produced, renewable oilseed crops such as soybeans, canola, cotton seed and mustard seed.
  •  Biodiesel can be stored anywhere that petroleum diesel fuel is stored without modifications.
  •  Reduced fuel costs. Biodiesel is cheaper to produce than petroleum diesel.  If biodiesel is produced locally, transport costs are also reduced or eliminated.
  •  Biodiesel is a renewable resource.
  •  Production levels and rates can be established to meet demand.
  •  Energy security as fuel can be supplied locally.
  •  Horrible exhaust fumes replaced with the pleasant smell of popcorn.

The primary disadvantages of using biodiesel include:

  •  Limited availability. Biodiesel not readily available in most places. Local production of biodiesel could alleviate this concern, and petroleum diesel could serve as a backup.
  •  Nitrous oxide emissions are increased by up to 15% over petroleum diesel fuel, which can contribute to smog production. Retarding the injection timing can reduce these emissions.
  •  Cold weather gelling. As with petroleum diesel fuel, biodiesel can gel in cold weather. There are simple preventative measures that can be taken to lower the risk of cold weather gelling.
  •  For older vehicles or generators, can require upgrading the fuel lines, as biodiesel can eat through certain kinds of rubber.

Before using biodiesel the following minor adjustments should be made to the diesel engine or generator:
1. Retard the injection timing by 2-3 degrees to overcome the effect of biodiesel’s higher cetane level. This will also causes the fuel to burn cooler, thus reducing nitrous oxide emissions.
2. Biodiesel is a good solvent and is likely to free up a lot of dirt and residue that might be left in the tank and the fuel system after using petroleum diesel. Be sure to start off with a new fuel filter and perform regular checks of the fuel filters when first switching to biodiesel.
3. Replace any natural rubber parts in the fuel system with Viton or other suitable non-rubber material.

Some further considerations for biodiesel usage include:

  •  Biodiesel is a solvent. Painted surfaces must be wiped immediately when using biodiesel. If left on a painted surface long enough, biodiesel can dissolve certain types of paints.
  •  Rags which have been soaked in biodiesel or biodiesel blends should be stored in a safety can to avoid spontaneous combustion.
  •  Biodiesel should be used within one year to ensure that the quality of the fuel is maintained.

The governments of most countries are actively promoting the use of biodiesel.  The US and Europe have over 2 decades of experience with millions of miles logged using biodiesel. The Chinese government has banned the use of grain for ethanol production to ensure that it will be available for food use, and therefore have very ambitious plans for biodiesel.  Current plans are to increase biodiesel output to 200,000 tons by 2010 and 2 million tons by 2020. The government plans to cultivate 13 million hectares of high-grade bio-energy forest by 2020, which will yield 6 million tons of biodiesel.  That would be enough to fuel an 11 million kilowatt power plant.  According to a forestation plan compiled by the SFA, raising biofuel forests in mountain areas will save farmland, make full use of the uninhabited mountains, and increase local people’s family income if they are employed to take care of the trees.

A final note - if you are planning on producing your own biodiesel, most countries will require you to pay tax!  Although you dramatically cut your fuel costs and reduce greenhouse gas emmissions, if you are powering your vehicle with biodiesel you are required to pay the same road and fuel taxes that are applied to gasoline or petroleum diesel, although some of these costs may offset by tax credits designed to encourage the use of alternate fuels.

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 Blysse and Ellie play in front of the smog covered Bird's Nest
Blysse and Ellie play in front of the smog shrouded Bird’s Nest

Things are finally back to “normal” in the Chinese capital, including the return of some things that are not particularly welcomed.  Here are the top 10 signs that the Olympics and Paralympics are truly over:

1. Security checks have stopped.  I was very pleasantly surprised when I went into Terminal 3 the other day and did not have to submit to a security check simply to enter the terminal.  Likewise, security check points throughout the city have been abandoned, and the black-clad Olympic SWAT force has vanished.  Yeah!

2. Road closures have re-opened.  Many sections of the city which were cordoned off have now re-opened, making it much easier to get around in some cases.

3. Restaurants and clubs are back open. Nearly all of the venues that were closed before the Olympics are open again, except those unfortunate enough not to have survived the forced closure.

4. Al Fresco dining on streets has resumed.   I didn’t really understand why they had to suspend outdoor dining on the streets throughout the games, but they did.  Well, now you can enjoy again, except that the weather has just taken a turn and you will likely be enjoying your latte in the cold rain.

5. Street vendors are back! Just in time for sweet hot yams and tasty lamb skewers!  Yummm.

6. The traffic ban has been lifted.  The streets are back to their pre-Olympic congestion levels after the even/odd liscense plate ban has been lifted.  A lot of people are unhappy about this, and apparently the government is looking at re-instating a similar rule, though not likely as strict.

7. Smog is back with a vengeance!  As a result of the the lift in all of the pollution cutting measures leading up to the Olympics, we are all reminded of just how noxious the air in Beijing really is.

8. DVDs are on sale again! DVD stores are all gradually opening, though their inventory of illegal DVDs certainly leaves a lot to be desired.  No doubt the selection will improve in short order.

9.  Lady Bars are back!  Just when I thought I would never have to be annoyed by another Lady Bar purveyor, they are back in force, and if you are a single man walking anywhere near Sanlitun after 5pm you are likely to accosted every ten steps by someone hoping you are stupid or naive enough to fall into their trap, willfully oblivious to the fact that if you just gave a disgusted look at the last invitation, they are likely to receive a similar reaction.

10. Pushers are back! Perhaps most telling of a relaxation in the city are the purveyors of all things  illicit that roam the streets from Gongti to Sanlitun, nearly as numerous as the Lady Bar pushers, though somehow less annoying as they feel the need to be at least somewhat discreet.

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