Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, January 3, 2011 8:31 pm

Holy crap. As it were.

Filed under: Cool! — Lex @ 8:31 pm
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Apparently it is possible to create hydrogen for fuel cells from … pee:

The shower is well known as a source of good ideas. But the toilet? Equally promising, says Gerardine Botte, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Ohio University who has developed a technology to generate hydrogen fuel from urine.

Botte recognized that urine contains two compounds that could be a source of hydrogen: ammonia and urea. Place an electrode in wastewater, apply a gentle current, and voilà: hydrogen gas that can be used to power a fuel cell.

Her system operates similarly to the electrolysis of water, a process that can be used to produce hydrogen for fuel cells—except that ammonia and urea hold their hydrogen atoms less tightly than water does, so less energy is required to split them off. …

Botte’s technology has the greatest potential for power generation in settings where large numbers of people gather—airports and sports stadiums, for example. An office building with 200 to 300 workers could generate 2 kilowatts of power, Botte has calculated. Granted, that’s not enough to power the building, but every drop in the bucket helps.

The approach could also address pollution associated with animal feedlots. The urine produced by 1,000 cows could generate 40 to 50 kilowatts of power, Botte estimates—getting rid of noxious ammonia in the process.

I Am Not a Scientist, but it looks to me as if this process isn’t going to be as valuable in the short term for generating energy as it is for reducing the amount of energy needed to clean sewage. Still, that’s no small thing: The U.S. population is increasingly concentrated in urban centers served by municipal or county wastewater treatment systems, and the cost of energy to run those facilities ain’t going anywhere but up anytime soon.




Monday, July 5, 2010 11:48 am

The rigged energy game

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 11:48 am
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My friend Taft Wireback had a depressing article published in today’s News & Record about an entrepreneur facing the loss of his business because Congress has failed to extend a tax break that makes that business — Greensboro’s only biodiesel plant — financially feasible.

This is bad enough on its own. Biodiesel represents one small step toward both energy independence and reduced impact of energy consumption on the environment. And it’s ideal for concentrated urban areas such as Greensboro where vehicle fleets — GTA and PART buses, Postal Service vehicles and so on — could provide a reliable base of demand for this alternative energy source.

But, as always, context makes things even worse. As this report in yesterday’s New York Times makes clear, the energy game is rigged, heavily, in favor of oil:

When the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform set off the worst oil spill at sea in American history, it was flying the flag of the Marshall Islands. Registering there allowed the rig’s owner to significantly reduce its American taxes.

The owner, Transocean, moved its corporate headquarters from Houston to the Cayman Islands in 1999 and then to Switzerland in 2008, maneuvers that also helped it avoid taxes.

At the same time, BP was reaping sizable tax benefits from leasing the rig. According to a letter sent in June to the Senate Finance Committee, the company used a tax break for the oil industry to write off 70 percent of the rent for Deepwater Horizon — a deduction of more than $225,000 a day since the lease began.

With federal officials now considering a new tax on petroleum production to pay for the cleanup, the industry is fighting the measure, warning that it will lead to job losses and higher gasoline prices, as well as an increased dependence on foreign oil.

But an examination of the American tax code indicates that oil production is among the most heavily subsidized businesses, with tax breaks available at virtually every stage of the exploration and extraction process.

According to the most recent study by the Congressional Budget Office, released in 2005, capital investments like oil field leases and drilling equipment are taxed at an effective rate of 9 percent, significantly lower than the overall rate of 25 percent for businesses in general and lower than virtually any other industry.

And for many small and midsize oil companies, the tax on capital investments is so low that it is more than eliminated by var-ious credits. These companies’ returns on those investments are often higher after taxes than before.

If there is one benefit from the misbegotten elevation of Sarah Palin to the national political scene, it is that more Americans became aware of the fact that not only do Alaskans not pay state income taxes, they get a check from the state every year, their share of the proceeds from Alaskan oil production. That’s in stark contrast to how taxpayers in the other states fare:

The federal government is on the verge of one of the biggest giveaways of oil and gas in American history, worth an estimated $7 billion over five years.

New projections, buried in the Interior Department’s just-published budget plan, anticipate that the government will let companies pump about $65 billion worth of oil and natural gas from federal territory over the next five years without paying any royalties to the government.

Granted, $7 billion over five years would represent neither a huge windfall for individuals nor much help with the deficit. But it would be better than nothing.

And more broadly, we need to identify and enact the kinds of economic incentives that will move us significantly in the direction of energy independence even if, realistically, we may never get there. Every step we take in that direction is a step we take away from being held hostage and even forced into unnecessary wars, and may be a step toward saving our own hides by not destroying the environment we rely upon for life itself.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010 5:43 am

Black tide

Filed under: There but for the grace of God ... — Lex @ 5:43 am
Tags: ,

If the blowout-control device on this well 36 miles off the Louisiana coast doesn’t control the leaking, currently about 42,000 gallons per day, the leak may continue for months.

I am not completely opposed to drilling off the N.C. coast, but even one accident of this scale, particularly closer in, would have devastating effects on two key industries, fishing and tourism, as well as spoiling an area of the state that is as much a part of me now as the mountains and the place where I live.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 8:42 pm

Odds and ends, Nov. 17

  • Our eyes are on Afghanistan, but the prize is energy-rich Uzbekistan. So they boil political opponents alive. Big freakin’ deal.
  • The Special Inspector General of the fed bank bailout program says we need to audit the Fed already. Fine minds agree. So let’s audit the Fed already.
  • Tim Geithner’s pissing away of taxpayer money earlier this month, to the benefit of — surprise!! — Goldman Sachs and AIG —  would’ve been grounds for dismissal, if not execution, in any country that wasn’t already a banana republic. Unfortunately, we’re all now singing the Chiquita song:

This, Mr. Geithner, is what moral hazard is all about. Thanks to your actions you have doomed the U.S.’s formerly free and efficient equity markets to the biggest capital market bubble in history, which, like any ponzi, has only two outcomes: it either keeps growing in perpetuity as greater fools crawl out of the woodwork to keep it growing, albeit at ever slower marginal rates (note, this did not work out too well for Madoff), or it eventually pops. And the longer it takes to pop, the greater the ultimate loss of value: one day Madoff’s business was worth $50 billion, the next day it was $0. And that is precisely the same fate that American capital markets will have at some point in the upcoming months or years. When future historians look back at what specific action caused the biggest crash in U.S. capital markets history, Mr. Geithner’s cataclysmally botched negotiation of the AIG counterparty bailout will undoubtedly be at the very top of the list. In the meantime, just like in the Madoff case where the trustee is trying hard to trace where any stolen money may have been transferred to, to see the fund flows in our ongoing “ponzi in progress”, look no further than the bank accounts of Goldman bankers as they receive their biggest ever bonus this year …


  • Relatedly, I’m a lot less bothered about Obama bowing to an Asian leader than I am about his bowing to Goldman Sachs.
  • Question of the day, from Michael Lind: Shouldn’t the government pledge allegiance to the people, rather than the other way around?
  • Nice punking of an anti-immigration crowd. Not-so-nice behavior of the cops on hand, who were shoving around nonviolent counterprotesters rather than the anti-immigration folks who started the fisticuffs.
  • Time to revoke David Broder’s membership in the Wise Old Mainstream Media Pundits’ Club: When you say it’s more important to do something, anything, now than to do the right thing, you’re reckless. When you say that about a decision over whether to start, or expand, a war of choice, you’re just batsh*t insane definitely not supporting the troops.
  • Faith may well complement competent psychiatric care, but it is no substitute, a fact that appears to have escaped the Department of Veterans Affairs. And this is just one facet, albeit a particularly annoying one, of the VA’s utter failure to cope competently with the mental-health problems of veterans of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. My senior senator, Richard Burr, ranking Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and a guy with a DSCC bulls-eye on his back this election year, could do himself a lot of political good, in addition to doing a lot of real-world good for a lot of deserving people, if he just rode this issue like a beast across the plains of Mongolia.
  • And speaking of Richard Burr, call the WAAAAmbulance. Apparently, Senate Republicans are concerned that TV commercials about them supporting government contractors who let their employees get gang-raped may engender bad feelings against … um, well, the 30 Senate Republicans who supported government contractors who let their employees get gang-raped. (Here’s the one on Burr:)

Friday, June 13, 2008 8:58 pm

” ‘Round, round, get around, I get around …”

Filed under: Odds 'n' ends — Lex @ 8:58 pm
Tags: , , ,

David gets around to the deep, dark secret behind getting around.

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