Tag Archives: Science

Clean coal finally a reality without the expense?

Instead of pumping C02 into the ground we can just mix it with seawater to create something that resembles coral, a substance that is harmless to the earth and and can be useful for creating building materials. From Thomas Friedman:

If you combine CO2 with seawater, or any kind of briny water, you produce CaCO3, calcium carbonate. That is not only the stuff of corals. It is also the same white, pasty goop that appears on your shower head from hard (calcium-rich) water. At its demonstration plant near Santa Cruz, Calif., Calera has developed a process that takes CO2 emissions from a coal- or gas-fired power plant and sprays seawater into it and naturally converts most of the CO2 into calcium carbonate, which is then spray-dried into cement or shaped into little pellets that can be used as concrete aggregates for building walls or highways — instead of letting the CO2 emissions go into the atmosphere and produce climate change.

If this can scale, it would eliminate the need for expensive carbon-sequestration facilities planned to be built alongside coal-fired power plants — and it might actually make the heretofore specious notion of “clean coal” a possibility.

Assuming it is scientifically possible and economically viable:

– Reduced demand for conglomerates used in concrete lessens environmental damage from rock quarries (assuming coal plants produce this coral cheaply) and reduces holes in mountains

– Increased demand for coal provides incentive for finding cheap coal by using cheaper extraction processes, leading to blowing up mountains for it and increases holes in mountains

Oh well, less carbon is still a pareto efficient outcome in my book.  Maybe in a quest for economies of scale, coal plants can start to diversify their carbon sequestration technologies from creating building materials to providing C02 in my soda.*  Mmmmm…coal’d soda…

HT: Environmental Economics

*I think the industry already does this but I could be wrong…


Moore’s Law Continues


Micron Technology and Intel Corp. announced a joint venture to create what the companies are calling “the smallest, most advanced process technology in the semiconductor industry.”

The companies introduced an 8 gigabyte, 25-nanometer “NAND” memory chip that they said will increase storage for portable music and media players, smart phones and more. It is the latest in the joint venture’s ever-shrinking NAND innovations. The two companies say they have doubled the density of NAND every 18 months — they started with a 50 nm device in 2006 and dropped it to 36 nm in 2008.

Stacking processors will certainly get easier for even smaller devices.

Waste products aftermarket: part II

Production line at Total Reclaim

Production line at Total Reclaim

After reading an article from Oregon Live, (here) I have become really excited about my belief in a future market that I have entitled as a “Waste products aftermarket.”  For a more detailed account, please see my recent posts on a theoretical framework and part I.

The article details the efforts of a recycling business called Total Reclaim located in Alaska, Oregon and Washington.    The primary business of Total Reclaim is through the recycling of e-waste products such as TVs and computer monitors.  Among other services, they recycle other durables that have been thrown away including refrigerators and HVACs.

A video here explains their production process in detail:

Notice towards the end of the video the on-site production process of plastic pellets.  Not only is this a finished product that can go back into new electronics, it adds value to something that otherwise would have gone into a landfill.  There is money to be made there.  Your taking a product worth nothing and processing it into a product worth something.

The primary driver for their business in e-waste is thanks to support from state legislatures.  In all three states that Total Reclaim operates, it is illegal to throw away your e-waste in traditional land fills. (i.e. throw them out onto the curb for trash pickup)  The only legal way to discard e-waste in these states is to bring them to a licensed recycling center such as Total  Reclaim.  For a fee that varies depending on what you bring in, they will recycle your e-waste.

The fee is an important factor to consider.  If there was no ban on curbside e-waste, what would the price be then? Right now, the cost to recycle e-waste can average (give or take) $50.  The ban obviously forces people to demand Total Reclaim services (explains their 30% growth) which can push the price for recycling down.  Thanks to the legislation, the price for e-waste recycling has fallen.  In addition, legislators are looking to eliminate the deferred cost of waste management and instead make the cost upfront by forcing manufacturers to offer a rebate so that the cost of recycling of the device is already factored in the purchase price.  This will lead to more downward pressures on the price of recycling.

Already you can see a viable business opportunity and a large amount of growth given the partnership that Total Reclaim has with the public.   Akin to the beginnings of the railroad and telephone industry, with waste product aftermarkets in its infancy, government support should help nurture growth.  Continued public support, (like the manufacture rebate program) expanding coverage to outer areas of the state, (or even lobbying to change legislation in other states…or better, federally) and the discovering and implementation of new technologies in order to offer more products and services could mean that Total Reclaim is one of the leading companies that could make this into a viable and profitable opportunity that is focused on sustainable business practices and providing value for environmental safety and conservation.

Waste products aftermarket: theoretical framework

This is starting to become a serious interest of mine. Previously, I did a post on bio-diesel made from chicken fat (here) and how it may mark the beginning of a waste product aftermarket within green economies.   I will also write a piece on a company I am currently reading up on, Total Reclaim. (here) Although the idea itself is nothing new, I feel I need to make a theoretical framework for this.

Essentially, for our 21st-century economy, a new economy, the “green economy,” going green is expected to be the next big thing.  This proposition has been made solely on the popular value judgment that there is a rising demand for eco-friendly products.    There is nothing new about this.  We can already see this with products ranging from toilet paper made from recycled paper to cell phones made from recycled materials.

There is nothing new about recycled products or aftermarkets either.  If businesses are able to find ways to cut down and recoup costs by either adding value on site through production or from scrap, most are going to do so.  (see auto aftermarkets as a popular example) Marketing products as green helps signal to eco-conscious consumers that these particular products (such as the cell phone linked above) will lower ones environmental footprint.

But is there necessarily a market for it?  I believe that currently, there is, but it is fractured and not on par with the types of commodity markets we have today.  Most business decisions regarding recycled products are not core competencies, but are more along the lines of reducing the marginal unit cost of particular products and their waste. These are the questions I want to continue to ask as more and more examples show up throughout the U.S. (and the world) on how businesses start to shift to waste products as a revenue source rather than efficiency measures.

How do I believe this change will happen?  Remember, most of the important part of the surge in the waste product aftermarket is the demand to go green.  Businesses have incentives to offer value for eco-friendly consumers as the demand to go green becomes even more popular.  But how far will it go? As businesses start to take advantage of utilizing new technologies and implementing cost effective production techniques, cost for recycling will severely plummet.  As profitability ensues, businesses will be able to acquire capital in order for them to grow.  Then industry consolidation should be in order as businesses begin to attain economies of scale.  By then, these companies will be able to sell their products on an open market commodities exchange, much like what we do with many natural resources available today.   And the incentive for doing this? Commodities will be facing a long-term supply shortage as more and more countries begin to develop, demanding more resources and putting a strain on what is currently available.  These forces will drive up the price of commodities, (a long-term trend we have currently experienced via China and other nations) making recycled materials an economic reality.  And the best part is that it won’t be dependent upon the demand for green products anymore, but a means for making our industrial ecology more efficient.

This is the value proposition I am making for the future of our world economy.  Technologies continue to be developed that make the production and reduction of physical goods not only a scientific reality, but an economic one.  As more and more technological breakthroughs make it through the news, I will be there to comment on it. (here)  As more and more environmental policy creates a more economic reality, I will be there to comment on it. (here) As more and more unexpected impacts from economic decisions influence the way we produce and consume products, I will be there to comment on it. (here)

I will continue my posts for waste product aftermarkets in parts as more and more real world cases come to light, charting the progress of this future.  I believe that this is the most realistic avenue that our world can move in, not only for the betterment of the world, but to push possibilities farther then we have ever imagined.

Put climate change where your mouth is

Via MR, a really good NYT article written by John Tierny with a proposal that will put climate change skeptics and proponents beliefs to the test: tie the amount of carbon taxed/capped to the rise in temperature on earth.  Why is this great? If skeptics are right, we don’t pay anything.  If global warming proponents are right, we will have the safe guards installed to make sure that when temperatures do rise, we are able to internalize the actual cost of carbon, thereby limiting the amount we emit into the future.

Of course there will be needed discussion on just how the temperature should be measured, but the idea is foolproof nonetheless: the only judge of how much damage we are really doing to our earth will be from the earth itself.  No arguing over fudged forecasts or ulterior motives, this plan would take all of the political risk out of future changes to the climate and create a more forward looking plan; a plan that everyone will now have a stake in, including private investors – if they want to make sure that they hedge against higher costs in the future.

The problem with politics now would be how to implement it. Cap and trade or carbon tax?  The article suggests:

[…] it would be even better, Dr. McKitrick says, to use the temperature readings as the basis for a carbon tax instead of a cap-and-trade system. Like many economists and environmentalists, he argues that the carbon tax would be more effective at reducing emissions because it is simpler, more transparent, easier to enforce and less vulnerable to accounting tricks and political favoritism.

It is certainly true that a carbon tax would make things easier, but does it provide the efficiency that cap and trade would provide? One of the benefits of cap and trade is to allocate carbon credits to those who need to pollute the most, providing incentive for others to focus on creating more efficient and cleaner ways of lessening their carbon footprint. Just because a carbon tax may be easier, it still doesn’t yield the benefit of the gains from trade that could happen if carbon is able to be capped. In this case, only true polluters would bear the brunt of the costs, which could in turn, offset end costs to consumers. (Which is the driving point for cap and trade)

Waste products aftermarket: part I

Thanks to stimulus funds, companies have been trying to get R&D money up front to make renewable energy an economic reality.  One of the most popular is bio-diesel, a versatile fuel that can be made from almost anything organic.  Usually the input for production of bio-diesel would be some kind of crop, but the one that has caught my eye is producing bio-diesel from chicken fat.

[Bolingbrook, Ill.-based Elevance Renewable Sciences]… plans to use plant oils and poultry fat as building blocks to replace petroleum-based chemicals used to make myriad products, including jet fuel, lubricants, adhesives and even cosmetics and candles.

Although chicken fat is an organic compound, and doesn’t yield as much environmental damage as other noxious chemicals, industrial waste treatment for chicken production usually yields about 1,640 pounds of chicken fat per day, nearly a ton. Whether converting it to Diesel is viable, there are already many how-to’s and products online in which you can convert your grease fat into diesel yourself.

What makes chicken fat bio-diesel such a great idea is not only does it lessen the impact of environmental damage from overloading the environment’s sink function, (amount of pollution the environment can handle before irreparable damage) but it also adds value to something that was not only worthless, but harmful.

If Elevance Renewable Sciences is successful in being able to make bio-diesel from chicken fat an economic reality, it could open doors to what auto-markets are already familiar with: an after-market.  Could an aftermarket for industrial waste products be a new profitable area that could effectively reduce the amount of environmental pollution made, add value to something otherwise harmful but also reap profits for entrepreneurs who have effectively used technology to create a cost-effective business model?  Given how much industrial waste there is, imagine how much all of that waste could be worth.  The next time you decide to throw away your chicken fat you could be throwing away slimy, dirty, smelly gold!

Breakthrough Spotlight: NYT Year in Ideas

So the New York times magazine has released their annual year in ideas article. Of course this is a great opportunity to find some breakthroughs!  Although all the ideas are incredible, interesting, inspiring and most importantly, pushes the possibilities frontier outward, here are some of my favorites and some comments!

Google Algorithm as Extinction Model, The

Allesina and Pascual borrowed Google’s PageRank algorithm and modified it to model ecosystems in the natural world. As they explained in September in the journal PLoS Computational Biology, the modified algorithm was more efficient than existing ecosystem-extinction models at identifying which species’ extinction would cause the greatest number of other species in the food web also to go extinct. “Our algorithm is faster and computationally simpler,” Allesina says.

The PageRank algorithm could be useful in analyzing other networks too. The world features countless interconnected systems ranging in size from the minuscule (metabolic networks within a single cell) to the immense (international financial markets). After publishing the paper, Allesina received e-mail messages from dozens of researchers interested in adapting the PageRank algorithm. “PageRank is a technique for finding hidden flows in huge quantities of data,” says Yonatan Zunger, a Google software engineer who used to work on search technology and who contacted Allesina after seeing his research. “There are all kinds of networks. PageRank is enormously applicable beyond the Web.”

Could this help one find a whole new way of modeling economic systems?

Killer Earth

In his book “The Medea Hypothesis,”…, Ward argues that for billions of years the biosphere has been its own worst enemy.

It is certainly a revolutionary way of understanding man’s own relationship with nature. And everyone can understand his hypothesis, that mother nature is indiscriminate and will kill you will no remorse. All more of the reason to conquer it as means for survival, or at least fear its great power. This philosophical turn may not brood well for tree-hugging environmentalists.

Printable Batteries

The premise here is that if we can have such thin visual elements, how could we ever power them for the sake of design? Printable batteries should be able to help the contours of thin design stay consistent.  Already able to be put into practice in a rudimentary level, this battery could be the beginning for all sorts of gadgetry that improve design as well as functionality.

Waste Tracking

It begins with a garbage can outfitted with a scanner. When an unwanted item is dropped in, its UPC barcode or radio-frequency identification tag is read — as in the checkout line on the day it was purchased.The scanner tracks important information like the make, model and component parts and, when Smart Trash is fully operational, will send that data to a waste company’s Web site or a site like eBay to determine how much the item is worth to recyclers or in the secondhand market. That data can in turn be downloaded by the garbage collector at pickup, or relayed via a WiFi connection to the waste company, which will distribute the items accordingly — to e-waste handlers, recyclers and secondhand dealers. The user would get money for his trash in the form of rebates or sales proceeds.

A step towards making a more efficient after waste market for the disposable of valuable products. When natural resources become more scare, streamlining of this system is going to be essential to greasing the wheels of the consumer economy.

That is the ones that mostly stood out to me. Some others included lithium in the water supply, myth of the deficient older employee, random promotions and social networking as foreign policy.