Monday, November 27, 2006

Infectious and Deadly Disease - The Litter Bug

My current night reading is a book called Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins. I received it a while ago as a gift and I have been slowly digging throught it. The book is very heavy on statistics and details of the sad and wonderful things going on in the world’s industrious zones. I want to share today with all my readers some insights from the book that made my eyes open wide.

The context of the text, I am canting, is from the chapter dedicated to the problem of waste. Selected industrial plants were used as examples of how waste was treated and the innovations that occur. This section though is about the problem of waste and the statistics.

“In 1990, the average American... moblized a flow of roughly 123... pounds of material a day - equivalent to (250 million) semitrailers loads per year. This amounts to 47 pounds of fuel, 46 of construction materials, 15 of farm and 6 of forest products, 6 of industrial minerals, and 3 of metals of which 90 percent is iron and steel.” “...daily activities emit(ted) 130 pounds of gaseous material into the air”. “In addition, the person’s daily activities required the consumption of about 2000 pounds of water that after use is sufficiently contaminated that it cannot be reintroduced into marine or riparian systems.” “Total annual wastes in the US, excluding wastewater, now exceed 50 trillion pounds a year.”

These numbers are kind of nuts, when you think, not what you are throwing out, but how everything around you has a waste value. It is a shocking realization. If you look below at my past blog postings I talked about seeing things through Emergy Glasses. Now shift your focus to see the Dark Waste.

Physical waste is not the only thing we should be concerned about. The authors go on to talk about a more sensitve issue, society wastes. Introducing a way to measure society is very important and the book uses a social health index developed by Fordham Universtiy. “The index, which tracks problems like child abuse, teen suicide, drug abuse, high school dropout rates, child poverty, the gap between rich and poor, infant mortality, unemployment, crime, and elder abuse and poverty...” is how society can be measured in the light of progress and over the past years the index is continuously low. Diving deeper, the authors explain how the penal system in USA has enormous costs to society (waste) that “there is no cost difference between incarceration and an Ivy League education; the main difference is curricuum.”

The major point of society wasting according to the book, is the current industrial system “clings to the outdated assumption...(that) use(s) more natural capital and fewer people.” “A society that wastes its resources wastes its people and vice versa. And both kinds of wastes are expensive.”

There is more about waste systems such as: labour overproductivity (exhausted people working too much overtime) to how money is wasted, like highway accidents costing society 150 billion dollars per year. Seeing it in this dark light, only gives me inspiration to find a little solution to help.

I encourage discussion on any of of my comments, since I left so much out from the book.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Hot Rods Steaming the Place Up

Enrique Fermi was the man. Yes, he figured out how to bang atoms together in a controlled space to make power. You could say it takes a genius to figure it all out, but he had a brilliant team of scientist to assist him. Humanity now had a new resource of power, some say it is unlimited power, to continue living on the earth in splendour. Others would condemn the idea as an unforgivable creation only leading to the ultimate melting of our existence.

With the trenches dug deep on either side of this debate, one wonders if white flags can even be hoisted. The battle will continue to rage and rightly so. Our scientist do not know everything about atomic physics to confidently tell us it will all be ok. The best they can do is send us on a trail of statistics and probabilities with no confirming conclusion.

Nuclear programs developed largely in the USA, Germany, France, and Sweden (Former USSR had their own program, but are secret with the details). It was these power houses which coincided research on military and industrial applications of nuclear energy. These programs placed extraordinary demands on their societies, mainly conformity and long-term stability [1]. It made the energy system too inflexible, leaving room for failure. Eventually, complete nuclear programs were scrapped leaving the remains to fight on their own. Only in France, where conditions were stable enough, does a fully developed nuclear energy system exist. Society did not like to deal with the heavy amounts of pressures, thus the anti-nuke groups were born.

Unknowingly, my school was the breeding ground for the Swedish nuclear program. About 500 metres from my classrooms, a deep dark cavern holds the remains of the first experimental reactor in Sweden. The odd thing about this locale is the proximity to the city centre, about 2-3 kms. It was here where the Swedish brains created their own home-grown nuclear knowledge. It was here where this past week's guest lecturer began his troublesome career.

While starting his career in the early Fifties with the Swedish Atomic Agency, he climbed rapidly into leading positions and heavier responsibilities. It was in the early Seventies when an agency report, omitting public safety concerns, was published did he resign and join the fight against nuclear expansion. He was a heavy political ally for the anti-nuke parties and eventually Sweden voted for the dismantling of the program. Now a professor emeritus, he currently consults and leads national debates on nuclear questions.

His words were very wise. His experience tremendously interesting. He blames the pride of the nuclear scientist for their own downfall. He wishes they would all disappear to allow for fresh young minds to take up the technology and make it wholesome again. He, caught at the edge of the barb wire fence defending the cause for greater safety, waits patiently for the other side to hoist the white flag to admit their arrogance and pass the torch to the next generation.


[1] I got this info from Gene Rochlin who wrote a paper on nuclear energy systems. He writes about the nuclear energy systems and how it failed because it lacked compatibility with the other players. He states the energy system was not able to adapt to nuclear power.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Emergy Vision-o-matic

Take a break right now from the computer screen and look at some of the small objects that surround you. The pens, papers, headphones, wallet maybe, a postcard, perhaps a sandwich or some fruit or even a little Kinder Egg toy used as decoration. Now reach into the screen and grab the Emergy Glasses I am passing on to you and put them on.

Your vision will change and see bright objects of different intensities. The fruit beside you has a weak glow to it, but that Kinder Egg toy is almost blinding. Quantifying the value of these objects by all the resources that are used to produce it can be done by measuring the amount of solar radiation the resources needed over time. This is called a Solar Emergy Joule or sej. Like a fruit taking a season to grow absorbing solar energy. Of course, I am simplifying it a lot, but I am sure you understand the general idea.

It is useful when you are talking about a system with inputs and outputs. For example, a farm or a vehicle, or even a forest. Emergy modelling can take any type of system and describe it while measuring the sustainability of a system. Ecological modellers use emergy to understand how outside-the-system disturbances change a system or how to quantify the "free" resources that are consumed in a system, like air, wind, land etc. It is a very comprehensive analysis and it is rare to see such an analysis performed.

If you had a chance to check out the wikipedia site I linked last week, you probably noticed the age of this concept and how it is rather new to scientific circles. My professors might not know too much about this concept, but I still feel there is some value to learning more about it. Perhaps there is a future thesis opportunity with this subject.

I want you to keep the Emergy Glasses. Put them on once and a while to see how certain things light up. Use them when making choices about what to buy or use. The brighter the light the more emergy it contains. For some things you can read the labels and see how many calories or joules a serving will give the consumer. Give it a factor of 5-10 and this will give you a rough idea.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Literature Study 1 - Eco industrial parks and emergy

I am going to post some work that I am presenting this Thursday in one of my classes. Below you will find my response to an assignment where I was required to find a journal article and answer some questions regarding the connection between the article's content and energy management ideas. As well, the professor wanted to know a bit about us, which you will find my response in Part 1. It was rather fun to do, so I hope you enjoy it.


Part 1

At the beginning I had no expectations of the course. The course description was rather vague and seemed to cover a lot of material. Once I attended the first lecture, the professor captured my complete attention. The course should be rather organized and the lecturers, so far, knowledgeable and easy to listen to. Open discussion and dialogue are important in a course of this nature, where everyone's opinion is valued and respected.

I expect to learn much about the philosophies of system thinking. System thinking in North America in the energy or environmental industry is not widely engaged thus, understanding the value of system thinking will hopefully enlighten me. I expect to learn from my classmates about their experiences and lessons learned in their fields of study. I intend to understand how system thinking can be used in various fields and not only in the energy industry.

In my last year of university, I worked intimately with fuel cell technology in the mining industry. I was to develop experimental test beds to gauge fuel cell performance for mining vehicle propulsion. Some time later, my career started in government regulations and government programming. I assisted a senior engineer who gave me exactly what I needed to flourish my understanding of the energy industry from the regulator's point of view. Our main goal was to develop industrial air emission guidelines and to find solutions for the industry to meet energy efficiency and air emission standards. This opportunity led me to many projects and industry conferences, where I was exposed to the leading edge of energy and environmental thinking in North America.

Currently, solid waste to energy concepts are fuelling my thirst for knowledge and understanding. I enjoy the debate of whither we should combust our solid wastes or reduce the amount of waste we produce from the source. This debate is fresh in Canada and drawing from the European experience, it will hopefully provide an insight to what can work.

Part 2

The second article in the literature study is a paper explaining the emergy analysis model and incorporating it to an eco-industrial park in China. Emergy is used as a tool to characterize the inputs and outputs of a system by giving them a standard value, solar energy (emergy). These values are then drawn into formulae to reach a conclusion on the sustainability of the system in question. The paper introduces a new set of characteristics or index which was able to better represent the flows of material, energy and money.

The authors were much in favour of the eco-industrial system. They wanted to represent this system as accurately as possible, for industry to understand the value of such a system. It can be seen that their expertise lies within the emergy model analysis as they could convert most inputs and outputs of a large system into emergy statistics. Their familiarity with the model allowed them to improve upon it with their new index.

Taking a clue from the nature of the journal where this paper was published, the intended audience was experts and disciples of the modeling community. Those who study emergmodelingng would be very interested in the new development and as well as the functionality of the emergy model on eco-industrial parks. In comparison to other models, the emergy model is unique as it takes all forms of energy and puts them on a simple common plane. A solar plane. All energy can be translated into a value of solar energy. Laganisa & Debeljakb (2006, pp. 287-288) describe it as an, "attempt to solve the problems of multi-quality inputs by transforming them to an equivalent of energy of a single quality, which is usually solar energy."

The article continues to describe the eco-industrial park into four distinct areas: electricity flows between the producers and consumers; Steam requirements and the flow between producers and consumers; Water usage and flows; and material by-products. All of these flow lines needed to be managed for the system to function at a sustainable and profitable level, giving way to complex management analysis. Critically, the flow lines between the neighbouring enterprises are dependant and cannot fail, otherwise causing loss for each of the tenants of the park.

I chose this article because the concept of eco-industrial parks consists of many different levels in system management. I refer to the levels where energy, solid materials (renewable and non-renewable), labour, and monetary need to be observed in unison to create a, challenging, balance in production, transportation and consumption of goods and services.


If you want to learn more about the article, send me a note to my email: darklamp(at) I will forward you the article. Also wikipedia has some great stuff on emergy for those who are curious.