I was recently asked to serve as one of the external peer reviewers of the "Canadian Water Quality Guidelines for Chloride: Scientific Criteria Document." In doing so, I documented the numerous instances where the authors were less than fastidious in checking the reliability of their references and selectively interpreted results to fit a preconceived agenda. It was a clear case where the pursuit of science morphed into ideology.
The original and subsequent iterations of the Canadian Water Quality Guidelines for Chlorides characterized it as a "Scientific Criteria Document," yet the body of the text stated that the document was "precautionary" in nature. Well, you can't have it both ways. Any document that follows the "precautionary principle" admits by definition that it is devoid of scientific consensus and, in lieu of evidence, as a precaution, asks that the burden of proof fall on those wishing to dispute the authors’ conclusions. How can such a work be characterized as a Scientific Criteria Document?
When pointing out that entirely new bodies of evidence, which significantly improved upon the accuracy and relevance of the science had not been referred to, I was informed that, in the opinion of the authors, this new science did not apply to Canadian waters - a rather odd response in light of the fact that one of the main references I used was a major Canadian mining study. Indeed, the authors' response appeared to be little more than a convoluted justification of all the positions they had taken in the original document.
In carrying out the review of the original document, I was struck by the general insensitivity of toxicological evaluations to the environment they were supposed to protect. Standard toxicological examinations do not account for the water chemistry of the bodies of water in question. The work is carried out in a controlled laboratory in liquid media that may have no similarity at all to the bodies of water in question. Comprehensive studies in Georgia by the United States Geological Survey, by the Department of Natural Resources in the state of Iowa and in Canada's Northwest Territories Ekati Diamond Mine have all found the highly significant effect of water hardness on chloride toxicity. It turns out that water hardness substantially mitigates the impact of chlorides on all sensitive species.
Standard toxicological examinations do not account for the specific animals and plants found in the bodies of water in question. Instead, it's back to the laboratory where they use a few standard organisms that may never have been within a thousand miles of the waters in question. How anyone can seriously believe that such an analysis protects the environment in the remotest way is beyond me.
What I found even more egregious were conclusions made regarding the toxicity of road salt. Yes, through runoff, road salt can make its way into the environment and that is why we have expended so much time and resources to ensure the best management of road salt. We require salt management plans, proper storage facilities, attention given to road weather information systems and the careful management of stormwater runoff to minimize any effect on the environment - just the right amount of salt at the right place and at the right time - an assembly of the very best practices.
As it happens, chloride loss to the environment is seasonal simply because road salt is used in winter. Therefore, losses to the environment mainly occur from mid-winter to early spring. This also happens to be the time when most of the biota living in streams and other bodies of water are at a low point in their growth cycle. Cold weather encourages a lag in growth and a diminution in the various organisms’ food supplies. From the few publications I have seen which studied toxicity under these conditions, it appears that organisms are less vulnerable during this period. However, back at the laboratory, this phenomenon is non-existent. The standard laboratory condition of 70ºF is kept constant throughout the year. There is no summer, no fall, no winter, and no spring - there is only the continual, comfortable, standard laboratory. There is absolutely no recognition that the organisms we want to protect live in an active, dynamic environment and that they have evolved various life and growth cycles to survive under these natural conditions.
The question is how much have we paid for environment-focused decisions made under conditions that have no bearing to reality? How is it that scientists have become so isolated from reality that they are willing to accept results that are worse than irrelevant - they are patently misleading!
It's really time to have another look at the whole imperfect science if it is to benefit us in any way.
We have often looked at desalination technology as a source for future ideas of mitigating any possible environmental impacts of salt from winter maintenance or water softening operations. With the advent of nano-technology, high hopes were pinned on the potential for this branch of applied science to contribute a solution. Now a team has created a salt-removing gadget so small that hundreds of them could fit onto a penny. Ion Channel Polarization or ICP has been around for years, but never applied to desalination. With ICP, a liquid with charged and neutral ions, such as seawater, is run through a channel. Along the channel is an electrical potential that repels charged particles. This causes the liquid to split, creating one stream with charged particles and another with neutral particles. A review on the research can be found at ScienceMagazine .
With the record-setting snowfall in the DC area this winter, hard on the heels of the embarrassment of ClimateGate, global warming proponents have been rather defensive of late. Among the most outspoken evangelicals has been Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a lawyer associated with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
A Washington Examiner story recently quoted liberally from Kennedy's global warming warnings during the 2008 presidential campaign. Kennedy wrote an op ed in the LA Times concerning his long acquaintance with weather in the nation's capital:
Snow is so scarce today that most Virginia children probably don't own a sled. But neighbors came to our home at Hickory Hill nearly every winter weekend to ride saucers and Flexible Flyers.
In those days, I recall my uncle, President Kennedy, standing erect as he rode a toboggan in his top coat, never faltering until he slid into the boxwood at the bottom of the hill. Once, my father, Atty. Gen. Robert Kennedy, brought a delegation of visiting Eskimos home from the Justice Department for lunch at our house. They spent the afternoon building a great igloo in the deep snow in our backyard. My brothers and sisters played in the structure for several weeks before it began to melt. On weekend afternoons, we commonly joined hundreds of Georgetown residents for ice skating on Washington's C&O Canal, which these days rarely freezes enough to safely skate.
Meanwhile, Exxon Mobil and its carbon cronies continue to pour money into think tanks whose purpose is to deceive the American public into believing that global warming is a fantasy.
With more than four feet of non-fantasized snow on the ground, igloos in many yards, skaters on the Georgetown canal and myriad sleds and toboggans miraculously appearing, you'd think Kennedy would be embarrassed. Don't bet on it. This is the say guy who argued that a proposed saltworks at San Ignacio lagoon on the Pacific coast of Mexico's Baja would remove so much salt from the ocean that newborn whale calves would find insufficient buoyancy to float and would perish. Underlining the importance of educating the public about salt production, his specious appeal raised more than $100 million, some of which was used to bludgeon proposers of the new saltworks. Truthful, no. But without apology or shame.
As a member of the National Transportation Operations Coalition , yesterday I attended an FHWA-hosted meeting of NTOC members to discuss how improving highway operations can contribute to the Federal Highway Administration's goals for "sustainability" and "livability." (FHWA's other two goals are economic vitality and safety).
While some others talked about how to convince Americans to emulate the example of citizens in Malmo, Sweden who have tried to stigmatize anyone for driving on a trip of less than 5 kilometers (about two miles) as taking a "ridiculous trip," I tried to focus on the narrower topic of how changes in operations might lessen the environmental impacts of roads and contribute to the quality of our lives.
There are many things that could be mentioned; I offered four salt-related suggestions:
- The imperative of Sensible Salting -- use of road salt in minimum amounts to deliver the required level of service and safety.
- One particular aspect of Sensible Salting -- proper salt storage -- not only provides environmental benefits, but acts like an "insurance policy" for agencies assuring that they have enough salt to clear roads properly. Expanded salt storage also allows for early-season deliveries which can often take advantage of the energy savings inherent in moving salt, a heavy bulk commodity, by water rather than roadway.
- The need for better real-time data on roadway conditions linked directly to road managers and the public, and
- In support of encouraging people to walk and bike to work and shopping, communities must provide not only clear roads, but clear bike paths and sidewalks. Usually, residential sidewalks are a homeowners responsibility, often supported by (often unenforced) local ordinances. As for roads, assured, reliable access to safe bike paths and sidewalks is a priority for sustainable transportation.
Today's Chicago Tribune , coincidentally, picked up on this latter theme, reporting on a local Chicagoland activist group, the Active Transportation Alliance , and its efforts to encourage procrastinating homeowners to comply with the local law. Chicago requires sidewalks to be cleared "within three hours of the snow falling" or face a $50 citation.
The group points out the safety hazard of pedestrians forced to walk in snowy streets. Sustainable and livable communities should insist on timely clearing not only of public roads, but of sidewalks and bike paths.
It is unfortunate that the recent USGS study – a straightforward assessment of chlorides in groundwater areas in 19 states - was spun in a sensational manner in the USGS press release . The press release stated that
Chloride levels above the recommended federal criteria set to protect aquatic life were found in more than 40 percent of urban streams tested. Elevated chloride can inhibit plant growth, impair reproduction, and reduce the diversity of organisms in streams.
The actual report itself is far more sober, as seen in the report summary:
Groundwater-quality data from a sampling of 1,329 wells in 19 states were analyzed. Chloride concentrations were greater than the secondary maximum contaminant level established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of 250 milligrams per liter in 2.5 percent of samples from 797 shallow monitoring wells and in 1.7 percent of samples from 532 drinking-water supply wells.
Of course, a number of newspapers didn't bother to read the report and simply quoted the press release. A careful reading of the report indicates that the 40% of urban areas that showed exceedance of the EPA limit did so only as exceptional events, not as routine discharges from these areas. For instance, the data in the report shows about 1/5th of the Minneapolis samples exceeding the EPA limit. Although regrettable, it can be understood that after particularly intense snow and ice events, the amounts of deicers added to roadways and consequently found in runoff will be greater than usual. We made this case clear to the newspapers that merely referred to the press release.
For decades, the Salt Institute has encouraged and supported a Sensible Salting program to ensure that the level of salt applied to roads is kept to the absolute minimum required to provide the public with the required level of safety and mobility during winter snow and ice events. We have actively supported programs of best practices with the specific goal of minimizing the environmental impacts of deicing and have supported the full and transparent review of these programs to ensure that they are actually working. And they are.
In keeping with our decades-long advocacy of Sensible Salting to reduce the environmental impact of salt application, the Salt Institute has been aware of the potential for intense snow and ice events to demand a large deicer application which could result in an exceptional exceedance, as has been noted in the USGS report. We remain at the forefront of mitigation technology and are currently supported the latest cutting-edge research at Guelph University specifically designed to eliminate the sort of post-event chloride spikes noted in the USGS study.
In addition, the latest science reveals that level of water hardness has a significant impact on chloride toxicity. In areas where the water is harder, chlorides have far less of an impact on the biological organisms than in soft water areas. In fact, most of the northern states have fairly hard water. That is why some of the more progressive states, like Iowa, are beginning to consider the actual chemistry of their waters in order to establish toxicity standards that more closely reflect scientific reality.
Lest this entire issue be taken out of perspective, it must be understood that we have to apply deicers to our roads in winter to ensure safety and mobility. A Marquette University study, demonstrated the unparalleled benefits of deicing with road salts by saving thousands of lives and preventing untold injuries, while allowing our economy and its distribution systems to continue operating during the winter months.
Nevertheless, we must continue to do whatever we can to ensure that the products and services that are employed to allow us to live and work under difficult winter conditions do not compromise the environment for future generations.
Scientists at the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics and the University of Adelaide and Cambridge University have developed salt-tolerant plants using a new type of genetic modification. The results could impact food production and security, since salinity affects agriculture worldwide.
Soil salinity affects large areas of cultivated land, causing significant reductions in crop yield globally. The sodium toxicity of many crop plants is correlated with over-accumulation of sodium in the shoot. It was previously suggested that the engineering of sodium exclusion from the shoot could be achieved through an alteration of plasma membrane sodium transport processes in the root, if these alterations were cell specific. Current research published in The Plant Cell confirms this. Plants with reduced shoot sodium have increased salinity tolerance. The results demonstrate that the modification of a specific sodium transport process in specific cell types can reduce shoot sodium accumulation, an important component of salinity tolerance of many higher plants.
"Salinity affects the growth of plants worldwide, particularly in irrigated land where one third of the world's food is produced. And it is a problem that is only going to get worse" said team leader Mark Tester, professor at the University of Adelaide.
Tester says his team used the technique to keep salt out of the leaves of a model plant species. The researchers modified genes specifically around the plant's water conducting tissue (xylem) so that salt is removed from the transpiration stream before it gets to the shoot.
"This reduces the amount of toxic salt building up in the shoot and so increases the plant's tolerance to salinity," Tester said.
"In doing this, we've enhanced a process used naturally by plants to minimize the movement of salt to the shoot. We've used genetic modification to amplify the process, helping plants to do what they already do - but to do it much better" he added.
The team is now in the process of transferring this technology to crops such as rice, wheat and barley, said an Adelaide release.
Being pro-environment is good politics. And lessening man's "footprint" is a major policy objective.
Some companies are playing the angles to capitalize on environment-related business opportunities , some with subsidies, some hoping for help from highly-placed friends. Whether it's getting subsidies for ethanol or fuel efficient cars or producing "alternative" energy without generatating reviled carbon, the government seems to be, increasingly, at the nexus of picking winners in the marketplace. And that government role means that those with friends "inside" exercise more leverage.
I won't rehash the scientific controversy over global warming; it's certainly a lightning rod issue. But in the area of alternative energy, there's always been the presumption that the sun will shine, the tides will rise, the wind will blow and Earth's subterranean geo-furnace will go on forever -- even if moderate climates change. Today's New York Times carries a story about a labor union what I'd call "protection racket" regarding building new solar facilities in California.
Maybe continuation of the sun, moon, the Earth's molten core and, especially, the wind is not a safe assumption according to Eugene S. Takle, a professor of atmospheric science at Iowa State University, and the director of the school’s “climate science initiative.” Takle told MarketWatch.com that his research, to be published soon in the Journal of Geophysical Research , has found that U.S. wind strength has declined by 15% to 30% over the past 30 years from the mid-1970s to 2005. Land use and better instrumentation (and climate change itself) account for the decline, he believes.
Ted Kennedy may have the clout to block construction of those windmills off his Nantucket estate, but the bigger threat to his lifestyle may prove to be that his yacht may be as becalmed as the windmills.
In an op ed piece in today's Wall Street Journal , Bjorn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus, decries "a new twist on a very old practice: companies using public policy to line their own pockets." His target: "The Climate-Industrial Complex" of companies feeding off the government's handouts to corporations investing in technologies to reduce global warming or adapt to it. He revisits Eisenhower's presidential farewell warning of the odious influence of the military-industrial complex.
Some business leaders are cozying up with politicians and scientists to demand swift, drastic action on global warming. ...
The tight relationship between the groups echoes the relationship among weapons makers, researchers and the U.S. military during the Cold War. President Dwight Eisenhower famously warned about the might of the "military-industrial complex," cautioning that "the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." He worried that "there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties."
This is certainly true of climate change. We are told that very expensive carbon regulations are the only way to respond to global warming, despite ample evidence that this approach does not pass a basic cost-benefit test. We must ask whether a "climate-industrial complex" is emerging, pressing taxpayers to fork over money to please those who stand to gain.
Will governments try to entice food companies into wheedling taxpayer dollars to pay corporate development and marketing costs for low-sodium foods based on science that is even weaker than that adduced to support measures to combat global warming? That camel's-nose-under-the tent in the banking and auto industries is shaping up as a pattern to watch.
Nor is the parallel limited to a nutrition-industrial complex, Lomborg points out the tactic being employed by the Copenhagen Climate Council, representing "green" equity investors like Al Gore and industrial interests like wind turbine manufacturers, at the forthcoming World Business Summit on Climate Change where scientific skeptics have been excluded from the program. Kinda sounds like some controversy-deniers we know in the public health nutrition community.
Salt Institute member Industria Salinera de Yucatan , headquarted in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico was honored late last month at the 2nd International Conference on the Ecological Importance of Solar Saltworks (CEISSA 2009) in Merida, March 26-28.
ISYSA President Eduardo Roche was honored for his efforts to preserve the environment of ISYSA's Las Coloradas saltfield located inside the Ria Lagartos Biosphere. The company also recently earned the Clean Industry Certification seal from the Mexican Secretary of Environmental Protection. ISYSA’s environmental accomplishments include preservation of nearby wetlands, support for turtle banding on the Las Coloradas beaches, restoration of roads and beaches of nearby towns after hurricanes, rescuing nearby flamingo colonies after hurricanes, and promoting an annual educational program by the nongovernmental organization--Niños y Crías A.C.—where adults and children band juvenile flamingoes.
The conference was held in honor of Dr. Joseph S. Davis, Professor Emeritus of the University of Florida, for his pioneering work on the relationship of biological processes and solar salt manufacture.
Another Salt Institute member, Salins , based in Paris, France, presented on how they manage their two Mediterranean saltworks as environmentally protected areas.
ISYSA hosted the conference which was organized by Sergio Ortiz of ISYSA, Dr. Themistocles Lekkas of the University of the Aegean, and Nikos Korovessis of Hellenic Saltworks. Presentations emphasized the environmental friendliness of the solar salt-making industry, mainly through wetland preservation. The conference attracted global participation with delegates from Argentina, China, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Switzerland, and the U.S.
Ultimately, every paradigm is founded on faith. Faith in the process for some. Faith in the evidence, for others. Some systems survive, sustained by their evident logic and internal consistency. Adherents adopt a near-religious protective shield to deny data inconsistent with the paradigm. Ultimately, mounting evidence becomes too strong to deny and the old world view can disappear quickly.
We often describe adherents to the “salt hypothesis” that reducing dietary salt will improve health in such terms. There may be an even better example (nah, probably not better)
Like certain questions of public health, some environmental propositions are so logical and internally-consistent that they resist new evidence. This is especially the case when the proposition is bolstered by strong special interests. In the salt arena, we saw this phenomenon several years ago when the Natural Resources Defense Council, spurred by strong fundraising appeal, argued that a proposed Pacific coast saltworks would remove so much salt from the ocean bay that wintering newborn whale calves would have insufficient buoyancy and drown. The fact that the whales thrived near the saltworks was ignored.
The same logic held that since salt was related to blood pressure and low blood pressure populations had fewer heart attacks, we should expect improved cardiovascular health by putting the entire population on a “low salt” diet. That easy assumption has been disproved by now double-digit numbers of studies measuring the health outcomes of low-salt versus normal-salt individuals. But those facts are for another story.
This time the issue is energy and the environment and the evidence in question pertains to ethanol. Ethanol is touted to replace gasoline in our cars and trucks. Its heavily-subsidized production has vastly expanded the demand for American corn. In fact, the enormous volume of grain shipments that once made the Mississippi a southbound “superhighway” (and subsidized less expensive up-river shipments of salt), has almost disappeared; corn is trucked to nearby ethanol plants in our national push to reduce carbon-based “greenhouse gases.” Since the “road to the White House” runs smack through subsidy-loving Iowa, the federal government is ethanol’s biggest booster. It’s bipartisan.
In recent years, skeptics have pointed out that it takes more BTUs to raise the corn and process it into ethanol than the ethanol yields. No matter.
Now skeptics have another argument. A recent article in Environmental Science & Technology (Web published last month; in hard copy next Wednesday) points out flaws in previous calculations of the amount of water required to grow the corn to feed the ethanol plants. While the new math may discomfort the corn growers of Iowa and Illinois, the researchers from the University of Minnesota documented huge differences in water requirements based on irrigation practices. While it may make some sense to use rainfall-nourished Iowa corn, it borders on the criminal to allow ethanol production in water-starved states like California. As policy-makers drive ethanol production higher, water used to make ethanol has increased 246% from 1.9 trillion liters to 6.1 trillion liters in just the past three years (whereas ethanol production has “only” increased half that much, 133%).
Six years ago, other researchers estimated that it took 263 liters of water to produce one liter of ethanol. Last year, the National Academy of Sciences tripled that estimate to 784 liters. This new study by Yi-Wen Chiu, Brian Walseth and Sangwon Suh says the true water cost varies from 5 liters of water for a liter of ethanol all the way up to 2,138 liters of water for each liter of ethanol; the general trend follows rainfall with the East being more water-sufficient and –efficient and the drought stricken West terribly water-inefficient. By state, Ohio can produce a liter of ethanol for 5 liters of water; Iowa, 6; Kentucky, 7; Tennessee, 10; and Illinois, 11. In contrast, Wyoming requires 1,354 liters; New Mexico, 1,427 and California a whopping 2,138.
Over the next half century, we believe that our current preoccupation with energy supplies will yield to burgeoning alarm about our dwindling water supplies. And the poster child for water conservation is California. So tell us again: why are we subsidizing ethanol production in California when it requires better than 500 times more water than in the Mississippi basin and forces draconian lifestyle controls in many California communities?
The ethanol house-of-cards is glued together with federal subsidies, so it may last even longer than federal public health nutrition policy now suffering body blows as new “health outcomes” studies fail to identify a health benefit for all the over-hyped recommendations and new evidence is emerging that consumers possess a “hard-wired” appetite for salt – just like livestock and poultry which science we’ve understood for the better part of a century.
The next question is whether “Change!” and “transparency” will allow a full discussion of these new facts of energy and nutrition recommendations and changes to those policies.
Current plans to greatly expand research into new energy sources include a variety of alternative hydrocarbon replacements. Some of these are very unique and a recent issue of The Scientist describes the potential for using lipid-forming algae as a future source of fuel. Featuring the Cargill solar evaporation salt ponds in the southern horn of San Francisco Bay, the article stresses that ponds such as these hold great promise for the future, because the microalgae they can grow may be used to produce a significant supply of energy.
The concept is not new, having been around for at least 30 years or more. In fact, while I was at FAO in Rome, I was fortunate enough to carry out a microalgae project in Lake Chad on the south-western edge of the Sahara Desert in the late 80s. Lake Chad, which is shared by Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria and Niger has shrunk in size from 30,000 km2 to 3,000 km2 in the last 40 years as a combined result of a prolonged drought and the uncontrolled irrigation it initiated. Lake Chad also happens to be home to a great many species of algae and cyanobacteria , both of which have been long used as a source of food protein bt local tribes. In looking at the potential use of algae as an alternative source of hydrocarbons, the indigenous algae we examined were a particular genus, Botryococcus , which contains over 90% of their weight as intracellular oil globules. Processing was not particularly difficult as all that had to be done was to break the cells and centrifuge off the oil.
In those days, however, the price of oil was highly volatile and beginning to drop. As a result, the incentive for further commercialization of this resource was largely reduced. Indeed, that has been the history of alternative energy research. From the time of the first major oil crisis in the early 70s until now, the amount of research into all forms of alternative energy was controlled by OPEC.
You would think that with our expanding knowledge of global warming; our statistics on the explosion of fossil-fuel based CO2 production and our understanding of the ocean's limited capacity to sequester CO2, that worldwide research into alternative sources of energy would have steadily increased over the years, but it hasn't. Regardless of all those issues that really should have driven the research into alternative energy sources, the only thing that controlled the amount of research carried out was - you guessed it - the price of oil. And OPEC will continue to use the price of oil as a disincentive for future alternative energy research.
However, it appears that the last round of pricing spikes in the cost of oil may have been the proverbial straw to break the camel's back. There is no doubt that OPEC will proceed to produce considerably more oil to drive down the price. Let's hope, this time around, we have the discipline and policy incentives to finally bring alternative energy sources, including nuclear, solar, wind, geothermal, wave and biofuels such as biohydrogen and algal hydrocarbons to a point where commercialization will take place.
Why is it that salt and water - the two elements so critical to all animal life on our planet - should regularly be the subjects of such divergent views and opinions - all supposedly based on legitimate science? The problem is that the goal of scientific observation is to develop a prediction or scientific theory. The leap from observation to hypotheses does not preclude the influence of a scientist's personal bias. We have seen this result in a distorted series of public policies in the case of salt. A similar string of contradictions exist regarding a perception of freshwater sources.
The Freshwater Biological Association, based in Dorset, UK, is sponsoring a meeting entitled, "Multiple Stressors in Freshwater Ecosystems ". The agenda of this meeting is designed is to launch an international call for action and influence to safeguard the future of global fresh waters. The meeting was opened by Professor John Beddington, Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government, who stated. "It is not all doom and gloom however, I believe science and technology can play a key role in responding to these challenges ."
One week earlier, in the August 23rd edition of New Scientist, Dr. Jonathan Chenoweth, of the Center for Environmental Strategy, University of Surrey, wrote an article entitled, "Water, water everywhere," in which he stated that his research indicated that the issue of shrinking world supplies of fresh water may not be as dire as many scientists are suggesting. He went on to state that he believed the supposed looming water crisis is primarily a problem of distribution and management rather than supply. Through the use of increased investment, existing technologies and political will, this problem can be readily solved.
In one case, a meeting is essentially focused on what is characterized as a dire problem - the stressors impacting our freshwater ecosystems - while in the other case, a well-known and respected scientist slowly and methodically analyzes the current situation and makes suggestions for practical, realizable solutions that would greatly expand everyone's access to sufficient supplies of fresh water.
It will be interesting to see which attitude will prevail in the public's perception of freshwater.
Today, Norway's Aftenposten News announced that the government energy provider, Statkraft, has made the decision to build the world's first pressure retarded osmosis (PRO) power plant prototype in Hurum, Norway. In the process, two solutions with different salt-concentrations are used (often freshwater and salt-water). A semipermeable osmotic membrane separates the solutions and only lets small molecules like water-molecules pass through. The water attempts to decrease the salt-concentration on the side of the membrane that contains the most salt. The water therefore streams through the membrane and creates a pressure on the other side. This pressure can be utilised in order to gain energy, for example by using a turbine and a generator.
Here is a simple schematic of such a system to be used in a 100 kW plant :
This new development marks the first step in a technology that may one day provide a significant portion of the world's energy. Statkraft is the first company to venture into this technology because it is far more costly than fossil fuel. (However, if the total cost to the environment of fossil fuels were to be calculated, these differences may disappear.) Norway is seriously committed to reducing global warming and this new technology is in keeping with that commitment.
While freshwater/seawater gradients are rather costly, there is a much greater short term economic potential for freshwater/brine and seawater/brine gradients . As a result, utilizing brine from inland salt lakes, solution mines and solar salt operations may be a more economically feasible approach than the Statkraft operation. Whatever the case, through this new development, we can look forward to a green future with the incredible Saline Turbine!
It won't help sweltering Washington, DC nor even likely boost sales of deicing salt in Argentina, but that country's national weather service yesterday reported the first major snow in Buenos Aires since June 22, 1918, according to the Manchester Guardian (credit: their photo above). What would Al Gore say?
Meanwhile, in the face of politically-correct "conventional wisdom" on "climate change," former VP Gore was challenged to a bet on the future of climate change. Reports today's Wall Street Journal:
J. Scott Armstrong, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and expert on long range forecasting, has offered to bet Al Gore $10,000 that he can do a better job of predicting the future of climate change than the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose forecasts of rising temperatures are cited in virtually every media account. Mr. Armstrong and a colleague, Kesten Green of New Zealand's Monash University, examined the IPCC's work for last month's 27th Annual International Symposium on Forecasting and found it essentially valueless according to established principles of forecasting. "Claims that the Earth will get warmer have no more credence than saying that it will get colder," concluded the two.
So what's Prof. Armstrong's own climate prediction? No change at all. "The methodology was so poor that I thought a bet based on complete ignorance of the climate could do better," says Mr. Armstrong. "We call it 'the naïve model.' Things won't change."
Professor Armstrong is the author of Long-Range Forecasting -- the most frequently cited book on forecasting methods -- and Principles of Forecasting, which was voted a "favorite book" by researchers and practitioners associated with the International Institute of Forecasters. If Mr. Gore accepts his challenge, Prof. Armstrong has proposed that each man put $10,000 into a charitable trust at a reputable brokerage house. The winner would then choose a charity to receive the total amount.
So far, no response from Mr. Gore. Perhaps he read about Buenos Aires.
So much has been written, particularly over the past week or so, about the series of 5-4 votes in the U.S. Supreme Court where President Bush's most enduring legacy is being recorded. While much has been made about the Court's ruling outlawing race-based discrimination and restoring the erosion of political free speech under the McCain-Feingold campaign finance "reform," other less-discussed opinions will have far-reaching impacts on the salt industry.
Perhaps most important among them was the June 25th decision in National Ass'n of Home Builders v. Defenders of Wildlife . The Supreme Court reversed an appeals court ruling that had, in effect, established the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as a super-statute that was given priority when its dictates conflicted with other laws. This grew out of the infamous "snail darter" case thirty years ago that held the ESA "require[s federal] agencies to afford first priority to the declared national policy of saving endangered species." The NAHB ruling examined a conflict of the ESA with the Clean Water Act and the court ruled that the agencies should consult together to resolve the problem, not sacrifice pollution control rules as the preferred outcome. The ESA has been employed regarding solar salt production and this ruling is a step forward for rational (and more flexible) public policy.