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In another serious setback in the effort to stem the flow of oil gushing from a well a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico, BP engineers said Saturday that the “top kill” technique had failed and, after consultation with government officials, they had decided to move on to another strategy. [via NY Times]

Related headlines [May 30, 2010]:

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An infographic map visualing the worst oil spills in history:

“Crude Awakening,” a detailed infographic on the Gulf oil spill catastrophe.

From internal gasoline-combustion engines to hybrid-electric to fully electric vehicles. I’m excited about the idea of never needing to spend money on gasoline; my next car will most likely be a hybrid-electric. I would only go for a plug-in electric if I decided to live in Davis forever – there are 11 charging stations conveniently sprinkled throughout the city and campus – not every city is as EV friendly.

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Without further ado, some of the hybrid electrics from the 2009 Detroit Auto Show:

  1. Fisker Automotive Karma = HOT. Premium hybrids get all the looks.
  2. Toyota Prius for 2010 is roomier and averages 50mpg (up from 46mpg).
  3. Honda Insight (Concept) for 2010, to be priced below $20,000 to compete directly with the Toyota Prius {starting at $22,000}.
  4. Mercedes BlueZero (Concept). Gas-electric, battery-electric, or hydrogen fuel-cell drivetrain. Killing two three birds with one stone.

hybrids

With the exception of the Fisker Karma, they all have that darn friendly jellybean shape.

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The question remains: will GM, Ford & Chrysler will be able to price their EVs and hybrids on par with the Insight and Prius?

The future of the automobile was sealed at North America’s biggest auto show this week, where all of the hottest new cars and concepts had extension cords. Any idea that ethanol or hydrogen will lead us past petroleum was tossed out the window, as the big automakers — hobbled by a brutal economy, gyrating oil prices and humiliating congressional tongue-lashings — limped into the Detroit auto show. They all put on a brave face with the hybrids and electric vehicles they promise to start putting on the road next year.

“They’ve finally gotten a little religion,” says Chelsea Sexton, executive director of the EV advocacy group Plug-In America. “The auto industry is at the point where it has to invest in its future, and smart investors bet on the inevitable. Electric drive is inevitable. [via Wired]

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Both Chrysler and GM went above and beyond merely achieving fuel-efficiency with the introduction of electric vehicles. They are rather attractive and don’t take on the disastrously innocuous jellybean silhouette of current hybrid vehicles. Why must things that are “green” also be “incredibly round”? Honestly, if hybrids looked like aerodynamically chiseled, muscular luxury cars at a more affordable price point, they’d fly off the shelves. After all, a research study  [The Perception of Automotive Designs @ DOI: 10.1007/s12110-008-9047-z] found that:

One-third of the subjects associated a human or animal face with at least 90 percent of the cars. . . Overall, people agreed which type of car possesses certain traits [and] liked cars most which had a wide stance, a narrow windshield, and/or widely spaced, narrow headlights. The better the subjects liked a car, the more it bore shape characteristics corresponding to high values of what the authors termed “power”, indicating that both men and women like mature, dominant, masculine, arrogant, angry-looking cars. [via ScienceDaily]

Some people like friendly cars. Unfortunately, I must confess that I am an “angry-faced car” lover and that I prefer my car to look like it could rip your car into shreds. Hopefully, EVs get reworked to look tougher. 

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1. GM Chevrolet Volt (Production Model for 2010)
2. Chrysler 200C (Concept)
3. GM Cadillac Converj (Concept)
4. Chrysler Dodge Circuit(Concept)

ev
Cheers for investing in a greener future (with sexy electric automobiles)!

“Something huge is going to have to give. The energy- and material-rich lifestyle that people in the developed world enjoy simply can’t last, and the lifestyle that people in developing regions might aspire to will never happen, without a concerted effort by the global community to start living within the planet’s means. Either we find ways to run our societies without squandering natural resources and degrading the environment, or we will foist dire consequences on ourselves for generations to come. The first option requires the world to embrace sustainability.

The concept of sustainability, which traces its roots back to the earliest days of human culture, is easy to describe: A sustainable global society is one in which people today meet their needs without compromising the ability of future generations to live equally well.

Our collective fate will come down to our ability to shift the way we produce and consume electricity and fuels and the way we design and use chemicals and the materials made from them. An ineluctable truth for the chemical enterprise is that this task will require thousands of innovations. The multiple pathways we will need to realize these innovations will have to be built by improving the efficiencies of current technologies, creating myriad new technologies, and recycling like never before.

But knowing what it will take to gain some measure of sustainability is far more difficult than citing a definition because sustainability is not a final destination. Sustainability instead can be thought of as a general direction in which we all must be traveling. It is a moving target influenced by resource availability, environmental impacts, and unforeseen obstacles.

Building those pathways will require not only accelerating the rate of innovation but also creating pragmatic social partnerships between scientists and engineers, research funding agencies, entrepreneurs, product developers, manufacturers, consumers, consumer advocates, regulators, environmental activists, and educators. Together, we will have to work through the multiple dimensions of human societies—technological, environmental, economic, political, and cultural—to ensure that food, water, medicines, electricity, fuels, and materials can be delivered wherever and whenever needed. That is what it will take to conquer the sustainability challenge…”

[Read more here: Callling all Chemists via C&EN]

The rest of the article covers green chemistry & engineering.

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“GOVERNMENT” and “sustainability” aren’t words often uttered in the same breath. Yet from towns and counties to states to federal agencies, and even at the United Nations, governments are grappling with how to integrate environmental concerns into policies that affect people and the economy…

[More on government policies here: Sticks and Carrots via C&EN]

Click to read Barack Obama’s answers to the top 14 science questions facing America.It’s a pity that these issues that are not brought up often enough in the media.

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In one of the plant biotechnology courses I took last year, the professor announced that the course didn’t have a required textbook. [Of course, every time that happens I feel like I’ve won the lottery, since I’m exempt from spending a couple hundred dollars to purchase a slab of bound paper.] Instead, we would be pulling from recent peer-reviewed research publications, because the pace of acquired knowledge in plant biotechnology far outpaces the ability to assemble an up-to-date textbook. 

This isn’t only true for textbooks: science and technology, which lie at the heart of a large number of policy issues facing the United States, has advanced beyond the comprehension of current policy-makers (who often have little or no background in the sciences). Science and politics do heavily intersect, despite the common notion that the two exist and should continue exist as incompatible and distinct subject matters. An deep familiarity with science and technology is absolutely crucial in being able to draft and institute these policies dealing with the challenges facing our nation and the world. It’s very important that our next president understands this as well.

I applaud the creators of the ScienceDebate2008. Their mission statement:

Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for accurate scientific information in political decision making, and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth and competitiveness, we call for a public debate in which the U.S. presidential candidates share their views on the issues of The Environment, Health and Medicine, and Science and Technology Policy.

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The policy issues AKA other things I will blog about in the near future. I’ve added asterisks next to the ones that I am especially concerned about.

The Environment

  • Climate Change*
  • Conservation and Species Loss
  • The Future of The Oceans*
  • Fresh Water: Drought, Pollution, Ownership
  • Population Growth and the Environment
  • Renewable Energy Research*

Health and Medicine

  • Global Diseases and Pandemics
  • Stem Cell Research*
  • Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria
  • Drug Patents, Generic Drugs
  • The Genome*
  • Bioethics*

Science and Technology

  • Scientific Innovation and Economic Growth
  • Improving Science Education
  • Space Exploration
  • Preserving Scientific Integrity in Government
  • Energy Policy*

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The Republican National Convention is being curtailed by a hurricane. Could this be foreshadowing?

[Science Idol Cartoon Contest Winner via A Blog Around the Clock]

Fossil fuels compose a staggering percentage of the United States’ energy consumption, which represents a huge chunk of the world’s energy budget. It disappoints me that for all the U.S.’s status, power, and technological prowess, we still rely heavily on fossil fuels as a principle energy source and are not making a wholehearted commitment towards alternative energies. We have the means but cannot achieve the ends. 

Developing nations are ahead of us in setting the global example for environmental stewardship. Unlike their united efforts mentioned below, the U.S. stands rather conflicted on the issue and is pulled in so many directions on the issue of alternative energies that it can hardly progress at all. Here, capitalism and blind politics have more influence than rational logic. At the heart of the problem, is a general lack of concern and a perpetually inadequate policy. Governments, businesses, and individuals are unable to look beyond the short-term benefits (profit, convenience) to visualize the massive pitfalls of a nation addicted to fossil fuels. Serious legislation to reduce fossil fuel consumption/emissions, to fund research & development of fossil fuel alternatives (and later, conversion towards those alternative energies), or to increase energy efficiency…simply does not exist. I hope that one of this year’s presidential candidates will deliver.

My wish is for fossil fuels to become obsolete and for our nation (and all others) to achieve a state of energy independence utilizing truly clean, renewable energies derived from carbon-free sources. Alternative energies each carry their own set of social and environmental consequences, both positive and negative, but differ from fossil fuels because they are sustainable. It will be a costly transition, full of protesting oil barons, but it will be well worth it in the end. 

Somewhere in Tracy, California.

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Brazil : Three decades ago, the country imported 80 percent of its oil supply. But since the 1973 Arab oil embargo, the Brazilians have invested massively in their sugar-based ethanol industry and created a fleet of vehicles that can run on the resulting fuel. According to the Sugar Cane Industry Union (Unica), 90 percent of the new cars sold this year in Brazil will be flexible-fuel vehicles that cost an extra $100 to make but can run on any combination of gasoline and ethanol.

China: Beijing’s unofficial goal is to have 100 gigawatts of wind power by 2020, a ten-fold increase from today [and is] already on track to become the world’s biggest maker of wind turbines next year, the Global Wind Energy Council says. And like Brazil, China has decided to replace gasoline with alternative fuels. But unlike the United States and Brazil, China has embraced a different alcohol: methanol. Several provinces in China already blend their gasoline with methanol, a clear, colorless liquid also known as wood alcohol, and scores of methanol plants are currently under construction there. The Chinese auto industry has already begun to produce flex-fuel models that can run on methanol.

Denmark: With increasing concerns over fossil fuels, the country is now being closely monitored by energy planners and funders worldwide. This country generates more wind power per head of population than any other country in the world. Its 5500 wind turbines, including the world’s two largest offshore wind farms, generate 16% of national demand (as of 2005). 

France: Nuclear power provides 77% of France’s electricity, according to the government, and relatively few public doubts are expressed in a country with little coal, oil or natural gas.

Iran: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, worried that a comprehensive gasoline embargo could cause enough social unrest to undermine his regime, launched an energy-independence program designed to shift Iran’s transportation system from gasoline to natural gas, which Iran has plenty of. His plan includes a mandate for domestic automakers to make “dual-fuel” cars that can run on both gasoline and natural gas, a crash program to convert used vehicles to run on natural gas and a program to convert Iranian gas stations to serve both kinds of fuel. According to the International Association of Natural Gas Vehicles, more than 100 conversion centers have been built throughout the country: Iranians can drive in with their gasoline-only cars, pay a subsidized fee equivalent to $50 and collect their newly dual-fueled cars several hours later. Ahmadinejad’s plan, which has been largely ignored by the West, means that within five years or so, Iran could be virtually immune to international sanctions.

The list goes on and on: Iceland, Germany, Spain, Yemen, etc.

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