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Energy and Global Warming News for January 20th: Abu Dhabi tries saltwater farming for aviation fuels; Fisker raises $115M for electric cars; CA solar power advocates hopeful for 2010

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"Energy and Global Warming News for January 20th: Abu Dhabi tries saltwater farming for aviation fuels; Fisker raises $115M for electric cars; CA solar power advocates hopeful for 2010"

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Abu Dhabi project tries saltwater farming for aviation fuels

A new biofuels project at Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Institute of Science and Technology will unite Boeing, Honeywell and others in search of a system to produce fuel and other useful products from biomass and seawater.

The Sustainable Bioenergy Research Project is focused on integrating aquaculture and farming to create a closed-loop system that thrives in areas where fresh water is scarce.

Waste from the aquaculture project will be used to fertilize mangrove forests and plantations of another saltwater plant, and the resultant biomass will be used to make aviation biofuels and clean energy.

A cooperative agreement for the project was signed Sunday at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi.

The project is seen as a way to produce fuel in arid environments with ample saltwater supplies.

Backers said the integrated seawater agriculture system captures atmospheric carbon, promotes biodiversity by creating new habitat, frees up scarce fresh water supplies for other uses and can potentially reduce the impact of sea level rise on coastal communities, in addition to producing solid biomass for energy and liquid biofuels.

“The paradigm for energy supply is shifting,” said Jennifer Holmgren, vice president and general manager of renewable energy and chemicals for Honeywell’s UOP, in a statement. “To meet the growing demand for energy worldwide, we must identify regional biofuel solutions that are not only sustainable, but can actually regenerate the ecosystems where they are produced.”

Jim Albaugh, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, stressed the future value of plant-based fuels. “We are forging our energy future by developing a renewable fuel supply now, not when fossil fuels are depleted,” he said. “Developing and commercializing these low-carbon energy sources is the right thing for our industry, for our customers and for future generations.”

Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, will also partner on the project.

The technology being demonstrated through the project was developed by Carl Hodges, who now leads Global Seawater Inc. and will contribute to the project as a special adviser.

The major commercial partners did not disclose their financial commitments for the project.

Fisker raises $115.3M for electric cars

The electric car developer Fisker Automotive Inc. has raised $115.3 million in private capital, funding that will allow the automaker to tap $528.7 million in conditional federal loans granted to it last year by the U.S. Energy Department.

The federal loans and private funds will help Fisker develop the Karma, the firm’s first plug-in hybrid car. The Karma, expected to retail for $87,900, will in turn lead to a lower-cost hybrid sedan, currently developed under the name Project Nina.

“Raising $115 million in these times speaks volumes about the value of our business model and the vast potential of plug-in hybrids,” said Henrik Fisker, the company’s CEO, who became famous for designing several BMW and Aston Martin car models.

While the Karma will be assembled in Finland using mostly U.S. parts, the Project Nina sedan is expected to be built in Wilmington, Del., at a former General Motors Co. plant. Production of the sedan, which may cost $47,400 less federal tax credits, should begin in 2012.

Solar Power Advocates Hopeful for 2010

Between 500 and 600 megawatts of solar power will be built this year across the United States “” about double the figure of last year “” according to Larry Sherwood, who compiles and studies such data as a consultant to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, a nonprofit industry group.

He said some analysts were projecting even higher figures.

Among states, California is expected to maintain first place, and New Jersey is likely to come in second, with Florida making a strong showing for the first time. “There will be quite a wider number of states than in the past,” Mr. Sherwood said.

Helping to prop up the market will be incentives under President Obama, who announced last week a $2.3 billion tax credit in the clean-energy sector.

Mr. Sherwood also said that the falling cost of photovoltaic cells would propel the market this year after a period in late 2008 and early 2009 when prices were rising.

Arno Harris, the chief executive of Recurrent Energy, a California solar energy developer, added that flowing bank credit would further help the sector. “There’s a huge resurgence of building compared to last year, now that funds are flowing again,” he said.

The outlook for the West Coast looks particularly bright.

Adam Browning, the executive director of the Vote Solar Initiative, a nonprofit advocacy group, points to legislative developments there in particular.

The overarching driver is California’s law requiring the state’s utilities to derive 20 percent of their power from renewable energy this year and 33 percent by 2020. The figure for 2009 was 13 percent.

Mr. Browning also said that Southern California Edison was likely to receive approval from state regulators this week to build and own 250 megawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity and to auction contracts worth 250 megawatts to be owned and maintained by independent power producers.

In that case, the first auction would take place in the first quarter, Mr. Browning said.

Pacific Gas and Electric has applied for a similarly sized program, and the regulator, the California Public Utilities Commission, is expected to approve it in February, according to Mr. Browning.

He also said that a feed-in-tariff program appeared to be coming to fruition this year. It would require California’s investor-owned utilities to conduct multiple auctions for 1.5 to 10 megawatt renewable projects of up to 1 gigawatt over four years.

Finally, Mr. Browning said that he expected an increase in the state’s cap on net metering “” the total amount of solar energy that can be fed into a utility at peak demand, which is now set at 2.5 percent.

“2010 marks the date we start absolutely blanketing the state with solar,” Mr. Browning said. “This year you’re going to see the culmination of a lot of policy work over the years that will address mid-sized generation, under 20 megawatts, that don’t need transmission to connect to the grid.”

Hybrid Kinetic Motors to unveil new car

Hybrid Kinetic Motors Corp. will debut a concept vehicle today in Montgomery, Ala., ahead of its plan to build a massive auto plant in the state that the company says would produce 1 million vehicles a year by 2018.

The plant could ultimately cost $4.3 billion and employ about 5,800 people.

Industry analysts have remained skeptical about the company’s ambitious plan, saying Hybrid Kinetic would have to capture more than 7 percent of what IHS Global Insight predicts will be the annual U.S. auto market over the next decade with its 1-million-vehicle plant. The Hong Kong-based company hopes to begin producing cars in three years.

At a stockholders’ meeting next week, the company hopes to get permission to authorize 770 billion new shares of stock that could be sold to investors, allowing it to raise up to $9.9 billion.

It expects to secure those funds by getting Chinese investors to put up $500,000 apiece under a U.S. government visa program that offers a path to United States citizenship. To achieve citizenship, investors must put at least $500,000 into a business that creates a minimum of 10 jobs in rural or high-unemployment areas

Hybrid Kinetic Motors Corp. will debut a concept vehicle today in Montgomery, Ala., ahead of its plan to build a massive auto plant in the state that the company says would produce 1 million vehicles a year by 2018.

The plant could ultimately cost $4.3 billion and employ about 5,800 people.

Industry analysts have remained skeptical about the company’s ambitious plan, saying Hybrid Kinetic would have to capture more than 7 percent of what IHS Global Insight predicts will be the annual U.S. auto market over the next decade with its 1-million-vehicle plant. The Hong Kong-based company hopes to begin producing cars in three years.

At a stockholders’ meeting next week, the company hopes to get permission to authorize 770 billion new shares of stock that could be sold to investors, allowing it to raise up to $9.9 billion.

It expects to secure those funds by getting Chinese investors to put up $500,000 apiece under a U.S. government visa program that offers a path to United States citizenship. To achieve citizenship, investors must put at least $500,000 into a business that creates a minimum of 10 jobs in rural or high-unemployment areas.

2000s Warmest Decade on Record, Government Reports

The 2000-2009 decade was the warmest on record, easily surpassing the previous hottest decade “” the 1990s “” researchers said Tuesday in a report providing fresh evidence that the planet may be warming at a potentially disastrous rate.

In 2009, global surface temperatures were 1.01 degree above average, which tied the year for the fifth warmest year on record, the National Climatic Data Center said.

And that helped push the 2000-2009 decade to 0.96 degree above normal, which the agency said “shattered” the 1990s record value of 0.65 degree above normal.

The warmest year on record was 2005 at 1.11 degrees above normal.

The findings follow years of gradually rising global temperatures which atmospheric scientists attribute to the warming effect of gases released into the air by human activities, including burning fossil fuels.

Political leaders from around the world have been struggling to find a solution to this growing problem, most recently at the climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. Reaching agreement has been difficult amid fears of economic effects of any major change.

Concerns about the effects of a warmer climate include rising sea levels and the potential spread of tropical diseases, changes in hurricane patterns, increased drought in some areas, disruption of crop growth and wildlife patterns, and loss of species unable to adapt.

In the United States last year the average temperature was 0.3 degrees above normal. And on average it was moist, with average annual precipitation in 2009 for the 48 contiguous states some 2.33 inches above the long-term average at 31.47 inches. It was the 18th wettest in 115 years of record keeping.

However, dry conditions occurred during much of the year across parts of the Southwest, Upper Mississippi Valley and southern Texas, the agency said. And there was periodic low rain and snowfall in parts of a ring around the country from the northern Rockies, Far West and Southwest to the southern Plains and Southeast, then up along the East Coast and back across the Great Lakes.

Link cited between CO levels, school attendance

Children in Texas are more likely to miss school when carbon monoxide levels are high but still within U.S. EPA standards, according to a recently released study.

The study, published in the Review of Economics and Statistics, examined 39 of the largest school districts in the state. In El Paso, home to some of the state’s worst air pollution, the researchers found that a reduction in CO levels resulted in a 0.8 percentage point drop in the absence rate.

“Kids are particularly sensitive to pollution, given their small size, high metabolic rates and developing systems,” said Steven Rivkin, a professor at Amherst College in Massachusetts and one of the study’s authors.

“Our study provides evidence that high carbon monoxide levels impose substantial costs on children and their families,” Rivkin said. “The results also highlight the importance of close monitoring of pollution levels and research that isolates the effects of pollutants on health and the ability of children to perform their daily activities.”

The researchers said they found a direct correlation between CO levels and attendance even at standards 25 percent below the level deemed safe by EPA. The group speculated that these attendance swings occurred mostly in unhealthy children, who are more likely to be affected by air pollution.

Southwest CEO: Energy is bigger than healthcare

Energy prices might have abated this year, but for Southwest Airlines, they remain a “huge issue,” said chief executive Gary Kelly.

“I think energy is the critical issue for the country because your gas prices can double in a couple of months, and that’s far worse than a broken health care system,” Kelly said at an economic summit Tuesday hosted by The News.

He said it’s understandable why oil dropped to $30 a barrel last year, and rose to $75 a barrel this year.

“It seems like that’s the range that we’re going to see for a while,” he said. But he added that if the economy begins oeprating at full tilt, energy prices could rise.

“2011, 12, 13 — we’ll want to be very careful about managing our fuel price in that time,” he said.

Southwest is famous for keeping its fuel costs low and steady by using complicated energy trades called hedges. Hedging allowed the Dallas airline to remain profitable as competitors dropped into bankruptcy.

Copenhagen Climate Accord Now Accepted By Nine Nations, UN Says

Australia, France and Canada are among nine countries that have told the United Nations they’ll accept the Copenhagen Accord, the non-binding climate-change agreement brokered last month, the UN said.

With 12 days before more than 190 nations must say whether they accept the deal and detail pledges to cut emissions blamed for global warming, nine countries have said they’ll sign up while one, Cuba, has rejected it, a UN Framework Convention on Climate Change spokesman said today in an e-mailed reply.

The accord was brokered on Dec. 18 by U.S. President Barack Obama, China Premier Wen Jiabao, South Africa President Jacob Zuma, India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Under the deal, countries will aim to keep the global rise in temperatures since industrialization in the 1800s to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

Turkey, Singapore, Papua New Guinea, Serbia, Ghana and the Maldives have notified the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change they’ll accept the deal, the spokesman said. Countries have until Jan. 31 to sign the accord and list in an appendix the emissions-reductions targets and actions they’ll commit to.

The U.S., Brazil, China, India and South Africa have yet to make formal submissions to the UN indicating they’ll sign up to the Copenhagen Accord, according to the UN e-mail. The 27-nation European Union, Ethiopia and Grenada were among those that indicated support for the deal in Copenhagen.

Father of India’s Green Revolution Says Nation Is Threatened by Global Warming

In the late 1960s, M.S. Swaminathan, a plant geneticist, helped design and lead the Green Revolution, a huge development effort that in just a few years brought food self-sufficiency to India, which had suffered from deadly famines for decades. The spread of high-yielding cereal varieties and the increased use of irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides caused grain production to soar, saving millions from starvation.

Now, India’s ability to feed itself is again threatened, Mr. Swaminathan warns “” this time by global warming.

At the 97th Indian Science Congress this January, Mr. Swaminathan said that yields from Indian wheat fed by rain could drop 44 percent by 2050 under warmer conditions forecast by climate models. Such declines would be devastating to India’s poor, who already suffer from high rates of malnutrition, he said.

Even a small rise in temperature “” which appears inevitable according to most climate models “” will disrupt the growing season in India’s main wheat-producing regions.

“A one-degree Celsius rise in mean temperature will reduce the duration of the wheat crop by one week in the heartland of the green revolution in India,” Mr. Swaminathan said in an e-mail message. That is less than two degrees Fahrenheit.

Almost two-thirds of Indians derive their livelihood from farming, and about 60 percent of Indian farmland is fed by rain. Farmers with small holdings “” who are highly dependent on favorable weather “” will be the most vulnerable to climate disruptions, Mr. Swaminathan said.

With his recent statements, Mr. Swaminathan, who is regarded in India as the father of the Green Revolution, added a prominent voice to a growing chorus of experts warning that the effect on global grain production from rising temperatures would be far more severe than previously believed.

Grain yields throughout South Asia and southern Africa are in particular danger, placing the food security of more than a billion people at risk, a number of recent studies suggest. One 2008 study in the journal Science estimated that countries in southern Africa and South Asia could see declines in the yields of their main crops of 10 percent to 30 percent by 2030 as a result of climate change.

“From the perspective of poverty and people going hungry, those are the two big areas of concern for me,” said David Lobell, assistant professor of crop ecology at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, and a lead author of the study.

The global poor will suffer most from such declines, with falling grain production, higher food prices and reduced calorie availability expected to swell the number of dangerously malnourished children by 25 million by 2050, according to a recent report by the International Food Policy Research Institute.

“These are kids that are the poster children for hunger,” said Gerald Nelson, senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C., and author of the report. “It’s not a pretty picture.”

And while the effects of a warming climate are expected to be most severe in the low-latitude countries of the developing world, farmers in the United States, China and other powerhouses of industrial agriculture are also expected to suffer by midcentury or perhaps sooner.

Corn farmers in the United States, even in the short term, could feel the effects of global warming, Mr. Lobell said.

Experts in China have also begun to raise the alarm about the threat posed to the country’s agriculture by climate change.

Late last year, Zheng Guoguang, director of the China Meteorological Administration, the official weather forecasting agency in China, wrote an essay in an influential Communist Party journal that warned yields of rice, wheat and corn could fall drastically by 2050 because of increased drought conditions and disruptions to growing seasons.

Such heightened fears over climatic effects on agriculture reflect a shift in scientific attitudes. Many early climate studies concluded that the harm to agriculture in low-latitude countries by higher temperatures would be largely offset by increased grain production in higher latitudes.

Closer study shows that while parts of Siberia and Canada, for instance, might indeed become warm enough to grow corn and other main crops, poor soils would severely limit yields.

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One Response to Energy and Global Warming News for January 20th: Abu Dhabi tries saltwater farming for aviation fuels; Fisker raises $115M for electric cars; CA solar power advocates hopeful for 2010

  1. mark says:

    thanks very much. I appreciate being able to read these summaries.

    I think that growing crops for fuel, when there are so many people with not enough to eat is problematic.