Energy and Global Warming News for May 24: Schooling fish offer new ideas for wind farming; Germans to build $10M turbine parts plant in Arkansas

Schooling Fish Offer New Ideas for Wind Farming

The quest to derive energy from wind may soon be getting some help from California Institute of Technology (Caltech) fluid-dynamics expert John Dabiri — and a school of fish.

As head of Caltech’s Biological Propulsion Laboratory, Dabiri studies water- and wind-energy concepts that share the theme of bioinspiration: that is, identifying energy-related processes in biological systems that may provide insight into new approaches to — in this case — wind energy.

“I became inspired by observations of schooling fish, and the suggestion that there is constructive hydrodynamic interference between the wakes of neighboring fish,” says Dabiri, associate professor of aeronautics and bioengineering at Caltech. “It turns out that many of the same physical principles can be applied to the interaction of vertical-axis wind turbines.”

The biggest challenge with current wind farms is lack of space. The horizontal-axis wind turbines most commonly seen — those with large propellers — require a substantial amount of land to perform properly. “Propeller-style wind turbines suffer in performance as they come in proximity to one another,” says Dabiri.

In the Los Angeles basin, the challenge of finding suitable space for such large wind farms has prevented further progress in the use of wind energy. But with help from the principles supplied by schooling fish, and the use of vertical-axis turbines, that may change.

German company will build $10M turbine parts plant in Ark.

German manufacturer Beckmann Volmer will build a $10 million plant in Arkansas to craft steel components for wind turbines.

The company was helped by a state incentive package, including $1.5 million from the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund and another $2.5 million from a Community Development Block Grant. The company will also receive a rebate for 5 percent of payroll and will be exempt from state corporate taxes for 14 1/2 years. The state will also offer training assistance and a refund of some sales and use taxes.

The plant will eventually employ 500 people to construct parts that will be sent to a Nordex USA Inc. turbine manufacturing plant just 60 miles away. The plant will primarily produce turbine main frames, which support the entire structure.

Florian Stamm of Smith Gambrell & Russell LLP, which helped with the site selection, said Arkansas presented the right set of elements for Beckmann Volmer.

“Qualified workforce, transportation costs and a pro-business environment were leading criteria in identifying east Arkansas as location for the investment,” said Stamm.

Arkansas has become a popular destination for wind energy-related facilities. Mitsubishi Power Systems Americas recently announced a turbine plant in the state, and Denmark-based LM Wind Power is already producing windmill blades in Little Rock

Paper Bags or Plastic Bags? New Proposals Like Neither

Three years ago, San Francisco was the first city in the country to ban the ubiquitous plastic shopping bag, but it was quickly followed by Palo Alto and Oakland. These cities, and the Bay Area generally, were at the forefront of the movement to keep single-use, filmy carry-out bags out of landfills, out of the bay and out of the innards of marine mammals.

But now cities are reconsidering, in part because of lawsuits filed by opponents, but also because too many shoppers in San Francisco and Palo Alto simply shifted their carry-out purchases to paper sacks, which have environmental costs of their own. Plastic bags are still a target, but the bulls-eye is now widening to cover paper bags, too.

“We saw in the experience of San Francisco and other cities that a plastic-bag ordinance pushes consumers to use paper,” explained a San Jose City Council member, Sam Liccardo, “which in many instances is as bad or worse than plastic, when you consider the water, energy and natural resources involved in production, and the transportation costs, and of course, consuming trees.”

San Jose, Berkeley and Santa Clara County are working on ordinances that restrict distribution of paper as well as plastic bags at the check-out counter, either with bans or fees, or both.

The ultimate goal is to compel people to carry reusable bags.

But experts say it is too soon to accurately measure whether municipal crackdowns on bags are changing individual behavior. Monique Turner, a professor of communications at the University of Maryland who studied this issue, said that behavioral changes, like wearing seat belts, can require “policy changes,” when the behavior is harmful enough. In this case, she said, “it’s debatable whether this behavior falls into that category.”

Opponents and supporters of bag regulation agree that about 90 billion plastic bags are distributed nationwide annually.

In its 2009 annual report, the nonprofit environmental group Save the Bay, said local residents used 3.8 billion of those bags every year before the ordinances went into effect. Last fall, San Francisco officials estimated that the ban at the city’s 140 grocery and convenience stores would cut that total by about 100 million.

There has been no re-count of plastic bags in use, but last winter the city’s recycling center said it was receiving 5 to 10 percent less plastic-bag refuse. That may be due to the ban or because stores that no longer give out plastic bags are also no longer collecting them for recycling.

Then there are the anecdotal reports. “I used to get 10 cases of plastic bags, with 500 bags each,” said Dennis McClellan, the director of Piazza’s Fine Foods in Palo Alto. “That was per week. And 40 bales of paper bags with a thousand bags. Now I’m not using plastic bags, and I get 35 or 36 bales of paper bags.” That means 20,000 fewer plastic check-out bags each month, but almost as many paper bags as before.

Japan, Korea to Exchange Information on Emissions Trading

Japan and South Korea agreed to exchange information on a proposed emissions-trading mechanism, the Japanese environment ministry said today in a statement.

Minister Sakihito Ozawa met South Korean counterpart Lee Maanee for bilateral discussions yesterday, ahead of today’s three-nation meeting with China, according to the statement.

The three countries today adopted a five-year plan that pledges cooperation on the environment, focusing on 10 areas including climate change and biodiversity conservation, the statement said.

A climate bill before the Japanese Diet calls for a so- called cap-and-trade mechanism to help cut greenhouse gases, and South Korea has said it’s also considering the system. Japan wants bilateral trading to reduce volatility in the carbon market and lower the risk of domestic companies shifting production overseas where regulations are more lax, Nikkei English News reported last week.

Under a cap-and-trade system, a ceiling is imposed on emissions, and companies that pollute too much must buy credits from companies that don’t exceed their limit.

Glitzy Google gathering launches green-product institute

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) was joined by executives from Google Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., YouTube LLC and the designer chairmaker Herman Miller Inc. yesterday to launch a nonprofit group created to help scrub hazardous chemicals from consumer products.

The Green Products Innovation Institute, formally announced at Google corporate headquarters here, builds on a 2008 state law that seeks to establish the nation’s first “green chemistry” program. The institute is meant to serve as a clearinghouse for chemicals in the state, register chemicals and help advance a standard or seal of approval that the groups’ leaders hope will be codified into widespread use.

The institute’s “founder’s circle” and board of directors is as high-profile as its glitzy launch, including actor Brad Pitt, celebrity environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr., and Chad Hurley, the founder of YouTube. Its board is headed by Bridgett Luther, director of conservation for California, and was co-founded by Will McDonough, the designer of “cradle to cradle” certification in a book written with the chemist Michael Braungart.

Luther said the idea behind the institute is to serve as a third-party certifier of chemicals and a standards developer, in much the same way early-actor climate registries have advanced protocols for global warming regulations in California and elsewhere. The group will attach cradle-to-cradle certification to products that pass its litmus test and work to have its seal stamped on products, in much the same way LEED standards have become widely adopted as a recognizable label.

6 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for May 24: Schooling fish offer new ideas for wind farming; Germans to build $10M turbine parts plant in Arkansas

  1. Steve H says:

    I have nothing but snarky responses to this GPII…thing. I’ll just leave it at: I know Green Seal’s standards and their methodology which are rigorous and peer reviewed.

  2. Bob Wallace says:

    Put a sign up in front of every cash register.

    Plastic and paper bags cost this store money.
    That cost has been added to our prices.
    If you use your own bag we will refund your 20 cents.

    Or a better worded version….

  3. Doug Bostrom says:

    Here’s an item that may serve as a poster child for the sort of difficult and potentially explosive choices we’re going to face as we ditch fossil fuels.

    With a burgeoning power demand, hydropower interests in China are proposing to build the world’s largest dam and hydroplant, a machine capable of producing 36GW, thirty six thousand billion watts, a truly staggering amount of power. For comparison, this dam would produce nearly half as much power as the entire UK grid, would eliminate the equivalent of a third of the UK’s carbon emissions.

    Sounds great, but carelessly ignoring for a moment the immediate environmental impacts the dam is proposed to sit on the Brahmaputra river which of course later finds itself wending through India and Bangladesh. As we all know, relations between India and China have not been the best and I can’t help but think India will have a lot to say about this. For us in the U.S., the Brahmaputra can be likened to the Mississippi; it’s a sensitive feature in terms of national interest.

    On the other hand, looking at the dam from the perspective of eventual reduction of snowpack and glacial ice, the dam could probably be seen as a hydrological plus down the road.

    Expect some further discussion…

    Synopsis here:

  4. CW says:

    New Report From Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer Of Health Says There Is No Direct Causal Link Between Wind Turbines And Adverse Health Effects

  5. CW says:

    Maybe the constructive interference of wind turbine wakes combined with the bubble effect at the top of buildings might make for strategically placed vertical axis wind turbines on city roofs having a shot at good power generation and good financial returns after all.

  6. Bob Wallace says:

    Doug – I believe India is already building dams on its portion of the Brahmaputra. India has something like 3,000 new dams in the works.

    I suspect they are getting ready for decreased summer glacier melt flow to keep their rivers flowing by storing up the heavier, earlier runoff.