The extreme heatwave, which caused a severe drought and wildfires in Russia, might be over, but both officials and consumers are now busy calculating its cost and trying to work out its consequences.
Russian deputy economy minister, Andrei Klepach, said earlier this week that the drought would take up to 0.8% off this year’s economic growth, “or maybe even more than that”.
The 0.8% official figure equals 313bn roubles ($10.1bn, £6.6bn at the current exchange rate), but is smaller than the 1.0-1.5% range some experts have come up with recently.
And it is not just about the annual economic growth rate being slower than expected.
In the first two full weeks of August, consumer prices in Russia rose by 0.4%, the same increase seen during the whole month of July.
Mr Klepach thinks that the August inflation rate will be about 0.5% “at best”. While for 2010, it will definitely exceed the earlier forecast of 6-7%, it will be lower than the previous year’s level of 8.8%, he suggests.
Some smaller dairy farmers have had no choice but to start slaughtering cattle, due to rocketing fodder prices they cannot afford.
Bigger agricultural holdings are in a better position as still have a supply of fodder from last year and are using this year’s poor crops to feed their cows.
The agriculture ministry estimates that the sector lost some 32.7bn roubles, as more than a quarter of crops have been destroyed.
But some experts believe the loss figure might be several times higher, if you include other factors such as lower agricultural machinery sales.
First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov said earlier this month that Russian banks were looking into prolonging agricultural credits worth 127bn roubles to help the industry.
What if every gallon of gas in our cars and lump of coal in our power plants did extra duty? What if we could get more work out of our fuel? That’s the basic idea of waste heat recovery systems. A young venture based in San Francisco, California, called Alphabet Energy aims to take the decades-old idea of generating electricity from captured heat, and deploy it at massive scale on the cheap with a little help from nanotechnology and the semiconductor industry.
By providing a thermoelectric chip that can be inserted into any exhaust flue or engine to convert heat into electrical power, Alphabet hopes to become the “Intel of waste heat,” said Matt Scullin, the company’s chief executive and co-founder.
A thermoelectric device is simply a device that can make use of heat to generate power with no moving parts (just as a solar cell generates electricity from light.) It is based on the long-known principle that electrons can be pushed through a material by heat. Alphabet says its innovation is in both the choice of material and proprietary technology that gives it low thermal conductivity, and makes it highly suitable for both scale and miniaturization””for use in small devices as well as in large factory flues. The device is connected by wire to the plant’s electrical system or to the grid, so it feeds in power converted by heat in real time.
Only a year old, Alphabet has the ambitious goal of leading what it believes could be a $200 billion global market for technology at the core of waste heat recovery systems.
Alphabet’s efforts come as part of a larger drive by researchers, entrepreneurs, and trade groups to make use of heat energy that’s currently thrown away by factories, power plants, cars and even laptop computers. U.S. policymakers have generally lagged behind that push, said Scullin. But recently a bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by Democratic Representative Paul Tonko of New York, former head of his state’s public power research authority, introduced a bill that would provide a 30 percent investment tax credit for installation of waste heat recovery systems in industrial settings.
A fire tornado caused by brush fires and strong winds has stopped motorway traffic as drivers in Brazil gawped at the rare phenomenon.
The whirlwind of flames burned through fields beside the road in the northwest city of Aracatuba in Sao Paulo state.
But, as quickly as it appeared, the roaring twister fizzled down and just a smouldering line in the land remained.
The firestorm followed a drought which has led to brush fires across Brazil.
It has been three months since it last rained in the region and Sao Paulo state is already suffering from high pollution levels.
Humidity levels have also soared with Globo TV reporting they were similar to those in the Sahara desert.
As a precaution, state authorities have forbidden farmers from burning sugar cane field waste, a typical after-harvest activity.
In the most remote areas municipalities with few resources have been unable to contain fires.
Fire tornados, also known as fire whirls or fire devils, are rare and depend on certain air temperatures and currents to create a vertical, rotating column of air.
In 1923, a fire tornado ignited by the Great Kanto earthquake in Tokyo grew to the size of a large city and killed 38,000 people in 15 minutes.
At the time most of the buildings in Japan were made from wood and fire spread from house to house, destroying the city.
It estimated the earthquake and the ensuing fire killed between 100,000 and 141,000 people.
The ever-increasing bounty of agriculture has been with us as long as I can remember, but it may have finally hit the dreaded Peak, according to a new study published in CropScience by Robert Graybosch, a geneticist at the University of Nebraska and James Patterson, a geneticist at Oregon State University.
Genetic improvements have increased wheat yields about 1% each year since the late ’50s. But in 1984, several scientists noticed that the average yield improvement seemed to have slowed, in a sign that genetic gain was plateauing.
Graybosch and Patterson then went back in and made a more detailed study, carefully analyzing the last 50 years of data collected by the Department of Agriculture. They found that ever since the early ’80s, genetic gain has continued to steadily drop. And now it appears to have come to a halt.
About 68 million metric tons gets harvested in the US every year. There’s only two ways to get more. One is to increase the amount of land devoted to growing wheat. The other? Breeding efforts, like making it mature at ideal times, resist fungal infections, and divert more energy into making grain. We seem to have exhausted option two, if these scientists are right.
1. Faster breeding pathogens, evolving more quickly than plant breeders can fight back
2. Possibly, breeding itself has weakened wheat by reducing the gene pool
Wheat has not been subjected to genetic modification, as have corn and soy. Wheat’s genome is very complex.
Directly altering wheat DNA with genetic modification could fix the problem, but it is not a choice that is popular, says Graybosch. Other options: plant more land, use more water. They don’t sound so great either.
A sugar-resembling substance that can absorb carbon dioxide within itself has been developed by a team led by Andrew Cooper, from the University of Liverpool, in the UK. The substance is called “dry water”, because it’s made of water and because it’s dry, containing silica.
A water droplet, which constitutes 95 percent of the particles, is surrounded by a modified version of silica, that resembles beach sand. The silica has the role of preventing the water droplets to combine and turn into a liquid. That’s why it’s called “dry water’.
Discovered in 1068, dry water was used at first in the cosmetics industry and then, in 2006, it was restudied by Cooper’s group for other potential applications. The find powder can retain gases by combining them with the water molecules to form a hydrate.
Carbon dioxide can be stored this way just like hydrogen and methane. This can be compared to the phenomenon of “burning ice”, in which methane is trapped the same way in hydrates and then slowly released.
ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Distributing new varieties of drought tolerant maize to African farmers could save more than $1.5 billion dollars, boost yields by up to a quarter and lift some of the world’s poorest out of poverty, a study found.
The study published on Thursday by the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), with input from other food research institutes, focused on 13 African countries in which it has been handing out drought tolerant maize to farmers over the past four years.
It described maize as “the most important cereal crop in Africa,” a lifeline to 300 million vulnerable people.
The Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa plan aims to hasten the adoption of maize varieties that withstand dry weather.
“The vision of this project is to generate by 2016 drought tolerant maize that … increases the average productivity of maize under smallholder farmer conditions by 20-30 percent on adopting farms (and) reaches 30-40 million people.”
It also aims to add an annual average of $160 – $200 million worth of additional grain to Africa’s harvest, it said.
Wilfred Mwangi, a Kenyan agricultural economist on the project, said the drought resistant maize shows comparative yields that beat other varieties even if there’s no drought.
“We are saying that comparing with whatever farmers are growing now, these varieties will outperform what they are doing,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview.
China’s $736-billion push to harness nuclear, wind, solar and biomass energy hinges on making the cleaner fuels competitive with cheap and CO2-intensive coal without derailing surging industrial growth.
The world’s second-largest economy faces formidable challenges to make the plan work. Beijing must upgrade its rickety electricity grid, open up the network to alternative energy and raise tariffs to make new energy sources competitive with coal-fired power. All that while retaining investor confidence China will remain the low cost factory of the world.
“Parallel policies are essential,” said Wang Yi, deputy head of Institute of Policy and management, China Academy of Science.
“The government must gradually lift fossil fuel prices while granting incentives to non-fossil fuels to establish a long-term price signal.”
The plan is awaiting government approval, and the loans, grants and tax breaks it includes aim to encourage renewables, gas and nuclear use.
Beijing aims to cut carbon intensity as much as 45 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and increase the share of renewables to 15 percent of primary energy consumption. That is nearly double the current ratio and would make the country a leader in green energy manufacturing and use.
At the onset of the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, students and emerging professionals are putting their time towards helping to rebuild New Orleans in a sustainable fashion. The 2010 US Green Building Council Natural Talent Design Competition, in partnership with the Salvation Army’s EnviRenew program, is preparing to have the final student and emerging professional designs for a small, green and affordable home judged by an internationally recognized panel in conjunction with the citizens of New Orleans’ Broadmoor neighborhood (where the homes will be built).
The designs, to be occupied by elderly couples, are designed to be LEED for Homes Platinum certified. Each home will be 880 SF, 7′ above grade for flood considerations and utilize Universal Design standards, all for under $100,000! All entries are currently on display through the Open Architecture Network and represent entries from 31 host USGBC Emerging Professional Committees, which coordinated the local marketing and first round of local judging.
The top four designs, two students and two emerging professional teams, will be announced by the end of August. Each of the winning teams will be honored by having their designs built for local residents in need, an incredible feat for both residents and designers. They will then enter into a measurement and verification period, a first for any design competition, to determine the grand prize winner a year after occupancy. During this measurement and verification period each home will be evaluated on energy efficiency, water use reduction, and indoor air quality among others. USGBC has elevated the conventional ‘design’ competition by implementing the measurement and verification period to test the built homes against their sustainable design claims, an issue striking the green building industry as a whole currently.