Energy and Global Warming News for October 5th: Solar panels coming to the White House and military; First marine life census; Japan mines rare earths from used electronics; Squish up jelly fish into solar cells?

Here comes the sun: White House to go solar

WASHINGTON “” Solar power is coming to President Barack Obama’s house.

The most famous residence in America, which has already boosted its green credentials by planting a garden, plans to install solar panels atop the White House’s living quarters. The solar panels are to be installed by spring 2011, and will heat water for the first family and supply some electricity.

The plans will be formally announced later Tuesday by White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley and Energy Secretary Steven Chu.


Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush both tapped the sun during their days in the White House. Carter in the late 1970s spent $30,000 on a solar water-heating system for West Wing offices. Bush’s solar systems powered a maintenance building and some of the mansion, and heated water for the pool.

Obama, who has championed renewable energy, has been under increasing pressure to lead by example by installing solar at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, something White House officials said has been under consideration since he first took office.

U.S. military orders less dependence on fossil fuels

With insurgents increasingly attacking the American fuel supply convoys that lumber across the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan, the military is pushing aggressively to develop, test and deploy renewable energy to decrease its need to transport fossil fuels.

Last week, a Marine company from California arrived in the rugged outback of Helmand Province bearing novel equipment: portable solar panels that fold up into boxes; energy-conserving lights; solar tent shields that provide shade and electricity; solar chargers for computers and communications equipment.


The 150 Marines of Company I, Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, will be the first to take renewable technology into a battle zone, where the new equipment will replace diesel and kerosene-based fuels that would ordinarily generate power to run their encampment.

Even as Congress has struggled unsuccessfully to pass an energy bill and many states have put renewable energy on hold because of the recession, the military this year has pushed rapidly forward. After a decade of waging wars in remote corners of the globe where fuel is not readily available, senior commanders have come to see overdependence on fossil fuel as a big liability, and renewable technologies “” which have become more reliable and less expensive over the past few years “” as providing a potential answer. These new types of renewable energy now account for only a small percentage of the power used by the armed forces, but military leaders plan to rapidly expand their use over the next decade.

In first marine census, a plenitude of wonders

After a decade of research and more than 540 ocean expeditions, scientists presented the world with the first-ever census of marine life on Monday. The census involved the work of 670 institutions and 2,700 researchers and made direct observation of 120,000 marine species, including some 6,000 newly discovered species.

“We’re like the people in London and Paris 200 years ago, putting together the first dictionaries and encyclopedias,” Jesse H. Ausubel, co-founder of the census project and a professor of environmental studies at the Rockefeller University in New York, said in an interview. “Ten years ago, there was simply no list anywhere of the world’s marine species.”

The project has conclusively overturned a once-common belief that the open ocean and deep seafloor were relatively barren. “There are no ocean deserts,” Mr. Ausubel said. “Everywhere we looked we found life.”


The census also documented the wide travels of some species, which can migrate thousands of miles across the globe, and rise and descend thousands of feet of ocean in a single day. The world’s polar oceans, meanwhile, were found to be important “incubators” for new species.

Squish up jelly fish into solar cells

While there are a lot easier ways to make solar cells, there’s not as many as bizarre as this one: squishing up jelly fish. Out of Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, researchers have discovered a way to use a protein from a common jellyfish to create a solar cell.

The research looks at how green fluorescent protein in this jelly fish, Aequorea victoria, can coax electrons from sunlight. It turns out, the protein, can self-assemble and produce electrons when it’s placed between two layers of aluminum electrodes and exposed to ultraviolet light.

The researcher, Zackary Chiragwandi, told CNN that the device he’s created can produce “tens of nano amperes.” Yes, that’s a tiny amount and won’t make this technology a serious contender for conventional solar cell materials such as more commonly-used silicon and cadmium-telluride. Chiragwandi also said he can substitute jelly fish with fireflies and other organisms.

Japan recycles minerals from used electronics

KOSAKA, Japan “” Two decades after global competition drove the mines in this corner of Japan to extinction, Kosaka is again abuzz with talk of new riches.

The treasures are not copper or coal. They are rare-earth elements and other minerals that are crucial to many Japanese technologies and have so far come almost exclusively from China, the global leader in rare earth mining.

Recent problems with Chinese supplies of rare earths have sent Japanese traders and companies in search of alternative sources, creating opportunities for Kosaka.

This town’s hopes for a mining comeback lie not underground, but in what Japan refers to as urban mining “” recycling the valuable metals and minerals from the country’s huge stockpiles of used electronics like cellphones and computers.

“We’ve literally discovered gold in cellphones,” said Tetsuzo Fuyushiba, a former land minister and now opposition party member, who visited here recently to survey Kosaka’s recycling plant.

Kosaka’s pursuits have become especially important for Japan in recent weeks. Two weeks ago, amid a diplomatic spat with Tokyo, China started to block exports of all rare earths to Japan.

The shipping ban was still in effect on Monday evening in Japan, an industry official said, though a trickle of shipments seemed to be seeping out as a result of uneven enforcement of the ban by customs officers at various ports. China has allowed exports of Chinese-made rare earth magnets and other rare earth products to Japan, but not semi-processed rare earth ores that would enable Japanese companies to make products.

The cutoff has caused hand-wringing at Japanese manufacturers, from giants like Toyota to tiny electronics makers, because the raw materials are crucial to products as diverse as hybrid electric cars, wind turbines and computer display screens.

Developing countries could sue for climate action — study

A new study out says vulnerable countries could sue the United States and other industrialized nations for action on climate change.

The report, published by the Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development (FIELD), based in the United Kingdom, says small island nations and other threatened countries have the right and likely the procedural means to pursue an inter-state case before the United Nations’ International Court of Justice.

“Some of these countries are getting increasingly desperate,” Christoph Schwarte, the paper’s lead author, said. With little movement toward a new global climate change treaty, he said, many leaders are looking for ways to make the United States and others understand the threats they face from rising sea levels, droughts and storm surges.

Wasted food equals wasted energy?

The amount of food wasted each year by Americans represents the energy equivalent of 350 million barrels of oil, or about 2 percent of the nation’s annual energy consumption, according to a new study. Researchers at the University of Texas say it takes the equivalent of about 1.4 billion barrels of oil to produce, process, package, and transport a year’s worth of food in the United States “” between 8 and 16 percent of the nation’s total energy consumption.

And, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, about 27 percent of food is wasted in the U.S. each year, including 33 percent of fats and oils, 32 percent of dairy products, 31 percent of eggs, and 25 percent of vegetables, according to the study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. “The energy embedded in wasted food represents a substantial target for decreasing energy consumption in the U.S.,” the researchers said.

Energy Dept spends 20% of stimulus dollars on nuclear waste

WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- President Barack Obama vowed to use stimulus spending to help grow a new clean energy economy, but the U.S. Energy Department spent a large chunk of stimulus money to clean up a radioactive mess from the Cold War.

The Energy Department allocated $6 billion, nearly 20% of its stimulus budget, to clean and decontaminate nuclear waste sites across the country. Chief recipients are the Savannah River site in South Carolina and the Hanford site in Washington, which produced plutonium for the “Fat Man” nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945.

The department allocated a total of $3.5 billion to the Savannah River and Hanford sites, according to an analysis by Dow Jones Newswires, and created or salvaged about 6,100 jobs as a result.

Transit agencies to get $776 million to upgrade bus service

WASHINGTON””The Obama administration said Monday it would give $776 million to local and regional transportation agencies to upgrade bus-maintenance facilities and buy more fuel-efficient buses.

The money, which will come from unallocated funds in this year’s budget for the Federal Transit Administration, will support capital projects in 45 states and Washington, D.C. The biggest awards will go to large bus authorities in urban areas, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, but rural areas including Alaska and Arkansas will also receive funds.

The awards come at a time when many cash-strapped transit agencies are struggling to cover daily expenses, let alone embark on capital projects. The U.S. Transportation Department estimates that transit agencies would have to spend $78 billion in repairs to bring bus and rail transit systems to a state of good repair.

New oil sands legislation would strip clause from 2007 Energy Act

Environmentalists are bracing for a renewed fight with lawmakers and the petroleum industry over whether the U.S. military should be allowed to meet its massive fuel needs with highly polluting Canadian oil sands.

At issue is Section 526, a tiny clause that was tucked into the U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The measure forbids all federal agencies, except for space agency NASA, from purchasing carbon-heavy unconventional fuels that belch more emissions than traditional oil.

It was supposed to close the long-running debate over the future of oil sands in the U.S. armed forces, the nation’s largest gas consumer. But now, new legislation is being pushed by two senators to remove it from the larger bill.

The draft Oil Energy Security Act of 2010 was quietly introduced last week by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who both serve on the Armed Forces Committee. It would “promote energy security through the production of petroleum from oil sands,” the one-page bill reads.

The U.S. is the biggest customer of oil sands from the Alberta province, the biggest petroleum deposit outside Saudi Arabia, importing around a billion barrels a day. New pipeline projects under review would double that amount and create a carbon pollution problem.

One species becomes extinct in England every fortnight

Previous studies have concentrated on the historical loss of iconic species like the birds and animals.

But the Oxford University study looked at the extinction of lesser-known species like lichen, microbial slime and mosses.

It found that in the last two hundred years up to five per cent of the country’s 60,000 species are lost every year.

If this rate continues, it would mean 26 species are lost in England every year. In the UK as a whole it is an even higher rate of extinction of 40 species a year, or almost one a week.

The study also showed that birds are a good indicator of extinction rates as a whole. This could mean that studying the loss of birds would enable scientists to measure extinction rates in remote areas of the world.

A report of the research is published in an forthcoming issue of the journal Biological Conservation as United Nations countries prepare to meet in Japan 18–29 October to discuss new targets to protect wildlife. In March this year the British government’s advisory body, Natural England, reported about 500 species lost from England since 1800.

Investors reveal appetite for riskier low carbon projects

Experts advise that green bonds with appropriate levels of risk are required to drive clean tech investment towards emerging markets.

Private capital is available for investment in low carbon and climate adaptation projects in developing countries, but the potential rewards need to be higher to attract investors, industry experts have today warned.

Speaking this morning at the launch of a new report examining the risks related to climate change finance, Michael Wilkins, head of carbon markets at credit rating agency Standard and Poor’s, insisted investors are prepared to accept a higher level of risk than is currently offered by green bonds in return for the promise of higher returns.

Wilkins highlighted the “yawning gap” between the estimated $8bn of climate finance currently available and the $80–200bn that the World Bank forecasts will be needed by developing countries each year to address climate change.

“There is an urgent need for large-scale financing to enable developing countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change,” he warned. “As the developed world emerges from recession with depleted public finances, capital markets have a big role to play in climate change finance and investors have signaled they are committed to take action.”