Stories tagged Flow of Matter and Energy


Rachel Carson, inspiration for the modern environmental movement: Photo from US Fish & Wildlife Service
Rachel Carson, inspiration for the modern environmental movement: Photo from US Fish & Wildlife Service

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Rachel Carson, whom many credit as the inspiration for the modern environmental movement. Her 1962 book Silent Spring warned the world of the dangers of environmental degradation, especially due to the overuse of chemical pesticides. The book stirred millions of people worldwide to take action. In the United States, we saw the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency – all the result of the movement Carson inspired.

Today, our air and water are cleaner thanks to these actions, and dangerous chemicals are more closely regulated. But some people are re-evaluating Carson’s legacy, especially with regards to the pesticide DDT. Carson explained how insects absorbed the poisonous chemical. Birds which ate enough insects often died themselves, or would have trouble hatching eggs. Carson promoted restricting the use of DDT.

However, some of her followers went further, pushing for a total ban of DDT in many countries. Unfortunately, DDT is extremely effective at killing mosquitoes that spread malaria – a disease that kills some one million people each year. Responsible, limited use of DDT could save millions of lives.

(Science Buzz has discussed malaria here and here,and the possible effects of preventative measures such as mosquito nets, drugs, and genetic engineering.)

Carson’s legacy reminds us not only of the importance of protecting our environment, but also that one person can have a tremendous impact. It also reminds us that even the best ideas can have unintended consequences, and any major changes need to be undertaken in a balanced, rational and flexible manner.


Rock-Tenn paper recycling plant loses steam.

Rock-Tenn biofuel study
Rock-Tenn biofuel study
Rock-Tenn currently uses steam heat generated by the coal fired Xcel High Bridge plant. When that source of steam is shut off this summer, Rock-Tenn will fire up its old boilers and begin burning fuel oil or natural gas. This will increase their energy costs by four to six million dollars annually but could go much higher depending upon the volatile international energy markets.

The Rock-Tenn plant processes half of all paper recycled in Minnesota (about 1000 tons per day). Rock-Tenn (formerly Waldorf Paper) employs about 500 people at an average salary of $60,000 and spends about $75 million on goods and services yearly.

St. Paul Port Authority, to the rescue.

The St. Paul Port Authority, a non-profit municipal corporation, with its mission of job creation and retention, plans to build a new fuel plant for Rock-Tenn. Big bucks are involved. Current estimates are about $140 million. District Energy, a private, non-profit corprtion, and Market Street Energy, its for-profit affiliate will run the Rock-Tenn power plant (they currently run the St. Paul district heating and cooling).

Law makers propose $4 million to study idea.

The proposed Midway biomass power plant picked up some steam May 1st when members of the Minnesota Legislature included $4 million to study the idea in their environment, energy, and natural resources bill. The bill also allows for regular input from four district councils (near University Avenue and Vandalia Street) and by business and labor interests.

Big, important issues involved.

Coming up with an environmentally friendly biomass source that is technically and economically workable is a task that involves many important issues.

Municipal waste disposal.
Resource Recovery Technologies (RRT) runs a processing plant in Newport, MN that converts municipal solid waste (MSW) to refuse-derived fuel (RDF). The RRT plant gets municipal solid wastes from Ramsey and Washington counties, which subsidize its operation. Read more about municipal waste disposal here.

Energy from renewable fuel sources.

Ramsey and Washington counties support an RDF fuel source for the Rock-Tenn plant as a way to provide both fuel for Rock-Tenn and a "market" for the counties' municipal solid wastes. Other biomass fuel choices exist—among them, woody wastes, agricultural wastes and crops grown specifically for fuel. The choice of fuel for the Rock-Tenn power plant has implications for the municipal solid waste system, but also for air quality, property taxes, agriculture and farmers, and the future of recycling. tcdailyplanet

Who pays? Who profits?
The St. Paul Port Authority, Ramsey County, Washington County and the City of St. Paul are among the public entities whose decisions factor in the process, including decisions on financing and public subsidies. I recommend reading TCPlanet's, "Follow the money" and "Keeping track of the players".

Environmental impacts.
A proposal would need to be made to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) with an Environmental Assessment Worksheet. After the MPCA evaluates this worksheet, it will decide whether a full-scale (time-consuming and expensive) Environmental Impact Statement is necessary.

"a biomass plant has impacts both 'upstream' and 'downstream' of the plant. Upstream impacts include the impacts of growing, harvesting, processing and transporting the biomass. ... Downstream impacts include noise and health impacts from air and water emissions and ash disposal. Air emissions have the most significant downstream impacts." Green Institute study(pdf)

What do you think?

Refuse-derived fuel, known as RDF, raises health and quality of life issues, issues that hopefully will be resolved with fully informed, scientific reasoning. You can get started by following some of the links above.


New uniform: Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburg Penguins models one of the new uniforms used at last week's NHL all-star game. Scientific research went into the designs with hopes of speeding up the game.
New uniform: Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburg Penguins models one of the new uniforms used at last week's NHL all-star game. Scientific research went into the designs with hopes of speeding up the game.
Did you watch last week’s NHL all-star game? Neither did I. But the game featured players wearing new uniforms that have been scientifically designed in hopes of speeding up the game. From the highlights I saw, they don’t look a whole lot different than traditional hockey uniforms, but the looks might be deceiving.

Next year, all NHL hockey teams will be wearing the new style of uniforms which the league and Reebok have been working on for years. Researchers from MIT were part of the design group, conducting wind tunnel testing on the new uniforms which show they will have 9 percent less drag in the air as players skate down the ice.

Through the use of new fabrics, the new uniforms should be 14 percent lighter when games start and 25 percent lighter when games end? How can that happen, you ask? With the old sweater type uniforms, players’ sweat was absorbed by the jersey and gained a lot of “water weight” through the course of the game. New fabrics in the uniforms will repel more moisture, cutting down that weight gain through the game.

Designers also figure that the new uniforms will be 10 percent cooler for players. And unlike the NBA, which this season tried to introduce a new basketball but ultimately went back to the old ball due to player complaints, the new jerseys are heartily endorsed by NHL players. They’ve been involved in the design process through the start.

There are other percentages NHL teams and players may be keeping their eyes on when the new uniforms debut next year. That’s the percentage increase in jersey sales at sports shops with the new duds. Many teams will likely be redesigning their color schemes and logos with the switch to the new fabrics.


MN Energy Challenge: Website here.

We need an intervention

Confronting an addict about their behavior usually doesn't have much impact. An intervention done by someone with a position of authority might. A successful intervention for those addicted to oil might resemble "treatment" and a "12-step program".

  • Overcome their denial.

    When the oil addict claims "I am not hurting anyone when I choose to waste energy," they should be made aware that depleting cheap and plentiful oil will result in scarcity and higher prices for future generations. The struggle to control oil resources will also continue to result in bloodshed.

  • Offer solutions and programs enabling recovery.

    Provide educational programs or "steps" that will eliminate abusive use of energy. Put on a sweater instead of cranking up the thermostat. Choose transportation that uses less gasoline. One means of learning "steps to recovery" is accepting the "Energy Challenge" (explained in this previous post).

  • Give incentives and recognition for appropriate behaviors.

    Governments could give rebates and tax credits for generating or using renewable energy.

  • Mandate consequences for abusive energy consumption.

    Again, governments could penalize those who refuse to clean up their act.

Change a bulb. Change the world.

To change the world, start with yourself. If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an ENERGY STAR compact fluorescent, we would save over $500,000,000 each year. That is a lot of fuel that can be left in the ground for future generations.

Join our SMM team.

When you sign up for the the Energy Challenge you can assign your energy savings to three teams. Minneapolis has pulled ahead of Saint Paul. The Science Museum of Minnesota is currently one of the top four business teams because individuals are taking steps to save energy.


MN Energy Challenge: Website here.

Save money. Save our planet.

I just signed up for the "Minnesota Energy Challenge". By pledging to reduce my energy use in specific ways, I will reduce CO2 emmissions and save dollars. I was given the option of adding my savings to a team of participants. I chose Saint Paul (which is beating Minneapolis 2905 to 2692 tons of CO2 saved). I wish the Science Museum of Minnesota had a team. I think it would be neat to have our staff, members, and visitors demonstrate that they are willing to "become the change they envision"(Ghandi). You can join up on the website.

The Minnesota Energy Challenge is a statewide initiative, developed by the Center for Energy and Environment" (CEE), to encourage every homeowner, renter, business owner, educator, worship leader, city manager and student to reduce their electricity and energy use. CEE has projected that a 2 percent annual reduction in electricity energy use will eliminate the need to build more coal-fired energy plants in Minnesota.

There is a meeting tonight(Oct. 16)

Minneapolis newscaster, Don Shelby, will be speaking at 7:30 p.m.

  • October 16, 6 - 9 p.m.
  • Hale Elementary School
  • 1220 54th Street E, Minneapolis

In addition to introducing the energy challenge, displays and demonstrations will cover topics such as energy-saving light bulbs, programmable thermostats, energy audits, high-efficiency furnaces, project financing, tax incentives, and preparing the home for the heating season. The first 500 attendees at each fair will receive free light bulbs, and there will be activities for the kids.

Thankyou missgo76 for alerting me about this on the Energista website.


Jupiter: Courtesy: Wikipedia
Jupiter: Courtesy: Wikipedia
Jupiter: Courtesy: NASA
Jupiter: Courtesy: NASA

Oval BA, or more commonly recognized as the Little Red Spot of Red Spot Jr., has captured some scientists’ attention. Still wondering what Oval BA is? It is a fierce storm on the planet Jupiter. Oval BA is the little “brother” to the well-known Great Red Spot on Jupiter.

Jupiter facts

Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and is the largest planet in our solar system. To give you an idea of how massive Jupiter is, one thousand planets the size of Earth could fit inside one Jupiter!

The Great Red Spot is a huge storm circulating counterclockwise in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Oval BA is about half the size of the Great Red Spot. Oval BA first appeared in 2000 when three smaller spots collided.

What is going on with Oval BA?

Recently the Hubble Space Telescope relayed information detailing Oval BA has changed and is becoming more like the Great Red Spot. A year ago, Oval BA was white. Currently it is a reddish hue matching that of its bigger counterpart. Oval BA has been clocked having 400 mile per hour winds.

Scientists speculate the little red spot has gained speed as well as strength as it has shrunk. Amy Simon-Miller, NASA planetary scientist, explained Oval BA picked up steam in the same fashion spinning figure skaters accelerate when they move their arms closer to their core. The reddish hue can be attributed to red material in the atmosphere-mostly sulfur.

Jupiter will be heading behind the sun out of Earth’s view until January. Scientists are expecting more noticeable changes when Jupiter comes back into view.

Until then, what do you think will happen to these two distinct storms? Do you think there will be a day when Oval BA and the Great Red Spot collide and create one massive storm?


Spaceship Earth: image
Spaceship Earth: image

Captain, we are running low on supplies.

R. Buckminster Fuller's 1969 book imagines humanity as a crew aboard a tiny spaceship traveling through infinity. We have limited water, food, and fuel. Because of our proximity to the sun, we are given a limited budget of additional fuel which allows growth of food, trees, and fish. The sun's energy input also cycles our water and air. We even have past energy from the sun stored up in the form of coal and oil.

What is biocapacity?

What happens if we use up more food and energy each year than the Earth/Sun system can regenerate? Each year Global Footprint Network calculates humanity’s Ecological Footprint (its demand on cropland, pasture, forests and fisheries) and compares it with global biocapacity (the ability of these ecosystems to generate resources and absorb wastes). They declared that today (Oct. 9th) is Global Overshoot Day, the day we passed our biocapacity limit.

"We are clearly drawing natural capital ... the point about collapse is that we don't know when some of the systems in the global atmosphere and fish will collapse but we do know that collapse is a very real possibility" says Professor Tim Jackson, head of sustainable development at Surrey University via The Independent)

We are living beyond our means. Earth's six billion inhabitants and their rising living standards are putting an intolerable strain on nature.

Overfishing, deforestation, overpopulation, etc.

The biggest problem relating to the over-consumption of resources is climate change, but its other effects include deforestation, falling agricultural yields and overfishing.
Overfishing should be easy to understand. If you harvest fish with nets faster than they can reproduce, pretty soon there are not enough fish. Remember what happened at Red Lake.

Global Footprint Network's vision

Global Footprint Network is committed to fostering a world where all people have the opportunity to live satisfying lives within the means of Earth's ecological capacity. You can read about their accomplishments and publications here.


Compact fluorescent lighting: Changing lightbulbs. photo by Art Oglesby
Compact fluorescent lighting: Changing lightbulbs. photo by Art Oglesby

Lets go on a diet.

I am going on an energy diet. Each year I hope to reduce the amount of energy I use. By recording the gallons of gas, the electricity, and the natural gas I pay for each year, I will measure my success.

What will you give up?

“The Energy Diet,” a story in Thursday’s Home & Garden section of the New York Times gave me this idea. Its author, Andrew Postman, asks, "What would you be willing — or not willing — to give up in order to lessen your household’s impact on the environment?" So far, 159 people have answered in their comments.

Tell us what you are doing.

Please use comments to tell me what you are doing to reduce your energy consumption. I will add the most commonly used ones to this list.

    Change incandescent lightbulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs(CFLs)
    Dial down the thermostat in the winter.
    Dress warmer and exercise to warm up if needed.
    Reduce the number of times you run to the store, etc. (make a list and buy lots at a time)

California's 25/20 vision: photo from Wikimedia
California's 25/20 vision: photo from Wikimedia

A 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020

California seeks to again lead the world toward a better future. After last weeks "one million solar roofs" legislation, this week California politicians are working out details that will reduce their green house emissions 25 per cent by the year 2020.

The legislation will require all businesses, from automakers to cement manufacturers, to reduce emissions beginning as early as 2012 to meet the 2020 cap. The state's 11-member Air Resources Board, which is appointed by the governor, will be charged with developing targets for each industry and for seeing that those targets are met. The board now will embark on a years-long process to fully develop regulations. The board could impose fees on some industries to pay for new programs that could do everything from requiring truckers to use biodiesel fuels to forcing farmers to handle animal waste differently.San Francisco Chronicle

California is the world's 12th-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, responsible for 10 percent of the carbon dioxide produced nationally and 2.5 percent globally. Global scientists agree that to prevent catastrophic temperature increases in this century, greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 would have to be 70 to 80 percent lower than 1990 levels.

Cap emissions; buy and sell emissions credits

Last week Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the state's senior Democratic legislator, pledged at the Commonwealth Club to introduce legislation in January that would place mandatory caps on industrial emissions. She also supports a federal cap-and-trade bill, a market-based approach for lowering emissions.(see Buzz Blog post about buying and selling pollution) For example, it would allow farmers and landowners who plant trees or convert crops into bio-fuels to earn emission credits that could be sold to companies that exceed emission limits.

What will it cost and who will pay

Some predict that because "green" energy is more expensive, many companies will move out of California. Others insist that investment capital and "clean-tech" jobs will result, similar to when California led the way with Silicon Valley. California would become more efficient and self reliant. This could give them a head start in a future that will certainly need to do something about global warming and rising energy costs.


Eco Experience at MN state fair: photo by ahhyeah
Eco Experience at MN state fair: photo by ahhyeah

Look for the 123 ft wind turbine blade

Going to Minnesota's State air? Don't miss the Eco Experience in the Progress Center building. Look for the 123ft. tall blade from a 1.5 megawatt wind turbine. It is at the NW corner near Snelling. Like everything served on a stick, this could be "wind on a stick".

Minnesota Public Radio website has a slideshow of what you will see. The exhibits within have a strong emphasis on energy to use the energy you do use carefully. Below is a breakdown of topics and activities. Each link will take you to more information. Also here is a map (pdf).

The Eco Experience is an opportuity to talk with and learn from regional leaders in energy conservation. The University of Minnesota's solar race car is there as well as lots of ideas you can use in your homes. Maybe I will see you there. I plan to volunteer at the University of Minnesota – Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE) booth. The Minnesota pollution control website has links to other participant websites.