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Friday, May 29, 2015

THE WORLD IS GETTING GREENER

With the price of oil at $60/barrel, biofuel development has stalled.  However, I still think some day there will be a commercial future of transport fuel from algae (that's pond scum to the left).  For example, Kiplinger's Biofuels Market Alert says:

The inputs for algae are simple: the single-celled organisms only need sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to grow. They can quadruple in biomass in just one day, and they help remove carbon from the air and nitrogen from wastewater, another environmental benefit. Some types of algae comprise more than 50 percent oil, and an average acre of algae grown today for pharmaceutical industries can produce 5,000 gallons (19,000 liters) of biodiesel each year. By comparison, an average acre of corn produces 420 gallons (1,600 liters) of ethanol per year, and an acre of soybeans yields just 70 gallons (265 liters) of biodiesel per year.

Douglas Henston, CEO of Solix Biofuels, a company that grows algae for biofuels, has estimated that replacing all current U.S. diesel fuel use with algae biodiesel would require using only about one half of 1 percent of the farmland in production today. Algae can also grow on marginal lands, such as in desert areas where the groundwater is saline.

I was involved with growing algae in a raceway forty years ago at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority, put together a team charged with building a major R&D facility on Oahu, and a few years ago managed a comprehensive Department of Energy study on the cost of converting algae into biofuels.  As long as petroleum remains below $100/barrel, though, this option will remain non-competitive.

On the terrestrial front:

     Despite deforestation, the world is getting greener.

Yes, amazingly enough, with all the deforestation occurring in Brazil and Indonesia, it appears that China has initiated such a monumental tree-planting campaign (called the Great Green Wall--to remediate global warming and reduce dust) and the former Soviet states savannas and abandoned farmlands have expanded production because of higher rainfall, that there is more biomass now on Planet Earth.  Further, as global warming occurs, permafrost grounds are replaced by vegetation.  Tree lines also move north as the climate gets warmer.

According to Nature Climate Change, there has been a 4 billion tonne (a tonne is 2204.6 pounds) increase in biomass since 2003.  How significant is this?  Well, humanity has in that period emitted 60 billion tonnes of carbon from fossil fuel burning and cement production.

Thus, even though Mother Nature has found a way to combat global warming, the amount of Greenhouse gases we are releasing is overwhelming any kind of natural response.  Certainly, those algal blooms tormenting various locations are also contributing to the positive biomass balance.  

All we need to do is control this bio-growth, continue R&D and wait for oil to zoom past $150/barrel.  Renewable jet fuel from microorganisms has long been a high priority interest of mine.   Yes, as gloomy as was my posting yesterday, there yet might be algal biofuels or hydrogen in your future.

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Tropical Storm Andres is just now about attaining hurricane strength, and latest projection shifts the path from mostly north to now towards Hawaii.  


However, the cooler waters will weaken Andres.

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

HOW IS THE BIOFUEL INDUSTRY DOING?

How is the fledgling biofuel industry doing?  In a word, terribly.  I was once chief cheerleader for this field.  I still hold long-term hope.

The price of petroleum is about half of what it was for the past few years:


Further, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange has petroleum at $68.62/barrel in December of 2023.

When oil was at more than $100/barrel, biofuels could not compete.  But corn ethanol was the exception because the Farm Lobby cleverly lobbied our  U.S. Congress, succeeding with a tax credit for ethanol in 1978.  To quote Wikipedia:

Historically most U.S. ethanol has come from corn and the required electricity for many distilleries came mainly from coal. Debate ensued about ethanol's sustainability. The primary issues related to the large amount of arable land required for crops and ethanol production's impact on grain supplyindirect land use change (ILUC) effects, as well as issues regarding its energy balance and carbon intensity considering its full life cycle.[20][21][22][23][24][25]

Two decades ago when MTBE (causes cancer) became a problem, ethanol was offered as the solution.  Corn then cost $2/bushel.  In 2013 40% of all corn harvested was used to produce ethanol fuel. In 2015, the expected average for corn is $4.15/bushel.  The problem is that the supply of corn now utilized for fuel would have fed 500 million people around the world.  World grain supplies are down to the lowest level in 30 years.

Congress finally in 2012 let expire the tax credit for ethanol, a subsidy that provided $20 billion for this product.  From highs exceeding $7/bushel, the price settled more recently to $4/bushel:

Mind you, numerous farm-related subsidies for corn ethanol still exist, but cleverly concealed in assorted bits of legislation.  In Hawaii, we attempted ethanol from sugar cane, failed, and are abandoning ethanol for transport use.  This alcohol remains cautiously acceptable for imbibition.  

So back to the matter of biofuels from biomass, how goes this development under the specter of "low" oil prices?  According to Jim Lane, editor and publisher of Biofuels Digest (my comments in parentheses):
  • First-gen ethanol producers:  only doing so-so, but still okay.
  • Biodiesel:  also so-so, with a "let's produce as little as possible and hang on."
  • Industrial sugars:  pretty good, but for human consumption, not cars.
  • Renewable diesel:  looks pretty good thanks to lowered production costs achieved through feedstock diversification (frankly, this is a rather piddling to middling product).
  • Butanol:  surprisingly strong--while BP shed all kinds of assets, it retained Betamax, and Green Biologics is now converting "plant #1" to n-butanol (but for paints and other higher value products, not auto fuel).
  • Oil major support:  Shell, Total and Reliance, with Chevron quietly engaged, so too, China.   BP and Petrobras have disappeared.
  • Aviation biofuels:  moving strongly (of course, still costs several times more times two, but if this is "moving strongly," then you can totally discount anything above).
  • Synthetic biology and algae:  forget fuel, only dabbling in chemicals and nutraceuticals.
  • Gasification:  methane is strengthening (hooray...next stop, methanol).
  • Cellulosic developers:  delayed commercialization for most, into stealth mode for others.  INEOS Bio, Abengoa, POET-DSM GranBio in extended shakedown.  (All terrible signs.)
Really, an excellent review, pardon my sarcasms, but what else can the editor of Biofuels Digest say?  For the full scoop, read the Lux report on How Alternative Fuel Companies Will Compete with $50 Oil:

As oil price dropped from $100 per barrel to $50 per barrel in the last year, the ability of alternative fuel producers to compete has taken a major hit. In this report, we examine 25 companies claiming cost competitiveness with $50 per barrel oil, digging into their technologies, feedstocks, and commercial plans to determine whether they are likely or unlikely to compete with cheap oil.

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Ah, the first ocean storm 2015 has appeared in the East Pacific.  Tropical Storm Andre is at 40 MPH and will become a hurricane, but will move further north and dissipate:


The next few will be Blanca, Carlos, Dolores, Enrique and Felicia (alphabetical).  Wait a minute, I remember Felicia in 2009.  She almost caused me to return home from a Big Island trip.  The storms I fear are the ones which form near us in the Central Pacific.  In 2006 Ioke popped up just southeast of the Big Island, but thankfully just went east for a while and eventually reached 155 MPH.


If one forms just south of the Big Island and comes up north, we are in quick and deep trouble.  Not really sure what will be the name of the first Central Pacific storm, for this is not alphabetical, but I think it will be Ela.  However, Ela follows Ana in our region, and the first Atlantic storm of this year three weeks ago was Tropical Storm Ana.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

JOURNEY ROUND THE WORLD: Plane or Ship?

I've taken an around the world adventure at least ten times now, so, I must be a world authority.  You can view the details of my next journey, which will occur this Fall.  The cost for business class (plus all other expenses) will be a little more than $35,000.

However, I'm at the stage of my life where I should be using a cruise liner to make that global circle.  So let me compare the two options:  plane or ship.

Round the World (RTW) by air is dominated by three partnerships:

Alliance                          # of partners  airports  countries  fleet

One World (American)            15             1010        155         3428

Sky Team (Delta)                    20             1064        179         4400

Star Alliance (United)              27             1321        193        4456

My preferred link is with Star Alliance, on which I am now heading towards 3 million miles.  Some noteworthy exploits include:
  • PanAm was the only exception, which occurred in the 1980's.  My wife and I went west on Pan Am One, and it was a learning experience.
  • In 2012 I used mostly miles to fly to Japan for the cherry blossoms (plus an OTEC dinner), then on to Amsterdam for the tulips, ending in Las Vegas, when I went golfing on Kenji's Safari.  Well, not quite, for I then went back to Denver for an American Solar Energy Society gathering to participate in an OTEC panel.  Here is a summary.
  • My Ultimate Global Adventure occurred in the Spring of 2013 (MUGA 2013):  a $50K extravaganza in First Class with Michelin 3-Star and Pellegrino Best 50 restaurants.  At Matsumoto Castle a gold koi swallowed the capsule of Pearl's ashes, I suffered from choking air pollution in Beijing, went on another Kenji golf safari and barely survived two weeks of wine tasting in Napa, Sonoma and Alexander Valleys.  Here were my final thoughts.
  • My Ultimate Fantasy Adventure, in the Spring of 2014, might have actually been more enjoyable than MUGA 2013, and some day I might be able to say why.  Here is a comparison of the two.  However, MUFA 2014 was not global, only around the Pacific, the final leg being a Crystal Symphony cruise from Tokyo back to Honolulu.
Before I segue into the ocean, I should mention that just around the same day I leave on my next global adventure, Abercrombie and Kent (not to be confused with Abercrombie and Fitch) has a 24-day 2015 Wonders of the World by Private Jet for $108,000, limited to 50 really rich people.  If you can't go until next year, then the 2016 version includes 26 days, visits all new sites and will cost you $117,000.  The tours are led by founder Geoffrey Kent.  He is two years younger than me and plays polo.


Most world cruises are not global.  Crystal Cruise, for example, in 2016, will only circle the Pacific for $35K+.  However, they promise around the world cruises in 2018, the Crystal Symphony departing Cape Town on January 7 and Crystal Serenity leaving from Los Angeles on January 23.  Alas, not so, for the four "WORLD" cruises all DO NOT start and end in the same city by circumnavigating Planet Earth.  

Their 114 days from Cape Town to Miami (above), for example, will only tour the Indian Ocean, Oceania, western South America, a bit of the Caribbean and end up in Miami.  Not a particularly exciting itinerary, all from $50,000 to $300,000.  Their longest 129-day extravaganza (left) from $70K to $350K is even less so.  I've been to every city as shown to the left, except for Cape Town.  I am especially disappointed, for I usually cruise Crystal.  At least the drinks are free.

Silversea has a $59K (cheapest room), 114-day cruise that starts on 4January2016 from Fort Lauderdale, and ends on April 30 in Venice, which is more than 5,000 miles away from Florida. The most expensive cabin is four times more, plus there is a 175% singles supplement.  There is some mumbling about free Business Class air, but that needs to be negotiated.  Scratch Silverseas.

Oceania has an intriguing 180-day true world cruise, departing Miami on 4January2016 and returning on July 1, for $40,000, or an attractive $222/day.  Day 154 happens to be in Honolulu.  Mind you, the price does go up if you want a decent room, but if you are at an age where you can stop driving and not purchase that new Lexus or Tesla, something to consider.  And Silverseas also offers free alcohol throughout your stay.

Cunard is a venerable name evoking elegance, and their Queen Mary 2 makes the full circuit in 120 days, leaving Southampton on 10January2016 and returning on May 10.  Steerage costs $20K, but the recommendation is to pay $30K for a balcony cabin, or $250/day.  The Queen Elizabeth also touts a world cruise, but that ship only makes a semi-circle.

Holland America's Amsterdam also goes round the world, in 115 days, departing from Fort Lauderdale on 5January2016, and returning on April 30, passing through both the Suez and Panama Canals.  The lowest cost cabin is $20K, or $174/day.  A stay on the second floor of 15 Craigside averages about double that.  If I can somehow apply my $4000+ monthly bill from 15 Craigside towards this cruise, that would be nice.  Otherwise, the total cost would approach $36,000 for this period.

Princess Cruises has two 111-night RTW trips, one leaving from Fort Lauderdale on 3January2016 and the other from Los Angeles on 20January2016.  The cost is $20K or $180/day. Click here for itinerary.  Suites start at $37.5K.

Cruise Line gives the following ratings:

  #1    Crystal
  #8    Silverseas
  #9    Oceania
  #11  Holland America
  #12  Cunard
  #13  Princess
(worse are Celebrity, Viking and Norwegian)

U.S. News and World Report provides rankings depending on what you want with respect to impacting parameters.

Yes, if I survive my fall global adventure, should I take another round the world journey, it will be on a ship:
  • Little packing/unpacking.
  • Minimal airport/taxi stress.
  • My Fall trip will cost $538/day:  Oceania's odyssey would only be $222/day.

On other hand, my blood pressure significantly rose when I found myself at sea during my Fall 2014 Circle Pacific trip.  Exercising helped, and, perhaps, a bath. but my pressure dropped only after I landed in New Zealand.  Maybe it was the sodium or ethanol.  In any case, if a world cruise is in my future I will first need to take a shorter one to confirm the seriousness of this problem.

Another sensible option is to preserve my life by remaining in my 15 Craigside cocoon.  Frankly, I've seen everything I would want to experience, and travel is stressful.  Ah, but just one more adventure before it gets too late.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

ARE YOU BECOMING OBSOLETE?

It's bad enough that I have difficulty dealing with aps for my computer.  At one time I taught computer courses at the University of Hawaii and was the guy asked by the Computer Center which main frame to purchase.  Now, just turning on my computer can be a problem.  Maureen Dowd, however, in her op ed column today showed me just how obsolete I have become.  

She was mostly reporting on Uber, a transportation network company headquartered in San Francisco, which first began carpooling operations last year, but international sites began as early as 2012.  To summarize, Uber hires drivers using their personal cars to pick up customers in selected cities through your mobile phone.  USA Today named Uber its 2013 Tech Company of the Year.  But the Better Business Bureau last year gave Uber an F rating.  The competition includes Lyft, Sidecar, Ola Cabs and Haxi.

Earlier this month I was in San Francisco and was faced with a decision to go from my hotel at the airport to Chez Panisse in Berkeley and back (prices are roundtrip):
  • BART:  $18, but by the time I could leave, the timing meant that I would probably be late for my reservation.
  • Uber:  $70, however, I had never used this option before, and did not have the ap for my phone.  Here is how to do it.
  • Taxi:  $140, yikes, the expense.
To quote Dowd:

Coming from a family of Irish maids, I had been looking forward to the concierge democracy, where we could all be masters of Downton Abbey, butled by drones and summoning staff by just touching our smartphones.

Here is a summary of Dowd's article:

  • She was on travel and smugly indicated she did not have to rent a car anymore, for all she had to do was make an Uber contact.
  • She contacted, her phone showed a map with Uber cars, but they all, save for one, went the other way from her location.  This puzzled her.
  • She was picked up, and the driver scolded her he was taking a chance, for she had a low rating.
  • Yes, not only do you rate (1 to 5, the best) the Uber driver, but they rate you (phone number) too.
    • Thus, you need to be a pleasant occupant and can't be late for the pickup (Dowd's defect).
    • Her reaction was that Uber is not just a ride, it's an irritated boyfriend.
    • While everyone told me you don't need to tip the driver, NO TIPPING LOWERS YOUR RATING!
    • Do you sit in the front to be a friend?
    • Can you afford the error of sitting in the back to talk on your cellphone?
    • It seems that what works is, after you pay and don't tip, to emphatically indicate, "5 for 5," meaning I'll give you five points but you'd better also rate me a 5.  So stressful.  
  • You can't throw up in an Uber car, for the fine could be $200.
  • Flatulence hurts your rating.
So as out to lunch as most of us are with Uber, she goes on to further indicate:
  • Saucey:  deliver alcohol
  • Dufl:  pack your suitcase
  • Eaze:   re-up a medical marijuana supply (they promise first delivery in MINUTES)
  • Luxe:  park you car
Pretty soon we will all be judged again by these services.


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Monday, May 25, 2015

MEMORIAL DAY 2015

At the top of the Honolulu Star Advertiser today, General George Patton is quoted:

It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died.  Rather we should thank God that such men lived.

Nearly six years ago just after my wife (below, Pearl at the Hiroshima Peace Park Museum next to a Hydrogen Bomb) passed away, I published in The Huffington Post:


Patton and I have closely similar views.


Two years ago I reported on:


MONDAY, MAY 27, 2013

WHAT TO DO ON MEMORIAL DAY

I've posted on the meaning of Memorial Day on several occasions, and today will again walk up to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP) inside Punchbowl (looks like Diamond Head, and is close to my apartment):


Thus, you can find out what this day is all about by clicking on the meaning above.  I start my Memorial Day weekend by watching on the eve the concert on the Mall:


For the tenth year, Gary Sinise and Joe Montagna moderated, with General Colin Powell providing a patriotic message.

Nick Fradiani, recent American Idol winner, sang our National Anthem.  I was totally impressed with Stefanie Scott, a product of the Disney Channel.



Clearly, someone will re-make Oklahoma and Carousel, where she will reprise the role of Shirley Jones.  The Voice season 5 winner, Tessane Chin, did a stirring I Will Always Love You.  Watch it!  Gloria Estefan was the headliner:



At the Arlington Memorial Cemetery Tomb of the Unknown Soldier today, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey joined 5000 spectators watch President Barack Obama lay a wreath and salute our fallen heroes for their ultimate sacrifice, indicating that this was the  first Memorial Day in 14 years without U.S. forces in a major ground war.  However, there are still 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan.


Hawaii now has a special way of celebrating Memorial Day.  Begun 15 years ago by Her Holiness Shinso Ito, (below in orange) head of Shinnyo-en Buddhism, founded by her father, the mostly religious service has become a multicultural event at Magic Island featuring Pacific-Asian entertainment and the launching of floating lanterns:


The free program began at 6:15PM, with KGMB TV coverage from 6PM.   It was a beautiful night, and 50,000 could well have been in attendance.


My 15 Craigside Monday night table featured Mint Julep and patriotic music:


We had three kinds of Kentucky Bourbon and poke, before our Okinawan pork meal:


Next week, Mojitos.

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