Archive for March, 2012

The US is laying groundworks for the future

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

The US is a young nation, it has been the leader on the world stage for about 60 years. Now how long will this last?

The future of the US nation should be considered, to prepare for what can possibly happen in that ambitious and increasingly stratified country.

The US has been under an official State of National Emergency since Sept 14, 2001 – a state that President Obama last year extended to Sept 14, 2012. The war against terrorism has been going on since then, and is expected to continue. What they have is in effect a martial law situation.

The executive order signed by Obama March 16, 2012, now authorizes widespread federal (and often military) control and manipulation of the national economy and resources “under both emergency and non-emergency conditions” as well as the right to install “government owned equipment” in private industrial facilities.

The US has for many decades now been a warring country, is leaving IRAQ, warring in Afghanistan, preparing for confrontation with Iran, having a military presence all over the world, including 6 big cruisers each with at least 5000 men, about 90 planes and lots of other arms and munitions. The costs of this is hellish, and is carried by US taxpayers.

The US is running the Guantánamo Bay camp in violation of international law. It has been there since 1903. The camp is supposed to have been closed down, but the arrangement goes on. The prisoners are held there indefinitely without charge or trial.

There is a deficit budget in the US, unemployment is high at 8.3%, the economic differences in the country are very high as referenced by the 1% and 99% debate, the military expenses are high, the costs of empire are high, there are numerous industry problems surfacing especially within resources and energy supply.

Many parts of the country are, however, doing well.

There is widespread speculation concerning conspiracy theories in the US about what is going on. Lately there has been reports of FEMA camps being built – concentration camps – in five places and already being set up to be ready.

Militia groups are said to be working in the country with the express intention of safeguarding themselves against happenings, including government action of any kind. Articles about nonviolent civilian defence groups making it difficult for the government to rule have been published.

The legal and formalistic aspects are debated, but more important is what will happen in the near future. The pessimists say the groundwork for a totalitarian state is in place.  Senator Ron Paul is very harsh in his description. The major media are very quiet about this.

Reasonable precautions and preparations should be taken for defense and emergency conditions, preparation of decentralized energy and industrial capacity.

We should ponder the implications for the economy, for democracy and liberty, for international relations like helping friendly dictators or organizing wars against countries who control “strategic materials” that the US want, for the military industrial complex, for the prospects for the nation in the near future.

The President now has widespread power that has been compared to what Hitler had in Germany. Hitler also instigated acts of terror – he burnt the Reichstag – and blamed it on the Communists . Will similar happenings and accusations be produced here? Hitler also had an enabling act allowing him to use government resources like the military according to his wishes – the general laws of the nation being overruled.

The world of Homeland Security, war on terrorism, martial law, arrest by the army, indefinite detention without charge or trial is theoretically possible now.

There is also the possibility of a big spin being played out – say the conspiracy theorists – a situation being created – just like Hitler did. And what did Hitler do after that?

“The president has the power to require acceptance and priority performance of contracts or orders (other than contracts of employment) to promote the national defense over performance of any other contracts or orders, and to allocate materials, services, and facilities as deemed necessary or appropriate to promote the national defense…under both emergency and non-emergency conditions” (Section 201a and b)”

“The president has the power, through his cabinet secretaries, to control the general distribution of any material (including applicable services) in the civilian market.” (Section 201e)

“The Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of the Interior…are each delegated the authority of the President… to encourage the exploration, development, and mining of strategic and critical materials and other materials.” (Section 306)

“There is established in the executive branch a National Defense Executive Reserve (NDER) composed of persons of recognized expertise from various segments of the private sector and from Government (except full time Federal employees) for training for employment in executive positions in the Federal Government in the event of a national defense emergency. The head of an agency may activate an NDER unit, in whole or in part, upon the written determination of the Secretary of Homeland Security that an emergency affecting the national defense exists and that the activation of the unit is necessary to carry out the emergency program functions of the agency.”  (Section 501a&e)

This definitely does not seem good! The land of “We the people” is going where?

See Tom Atlee

The future of world trade

Saturday, March 17th, 2012

There are changes afoot in world trade – the resources, the products of industry and agriculture, the services – as more and more players are realizing what the present system is about: The total domination by the western world in all matters.

The globalization debate is also in there as well as economic theory and practice. The old masters of the world are being overtaken by new entrants. The western world led by the US is not going to push more things through as other nations like the BRICS and more are starting to find their voice.

The case of the the rare earths is illustrative. China has much of the world’s resources of these 17 specialties – Rare Earth Elements – and we have had to buy them there. China now needs more and more of the stuff for themselves and have put restrictions on exports. So there is a case being mounted with the WTO – give us the stuff or we will force you. The outcome is clear – China has it and has no obligation to hand it out to others. So the solution to this little matter is to find more of the stuff elsewhere.

Many other issues are surfacing – industrial production, agriculture and jobs suffer in many Western countries. They have been trying to borrow their way out of it, and the US and EU are now trying to use quantitative easing to find their way back to health. Currency wars are looming as the rates of exchange are pegged too high or too low. There are always two sides to a currency, the reserve currencies are important references, and here there are changes coming. These processes are slow, almost imperceptible, glacierlike.

The Chinese are building an international presence not only in the South China Sea, but in Africa where they now are the biggest lender, they are upping their military presence, seeking new transport routes in northern waters – including building new icebreakers, making deals about resources all over. Very busy they are fostering the welfare of their own people.

The question of globalization may be up for a new debate as well. This is based on the mantra of free trade, comparative advantage running its course, the big players with their big finances having free access to all markets. A grand system of deals has been made over the years, domination have been allowed to become the norm, the old capitalist ideas of equal players competing under equal conditions have been allowed to lapse and become a monster. Tariffs, quotas, subsidies are part of the picture. It is all very complex, some would say incoherent.

The intended effect of making the cake bigger has been achieved in many areas, but sadly only to the benefit of some – there are still too many that are not sharing.

The old saying of being master in your own house is coming back. Too much outside influence, even downright outside economic and/or political government, is not desirable and should be avoided.

Producing everything on a large scale in faraway places make a jumble of many local economies – the jobs disappear, socially rich societies crumble, diversity disappears, cultures wither, the reason for being is lost.

The ethics is coming up too – see the problems of Nike, Apple and all the others – using factories with a substandard wages and working conditions. Large scale agriculture that is not sustainable is also part of the picture.

The economic theory must be revised – it is just a pretty picture missing out on several counts – especially on the sustainability bit, the culture, the cost to society, the management of your own destiny.

The fight over resources is increasing too, new thinking is needed, the concept of balanced trade have come up.

The beneficiaries of the present system is clearly many producers and many consumers, but the effects on the rest of the roles we have in society is not acceptable – out of jobs, being ruled by outside forces is not what people want or should have. The plethora of cheap goods is a bonus, but nothing worthwhile in the long run. The bad taste of coercion, colonialism or imperialism lingers.

The emergence of new nations is good. We must not, however, let there be new masters in place of the old – the aim must be a more broadly participative, balanced, reasonable world.

So the new thinking has to start about the practice of the new ethics of fairness, balance, sustainability, about local governance and responsibility for your own destiny.

This is heavy stuff – there are many forces against – but fairness will be the norm one day. Surely.

The cells are coming – fuel cells

Monday, March 5th, 2012

Fuel cells are moving into our lives for real now.

There are said to be more than 2500 installations in the world, and all the car manufacturers are working on fuel cells. Apple Inc. is building a large datacenter using adaptions of fuel cells as part of the energy/power systems. There are projects in many parts of the world were fuel cells are being tried – NASA spaceships have had them, buses and cars, boats have them, data centers have them – the uses are many and the techniques used are many.

If we see them as an energy conversion device the theoretical efficiency is high – the energy to wheel ratio – up in the 80s or 90s percentages. The practical numbers are lower, but much higher – double or triple – that of petrol and diesel engines.

So what is the state of the art now?

Fuel cells were invented by Welshman William Grove in 1839,  but high cost and practical issues like heat transfer, high cost of materials, reliability have been hampering their spread.

There are many techniques: proton exchange membranes (PEMs), phosphoric acid fuel cells (PAFCs), molten carbonate fuel cells (MCFCs), solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs).

It seems that solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) hold the greatest potential of any fuel cell technology. With low cost ceramic materials, and extremely high electrical efficiencies, SOFCs can deliver attractive economics without relying on CHP. But SOFCs operate at extremely high temperature (typically above 800°C), giving them extremely high electrical efficiencies and fuel flexibility, and creating engineering challenges.

The challenges are being solved now, and fuel cells are finally becoming clean, reliable, and most importantly, affordable.

  • A fuel cell is like a battery that always runs. It has three parts: an electrolyte, an anode, a cathode. For a solid oxide fuel cell, the electrolyte is a solid ceramic material. The anode and cathode are made from special inks that coat the electrolyte. No precious metals, corrosive acids, or molten materials are required.
  • An electrochemical reaction converts fuel and air into electricity without combustion. A solid oxide fuel cell is a high temperature fuel cell. At high temperature, warmed air enters the cathode side of the fuel cell and steam mixes with fuel to produce reformed fuel which enters on the anode side.
  • So the chemical reaction begins in the fuel cell. As the fuel crosses the anode, it attracts oxygen ions from the cathode. The oxygen ions combine with the reformed fuel to produce electricity, water, and small amounts of carbon dioxide. The water gets recycled to produce the steam needed to reform the fuel. The process also generates the heat required by the fuel cell.
  • As long as there’s fuel, air, and heat, the process continues producing clean, reliable, affordable energy.

The fuel used is most often hydrogen. The cost of producing hydrogen is still high.

To sum up, there are many uses for fuel cells

  • Automakers, buses, boats, trains, planes, scooters, forklifts, even bicycles.
  • Vending machines, vacuum cleaners and highway road signs.
  • Miniature fuel cells for cellular phones, laptop computers and portable electronics
  • Hospitals, credit card centers, police stations, banks
  • Wastewater treatment plants and landfills are using fuel cells to convert the methane gas they produce into electricity.
  • Telecommunications companies are installing fuel cells at cell phone, radio and 911 towers.
  • Auxiliary power
  • Supplemental power and backup assurance for critical areas, grid-independent generator for on-site service in areas that are inaccessible by power lines.

Fuel cells operate silently, they reduce noise pollution as well as air pollution and when the fuel cell is sited near the point of use, its waste heat can be captured for beneficial purposes.

Cogeneration building systems could reduce facility energy service costs by 20% – 40%.

So we are moving forward – it will be exciting to see promises fulfilled. Hardly any emissions, a bit of gas and a little water perhaps, quiet, reliable, efficient, cheap – we are not quite there yet but are moving forward.