Sunday, November 29, 2009

Greenland: Melting Ice; Rare Metals to be Unearthed?

The media has shown us in all its forms that the Greenland ice-sheet is melting, and along with the Antarctic peninsular, is one of the poster children for the reality of global warming. On the plus side is the possibility that under the ice of the Ilimaussaq Intrusion lies the world’s largest known reserve of rare earth metals, also known as lanthanides in the Periodic table of the Chemical Elements, which are used in mobile phones and all kinds of electronic devices, including hybrid cars. Currently China produces 95% of the world's supply of rare earth metals, and the Greenland find could urge a shift in world dominance.

Greenland, with a population of around 57,000 and a population density of a mere one person for each 15 square miles, is undergoing a political transformation in the lead-up to its imminent independence from Denmark, and as of January 2010, it will become the full owner of its natural resources. Accordingly, the rare earths alone could double Greenland's GPD since there are enough of them to sate one quarter of the world's hunger for them for the next 50 years.

As a further benefit of the site, the cost of extracting the rare earths will be partly covered by the lucrative extraction uranium there. This will shield against China undercutting the Greenland rare earth production by flooding the market with cheaper metals, which is how it has managed to establish dominance in the world market in terms of rare earth provision, to date.

The Ilimaussaq Intrusion is well-established as a source if uranium, but its novel exploitation as a source of rare earths is pivotal on the world geopolitical stage. To the chagrin of Japan, which intends to become a major player in electric car production, Chinese control of the amount of rare earth metals available to the marketplace has engendered a scramble by Toyota and major Japanese trading houses to ensure sufficient supplies of them from elsewhere. Indeed, the Japanese wish to establish a strategic national reserve of rare earths to meet demand from both "green" and military technologies, e.g. hybrid cars and weapons-guiding systems.

Through a massive increase in the global supply of rare earth metals within a regulated market with global price-controls, their use would naturally increase. Michael Hutchinson, a director of the London Metal Exchange and the non-executive chairman of Greenland Minerals said: "Rare earths could, therefore, undergo the same transformation as aluminium, with the same scene-changing effects. A century ago aluminium was so valuable a metal that Queen Victoria sported a ring made of it. When supply became cheaper and steadier, it fundamentally altered the way in which aircraft, cars and other technologies were built."

I wonder what other minerals including oil may be exhumed from the earth under melting Greenland, and for how much longer will the melting Antarctic remain sacrosanct?

Related Reading.

"Greenland challenge to Chinese over rare earth metals," By Leo Lewis.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Energy Saving Light Bulbs Get Dimmer with Use.

I had thought this might be the case from my own experience, but this is from the horse's mouth (an animal usually assumed to be standing the right way round, but isn't always). This particular horse is a report from E&T which is the leading trade magazine published by the Institution of Engineering and Technology, which one would assume is talking from its mouth and nowhere else. According to the report, energy saving light bulbs become appreciably dimmer during their lifetime, by 22%, in contrast to the more traditional incandescent filament bulbs which lose just a fraction of their original intensity.

The report also concludes that the efficiency of low energy light bulbs, or compact fluorescent bulbs as they are known technically is being overblown. Dickon Ross, the editor of E&T. said:"There is a big difference between what most bulbs' packaging promises and what the reality is. It's no wonder so many consumers are dissatisfied with the bulbs."

The German consumer organisation Warentest tested 18 energy-saving bulbs in 2008, and after 10,000 hours, three of the 18 bulbs had stopped working completely with an average reduction in brightness of 22% for the remaining 15 bulbs.

The US Department of Energy tested 124 bulbs for 2,400 hours (which it should be stressed is much less than the intended working lifetime of 10,000 hours), of which found that 28% no longer gave a decent light output. In contrast, normal filament light bulbs lose perhaps 7% of their brightness when the filament "goes", which is after about 2,000 hours.

The Energy Savings Trust purports that a 11-14W energy efficient bulb is equivalent to a 60W traditional bulb, which is put on the packet by most British lighting manufacturers. However, the European Commission has issued a warning that these claims are "not true". On a consumer website it claims that: "The light output of 15W compact fluorescent lamp is slightly more than the light output from a 60W incandescent."

As from September 2011, 60W clear incandescent bulbs will be banned and from last August it became illegal for retailers to import 100W, frosted or pearled incandescent light bulbs, or to sell them once their current stocks have run out, leaving low energy bulbs (low energy halogen or compact fluorescent lights CFLs) as the only option.

There are certainly saving in the amount of electricity required to run the different kinds of bulb, however. Dr Paula Owen at the government-backed Energy Saving Trust, is quoted as saying that good energy saving light bulbs would only be noticeably dimmer after six to ten years. She noted: "Typically, a low energy light bulb used in a living room, for example, will last 10 times longer than a traditional one. In this time, the householder will have saved about £65 on their energy bill.

Related Reading.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Carbon Particles a Factor in Climate Change?

The toxicity of carbon particles ("particulate") has been stressed in the designation of PM10 and PM2.5, which refers to particles of size of 10 and 2.5 microns (thousandths of a millimetre) or less. The smallest of these particles are breathed into the deep lung, and during conditions where the concentration of them is high, an enhanced incidence of heart attacks and breathing problems is found. It is thought that the presence of the particles triggers the release of cytokines, which control various cellular responses, and this is the cause of such health problems during smogs.

The origin of the particles is the incomplete combustion of diesel fuel and though more tank to wheel miles are got from diesel than petrol, the emission of particulate poses a danger to health. By fine-tuning a diesel engine the amount of particulate formed can be minimised but rarely entirely eliminated. Burning biomass is a further significant source of carbon black.

Such carbon particles may also influence the health of the planet, and carbon black and CO2 cause the Earth to warm-up by different mechanisms. In the case of CO2, there is a contribution to the greenhouse effect, while particles of carbon black absorb some of the heat from sunlight directly and act like an atmospheric blanket that is becoming thicker as levels of pollution increases. Carbon black particles have a life-time in the air of typically just a few weeks, before they are removed by precipitation and gravity. Thus, if the sources of these particles were removed, the air would become clean of them fairly quickly, unlike CO2 which may hang around for centuries.

This is particularly significant for India and other developing countries in Asia, where a prominent mix of particles from burning biomass and fuels in vehicles arises, and India produces around 6% of the world total atmospheric budget of black carbon. Asian countries stress that it is Western nations that emit most of the world's atmospheric carbon and so should set an example in terms of curbing carbon emissions. However, since it is developing nations that emit relatively more black carbon per capita, they may be called to account and encouraged to limit those processes that are the origin of it.

It is significant that if a glacier becomes literally coated with a layer of carbon black, the extra absorbed heat will cause the ice to melt faster. Thus there is a particular link between carbon black and potential sea level rise. Black carbon is easier to curb than CO2 in that by reducing deforestation in which tropical rainforests are burned, and fitting diesel filters to vehicles a significant proportion of the particulate can be eliminated. Domestic stoves that burn wood and other biomass could also be replaced by cleaner alternatives. In addition to the amelioration of effects on climate, considerable improvements to the health of large populations of the world should be expected.

Related Reading.
[1] "Black Carbon: An Overlooked Climate Factor." By Bryan Walsh:,8599,1938379,00.html
[2]"Toxicology of the Human Environment: the Critical Role of Free Radicals," Ed. Chris Rhodes.

0748409165; ISBN-13: 978-0748409167

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Conundrum Over Vast Oilfield Under Baghdad.

It is thought there nay be a "supergiant" oilfield underneath Baghdad, which may hold 8.1 billion barrels of oil, and is one of ten oilfields and one gasfield that seems about to come onto the market. To place this into perspective, the entire North Sea reserves are around 4 billion barrels, or half of that; while on the world stage of oil demand it is enough for about three months. Nonetheless, at a current $80 a barrel, the find would be worth around $648 billion, and more as the price of oil will inevitably rise in perpetuity.

Three days ago, BP and its Chinese partner, CNPC, signed the first formal big oil deal since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003. BP has considerable experience of the geology of the region, dating back to its discovery of the Rumaila field in 1953, and between them the two partner companies could invest $15 billion.

Not surprisingly, there is strong interest from various companies, including Japan Petroleum Exploration Company (Japex), who have predicetd that it could produce a daily 400,000 barrels (10% of Japanese demand for oil) when fully exploited, and well above its current output of 17,000 bpd. However, other companies are very reluctant to invest there, so close to Baghdad, in view of the political instability that prevails in a city that has suffered greatly since the war began - for whatever reasons it did.

It is thought that if foreign investment can be garnered both here and for fields in the more stable north of the country, the output of Iraqi oil could be brought up from the present 2.5 million bpd to 7 million bpd within seven years, or encroaching on present output from Saudi Arabia of around 10 million bpd. It looks then that Iraq will become a key player in the future oil game and maybe that's what the war was really about rather than toppling a brutal dictator or intercepting the infamous weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), which were never found.

Related Reading.
"Baghdad's vast oilfield presents dilemma to would-be bidders," by Robin Pagnamenta.