Showing posts from January 2012

Wind turbines: Better than fertiliser?

30 Jan 2012

Siemens 3MW direct drive turbine

Wind turbines, is there anything they can't do?

We already know they produce clean energy and are loved by the public, but now it turns out that maybe, just maybe, they could also improve crop productivity.

That's right, farmers could have another reason to install wind turbines on their land, over and above the obvious financial inducements.

Eugene Takle, an agricultural meteorologist (we would have loved to have seen the look on his career advice officer's face when he voiced that particular aspiration) at Iowa State University is one of a number of scientists undertaking research into how wind turbines installed in America's corn belt are affecting the growth of the crops they tower over.

According to National Geographic, the early indications are pretty encouraging. Apparently the turbulence created by turbines can increase concentrations of CO2 in an area, limit the creation of dew, and result in cooler daytime temperatures and warmer nights, all of which should help crop growth.

There are a couple of downsides to do with plant respiration and other things we won't pretend to understand. But the research team currently reckon the gains will outweigh any negatives.

Which is more than enough to convince the Sceptic Tank to ditch the Baby Bio and instead erect a small wind turbine in his window box.

How's this for horse power

17 Jan 2012

Jockey Club Estates stables in Newmarket

As every cliché-monger knows, all stables need a good clean once in a while. But now it turns out there is a solid non-metaphorical reason for cranking up the power hose.

It turns out that large stables, such as the one in Newmarket shown above, can produce enormous quantities of, shall we call it manure? 25,000 tonnes a year, in fact.

So three cheers for the Jockey Club, which has neatly hurdled the problem of how to dispose of this "fertiliser" by submitting a planning request for a recycling facility that will convert it into biomass.

When the plant is completed later this year, it will be able to process around 5,000 tonnes of this most sustainable of materials, heating nearby schools and businesses in the process.

Reports remain unconfirmed that the facility will produce almost as much hot air as pompous gas-bag John McCririck.

The facility also provides a much-needed financial fillip for the Club.

"The training industry is very tough at the moment and over time we hope this project will reduce waste disposal costs, enabling training businesses to remain viable," said Jockey Club Estates managing director, William Gittus, before spotting a Channel 4 camera and launching into a series of inexplicable hand gestures.

The Doomsday Clock is broken - and we have a replacement

12 Jan 2012

Doomsday clock set at five to midnight

So the Doomsday Clock has this week moved one metaphorical minute closer to midnight, taking it to five minutes to 12 and cancelling out the move to six minutes to 12 that was made back in 2010.

All of which suggests one thing: the Doomsday Clock is broken.

It goes back, it goes forward, and never indicates any time that is not a handful of minutes away from midnight. In fact, it has never gone earlier than 17 minutes to midnight, and only stayed there for a brief period in the relatively benign nineties. If it were a wristwatch you'd throw it out.

Leaving aside the oscillating minute hand, the Sceptic Tank is also concerned about the clock's accuracy. If midnight is Doomsday, who will be left from the esteemed Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to move the clock the final few minutes necessary at the precise moment when nuclear and climatic armageddon strikes?

We fear a nightmare scenario, where the clock is left stranded at a fraudulently reassuring seven minutes to 12, even as the skies rain mercury and zombies roam the earth.

All of which brings us to our plan for a rival symbolic clock.

Let's be honest, the Doomsday Clock is pretty depressing. The word doom is right there in the title, which does not exactly inspire you to get up in the morning and engage in the daily fight to make the world a greener place.

So why not flip things round and produce a nice sparkly new Green Economy Clock that instead of counting down to the appearance of the Four Horsemen counts towards the completion of a beautifully sustainable, low-carbon, circular economy?

You can see it now: an inspiring, progressive, forward-looking metaphorical clock, set at... five minutes past midnight.

Just 23 hours and 55 minutes to go. We feel better already.

Pop goes the Aussie carbon bubble

05 Jan 2012


Normally when the Tank hears analysts harping on about the carbon bubble bursting, we anticipate a tough session Googling an endless flow of financial acronyms and arcane terminology.

Now, we're not saying financiers have concocted a secret language to disassociate themselves from the regular pencil pushers who remain unwilling to front up £15,000 for each of the letters M, B and A added after their name. No, we're saying they do it so the rest of us have no idea what they're up too, because if we did, we damn sure wouldn't like it.

Anyway, you can imagine our relief when it turns out that this latest carbon bubble is related to a specialism of ours: fizzy pop.

And actually, it hasn't popped – you see, shutdowns at two plants that supply CO2 to Schweppes Australia, the nation's second-largest soft-drink maker, and a labour dispute at another factory, is causing huge shortages of cool, refreshing, teeth-rotting carbonated drinks.

Popular brands such as Pepsi and Sunkist are in short supply, while sugared-water behemoth Coca-Cola could be next. The word on the street is the supply shortage will be declared a national emergency and the military will be deployed on the streets of Brisbane if the Castlemaine brewery is hit.

It does strike the Tank that bemoaning a lack of CO2 is quite some departure from the usual BusinessGreen slant, but frankly our low-carbon business opportunities antennae are jumping around like a kangaroo on a hot plate.

All that fuss Aussie mining companies are making over the new carbon tax? Simply capture and bottle the stuff and send it over to Schweppes.

Now there's an idea you don't need an MBA to appreciate.


The Sceptic Tank blog provides a unique take on all the latest weird, wonderful, and downright infuriating green stories from around the world

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