Discovery: Richard Gilbert

Reading the Globe and Mail a few days ago, I stumbled upon the article, “Batteries v. gas – so far it’s no contest” by Richard Gilbert, and thought that the article presented a pretty simple and pointed review of the batteries vs. gasoline situation for personal vehicles at this time. i.e. batteries are expensive, and they don’t last long.

I started looking, and found Gilbert’s website.  Turns out the guy is a long term thinker on efficient and low-carbon transportation.  What a great resource – with 105 pdfs including publications since 2003 on transportation, urban planning and governance.

From his biography:

He has authored, co-authored or edited 14 books and several hundred scholarly and popular articles, book chapters, and major reports for clients. The most recent book, written with An-thony Perl, is Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight Without Oil, published by Earthscan (London, UK) early in 2008. An updated, paperback edition is to be published by New Society Publishers (Gabriola Island, BC) early in 2010. The book explores how societies with great dependence on the motorized movement of people and goods could survive into an era of severe energy constraints.

I can hardly wait to read his stuff!

Bumpy road of biofuel industry leads Cofco to gates of tiny farms

Bumpy road of biofuel industry leads Cofco to gates of tiny farms

It was exciting to be mentioned in this article by Kandy Wong in the South China Morning Post (and sorry it is a locked site).

The premise of the article is that as much as cellulosic fuel would like to develop in China, it’s going to be a heck of a challenge because farms are so small, and there are so many stakeholders to deal with in collecting biomass for both bioelectricity and cellulosic ethanol.

Before Cofco could put its new plant on the right track, it must solve the collection problem, said William Kao, chief executive of Pro-Tek (Xiamen) Electroplating Development.

“There are just too many farmers owning plots that are too small, which means it is difficult to manage by machinery,” he said. “If much of the collection of biomass is done by hand, there is increasing handling and labour costs.

“The solution would be collective farming,” Kao said. “Put the lands together and form large uniform plots of over 1,000 mu, and work by machine.”

But collectivisation would not only be costly but also highly disruptive to family farmers, especially given the mainland’s bitter experience with forced collectivisation during the Great Leap Forward, which resulted in mass starvation.

In addition to the difficulty of collecting agricultural waste from so many small farms, there is competition for the material.

“Agricultural waste can be used by farmers for fertilising lands through burning,” said Robert Earley, the low-carbon transport programme manager for the American non-profit organisation, Innovation Centre for Energy and Transportation. “Besides, the raw material is often used to generate bioelectricity.”

Moreover, if Cofco’s plant was located too close to bioelectricity generators, there would be direct competition for sourcing raw materials, Earley said.

Before Cofco can efficiently collect enough agricultural waste, its first task must be to unite the farmers behind its project.

The company is still seeking advice from experts for the collection problem.

According to Novozymes, there are some big biomass collectors such as Shandong’s Dragon Power doing the job, and Cofco may have to co-operate with these firms to gain a steady supply.

Let’s hope that they can figure out some way to get that biomass collected.  Transporting biomass long distances to cellulosic ethanol plants doesn’t work from a lifecycle GHG emission perspective or an economic perspective — so the best case scenario for this kind of development is:  local feedstock, local production (and ideally…) local use.

iCET is currently working with Novozymes on a study to compare the relative benefits and drawbacks of different uses of cellulose material, including biomass electricity and cellulosic ethanol.  In many ways, biomass electricity is turning out to be a winning technology, but the fact is that vehicles in China still need liquid fuel to burn, and cellulosic ethanol is one of the best choices.  Results will be coming soon…

Harper comes to China

Well, after all my griping about how hard it is to get the time of day from anybody in Canada on China, the sought-after day is upon us.  Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada has arrived in China.  And good on him.  According to the Global Times,

“Harper is the last leader of the Group of Eight to visit China, and Chinese leaders have barely visited Canada since Harper took office,” said Jin Canrong, vice dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China.

In a fit of excitement, the Chinese government has dropped the pork ban on Canadian pork that has been in place since the word “Swine” was attached to the word “Flu” that somehow showed up on an Albertan farm.  Now that everybody’s got H1N1, I guess the ban just doesn’t seem so important now.  Or maybe it’s the warming relations.  Regardless, I guess the Prime Minister is probably licking his lips at the thought of a nice Canadian pork chop or – even better – some Canadian yu xiang rou si.  I sure am.

And what do we hope to accomplish?

Well, as the Toronto Star astutely points out, “Harper is no visionary Pierre Trudeau, or Jean Chrétien Team Canada deal-seeker.”  That’s not big news.  The interesting bit is that:

Canadian officials are working overtime to keep expectations in check. It’s all about “building relationships and strengthening ties” as Canada prepares to chair the Group of Eight next year, host the G-20, and mark 40 years of diplomatic relations with China.

Well, let’s see what happens.  It seems that China is willing to give everybody a chance, even guys like Stephen Harper who have hugged the DL and seem to enjoy poking China in the eye about human rights.  So, let’s see if Harper has gotten the message and does actually manage to open up a new phase of warm and happy feelings between China and Canada.

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Wen Jiabao to attend Copenhagen talks

In a short note, the China Daily reported that Wen Jiabao will attend climate change negotiations in Copenhagen.

BEIJING: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will attend the climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, next month.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang made the announcement on Thursday at a regular press conference.

How will other world leaders (especially political ones) view this?

Harper falls into place behind Obama at Copenhagen

After vehemently denying attendance at Copenhagen without a formal meeting of leaders planned, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has decided that he will attend the conference after all.  Sadly, it seems that this only has to do with the reports that US President Barack Obama will attend the conference, rather than any particular reason of his own.

Or maybe the next story we’ll here is that Hu Jintao will attend?  After all, China has just announced it’s 40-45% reduction in energy intensity by 2020 targets.

Anyway, even if Stephen Harper comes, what will he bring with him?  Here’s Canada’s position on the Environment Canada website.

Update: China Daily reports today that Premier Wen Jiabao will attend the Copenhagen talks