Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ted's Sailed On; Reform is Foundering

The gale force of corporate America is bearing down on Capitol Hill against any meaningful reform of health care. Predictably, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is bending before the wind. The true champion of health care for all Americans is not yet cold in his grave, and the filibuster proof majority gone, as Democratic leaders of Congress back down in the face of corporate financial power See Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific R. Co, 118 U.S. 394 (1886)[1]; Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976). When asked if he supported a public health insurance plan as one option in the proposed health insurance exchanges, he gave a weak-kneed response, saying he supported an option that had government participation, but not run by the Health and Human Services Department. Reid also said that he would give the obstructionists in the Finance Committee another two weeks of deliberations before considering the use of the Byrd Rule (budget reconciliation instruction) to pass a bill out of the Senate with 50 votes and send it to conference with the House. It is not a stretch of the Rule's intent to use it to pass a health reform bill since whatever bill emerges out of conference committee will include fiscal aspects, and there is an exception to the Rule for provisions not directly related to tax or spending measures. If any bill can be considered a fiscal matter, affecting one-sixth of our national economy, it is health care reform. In addition, the administration is considering using a surtax on the wealthy to help pay for the cost of universal care not made up in efficiencies and cuts. Simply put, the informed contention over the reform legislation has boiled down to an ideological struggle between the profit sector (insurance, drug and hospital companies) and the non-profit sector. The profit sector sees any government participation in its market as the beginning of the end to big profits, and is fighting tooth and nail to prevent it. The rest of the country can go to the emergency room.
[1] this piece of obiter dicta inserted into a headnote by a former railroad president, then Clerk of the Supreme Court, was later explicitly upheld by the Court in Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining & Milling v. Pennsylvania, 125 U.S. 181 (1888). Thomas Jefferson wanted specific limitations on juridical persons written into the Constitution. He lost that argument.

Friday, August 28, 2009

'Toontime: Senator Democrat

[credit: Gary Varvel]

There will be no posts next week, as US Person takes a break. Thanks for watching this cyberspace.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Seattle Dumps Waste Into Puget Sound

ENS reports that the City of Seattle and King County have been ordered to do more to prevent waste water from overflowing into Puget Sound by the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency issued compliance orders on Wednesday for the two Clean Water Act discharge permits involved. During heavy rainstorms combined sewer systems, which carry both waste water and storm water runoff, can overflow treatment plants. The excess contaminated water gets pumped directly into the Sound and tributaries with no treatment. Seattle is not the only city with this problem. Portland, Oregon's combined system is regularly overwhelmed during the six month rainy season. Its overflow sewage goes directly into the Willamette River that flows through the city. Portland is building an expensive, 10 foot diameter sewer pipe to capture overflows and prevent such untreated discharges.

In 2007 Seattle's combined system overflowed 249 times and metropolitan King County's system overflowed 87 times. Each year an estimated 1.94 billion gallons of polluted water is discharged into Puget Sound. Compliance orders are the result of an investigation in March 2008. The city's order requires it to prepare an emergency overflow response plan, a plan to create more storage for overflows and a plan to clean its collection system in a more systematic way. King County is required to upgrade its Elliot West treatment plant and document overflows after a rainfall event.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


[photo credit: Getty Images]
"I've benefited from the best of medicine, but I've also witnessed the frustration and outrage of patients and doctors alike as they face the challenges of a system that shortchanges millions of Americans." Let's get it done for Teddy.

My message to the Kennedy Family: Shortly after the murder of President John Kennedy, my mother bought a photograph book of the Kennedy family. I was only ten years old at the time, but I still remember looking at the album and the deep emotions it caused me to feel. For me, Ted Kennedy became like a distant grandfather because I never knew my own. When he experienced difficulties in his life, I took them as inspiration to overcome my problems. When I attended the 1992 convention as a delegate, I felt as if his speech was directed personally to me. When he looked into the balcony of Madison Square Garden as if searching for someone, I thought he was looking for me, and I found myself nodding in recognition. That was the kind of man the Senator was. He made me and millions of others feel part of a peaceful nation, a loving family, a righteous cause. His presence in the Senate will long endure his physical absence. He will be sorely missed by heads of state, legislative colleagues, and ordinary Americans who loved him. Thank you for sharing him with us.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Prima Dona of the Senate

Once again 'Zion' Joe Lieberman displays his deeply held elitist conservatism by claiming that health care reform can be done later rather than sooner. He said the nation's fifty million uninsured or underinsured should wait until the recession is over for health insurance. That's OK for Joe, he's got his gold lined Senate insurance policy already. The rest of us can go fish. The six conservative Senators on the Finance Committee are accomplishing nothing except holding the rest of the nation hostage to their compensated desire to protect the health insurance industry from competition and regulation. The New York Times got it right in its editorial on this subject. For a country as rich as ours is, forcing a significant number of its citizens to go without health care insurance while raising the price of coverage for everyone else, is a moral disgrace. And so is Joe Lieberman for suggesting it be allowed to continue. If 44 does not use the budget reconciliation process that requires only 51 votes to get a bill pass this intentional obstruction, then he is morally no better than 'Zion' Joe. As FDR so sucinctly said in 1937, "We have always known that heedless self interest was bad morals. We know now that it is bad economics"

Monday, August 24, 2009

Kenya Loosing Its Lions

The number of lions in Kenya continues to decline drastically at the average rate of 100 a year. All of the country's lions could be gone within 20 years unless emergency measures are taken to stabilize the population. A combination of factors is contributing to the demise, but a leading cause of lion fatalities is retaliation by stock men who loose livestock to lions. A nationwide program of public education and reimbursement for livestock loses must be put in place immediately to end the common practice of killing lions as nuisances. Lions are a major attraction for visitors to Kenya. But with only 2000 lions remaining in the wild it may be that the only place to see a Kenyan lion is in captivity. Truly a tragic thought.
[photo: Etosha NP male lion, US Person]

Chart of the Week: They Can't Do the Math!

The chart shows that American 15 year olds are below international standards in mathematics. The US did manage to beat Mexico, Italy and Russia which suffered a political and economic collapse in 1991. The percentage of high school students that graduated with the skills and education necessary for college entrance was 34% in 2002, despite federal spending on education increasing 128% since 1971. The high school graduation rate has remained flat, going from 72% in 1991 to 71% in 2002.
[source: Manhattan Institute for Policy Research]

Friday, August 21, 2009

Colombian Ecological Disaster Ahead

Columbia has granted gold mining concessions on an isolated mountain massif that has not been studied by biologists except for a brief survey in 1999-2001. Serrania de San Lucas was once completely covered by rain forest to 7500 feet. Only 10% of the rain forest now survives. The survey by ProAves, a conservation group, listed over 370 bird species, including 11 endangered ones, and a high concentration of endangered mammals like the Spectacled Bear and five species of primates. The massif may contain entire communities of flora and fauna unknown to science, but they will be destroyed by resource extraction. None of the mining companies support protecting biodiversity and not a single acre of the massif is protected for conservation. Until now most mining and logging has been artisanal because of political instability, but the rising price of gold has created a rush. The human health consequences of losing 2.5 million acres of forest beside the Rio Magdalena, together with the inevitable toxic pollution from mercury and cyanide will be significant.
[images: l, shows remaining forest in dark green; r, location of mining claims. www.wildlife]

'Toontime: The World According to Darth

[credit: Tom Toles, Washington Post]

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Progressives Push Back on Health Care

In a web cast to supporters, President Obama emphasized that he "had a responsibility to the American people" to get a health care reform bill out of Congress "one way or another". Only three members of the other party are working to pass a health care bill according to the President. It may be, the President continued, that the Republican political agenda will prevent bipartisan support. He retreated from comments he made at the weekend in a Grand Junction, Colorado town hall meeting where he seemed to signal a willingness to dump the public option part of his proposed insurance exchanges. His remark was later echoed by Secretary of Health Kathleen Sebelius who said inclusion of a government plan was not an "essential element of reform". He told the supporters gathered for the web cast that he supported a government run insurance plan as one option from a menu of insurance choices available to consumers as "a belt and suspenders" approach to making the health insurance market work. In response to the previous equivocations, sixty progressive legislators in the House sent a letter to Secretary Sebelius saying that passage of a bill in the House depends upon including a robust public option provision. Obama said the controversy created by his comments was somewhat "manufactured", and that the media fails in its obligation to inform the people of the truth in the midst of a propaganda campaign. He used the "death panels that scared grandma" as an example since making end of life counseling available is a concept that Republicans have supported previously. Obama told supporters to give people who already have insurance the facts when talking about reform. One of those facts is that doing nothing will cause Medicare to go into the red in eight years due to out of control health care costs.

Chart of the Week: Virtual Recovery

Two-thirds of home sales are either foreclosures or banks taking a loss (short sales). Of the remaining 36% only 10% are the result of the usual selling process nationwide. Foreclosures set a new monthly record (July) of 360,149 properties or about six times higher than four years ago. As the chart above shows there is a strong correlation between job loss and foreclosure: about one foreclosure for every 6-10 jobs lost. There are some half million bank owned homes not yet on the market. More foreclosures are ahead as the option ARMs and Alt-A loans reset rates next year.
source: John Mauldin,

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Antarctica is Melting

Scientists say that the giant Antarctic glacier, the Pine Island Glacier, is loosing ice four times faster than a decade ago. The glacier in West Antarctica is twice the size of Scotland and is releasing more ice into the sea than any other glacier on the continent. Scientist have been warning for years that sea levels will rise, perhaps to catastrophic levels, as a result of global warming. At the current rate of melting, the main section of the glacier will disappear in just a century. That rate is six times faster than previously thought. The new data was obtained using satellite coverage and might have been overlooked since the glacier is located in the most inaccessible region of Antarctica, 1000 km from the nearest research station. Because the glacier is so large (5400 sq km), its melting into the sea has the potential to double the UN's (science panel on climate change, IPCC) best estimate of 21st century sea rise. If the acceleration continues at the present rate the main trunk of Pine Island Glacier will be afloat within the century according to the lead researcher.
map courtesy

Monday, August 17, 2009

Obama's True Color

Update 8.19.09: The progressive reaction to the apparent sellout by the White House was loud and clear. 65 Democrats in the House are solid behind the public option, and the White House communications office has backed off. But whether 44 was sincere in his collaborationist rhetoric or just triangulating for political advantage remains to be seen. Stay tuned.

The Senate Finance Committee led by Max Baucus, a tool of the insurance industry, continues to undercut the public option (translation: extending Medicare) with the amorphous proposal of creating "insurance cooperatives" to provide the necessary competition for the health insurance oligopoly that has failed to control the costs of medical services in this country. Incredibly, 44 indicated over the weekend that he was open to reform without a government run health insurance option, a position contrary to his campaign platform. Baucus has said that fighting for the public option is "a wasted effort".

The problem with the co-op idea is that it has been tried and found wanting. Dr. Howard Dean points this fact out in his new book on reforming health services. The largest health insurance co-op was Blue Cross/Blue Shield. The remaining BCBS organizations still in business are now franchises independent of the association selling branded health insurance in defined regional areas. The largest member of the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Association is WellPoint, a publicly traded corporation. Some of the franchisees are still operated as non-profit organizations. The association enjoys a close relationship with government health policy makers since it also administers Medicare in some areas and the Federal Employees Health Employees Plan. A GAO study in March 2000 said that co-ops cannot control costs because they do not have the necessary market share nor produce administrative cost savings for insurers. The study examined five different small business purchasing co-ops[1]. Without a large number of participants, co-ops are subject to the whims of the insurance industry which are decidedly anti-competitive. According to GAO cooperatives typically offer plans at market prices with similar benefits as plans outside the cooperative. Two thirds of non-elderly Americans rely on employer provided health insurance, but only about one half of very small employers (less than nine employees) offer health benefits.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina is running television ads against the public option plan. Ask yourself this question dear reader: why is a so-called coop so afraid of competing against the government plan if they are sure it will be a disaster? North Carolina BCBS excludes preexisting conditions, maternal benefits, and has other coverage limitations. It is not cheap insurance as Dennis and Alice O'Connor, a retired couple in Chapel Hill, found out. A previously stated goal of Team 44 in reforming health care is to provide all Americans with affordable insurance that does not prevent people with pre-existing conditions from obtaining coverage.

[1] Pacific Health Advantage in California, CBIA Health Connections in Connecticut, Florida’s Community Health Purchasing Alliance are among the largest small employer cooperatives in the nation. GAO also examined two smaller cooperatives, North Carolina’s Caroliance and the Texas Insurance

Purchasing Alliance. BCBS Association identifies 21 purchasing cooperatives in the nation.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

US Person on the Road Again

US Person travels to the 2nd annual Netroots Convention to be held in Pittsburgh, PA next week. He tells Persona Non Grata he will post from the convention, time and interest permitting. Unlike 94% of other blogs on the net (Harper's Index), Persona Non Grata is updated regularly to bring you, the rational nonconformist, more high impact blog. Watch for the image at left for US Person's report from the convention. (That's him emerging from the world egg!)

Dateline: City of Champions (aka Pittsburg, PA) Former President Bill Clinton demonstrated his facility with statistics during an hour long impromptu speech to attendees of the Netroots Convention Thursday night while defending his administration's failure to pass health care reform. He said health care reform is a "political imperative" for the current Democratic administration. He explained that the political culture of the nation has changed dramatically since he served in the White House. The nation is much more "communitarian" in seeking solutions to social problems, in contrast to the political history of dividing the electorate according to class and race. An example of the old politics is the organized outrage at the proposed health care reforms. One apparently irate town hall member told her representative that passing health care reform was tantamount to turning America "into another Russia". Clinton said the opposition is reduced to these sensational tactics because it's parliamentary weapons of filibuster and committee control are gone.

Instead the Repugnants hope to "mortify" conservative Democrats into opposing reform. Clinton said this was easy to do because the problem is complex, hard to analyze from a cost standpoint, and the profit producing status quo is defended by powerful business interests. But the essential message must be unchanged: the current system is not working for all Americans, and it puts the US at a competitive disadvantage with other countries that have more efficient socialized systems. Clinton assured his listeners, "the worse thing to do is nothing" regardless of what particular features a reform bill has. He concluded his remarks by telling bloggers they have a "staggering" role to play in achieving an historic reform that could usher in an decades long era of progressive government.

More: The power of the blogosphere was on display at the Netroots confab were Senator Arlen Spector was confronted by bloggers attending the Pennsylvania Leadership Forum on Friday. The recent crossover was asked about the distortion by his former party members of the death with dignity provisions of health reform legislation. Repugnants were filling the air with irrational horror stories about how the government was going to try and save money by "killing grandma". In realty the proposal is to provide end of life counseling, if patients want it. Most insurance plans do not pay for such counseling. Senator Spector was forced to acknowledge the scare mongering of his former party members, and offered to call Senator Grassely (R-IA), one of the perpetrators, about the propaganda. Spector placed the call live from the Forum, but Grassely was not available. Senator Grassely has apparently backed off the absurd claim since the call from Spector.

Final: The people and culture of Appalachia continue to be assaulted by coal companies which are literally blowing their environment to bits with 3 million pounds of high explosives every day. Appalachia community activists at the convention say they have "hit a wall" with their local and federal representatives who know that it is political suicide to oppose coal companies like Massey Energy blowing up mountain tops to extract coal. The Coal River valley is being turned into a "national sacrifice zone" to supply the nation's dependence on the cheap and abundant fossil fuel to generate 42.6% of our electricity. There have been 470 decapitations and 1700 headwater streams buried because the Regime changed by executive action the definition of a single word in the Clean Water Act regulations: fill. Consequently, The dumping of the waste (also called overburden) into mountain streams does not require a Corps of Engineers permit. 44 refused to issue new regulations restoring the old definition of fill that would include mining waste. Companies have spent $11 million in lobbying Capital Hill for the push on the ACES energy bill and have seen the desired results. Coal is still favored as the base load energy source well into the future. Coal provided by mountain top removal is estimated to only 5% of the total burned to create power. Stopping the burning of coal all together is a lost battle, but there is something environmental activists can do. Lobby their legislators to co-sponsor bills pending in Congress that make coal extraction less damaging. HB 1310 proposes to restore clean water protections gutted by the Regime. S 696, the Appalachia Restoration Act will require the clean of up of mountain top mining wastes, eliminating the artificially low price of coal.

Appalachian residents for their part are willing to continue to mine coal underground despite the many hazards to life and health. They would like to see some economic development not dependant on their traditional masters. The Coal River Mountain, slated for decapitation, is proposed as the site for a large wind farm. Estimated county tax revenue from such a farm is $1.6 million/year compared to $100,000 for a strip mine. Go to to get connected to the fight because you are already connected (via an electric wire) to the problem.
photos: US Person

Monday, August 10, 2009

Chart of the Week: Who You Going to Call?

The chart above shows best and worse case scenarios for funding the new debt that has to be issued by government to cover the Wall Street bail out as well as spending on non-crisis budget categories. The most likely case (middle bars) shows a shortfall of $542 billion.
Before now the U.S. debt was funded by foreign purchasers, but as this pie chart shows the new US debt level swamps the rest of the world put together. We will need almost 9% of WORLD GDP to fund our growing debt. There are not enough purchasers of sovereign debt to go around when the world is deleveraging and there are competing business and consumer demands for capital. In another age of increasing sovereign debt (in Europe between 1870-82), Andrew Carnegie recognized America's unique position amongst nations: "Our great advantage which the Democracy has secured for itself in America is its comparative freedom from debt. The ratio of indebtedness to wealth is strikingly small." Will foreign investors continue to invest in dollar securities when the dollar is continually devalued? Not any more, Mr. Carnegie.

Friday, August 07, 2009

'Toontime: Spare Change

[credit: Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo concludes in his report on bank executive compensation, "...compensation for bank employees has become unmoored from banks' financial performance." Fittingly the title of his report is "No Rhyme or Reason: the 'Heads I Win, Tales You Lose' Bank Bonus Culture". Citigroup and Merrill Lynch suffered losses of more than $27 billion at each firm. Citigroup paid out $5.33 billion in bonuses, and Merrill Lynch paid $3.6 billion in bonuses. Three other investment banks, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan Chase paid bonuses substantially greater than the banks' net income. While paying their executives shamelessly, the banks are forcing defaulting homeowners to the wall. Only 9% of those who qualified for assistance under the administration's homeowner foreclosure prevention plan have been accepted into trial programs to have their mortgage terms modified. One of the largest holder of distressed mortgages, Bank of America has allowed only 5% of its eligible mortgagors into the program. Citigroup has allowed 15%, and Wells Fargo has accepted 6%. Wackydoodle sez: Seems like yer 'nother day older 'n deeper in debt, while the boys get a free lunch.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Honey Bees May Have AIDS

It makes sense if you think about it. The little wonder workers provide a third of our food by pollinating our crops. Honey bees work so hard they drop dead on the job. To make life more difficult for honey bees they are under assault from multiple sources. Entomologists studying the problem of sudden colony collapse syndrome are arriving at the conclusion that environmental stress is compromising the honey bee's immune system making it vulnerable to a wide variety of pathogens. A study at Washington State University shows that honeycombs are impregnated with old pesticide residue which causes bees to have significantly reduced longevity. Another aspect of the study is the impact of a microsporidian, Nosema ceranae. The pathogen attacks the bee's ability to digest food. Necropsies of dead bees from collapsed colonies shows undigested food in their abdomen. The USDA believes the pathogen has been in the United States for at least ten years. It is a tough parasite to kill. Lethal doses of antibiotic (Fumagillin) cause the pathogen level to go up and bees to suffer a type of immune deficiency disorder making them vulnerable to other chemicals and parasites such as Varroa destructor mites. Researchers at Penn State University found unprecedented levels of pesticides used to combat varroa mites in all honeycomb and wax samples, as well as 70 other pesticides and their metabolites in pollen and bees. The death of honey bees in the US is reaching crisis proportions (in the winter of 2008 USDA estimates 36% of hives were lost to colony collapse), posing a severe problem for farmers growing crops dependent on mobile honey bee pollination services. Replacement bees are being imported from Australia and Russia at great expense until science provides specific answers to the problem.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Last Nail in Yucca Mountain's Coffin

ENS reports that Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) cries of "NIMBY"* have been answered. After negotiations with Team 44, Reid announced last week that all funding to pursue a license application for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository [photo] will be cut off in the 2011 budget. The agreement follows the cutting of $27 million in the 2010 budget {3.9.09}. The $196 million in funding that remains for the nation's only high level radioactive waste dump will be used to close down the facility and fund a commission to develop alternative waste disposal solutions. Currently 77,000 tons of high level nuclear waste that was supposed to be shipped to Yucca Mountain for storage is being held in temporary surface storage at 131 sites in 39 states.

The facility suffered a major setback in 2005 when it was discovered that a USGS employee falsified documentation of computer models simulating water infiltration of the site. In 2008 the EPA had to revise its dose limits for exposure to satisfy a 2004 federal court order extending the standard's duration from 10,000 years to 1 million years. The court also required the consideration of geophysical hazards and corrosion during the 1 million year period. Since 1976 there have been 621 seismic events of 2.5 or greater within a 2.5 mile radius of Yucca Mountain, excluding underground nuclear weapons testing at the nearby Nevada Test Site. The volcanic ridge is fractured and critics are concerned that migrating ground water coupled with in situ mineral salts would corrode the waste containment vessels thereby releasing radioactivity into the environment. Despite the unsuitable geology, the Regime approved the site as a permanent repository in 2002, and pursued an operating license application in June, 2008. The Department of Energy is being sued by the nuclear power industry seeking billions in damages from taxpayers for delays associated with the project.
*NIMBY: not in my back yard. US Person claims credit for coining this popular acronym while working in the Texas oil 'bidness' in the early eighties.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Movin' On the Electric Way

The key factor in reducing greenhouse gas emissions is to reduce the amount of CO2 emitted by the nation's transportation vehicles. US Person advocates a return to tested technology from the turn of the last century: electric cars and light trucks. These cars were immensely popular in towns. Called "women's cars" because they did not require a strong arm to turn a hand crank for starting. Their utility was limited by heavy, dangerous lead acid batteries and short range of twenty miles or less. When Cadillac introduced the electric starter for the internal combustion engine around 1912, the rest is...well, you know. America now needs more efficient engines to stretch remaining oil supplies. The average fuel efficiency of the US vehicle fleet has risen just 3 miles per gallon since the days of Ford's gift to the world, the Model T, according to University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Until 1935 fuel efficiency was about 14 mpg, then fell gradually to a low of 11.9 during the muscle car years, only to climb to 16.9 by 1991 where it has flattened. Currently the average is 17.2, an uninspiring performance.

Electric vehicles may not impact emissions or fuel efficiency greatly in the short term, but moving away from exclusive reliance on the internal combustion engine for motive power is a necessity. That is why the federal government is now backing the necessary research and development with $8 billion in funds. Of that, Nissan USA will receive $1.6 billion to manufacture vehicles and batteries. A start up company, Tesla Motors, that has built a production high performance electric roadster will receive $465 million to help reduce the cost of its car. The technological hurdle for the electric car to jump has always been its power source, batteries. Improving battery technology has been slow primarily because light, powerful batteries were not needed until the space program came into existence. Once NASA put its collective mind on the problem more powerful batteries using advanced electrolytic chemistry were available at high cost. Nickel-hydride batteries introduced in 1989 increased energy density (the amount of electric energy stored/weight) by several factors.

Density was further improved when Sony introduced lithium ion batteries for digital cameras and portable computers. Lithium is the lightest of all metals. Lithium batteries usually contain two electrodes, one of graphite and one of a metal oxide, separated by a non-conductive material. These are immersed in a lithium salt and organic solvent with electro-chemical properties. Thanks to Sony's heavy investment in this technology, lithium batteries have the highest longevity of all commercially available batteries. It is the battery of choice for an electric vehicle. The technology is expensive, so the first generation of electric vehicles will also not be cheap. A current cost estimate for car batteries is $2,016/kWh. However, the government could subsidize the sale of these vehicles to get them on the road until battery costs come down. A Madison Avenue research firm says that the cost of lithium metal is only 3% of the cost of the battery itself, so there is scope for further cost reductions. The energy that can be stored by a battery has doubled and researchers claim it can triple again in the next ten years. An example of modern computational approach to the quantum mechanics involved, recent research showed Li-ion batteries can be charged faster by a factor of 100 when the cathode is made of lithium iron phosphate, a type used in portable power tools. These batteries do not have the requisite power density for vehicle application (despite the humorous demonstration on the TV show "Monster Garage" where the 'boyz' made an electric dragster from an old Chev and 400 Milwaukee power tool batteries), but further tweaking of battery components, such as replacing cobalt (+3) with chromium (+6) will lead to density improvements by a factor of 2 or 3, enough to make low-cost, high-performance batteries feasible. Where a battery might hold 100 watt-hours per kilogram, it will hold 250, rivaling gasoline as a vehicle power source without the noise and fumes.
[r. photo courtesy: Ford Motor Co; l. photo courtesy Nissan Motor Co.]

Monday, August 03, 2009

Chart of the Week: Endless Summer

The linear regression line in blue shows the declining extent of arctic sea over the past thirty years. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado early or extended melting caused by atmospheric temperatures rising appears to be one of the factors contributing to the sharp decline of summer sea ice. Compared to average conditions in 1979 to 2000 this years melt started a week early in the Beaufort, Chukchi and Kara seas and more than two weeks early in the East Greenland and Barents seas. Projections of summer sea ice extent are showing a level at or near the 2007 record.