News Article | January 6, 2016
A recurring Alberta theme the past decade, in some circles, albeit for the most part seen as little more than a public relations exercise, has been the oil sands as revenue stream for Canada’s transition from petrostate to “green energy superpower”. For example, in his 2009 book Green Oil: Clean Energy for the 21st Century?, author Satya Das suggested revenue from $15-trillion worth of oil sands could be used to finance a green Canadian future. Unfortunately, in today’s world, that $15 trillion looks like a mirage even as the prospects for a green future and the need to finance that future becomes increasingly certain. As Albert’s Environment Minister, Shannon Phillips, recently pointed out, “We are entering a world that is going to be constrained with respect to carbon.” The extent of that constraint however is probably far greater than most Canadian, particularly Alberta, politicians would care to admit. At the recently concluded Paris climate talks Canada’s Environment Minister, Catherine McKenna, endorsed a call to hold global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and that call was heeded with the concluded agreement to keep “well below” 2 degrees. Even keeping to 2 degrees, a study lead by Christophe McGlade of University College London suggests, would require foregoing the burning of a third of the world’s oil reserves, half of its gas reserves and keeping over 80 per cent of the coal remaining in the ground and of the burnable oil virtually none would come from the Alberta oil sands due to the high cost and high emissions associated with their recovery. Instead of having trillions to spend to develop renewable energy and fulfill their Paris commitments to the environment, here and here, the Alberta government projects a budget deficit of $6.1 billion for fiscal 2015-16 and $18 billion in total over the next 4 years and the newly elected federal Liberal government of Canada says the $2.3-billion surplus projected by the previous Conservative government for this year is more likely to be a $3-billion deficit on top of the $10 billion deficits they promised during the election campaign to run each of the next three years to kick-start the Canadian economy through infrastructure spending. A large part of the revenue shortfall of both governments has come about as a result of the slump in oil prices from about $60 US per barrel a year ago to less than $40 today. Canada is the 5th greatest producer of oil and has the 3rd largest reserves but that doesn’t mean much to the Canadian taxpayer or the provincial owners of the resource when the cost of production is higher than the market value of the oil and when the 2nd largest, and lowest cost oil producer, is set on undercutting the competition to ensure it has nothing left in the ground once the environmental limits to burning fossil fuels has been reached. Alberta and Canada as a whole are essentially petrostates absent the benefits of state control of the resource, the price it can demand for that resource or the revenue derived from its sale. The Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund is essentially a sovereign wealth fund; the only one in the country, but of the close to $200 billion in non-renewable resource revenue that has been generated since its inception in 1976 the value of the fund, as of March 31, 2014, was only $17.5 billion, less than the projected accumulated deficits for the province the next 4 years. Both the provincial and federal governments have pledged to reduce carbon emissions but their most vital concern is the advancement of the well-being of their citizens. For too long they have financed that advancement on the back of uncertain petroleum revenues that are now drying up and there is no immediate, recognized, replacement. Salvation, at least in the short run, would emerge in the form of technology that produces bitumen at no cost, without carbon emissions and that could generate sufficient revenue that the country and province could affordably transition away from the boom and bust cycle of the oil industry to a sustainable future. In the absence of such a miracle it is hard to see how the environmental undertakings of Canadian politicians can be financed. Australia, like Canada, depends heavily on resource extraction to finance its economy and both countries are confronted by similar economic realities. Former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke suggests that beyond the obvious alternatives of reducing expenditures, increasing taxes or some combination of the two, in the face of the new reality, there is another alternative; a new source of revenue, which for Australia he suggests should be taking the world’s nuclear waste. In other words he is prepared to be innovative in the face of stark reality. There are vast, remote and dry regions of Australia, which is a stable democracy thus it is an ideal location for storing spent nuclear fuel; a service for which a global clientele appears to be willing to pay in the vicinity of $100 billion dollars (about double the projected deficits of Canada and Alberta over the next 4 years). Canada is also a stable democracy. Rather than being dry however it has large tracts of bitumen, a recognized sealant for underground repositories, into which the world’s waste can be placed, for a fee. Over the long term the heat and ionization radiation of that waste would cause the highly viscous bitumen to flow to a producing well and split some of the low grade bitumen molecules into more valuable fractions. Further information regarding the nuclear assisted hydrocarbon production method is available here and here. It is likely such an effort would have to be federally controlled and there is a precedent, the Suffield Experimental Station. DRDC Suffield was a research facility established in 1941 as a joint British/Canadian biological and chemical defence facility. It is a 2690 square kilometer block of land in southeastern Alberta that by the end of the Second World War housed 584 personnel trained in chemistry, physics, meteorology, mathematics, pharmacology, pathology, bacteriology, physiology, entomology, veterinary science, mechanical and chemical engineering. This land was expropriated by the Province of Alberta on behalf of the Canadian Federal Government to which it was leased for ninety-nine years at a cost of one dollar per year to support the war effort. Suffield is an area within which efforts were undertaken that would today be seen as no less controversial or dangerous than the disposal of nuclear waste. After the war the block was transferred from the province to the federal government in exchange for a large number of army and air camps and buildings from the Dominion Government and it has subsequently been used for large, experimental, chemical and explosive efforts and training. In 1974 the federal and provincial governments signed a surface access agreement for the purpose of developing petroleum reserves in the area and subsequently 14,000 oil and gas wells have been drilled on the site, mostly by the Alberta Energy Company (AEC) which was formed at the height of the OPEC oil embargo, with provincial government support. The province held 50 percent of the initial shares in an effort intended to try and lessen dependence on foreign oil. Today that same oil is undercutting the oil sands and many see climate change as no less a threat than was faced in the middle of the twentieth century. Subsequently the province divested its interest in AEC, which became one of Canada’s largest private-sector independent oil and gas exploration and production companies prior to merging with PanCanadian Energy Corporation in 2002 to form Encana. There is every reason to suspect nuclear waste disposal and bitumen recovery from using the heat of spent nuclear fuel, on expropriated lands, can today be every bit as lucrative a proposition. The private sector aren’t about to take on such an effort, at least not initially and it doubtful there will be any major, new, oil sands efforts in any event as things currently stand. Besides a private initiative isn’t likely to turn around and funnel revenues into an energy source that can actually unrealized the radiative imbalance created by global warming by moving surface heat through a heat engine into the ocean abyss; an effort that can unwind the damage caused by the burning of fossil fuels (see here and here) and fulfill the commitment to a 1.5 degree temperature increase. The Alberta and Canadian governments have every opportunity to live up to their commitments. All that is required is the expenditure of a little political capital and some initiative. It would be far better that we pay are way into the future we want for our children rather than finance that future with debt for which our children will ultimately be responsible.
News Article | September 28, 2016
The conceptualization and deployment of STB was initiated by China Agricultural University (CAU) to test an innovative technology-transfer approach for enabling smallholder farmers. Following the initial success in Quzhou County, more STBs were established by CAU in different farming systems across the country, including large farms in the northeast area (2–20 ha per household, larger than the national average) and the fruit- and vegetable-basket region in southern China. After 2012, other institutions began to adopt the model and establish STBs in their regions. By late 2015, a total of 71 STBs were in place, covering 22 agricultural production systems in 21 provinces (Extended Data Fig. 1). Among these STBs, 25 are overseen by CAU, 26 by other agricultural universities, and the remaining 20 by private enterprises with supervision by academic scientists. The STBs currently cover wheat, maize, rice, soybean, potato, cotton, grape, cherry, apple, strawberry, Chinese date, orange, banana, mango, pineapple, lychee, pitaya (cactus fruit), tomato, garlic, pepper, green onion, and forage production systems. The organizational format and functionalities of all STBs are similar to those in Quzhou, with staff living in the villages year-round and working with farmers to identify yield-limiting factors, revising science-based recommendations for local adoptability, and garnering public and private support. Quzhou is a typical agricultural county (114°50′22.3′′E–115°13′27.4′′E, 36°35′43′′N–36°57′N) situated about the centre of the North China Plain (NCP). The latter is a region with intensively managed cereal production systems, producing 38% of agricultural products in China. Rotation of winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) and summer maize (Zea mays L.) is the dominant cropping system. Quzhou has a total population of 433,000 and arable land of 66,700 ha, with 93,074 farming families living in 342 villages within 10 townships26. Per capita arable land is about 0.15 ha; per capita, net agricultural income was US$944 in 2008 in rural households (Extended Data Table 8), which is far below the US$2,290 in urban households26. Quzhou has deep alluvial soils with inherently high salt content, rendering the land barely productive historically. Starting in 1980 s, the saline soil was reclaimed via three measures: (i) deep wells drilled to reach fresh water for irrigation, (ii) deep drainage ditches dug to lower the groundwater table, (iii) crop residue recycled to build up soil organic matter and enhance productivity. Specifically, soil texture comprises light loam, medium loam, sandy loam, clay and salt-affected27. Soil organic matter ranges from 10.3 to 16.0 g kg−1 (mean 13.9 g kg−1), salt content is up to 1.11 g kg−1 at 20–40 cm soil depth28. With steady increases in chemical fertilizer use in the past three decades, soil nutrient content is relatively high: 0.94 g kg−1 for total nitrogen (from 0.70 to 1.06 g kg−1), 23.0 mg kg−1 for available phosphorus (Olsen-P, 1.4 to 50.4 mg kg−1), and 132 mg kg−1 for exchangeable potassium29 (Exc.-K, 67.1 to 190 mg kg−1). The mean annual temperature is 13.1 °C; average annual precipitation is about 500 mm with a variation of 27.5% between years. The area has a distinct wet season from late June to late October with 60% of the annual precipitation falling in those months, and a dry season from November to early June in the semi-arid monsoon climate. The ground water table has been falling by 0.8 m annually in recent decades owing primarily to agricultural irrigation30. The first STB was established in Beiyou village in 2009 (631 households farming 272 ha). Six additional STBs were established around the end of 2009 and beginning of 2010 in separate villages (Extended Data Fig. 1). Of the seven STBs, four were focused on wheat and maize rotation systems and the remaining three were targeting other cash crops. Staffing included one faculty member and two graduate students per STB. The current paper reports the results based on the four STBs for the wheat and maize rotation systems. Quzhou Experimental Station was established by CAU in 2007. Located in the northern part of the county and about 20 km from Beiyou village (the first STB village), the Experimental Station occupies 20 ha of cropland. The soil type is Cinnamon (salt-affected, sandy clay loam) with 14.0 g kg−1 organic matter, 0.97 g kg−1 total nitrogen, 16.0 mg kg−1 Olsen-P, and 179 mg kg−1 Exc.-K in the 0–30 cm soil layer31. Soil conditions are similar to those in the STB village area and about average in Quzhou County. The main field study at the Experimental Station relevant to this article was aimed at developing the best management practices applicable in Quzhou on the basis of high-yield, high-efficiency technologies (integrated soil-crop system management, ISSM)32. Plot size was 1800 m2 with four replications. Management practices (treatments) included land preparation, crop variety, sowing date, seeding rate, fertilizer management and harvest date (left column in Extended Data Table 4). During the 5-year span (2009–2014), some practices were modified to incorporate better management options developed in other regions (for example, an improved wheat planter was introduced in 2012), which contributed to the overall trend of yield increase (Fig. 3, Supplementary Table 1). As the field study implemented best management practices according to ISSM guidelines, yields from these studies were used as the de facto attainable yields (which would be lower than potential yields but served our purpose, Supplementary Discussion). Accordingly, yield gaps are operationally defined as the differences between farmers’ yields (through survey and single- and multi-factor experiments, discussed below) and the de facto attainable yields. A questionnaire survey was conducted in October 2009 to determine the prevailing practices regarding the price of seed, variety selection, fertilizer, manure, irrigation, and pesticide use, machinery services and labour, as well as farmers’ information sources and knowledge base. We selected 10 villages from the high, medium, and low (per capita income) village groups in Quzhou County; 150 farmers randomly selected from the 10 villages were interviewed. The interviews were conducted by STB staff plus additional CAU students, each interview took about 40 min with detailed information on quantitative (for example, fertilizer rate, yields) and qualitative parameters (for example, variety and source of seeds, access to information). Survey results were summarized (Extended Data Fig. 2, Extended Data Tables 2, 3, 7) and examined to identify farmers’ practice and factors constraining their performance. To quantify yield-gap contribution from each of the main factors, farmers in the four STB villages were solicited to carry out single-factor (paired) experiments (Extended Data Table 1). Selection of participating farmers was based on two considerations. First, his or her field practice was one of the major yield-gap contributing factors. Second, the farmer was willing to try different management per STB recommendations. Each paired experiment was carried out by the farmer, who devoted a parcel of land in which two treatments were laid out side-by-side, one representing the farmers’ practice and the other following STB recommendation. All management remained the same except for the single factor tested. In some cases, participating farmers allocated the least-productive parcel of their fields for the experiment in order to minimize risks. This helps to explain the wide variation shown in Extended Data Table 1. Meanwhile, the substantial yield increase derived from following recommended practices, even on poor land, provided a better service in convincing otherwise-reluctant farmers. Each yield-gap contributing factor was tested in at least three farmers’ fields, which served as the de facto replication. A total of 55 paired experiments were conducted during 2009–2011; plot size ranged from 300 to 600 m2 depending on the individual parcels of land. STB staff provided on-site assistance to make sure that the recommended practice, whether it was sowing date or fertilizer application time or rate, was implemented correctly by the farmers. STB staff measured crop yields and recorded data. Description of treatments and the results are summarized in Extended Data Table 1. Leading farmers are those who were, through daily interactions between STB staff and the villagers, recognized leaders in the farming community. Their participation in STB-related work was by volunteering and/or by request. In addition to the critical role in helping STB staff revise the recommended management practices to conform to local farming practises (described in main text), leading farmers also carried out multi-factor experiments in their selected fields, in which all 10 recommended practices were simultaneously implemented. The number of leading farmers participating in multi-factor experiment varied from 45 to 71 per crop-season in 2009–2014 (Supplementary Table 1). Plot size ranged from 600 to 1,200 m2, depending on individual fields. The pool of fields (that is, 45 in 2009, 71 in 2014) served as replications. STB staff provided technical guidance and consultation and recorded yields and relevant data. After harvest, on-farm performance of the improved technologies tried by leading farmers was summarized and the information communicated to the Experimental Station for further innovation. The trend of yield increases during 2009–2014 (Fig. 3) may be attributed to progressive improvement of leading farmers in mastering the recommended technologies. A variety of methods were used to disseminate the advanced management practices to the farming communities. Mechanisms corresponding to the four key elements summarized are outlined below: Raising awareness. The single- and multi-factor experiments served as live exhibits. Field days were held each month during the growing season, with leading farmers answering questions and outlining which practices they adopted, why, and the attained or expected benefits. Furthermore, the workshops were offered in winter months to consolidate the outcomes and discuss which practises worked (or did not work). Yield contests were held to engage members of the farming community. Readily available information. Science-based technologies were presented in eye-catching and comprehensible formats. For example, waterproof posters were erected along the main road, highlighting information on wheat and maize production with graphic illustrations. Customized calendars showing recommended practices were distributed to villagers. Engaging farming community members. As well as production-oriented events, a variety of social–cultural activities were organized, such as tea gatherings, folk singing and dancing in winter months or around traditional holidays. These events helped build a relationship between STB staff and farmers, while strengthening the community as a whole. Enabling change. During busy field operations, STB staff were to travel and provide advice on-site when needed. Briefing sessions were offered before each crop-management stage. Reminders were sent via cell phone texting and/or the village’s intra-broadcasting system at the time of important field tasks. See Extended Data Table 6 for photo illustration and Supplementary Table 2 for more details regarding location and service target. Regarding CLUP (combining land for uniform practice), farmer-members elected a leader who coordinated field tasks and took charge in decision-making with the consultation of STB staff. Uniform cultivation favoured the adoption of deep tillage and eased irrigation schedule (with 20–25% increased efficiency). Furthermore, STB staff designed a fertilizer formula for each CLUP based on soil-test results and crop data, and solicited fertilizer suppliers to blend and deliver the products accordingly; we also helped CLUP determine seed variety and supplies, thus lowering their production cost by about US$100 ha−1 (Extended Data Table 5). Government officials were interested in strengthening their support and improving services. As the yield was enhanced by deep tillage, the county subsidized the cost of deep-plough purchases and provided US$75 ha−1 to farmers who adopted the tillage method. In addition, two full-time agricultural technicians were added to each township in Quzhou County, starting in 2010, to promote countywide adoption of STB recommendations. They also issued special logos on the packages of trusted seeds or fertilizer products as a measure of protecting farmers from inferior products. In the private sector, seed and fertilizer companies donated money and/or production material (for example, seeds, fertilizers) to farmer yield contests and field demonstrations; they sent their field representatives to STB-organized events. Their service model started to shift from farmers only being able to offer available stock, to being able to supply specific produce on demand. Learning which products are most suitable for a given region, as per STB findings, fertilizer companies began to make crop/region-specific products with improved labelling, for example, specifying target crops and providing instructions by linking application rate with yield. To assess the effectiveness of education-extension efforts and the outcomes of STB interventions, a follow-up survey was conducted in 2012. Twelve villages were strategically selected, including (i) the four STB villages in which farmers had full access to all STB services, (ii) four neighbouring villages that are adjacent to the STB villages, and (iii) four control villages that are about 10 km away from any of the STB villages. The neighbouring and control villages had similar demographics and cropping systems as STB villages (Extended Data Table 2), but received no direct on-site services by STB staff (no single- or multi-factor experiments), although public events such as training workshops or field demonstrations were open to all. From each of the 12 villages, 30 or more farmers were randomly selected and interviewed. There were a total of 575 households as survey participants (Extended Data Table 2). Survey items were the same as for the 2009 survey. Survey entries of quantitative nature (for example, grain yield, fertilizer rate) were farmers’ self-reporting, that is, not measurements taken by STB staff. Results of the 2012 survey were summarized and examined to assess the efficacy of knowledge and technology transfer. Clearly, farmers in the STB villages had better understanding of key agronomic parameters and higher adoption of recommended practices than their counterparts (Extended Data Tables 3, 5, 7). The survey results also suggest ‘spill over’ of knowledge and improved management practices from the centres of action (STB villages and STB organized events) to the neighbouring villages as compared to control villages (Extended Data Tables 3, 5, 7). The outcome of STB intervention can be quantitatively evaluated by comparisons among the three groups of villages in terms of land-use efficiency (crop yield), resource-use efficiency (nutrients and water), and investment and labour productivity (Table 1, Extended Data Table 5, Supplementary Table 5). Partial productivity of nitrogen, calculated as grain yield per kg of chemical nitrogen fertilizer input, was used to provide an estimate of nutrient use efficiency. Water-use efficiency was calculated as grain yield per cubic meter of irrigation water input. Labour productivity was expressed as grain yield per hour labour input (self as well as hired labour). The benefit:cost ratio was the parameter used to evaluate the economic effect of farmers’ practices. Cash expenditure for seeds, fertilizers, machinery, irrigation, and farmers’ labour input were components of the operating costs. Quzhou smallholder farmers rarely rent land, borrow money from the bank, or buy crop insurance (wheat and maize), therefore these were not included in the total costs. Net profit (benefit) was calculated as the product of the grain yield and the market price minus the operational costs. For all field experiments and farmer surveys, data was analysed by one-way analysis of variance in SAS33. To distinguish STB villages from neighbouring and/or control villages in terms of production and economic performances, two-tailed t-tests were performed. The results were compared using least significant difference at a 0.05 level of significance for grain yield, fertilizer use efficiency, water-use efficiency, labour productivity and the benefit:cost ratio (Table 1, Extended Data Table 5, Supplementary Table 5). In addition, linear regressions of yields over time (2008–2014) were run for the Experimental Station and leading farmers, with statistical significance determined using the F-test (Supplementary Table 4). Also, annual yield comparison between the Experimental Station and leading farmers was made by two-tailed t-test for each year (Supplementary Table 4).
News Article | October 31, 2016
Solar power is no longer a boutique industry. At least 900 million solar panels are deployed across the globe. Eighty-one percent of those came online within the last five years. From rural villages in India to the rooftops of suburban America, photovoltaic solar is fast becoming a mainstream source of energy. Every one of those panels is only as good as the materials used to make it. The life of a solar panel isn’t an easy one. Pounding rain, blistering sun and bitter cold hammer away at them day after day, year after year. The expected lifespan of a solar panel is 25 years, and most of the panels now in the field should have many years of useful life ahead of them. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. The surge of solar power installations and ensuing rush to market exposes problems; weak links in solar module durability and reliability are now coming to light. Every industry has growing pains. When too many solar modules begin to degrade or fail in less than five years, folks in the industry will start to ask: How do we prevent this from happening again? Over the course of two interviews, we spoke with experts from DuPont Photovoltaic about this crucial step in continued healthy growth for global PV solar. “We donated materials to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a project funded by the Department of Energy to build and develop a 30-year lifetime module,” Dr. Alexander Bradley, principal investigator for DuPont Photovoltaic Solutions, said in an interview at the Intersolar North America conference in July. Those original modules given to JPL are “still cooking” to this day.Dupont plays a foundational role in the PV solar industry. Its research and development in materials stretch back more than 40 years, long before anyone but NASA was talking much about solar panels. Among the many lessons DuPont learned from its decades of experience — and particularly cogent today — is that materials matter. Ongoing field studies by DuPont and others show a “significant and alarming” increase in solar modules failures, particularly with the backsheet: the unsung hero of a solar panel that provides protection and electrical insulation for the module. DuPont’s research, as well as reports from downstream customers, reveal persistent cracking, discoloration, and delamination in backsheets made with the polyamide-based material exposed to cycles of UV, temperature and humidity — the very elements bearing on a solar module’s reliability and endurance throughout its lifetime. While no longer sold into the market, polyamide was “popular five or six years ago,” Olsen explained, and “is a really good example of how we’re seeing failures today of something that was untested at the time.” Polyamide passed the basic IEC quality standards in place at the time: “mostly fixed-stress tests” geared at “day one performance,” Olsen said. They didn’t pass the “sequential testing that is more indicative of lifetime performance.” If such criteria had been in place at the time to simulate real-world conditions, “these kinds of things would have been flagged, and these growing increases we might not be seeing today.” DuPont’s Fielded Module Program collects data for location, manufacturer, materials and relative performance from 2 million modules spread over 70 global installations and representing more than 30 module manufacturers. “That’s how we learn and develop our products,” Olsen said. Bill Gambogi, a research fellow based at DuPont’s Experimental Station in Wilmington, Deleware, leads that program. To date, the research shows that less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the failures are related to Tedlar, a backsheet material developed by DuPont. The remaining failures are of polyvinylidene fluoride, PET, and “a large percentage from polyamide.” The current IEC standards for PV solar modules look to “flag early failure,” Gambogi said, “and don’t speak to long-term reliability or durability.” “They are aimed at identifying things that really shouldn’t go outside at all,” he continued. “There are multiple stresses in the field and those work together to cause the kind of failures that we’ve seen.” With more than five years of data from the Fielded Module Program, Gambogi and his research team can see beyond day one performance and focus on reliability “over the 25-year market period.” And it doesn’t take 25 years to do it. MAST, or Module Accelerated Sequential Testing, simulates these multiple, cyclical stresses. DuPont published several papers, with Gambogi as co-author, demonstrating the correlation between MAST test protocols and expected long-term reliability. As Dr. Bradley told TriplePundit at the Intersolar conference, the colloquial term for MAST is “heat and beat.” Accelerated exposure thermal, UV and moisture pummeling a module in relatively rapid sequence goes far beyond current IEC testing standards. Testing beyond day-one performance is key to “the strength and health of the industry,” Gamogi said. Growing awareness of this problem inside the industry, he projected, will eventually lead to better standards. “Various industry stakeholders must come to an agreement for pushing it forward and what the specifics are. That takes time to get established.” Standards can enforce system reliability, but Olsen says it “doesn’t take a standard” when individual stakeholders understand the economics. Any major energy infrastructure project assesses costs over an expected lifetime of the system. Solar is no different. The economics work for solar when the system lasts 25 years. When all stakeholders understand the “economics of this,” Olsen explained, the industry can correct mistakes made by only considering day-one costs. The reliability and durability required by the economics of any energy system should theoretically make sufficient standards of production and materials inherent to the market. For stakeholders with a tendency for short-term thinking, the recent “bubbling up” of failures and quality issues have a silver lining for the industry in general. “A downstream customer — an installer, owner or a finance company — [must understand] that when they look at cost, they need to look beyond the ‘day one’ installation cost and look at the lifetime cost of the system,” Olsen said. DuPont’s research proves that point. No need to wait for the standards to catch up to make sound economic decisions. The common argument among critics of solar power is its intermittency. I argue that in an integrated new energy economy, this is a red herring. The real issue is confidence. “Solar is still in its infancy,” Olsen told us. What the industry needs to “really take off” is, among other things, confidence in the public domain; confidence in government and policy incentives; confidence in the financial institutions that are working to provide capital; confidence in the reliability of the system. “We’re approaching that cusp,” Olsen said, where steps the industry take now to these address issues will bear on public confidence. DuPont’s message is that fostering the “confidence, health, and growth that we need in this industry” requires an awareness that “preventing a lack of confidence” by adopting higher standards is “critical” to the industry. Cost pressures, untested materials finding their way into the market, lagging standards: These and other issues now confront an industry still finding its way in a burgeoning marketplace. It needn’t be any more than a bump in the road. DuPont and many other have laid the foundation to overcome the inevitable challenges of the new energy economy. Growing up is never easy. This article first published in TriplePundit.com
News Article | April 8, 2016
ScienceDaily: Graphene Layer Could Allow Solar Cells to Generate Power When it Rains According to the journal Angewandte Chemie, Chinese researchers have now introduced a new approach for making an all-weather solar cell that is triggered by both sunlight and raindrops. For the conversion of solar energy to electricity, the team from the Ocean University of China (Qingdao) and Yunnan Normal University (Kunming, China) developed a highly efficient dye-sensitized solar cell. In order to allow rain to produce electricity as well, they coated this cell with a whisper-thin film of graphene. Dot Earth: Bill Gates Explains How to Make Climate Progress in a World Eating Meat and Guzzling Gas After Bill Gates explained his strategy for boosting energy access while limiting climate change in a videotaped interview we published on Tuesday, readers were invited to submit questions for the Microsoft co-founder, philanthropist and investor. Here are his answers to a few of the hundreds of questions he received on The Times and on Facebook, covering everything from artificial meat to Americans’ gas-guzzling driving preferences (with some light editing of his dictated responses). MIT Technology Review: Texas and California Have Too Much Renewable Energy In places with abundant wind and solar resources, like Texas and California, the price of electricity is dipping more and more frequently into negative territory. In other words, utilities that operate big fossil-fuel or nuclear plants, which are very costly to switch off and ramp up again, are running into problems when wind and solar farms are generating at their peaks. With too much energy supply to the grid, spot prices for power turn negative and utilities are forced to pay grid operators to take power off their hands. That’s happened on about a dozen days over the past year in sunny Southern California, according to data from Bloomberg, and it’s liable to happen more often in the future. For seven cities in Florida, the costs of protecting against rising sea levels and repeated flooding have become overwhelmingly burdensome and, they say, represent a reason to support the Clean Power Plan. Miami Beach, the city of Miami, Coral Gables, Cutler Bay, Pinecrest, West Palm Beach and Orlando are among 54 cities that joined the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities in submitting an amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief in support of the Clean Power Plan. However, Florida’s state government is among 27 states fighting the plan in court. Scientists at the DuPont Experimental Station have developed a new fuel that could soon replace ethanol at gas pumps and bring in billions of dollars. And now, with a patent dispute settled, DuPont and its partner BP can focus on convincing ethanol plants to convert to producing its product, bio-butanol, and take a big share of the $20-billion-plus U.S. ethanol market. DuPont and BP have spent 11 years and hundreds of millions of dollars on the project, in which they tinkered with the genes of yeast and created a new oil-producing organism.
News Article | January 4, 2016
DuPont Central Research & Development, one of the most prestigious and accomplished research organizations in the chemistry world, will soon cease to exist. A Dec. 17, 2015, memo laid out the company’s plan to combine DuPont Science & Technologies and DuPont Engineering into a single organization called Science & Engineering, effective Jan. 1. “As part of this integration, Central Research & Development will be substantially redesigned to become ‘Science & Innovation,’ ” states the memo, attributed to DuPont Chief Science & Technology Officer Doug Muzyka. DuPont isn’t commenting on the fate of central research labs at its Chestnut Run facility and Experimental Station, both in Wilmington, Del. It also isn’t clear what the jobs impact on R&D will be. A letter DuPont CEO Edward Breen sent to the firm’s Delaware-based employees on Dec. 29 disclosed that the state will see a total of 1,700 layoffs. The job eliminations and changes to R&D are part of a DuPont program to cut costs by $700 million and employment by 10% company-wide. DuPont currently has 54,000 employees, some 6,100 of whom are located in Delaware. The R&D restructuring comes only weeks after DuPont unveiled a $130 billion merger with Dow Chemical (see page 14). The two companies expect a further $300 million in cuts to R&D when they combine. The new firm, DowDuPont, will then break into three separate companies in about two years. One of these companies will be a specialty products firm with headquarters in Wilmington. DuPont Central R&D is one of the world’s oldest and most venerable corporate research organizations and has often been compared to the former Bell Labs. DuPont plunged into centralized, fundamental R&D in the 1920s under the guidance of Research Director Charles M. A. Stine. Stine hired Wallace H. Carothers away from Harvard University in 1928. Carothers’s work at DuPont would lead to neoprene and nylon. DuPont’s labs even spawned a Nobel Laureate. DuPont chemist Charles J. Pedersen shared the 1987 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Donald J. Cram and Jean-Marie Lehn for work in synthesizing macrocyclic polyethers, also known as crown ethers. Since it broke, the news about the fate of Central R&D has stoked the passions of chemists. “The closing of a major research facility and the pressure on large corporations to eliminate spending on basic science may benefit a few wealthy investors, but it is a loss for the U.S. and the world,” noted a commenter named Roy Williams on C&EN’s website.
News Article | December 18, 2015
DuPont Central Research & Development, one of the most prestigious and accomplished research organizations in the chemistry world, will soon cease to exist. According to a memorandum obtained by C&EN and authenticated by DuPont, the company will combine DuPont Science & Technology and DuPont Engineering into a single organization called Science & Engineering, effective Jan. 1, 2016. “As part of this integration, Central Research & Development will be substantially redesigned to become ‘Science & Innovation’,” states the memo, attributed to DuPont Chief Science & Technology Officer Doug Muzyka. DuPont isn’t commenting on questions regarding the numbers of possible layoffs or the fate of central research labs at DuPont’s Chestnut Run facility and Experimental Station, both in Wilmington, Del. The news of the research restructuring comes just days after the blockbuster Dec. 11 announcement that DuPont will merge with Dow Chemical. In discussing the merger, DuPont Chief Executive Officer Edward Breen downplayed the potential impact on R&D, saying that only about $300 million would be cut from the combined firm’s research budget. Last year, DuPont alone spent $2.1 billion on R&D. The research restructuring is part of a plan DuPont announced on Dec. 11 to cut its own costs by $700 million, largely by eliminating 10% of the company’s workforce in 2016. In recent years, DuPont has been under pressure from activist investor Nelson Peltz who, among other things, has criticized DuPont for high overhead and the ineffectiveness of its centralized R&D. “The company’s strategy to leverage ‘integrated science’ capabilities has, in our view, led to speculative corporate R&D investments and lackluster return on invested capital,” Peltz wrote in April. DuPont Central R&D is one of the world’s oldest and most venerable corporate research organizations and has often been compared to the former Bell Labs. DuPont plunged into centralized, fundamental R&D in the 1920s under the guidance of Research Director Charles M. A. Stine. Stine hired Wallace H. Carothers away from Harvard University in 1928. Carothers’s work at DuPont would lead to neoprene and nylon. DuPont’s labs even spawned a Nobel Laureate. DuPont chemist Charles J. Pedersen shared the 1987 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Donald J. Cram and Jean-Marie Lehn for work in synthesizing macrocyclic polyethers, also known as crown ethers.
News Article | January 28, 2016
Continuing to pare research and development, DuPont plans to cut its spending on R&D in 2016 to between $1.6 billion and $1.7 billion, a roughly 10% decline from the $1.9 billion the firm devoted to research in 2015. DuPont revealed the budget cut while announcing a decline in fourth-quarter sales and earnings. The reduction will take the firm’s R&D spending to roughly the same amount it spent in 2010. And it follows the company’s January dismissal, according to C&EN sources, of more than 200 Central Research & Development scientists at its Experimental Station near Wilmington, Del. Those layoffs were part of a larger cost-saving effort that includes cutting 10% of the firm’s 54,000 employees and reducing costs by more than $700 million. The effort is in advance of DuPont’s planned merger with Dow Chemical, which will be followed by a split of the combined company into separate agricultural, materials science, and specialty products firms. During a conference call with investors, CEO Edward D. Breen defended DuPont’s research spending, saying the firm will still be “one of the highest R&D companies in the world.” Breen noted “we were very selective” in making the R&D reductions. He also attempted to reassure investors that “the long-term success of our businesses will be driven by innovation and strong returns on R&D investments.” He added, “I know there’s been a lot said and talked about it, but through the last 15 years, R&D has averaged $1.65 billion.” Breen also revealed that DuPont would reduce spending on new plants and equipment by more than 20% in 2016. “After looking hard at every project and its expected returns, we approved 2016 capital expenditures of $1.1 billion,” he said.
News Article | December 13, 2016
Wheat, one of the most widely consumed grains in the world, contains gluten, a mixture of proteins that can be toxic for people with coeliac disease. A new study that analysed the toxic components of these proteins in various varieties of wheat makes the first step forward towards developing wheat-based products that are safe for coeliacs. Bread, biscuits, pasta and patisserie products in general are the main foods made using wheat, and they are not recommended for coeliacs. Patients who consumed a mixture of proteins containing this grain - gluten - experience an immune response in their bodies. Coeliac disease, one of the most common autoimmune diseases, causes atrophy in the villus of the intestinal mucosa, which leads not only to poor nutrient absorption but also malnutrition, diarrhoea, stunted growth, anaemia and fatigue. Currently, the only treatment is a strict gluten-free diet for life. In recent years research that seeks to understand the relationship between the proteins of wheat gluten and the reaction it produces in coeliacs has been promoted. One of the hypotheses, with no clear scientific basis, was that modern wheat production practices that aim to improve the viscoelasticity of bread dough had contributed to increasing the prevalence of coeliac disease since the late 20th century. However, a new study published in the journal Food Chemistry demonstrates that even the oldest varieties of wheat, which have not been subject to alteration, can present toxicity through some components of gluten, called epitopes, that are responsible for the autoimmune response in coeliac patients. In search of the elements that make gluten toxic The scientists analysed various kinds of wheat from several countries, all produced in the same agronomic year (2013-2014) at the Experimental Station at the Agronomic, Food and Biosystems School of Madrid, in order to assess what relationship there was between various kinds of wheat and their toxicity. For this purpose, they focused on some of the proteins in gluten, gliadins. The other proteins in gluten, glutenins, are the main causes of the strength of the mass of flour and what lend it its viscoelasticity. This characteristic, which has a clear genetic component, makes some varieties of wheat more suitable for producing bread, while others are used for patisserie products. As Marta Rodríguez-Quijano, a researcher at the Technical University of Madrid and one of the writers behind the study, tells SINC: "Out of the proteins in gluten, gliadins have the greatest clinical effect against the innate and adaptive immune responses that lead to coeliac disease." However, there are various kinds of gliadins in every variety of wheat. The scientists assessed the presence of T-lymphocytes - a type of cell in the immune system - related to coeliac disease in the various kinds of wheat thanks to an antibody capable of recognising toxic epitopes or antigenic determinants. "The results show that the different varieties of wheat produce considerably different immune responses depending on the T-cells analysed. Some varieties of this grain, such as the French 'Pernel' T. aestivum ssp. vulgare L., have low toxic epitope content," explains Rodríguez-Quijano. The research reveals the potential of production practices to develop wheat products that are safe for coeliacs. "Genetic diversity makes it difficult to obtain a variety of wheat with no toxicity while maintaining the viscoelastic properties of gluten. For this reason, learning about the different varieties would enable production techniques to be developed to achieve this," the expert says. The project is a first step towards these technologies based, for example, on selective modification of the glutamine residue present in the toxic components. In coeliac disease, identifying the quantity and distribution of toxic epitopes is the key. "We hope this study enables products to be developed that are safe for coeliacs with detoxification processes that combat the poor nutritional and technological characteristics of gluten-free products and thereby contribute to improving patients' quality of life," concludes Rodríguez-Quijano. Miguel Ribeiro et al. "New insights into wheat toxicity: Breeding did not seem to contribute to a prevalence of potential celiac disease's immunostimulatory epitopes" Food Chemistry 213 (2016) 8-18
News Article | February 15, 2017
In advance of its merger with Dow Chemical, DuPont says it plans to spend $200 million over the next several years on renovations and upgrades to its Experimental Station in Wilmington, Del. DuPont CEO Ed Breen made the announcement at a speech before the Delaware Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 9. “We’re going to optimize many of our labs,” he said. The company will also upgrade offices and create space for what it called “networked . . .
News Article | December 13, 2016
Bread, biscuits, pasta and patisserie products in general are the main foods made using wheat, and they are not recommended for coeliacs. Patients who consumed a mixture of proteins containing this grain—gluten—experience an immune response in their bodies. Coeliac disease, one of the most common autoimmune diseases, causes atrophy in the villus of the intestinal mucosa, which leads not only to poor nutrient absorption but also malnutrition, diarrhoea, stunted growth, anaemia and fatigue. Currently, the only treatment is a strict gluten-free diet for life. In recent years research that seeks to understand the relationship between the proteins of wheat gluten and the reaction it produces in coeliacs has been promoted. One of the hypotheses, with no clear scientific basis, was that modern wheat production practices that aim to improve the viscoelasticity of bread dough had contributed to increasing the prevalence of coeliac disease since the late 20th century. However, a new study published in the journal Food Chemistry demonstrates that even the oldest varieties of wheat, which have not been subject to alteration, can present toxicity through some components of gluten, called epitopes, that are responsible for the autoimmune response in coeliac patients. In search of the elements that make gluten toxic The scientists analysed various kinds of wheat from several countries, all produced in the same agronomic year (2013-2014) at the Experimental Station at the Agronomic, Food and Biosystems School of Madrid, in order to assess what relationship there was between various kinds of wheat and their toxicity. For this purpose, they focused on some of the proteins in gluten, gliadins. The other proteins in gluten, glutenins, are the main causes of the strength of the mass of flour and what lend it its viscoelasticity. This characteristic, which has a clear genetic component, makes some varieties of wheat more suitable for producing bread, while others are used for patisserie products. As Marta Rodríguez-Quijano, a researcher at the Technical University of Madrid and one of the writers behind the study, tells SINC: "Out of the proteins in gluten, gliadins have the greatest clinical effect against the innate and adaptive immune responses that lead to coeliac disease." However, there are various kinds of gliadins in every variety of wheat. The scientists assessed the presence of T-lymphocytes - a type of cell in the immune system - related to coeliac disease in the various kinds of wheat thanks to an antibody capable of recognising toxic epitopes or antigenic determinants. "The results show that the different varieties of wheat produce considerably different immune responses depending on the T-cells analysed. Some varieties of this grain, such as the French 'Pernel' T. aestivum ssp. vulgareL., have low toxic epitope content," explains Rodríguez-Quijano. The research reveals the potential of production practices to develop wheat products that are safe for coeliacs. "Genetic diversity makes it difficult to obtain a variety of wheat with no toxicity while maintaining the viscoelastic properties of gluten. For this reason, learning about the different varieties would enable production techniques to be developed to achieve this," the expert says. The project is a first step towards these technologies based, for example, on selective modification of the glutamine residue present in the toxic components. In coeliac disease, identifying the quantity and distribution of toxic epitopes is the key. "We hope this study enables products to be developed that are safe for coeliacs with detoxification processes that combat the poor nutritional and technological characteristics of gluten-free products and thereby contribute to improving patients' quality of life," concludes Rodríguez-Quijano. Explore further: Test improves detection of proteins in starch; aids in 'gluten-free' labeling More information: Miguel Ribeiro et al. New insights into wheat toxicity: Breeding did not seem to contribute to a prevalence of potential celiac disease's immunostimulatory epitopes, Food Chemistry (2016). DOI: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2016.06.043