Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Most recently in the Energy Category

Yesterday, we started planning our veggie garden and started a compost bin. I'm trying to figure out what percentage of my total food intake I can grow at home. We have a relatively large yard by Japanese standards so most of this will be a matter of personal energy. I'm going to start small this year but try to increase my nutritional independence from commercial networks every year.

My goal is to be able to cover nearly all of our fertilizer needs through the composting of all of our biodegradable garbage this year.

Thinking through the various scenarios, I realized that I could significantly reduce inputs and outputs from our house by going this route. When I imagine walking over to the garden every morning, picking my veggies, then chucking the waste into the compost bin, I get a happy feeling inside. I realize this is pretty simple and not so significant, but "just add water and sunlight" is very appealing.

I think that I can also make a significant impact on my energy inputs through photovoltaics and maybe some day get off of the power grid. This requires a larger financial investment but is an area that I've already done a bit of work in this area from my time at ECD.

In my lab/office/Tokyo pad we just finished setting up (thanks to the folks at WIDE) a dark fiber connection to the WIDE box at the Japanese Internet exchange. It is currently a 1G connection. WIDE is a research project and I'm only paying for the dark fiber. WIDE is routing for me. I am not going through a single licensed telecom provider for my Internet connectivity. Consequently, going from 1G to 10G is just a matter of buying more hardware and has no impact on the running cost. More bandwidth is just about more hardware. The way it SHOULD be.

It's exciting to think about making my footprint smaller and smaller in nutrition and energy and thinking about nutrition, energy and bandwidth more and more as assets that I operate rather than services from big companies.

I was going to Twitter this as I was sitting here drinking my morning tea, but it turned into a blog post. Thanks Twitter. ;-)

Sorry about the light blogging. I was participating in an interesting conference in Kyoto called Science and Technology in Society with a very interesting international mix of scientists, politicians and business people. There were lots of really interesting presentations from some really smart people. I'll try to post more later, but here are some notes from a lunch speech by Sherwood F. Rowland, Donald Bren Research Professor of Chemistry and Earth Systems, University of California at Irvine and Nobel Laureate in Chemistry (1995).

The population of the world is about 6B now and it is expected that it will stabilize at around 9B in the middle of the century. We've grown from 3B to 6B in the last half century so we've done this before. We output about 6B tons of carbon dioxide. That's an average of 1 ton per person. In the US the average is about 5 tons per person and in India and Nigeria it's about 0.2 tons per person. If you added the US and population to India's population, it would be about 1.4 tons, or approximately the rate at which Albania creates carbon dioxide. 85% of our energy comes from fossil fuels, coal, gas and oil which create carbon dioxide. These are green house gasses. In 1800 there was about 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide and 800 parts per billion of methane in the air. Today we are at about 380 parts per million of carbon dioxide and 1750 parts per billion of methane.

A calculation of the natural greenhouse effect of the earth is 32 degrees centigrade. The enhanced greenhouse effect puts us at more like 33 to 37 degrees centigrade. The average temperature of the earth has increased 6/10th of a degree in the last century. The warmest days since we have begun recording temperatures about 150 years ago have all been since 1990. In order to stabilize the increase in carbon dioxide (at a much higher level than it is now), we would need to cut back 60% of our output. Conservation can help, but it is unlikely that conservation itself can take us to a sustainable situation. Alternative carbon free energy sources like solar, nuclear, and wind must be explored, but we must understand that we are in a situation that requires immediate action.

I was scribbling notes during lunch and I may have mangled some of this. Please let me know if I've misquoted something and I'll fix it.

One important "take-away" from this meeting was that global warming and the risk did not seem like some sort of disputed theory as some politicians seem to lead us to believe. All of the scientists involved in energy and ecology that I heard speaking seemed to believe that our earth was immediately at risk and that we had to act now. The combination of the increase in population and our addiction to energy would not allow us to stabilize at any sustainable equilibrium without drastic changes in the way we make and use energy.

BBC News
Accident at Japan nuclear plant

Monday, 9 August, 2004, 10:32 GMT 11:32 UK

At least four people have been killed in the worst ever accident at a Japanese nuclear power plant.

Ooops. Why is it that I don't trust them when they say stuff like, "In the aftermath of the accident, no evacuation order was given to residents living near the plant, and city official Nobutake Masaki denied there was any danger to the surrounding area." This is probably because they lie. At least some people are brave enough to blow the whistle.

Scott Mackinney criticizes me in a comment on my blog about the damage I am causing to the environment with all of my air travel. I actually have been feeling a bit guilty about that and have been wondering where aviation is going to go from here.

On the one hand, in some areas, air travel is becoming cheaper and there are even people talking about small, low-cost private planes becoming more common.

A Feb 2000 GAO report warns that the damage to the environment from the emissions from aviation is particularly high because it is emitted into the upper atmosphere and that increased damage due to increases in travel can not be offset by technological advances. A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of experts affiliated with the UN warned that the share of global warming caused by air traffic could increase from 3.5% in 1992 to 17% in 2050.

We clearly have a problem here. In an IHT article that I can not seem to find a link to, I read that one of the possibilities was to fly lower where there would be more turbulence, but less damage. I've also heard about the idea of levying high taxes for air travel. In any event, the air travel utopia story seems a bit flawed and if we would get up off our asses and really do something about global warming (which we must) one of the first hit probably should be our global aviation habits.

I WAS going to write about this before, but hadn't been able to gather enough sources. (Honest! ;-) ) I still don't think I have enough information to have an educated opinion. Any pointers to more resources would be greatly appreciated.

danah boyd
compelling environmental movie

Say whatever you want about Leonardo. But global warming movie is a really beautiful and compelling little reminder to the masses in a non-aggressive way. WATCH IT.

Yup. Great movie. Watch it.

I've written about the Hydrogen Economy before, but I just uploaded a 100MB Quicktime Movie from ECD about hydrogen fuel storage technology and the hydrogen economy. Features Stanford R. Ovshinsky (CEO/founder of ECD) and Bob Stemple (Chairman of ECD and former chairman of GM). ECD invented Nickel Metal Hydride Batteries (NiMH). The basic phenomenon of NiMH is a solid material that can absorb hydrogen. It is quite stable. The battery works by storing and releasing hydrogen inside of a closed container to store and release electrical energy. Similar materials can be used to store hydrogen fuel as well as to convert hydrogen to electricity in the form of a fuel cell.

The problem is fuel cells are still a ways away, storage is difficult and the infrastructure for production and distribution is not in place. ECD's solution, which I think makes the most sense is to use their solid storage system for storage and distribution, make a hybrid vehicle that uses a hydrogen combustion engine and a battery. Long term, we should switch from making hydrogen from fossil fuels and put in place a solar powered electrolysis network. The first phase looks like: fossil fuels->hydrogen->solid storage based distribution->hydrogen combustion->batteries->electricity->power. This will get us started. Eventually it should go to solar->hydrogen->solid storage based distribution->fuel cells->electricity->power.

I used to work for ECD and am still involved with the company so I'm a bit biased. ;-)

Great article in Wired about the Hydrogen Economy by Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall.

How Hydrogen Can Save America
The cost of oil dependence has never been so clear. What had long been largely an environmental issue has suddenly become a deadly serious strategic concern. Oil is an indulgence we can no longer afford, not just because it will run out or turn the planet into a sauna, but because it inexorably leads to global conflict. Enough. What we need is a massive, Apollo-scale effort to unlock the potential of hydrogen, a virtually unlimited source of power. The technology is at a tipping point. Terrorism provides political urgency. Consumers are ready for an alternative. From Detroit to Dallas, even the oil establishment is primed for change. We put a man on the moon in a decade; we can achieve energy independence just as fast. Here's how.
I wrote about the hydrogen economy before. I first learned to use computers at, was on the board of and am currently an advisor to management of one of the pioneering companies in the hydrogen economy, Energy Conversion Devices. The founder Stan Ovshinsky has been talking about the hydrogen economy since 1955 and the company, when founded in 1960, was founded in large part to solve many of the issues discussed in the article. It's amazing to see a "buzz" that takes almost 50 years to come around. I'm glad that at 80 years old, Stan can see a lot of his his vision unfold.

Today I had dinner with Daiji Hirata, Tai Watanabe and Kazuo Shimizu. Daiji, Kazuo and Neoteny are investors in Tai's company MediaProbe which is working on an auto community site. Shimizu-san is probably the most famous auto journalist in Japan. He is invited by all of the big auto companies to test drive cars and write about all the cool new stuff. He's a BIG fan of the hydrogen economy and is the leading journalist in Japan on fuel cells. We talked about ECD and their hydrogen technology. The US lead in a lot of the electric vehicle research as well as a lot of the early fuel cell work, but Japan is clearly putting a lot of effort behind the hydrogen economy and Toyota is probably leading the pack in hybrid cars. I hope that my next car will have a hydrogen component...

ctptoothbrushsm.jpgSo I wrote earlier about the power company providing free telecom... Well, what about the telephone company providing free power? (Although probably not intentionally.) This site may be a joke, but it is VERY funny. It is a site/catalog of products that use power that the telephone company provides on their phone lines to power appliances. ;-) They are called Telco Powered Products(tm).

Telco Powered Products
Our Chief Scientist, Dr. Emil Drizzlenik PhD from the renowned Chernobyl Electrical Institute in Russia, developed this patented technology after an accident at the power plant left all of the homes and businesses in his area dark.

Dr. Drizzlenik found that the local telephone company was still up and running, and in fact telephone service never went down during the time the power was out.

Found this on Boing Boing

This week was an energy week for me. Stan Ovshinsky, the CEO of ECD, Bob Stempel, the Chairman (and the former chief executive of GM) and Iris Ovshinsky, the co-founder of ECD and Stan's wife were visiting Tokyo this week. We talked a lot about the relationship between energy and information and the fact that information was codified energy. The more I think about it the more it all starts to fit together into an amazing unified image.

The picture above is ECD's vision of the Hydrogen Economy. Get Carbon out of the picture. Reduce the cycle to the basic elements of the universe. Photons creating energy to break H2O into Hydrogen and Oxygen. Oxygen goes back to the atmosphere and the Hydrogen is stored and transported in the Hydride material. The Hydrogen is later extracted to create energy through combustion or through the creation of electrical energy with a fuel cell. This electricity can be stored in a Hydride battery which is also based on Hydrogen. The electricity obviously can be used for propulsion or be converted into meta-energy, or information. Photos->Hydrogen->Electrons->Bits that’s all we need. No CO2, fossil fuels, Uranium or any of the non-big-bang stuff please. Oh and by the way, the basic material and the phenomenon used to store hydrogen in a solid, the convert hydrogen in to electricity and the store electricity in hydride batteries is the based on the same basic science.

It is almost like the relationship between the mind and the body. The true cost of information is cost of the carrier which is based on the creation of energy. Just as the spirit lives in the mind which is carried inside of the body, Information is carried in bits which are carried on wires by electrons, thrust forward by some sort of energy source.

When I was talking to the Tokyo Power Company information division folks the other day, I realized an interesting thing... Just as the telephone company can provide flat fee traffic over their leased lines because they own the wires and fiber, the power company can provide data center and wires for free because they make money on the power consumption.

At a lunch with Jack Welch, he once said, "I love the Internet because it consumes energy and I sell more turbines."

Because power companies don't have legacy information businesses, they can jump into the information and telecom business unencumbered. If you also consider that the phone company is so leveraged and losing so much of their core revenue, such as voice, I can imagine a world where energy and power is the whole game and IT is just like an appliance that you OWN and only pay to power it. And... eventually with photovoltaics, we'll just have to buy energy conversion devices and get our energy from the sun...

(picture by Carver Mead's Foveon Camera)
Thanks to Gen Kanai for introducing me to David Isenberg. David is famous for many things including his paper "The Rise of the Stupid Network" David was talking a lot about Oil. He says that "Hubbert's Peak", when oil production will begin to drop, will happen in 2003. On the other hand, world energy consumption will increase 66% (USA Today, 1/10/02) from 1999-2020. It's OBVIOUSLY time for the Hydrogen Economy that we're starting to get very excited about.

David was extremely bright and gave me an interesting view into the "prosultants" (vs "consultants") who are smart researchers who trying to figure things out and convey them to people and companies. I guess that's what I try to do in my own small way. He invited me to several interesting conference and I hope to see him more often more now that we are linked.

I was so excited while talking to him that I forgot to take a picture. I had to steal the picture from his web page.

I spent the day at Energy Conversion Devices, Inc. (ECD)As always, the tour was amazing. I hadn't been to ECD for maybe 4 years or so... Since I left the board. A lot of things we were talking about, as usual, were now being built. Since I left, ECD has started a joint venture with Texaco (now Chevron) to commercialize the hydrogen storage systems, ECD has started working with GE to make the first roll to roll low-cost RW optical disks that don't require the high-cost low-speed injection molding process, ECD has moved forward in the joint venture with Intel to make a low cost alternative to Flash called the Ovonic Universal Memory (OUM), continues to build photovoltaic plants that produce better amorphous solar cells faster and in more volume and continues to develop the NiMH batteries which now have the same energy densities as Lithium Ion without the risks...

What do all of these things have in common? When Stan Ovshinsky founded the company in 1960, he set out to solve the world's problems by creating technologies that solved the energy problems with renewable energy. End the dependence on fossil fuels and take carbon out of the energy process. People are finally talking about the "hydrogen economy" today. I saw a photo of Stan in 1960 with a picture on the board of photons from the Sun splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen and the hydrogen being the storage method to transport the energy. The energy was converted later into electrons. Photons->Hydrogen->Electrons... The basic elements of the universe. In the photo, he has a canister of hydrogen and is demonstrating how this will work!

Finally people are talking about the relationship of information and energy. Stan was talking about this in 1960 and in 1981, he minted these commemorative coins with information on one side and energy on the other.

By pioneering the field of amorphous and disordered materials and thin films, Stan was able to pioneer the field of NiMH batteries, the first TFT displays, fuel cells, the first EEPROM (Intel was the foundry for the project back in 1970 when he build the first devices), amorphous photovoltaics, optical disks, and many more technologies in both energy and information using the basic principles of creating new materials to convert and energy, information just being a form of energy...

Anyway, I saw some stuff I can't talk about that shows me that ECD continues to push the envelope. As it enters it's fifth decade and with Stan turning 80 this year ECD continues to gain more momentum.

When I visit ECD I always feel like I've been abducted by aliens who show me the future... The thing is, Stan had already envisioned this in the 1960...

Hirata turned me on to the EnvironMission site.


EnviroMission owns the exclusive licence to German designed Solar Tower technology in Australia. Our first project will focus on developing this revolutionary technology into the world’s first large-scale solar thermal power station capable of generating enough electricity to supply 200,000 typical Australian homes.

The technology involves a huge solar heater with a tower that takes the hot air and pulls it up through the tower and spins turbines. This SO sci-fi sexy and SO Australia... The tower will be the, "largest engineered structure ever proposed for construction."

There is a flash animation of how the technology works. The company is already trading on the Australian stock exchange. They have built a prototype.

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