Tag Archives: Arkansas

Arkansas Lithium

There is no question that electric vehicles are the future. Although projections are all over the map, a decent guess is that by 2030 something like fifty percent of new car sales will be electric. The number for fleet vehicles such as cabs, urban buses, and delivery vans will be even higher. They will all need rechargeable batteries and right now Lithium is the material of choice for those batteries.

Most metals can be used in batteries and the periodic chart is populated by scores of metals. In fact, the majority of elements in the universe are metals. What makes Lithium unique is its charge to weight ratio. Lithium is the lightest metal and can exist as a stable ion. This means it is capable of giving up or accepting an electron, a necessary function of a battery.

Think of a charged battery as a reservoir of electrons. When a battery-powered device is turned on a circuit is completed which allows the electrons to flow. This is the electric current that does whatever work the device was built for, be it lighting a flashlight or powering an electric vehicle. Reversing the duty cycle will recharge the battery.

Current world demand for Lithium is about twenty thousand tonnes per annum and is expected to double in just five years. A large chunk of this is produced from brine wells in the Atacama, a high desert in Chile. The brine, with a relatively high concentration of Lithium, is pumped to surface ponds and allowed to evaporate – the Atacama is not only the driest place in the world but also one of the sunniest.

Trouble comes with the removal of the brine. This simultaneously lowers the water table for freshwater. In the driest place on earth, this is a big deal. Imminent local regulation is expected to reduce the allowed brine removal and therefore limit Lithium production. Other sources are being examined for Lithium production, most notably Arkansas.

A veritable ocean of brine exists under south Arkansas. This brine has been a source of crude oil and other industrial chemicals for years, especially Bromine. The Smackover formation originally produced mainly oil with Bromine from brine as a byproduct. Currently, Bromine produced in Arkansas represents the total US production and this is a third of the global supply.

A company is now exploring the possibility of producing Lithium as a byproduct of Bromine production. The Lithium is to be removed along with the Bromine, then the spent brine is re-injected. Bromine production in Arkansas is an eight hundred million dollar enterprise employing a thousand Arkansans. If Lithium production is practical it will add to both income and jobs in Arkansas.

Although all eyes are on Lithium as a battery component there are numerous other uses. Lithium grease, refereed to as White Lithium, is a valuable lubricant as it uniquely adheres to metal. Much Lithium is used in glass and ceramic manufacture. Finally, Lithium is valuable as a treatment for bipolar disorder.

Dr. Bob Allen is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, Arkansas Tech University.

Climate Conference and Local Attitudes

Scientists, heads of NGOs, world leaders, and diplomats are meeting again, now in Lima Peru, for the 20th session of the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change. Scientists and policy makers from around the world warn,

“ that it now may be impossible to prevent the temperature of the planet’s atmosphere from rising by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. According to a large body of scientific research, that is the tipping point at which the world will be locked into a near-term future of drought, food and water shortages, melting ice sheets, shrinking glaciers, rising sea levels and widespread flooding—events that could harm the world’s population and economy.”

President Obama, through the Environmental Protection Agency, has promulgated rules for power plants to reduce carbon emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. But this is not enough, other countries have much more aggressive plans for replace the burning of fossil fuels with sustainable energy sources such as wind and solar.

So what is holding us back? Basically, a level of anti-intellectualism rarely seen before in our country, from top to bottom. Senator Jim Inhofe, republican from Oklahoma will chair the senate Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. He believes global warming is a hoax. Somehow Hollywood liberals have convinced the world’s scientists, literally thousands of them, to accept some environmental extremists plan to? To what? Take over the world with solar panels? He has said that he will resist any attempt to regulate carbon emissions. His position makes no sense what so ever unless you come from a state whose economy is centered on producing fossil fuels.

Actually if Oklahomans took a close look they would see that their state could be a national leader in both solar and wind if they so chose. These energy supplies will be here long after the last lump of coal or drop of oil has been squeezed from the ground.

How about closer to home? Governor Beebe and some democrats have been supporters of sustainable energy, and have tepidly supported regulations that rein in carbon emissions. The recent election however shows that Arkansawers want republicans in control. What does governor elect Hutchinson think? Asa! said that he would join with other states to sue to block the EPA’s clean power plan.

Attorney General elect Rutledge has not spoken on climate change issues directly but has expressed more than a willingness to push back on federal regulations. In all fairness pols on both sides of the aisle in Arkansas don’t want cleaner air or a stable climate. And this generally reflects the attitudes of many from Arkansas.

We are rejecting the overwhelming scientific consensus from around the world. Even if we believe that the planet is warming, and even if we believe that we (human activities) are doing it – we reject any personal responsibility nor personally fear any consequences.

We don’t have to believe in gravity to be held here on earth, rather than drifting away. Likewise we don’t have to believe in global warming to be harmed by the multitude of negative effects coming our way if we don’t act.

Buffalo National River

The Buffalo National River

Yet another fight to “save the Buffalo” is brewing near Mt Judea in Newton County. The first fight ended when the Corps’s of Engineers plans to build a dam near Gilbert Arkansas were abandoned. In 1972 Republican Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt sought federal protection and the nation’s first national river was created.

The Buffalo National River is is a national park which consists of a narrow band of land surrounding about one hundred thirty five miles of the river from Boxley at the upper end to its confluence with the White River. The land within the park boundaries, about one hundred fifty square miles, is managed as a natural environment.

Waterfall on a tributary of the Buffalo Rive

Waterfall on a tributary of the Buffalo River

The problem is that the park is only eleven per cent of the watershed, some one thousand four hundred square miles. Both Air and water pollution in the watershed but outside the park can easily enter the park, so preserving the natural environment becomes a much greater challenge.

The most recent challenge now comes from a Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). C and H Hog Farm has be granted a general permit to maintain a six thousand five hundred animal feeder pig operation near Mt Judea. Issuance of a General Permit as apposed to a Individual Permit, is easier as it doesn’t have stringent requirements for public notice, or environmental impact assessment. There is also no consideration of local geology or proximity to public places such as parks or schools.

The farm is operated for Cargill, the largest privately held company in the United States. The farm, really an industrial operation, consists of the hog houses, lagoons for temporary containment of the liquid wastes, and several hundred acres of spray fields where the raw urine and feces will be dispersed.

And there is a lot to be dispersed. Each hog produces over a gallon of manure per day. The factory farm produces close to ten thousand gallons of waste a day, several million gallons per year. To put that in perspective it is equivalent to two times as much waste that is produced by Atkins and Dover combined.

The farm and spray fields are near Mt Judea public schools, and in the watershed of Big Creek, a tributary of the Buffalo.

Morning Fog on a Gravel Bar

Morning Fog on a Gravel Bar

Rainfall after application of the manure, or failure of the lagoons can cause bacterial contamination, including multiple drug resistant strains.

Exacerbating the risk of pollution reaching the Buffalo National Park is the local geology, referred to as Karst Topography. This limestone rich subsurface is laced with caves, sinkholes, and underground streams that could rapidly transport wastes to the river.

Cave demonstrating Karst Topography of the region

Cave demonstrating Karst Topography of the region

Regardless of weather and geologic conditions the nutrients such as Nitrogen and Phosphorous will pollute the Buffalo, leading to increased algal growth.

Funding for the factory farm was aided by loan guarantees from the Farm Services Agency and the Small Business Administration. Four environmental groups are suing the United States Department of Agriculture which oversees the agencies that provided the loan guarantees. They are the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, the Ozark Society, the Arkansas Canoe Club and the National Parks Conservation Association. Earth Justice is the law firm representing the coalition of the four groups.

Global Warming and Disease Vectors

Mount Nebo, along with other mountaintop resorts in Arkansas, began as a place for the well-heeled to escape the summer miasma in the Arkansas River Valley below. By the middle of the nineteenth century steam boats brought folks seeking respite from the mosquitoes which bred in the swamps and transmitted deadly diseases such as malaria and yellow fever. Public health measures have eliminated these diseases in the United States but climate change raises concern for their return.

Malaria endemic countries

Malaria endemic countries

Recently the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the findings of their fifth report:Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased. Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years.

A warming climate means a wider range for disease vectors such as mosquitoes, ticks and flies that carry viruses, bacteria, and protozoa. Examples of diseases born by these pests include malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, and equine encephalitis to name a few.

current range of Chagas diease

current range of Chagas diease

Most worrisome is Malaria, a parasitic infection of red blood cells for which there is no real cure. Because of the complex life cycle of the parasite their has yet to be an effective vaccine developed. Malaria infects over two hundred million people world wide and kills about a million each year, mostly children.

The mosquito that carries yellow fever for which there is a vaccine also carries dengue fever for which there is no vaccine. The genus Aedes carries both these diseases, is endemic to northern Mexico, and as the climate warms is advancing northward.

These are some of the diseases we know about, but new diseases arise regularly. In the age of jet travel a new disease can move half the way around the world over night and a warmer climate can provide a more accommodating environment.

Every day as a result of burning fossil fuels for cheap energy the planet gets a little warmer, the weather a little more erratic and the oceans a little more acidic. Climate change has far-reaching consequences and touches on all life-support systems. It is a factor that should be placed high on a list of those things that affect human health and survival. The energy with the cheapest up front costs may be more expensive than imagined in the long run.

Arkansas Health Care

Generally speaking the quality of health care in a nation follows from the wealth of the nation. The economy of the United States is the largest in the world. When you divide the economy by the number of people (per capita GDP) we still fare well, generally in the top five depending on who you measure and who’s doing the measuring.

If you have money we have about the best health care system in the world. But if you don’t have the money, not so much. Measures of health of the population are not so rosy for us.cost_longlife75 Something like forty or so countries out of about two hundred, some much poorer than we have lower infant mortality rates, longer life expectancies, and a better overall quality of life. Most of western Europe, Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea, even Cuba out rank us in these health care measures.

Within the United States, Arkansas fairs poorly in these measures with a relatively high infant mortality rate (14th among the 50 states) and shorter life expectancy (7th shortest). The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act colloquially referred to as Obamacare should help advance Arkansas’ standing in the United States and our standing in the world.

The reality is that we are a poor state, ranking very near the bottom in median income. That translates to a larger than average fraction of the population without sufficient health care. To bring better health care to those without, Arkansas has chosen to expand our Medicaid rolls as part of Obamacare. The lion’s share of this will be born of federal dollars. One hundred per cent of the cost of Medicaid expansion will be covered by federal dollars for the first seven years, and ninety percent thereafter.

This will add close to a quarter of a million Arkansawyers to the rolls of the insured, and should help to lower our infant mortality rate and extend life expectancy. In the long run this will also help lower the cost of insurance for those already insured. How so you ask? Read on.

The cost of health insurance to an individual is dependent on what the insurer has to pay the medical community, doctors and hospitals. Both law and ethics require the medical community to treat both the insured and the uninsured. To recover the cost of taking care of the uninsured, doctors and hospitals charge the insured a rate that keeps them in business. Here is an important point: The more insured the fewer uninsured. The fewer uninsured, the lower will be the premiums for the insured.

An additional cost savings of better health care for the less fortunate is the fact that those with insurance tend to get better primary and preventive care. It is ever so much cheaper to provide an inexpensive diuretic to lower blood pressure than to treat a heart attack or stroke.

In the grand scheme of things it is cheaper for the haves to help out the have nots, unless you are willing to turn a blind eye on the sick, to literally block them from the emergency room door.

“…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped. ” Hubert H. Humphrey

5.4 kW grid-tied

Cost of PhotoVoltaic (PV) Systems

Because of the previous high cost of photovoltaic (PV) panels, their use has been limited to rather specialized and unique purposes. PV panels have and continue to be used to power satellites, and remote sensing facilities on earth where traditional energy sources such as electricity provided by power plants was unavailable.

In the 1970s those PV panels that were used to power satellites cost close to eighty dollars per watt. By the turn of the century the cost of panels was down to the vicinity 8 dollars a watt. And the price continues to drop.pvcost When I put in the panels to power my home in 2008 the cost was around five dollars a watt.

The current cost of PV panels is now approaching one dollar a watt for small home scale systems. This results in a system payback time of about ten years. Imagine, you pay one upfront cost for for a system, it pays itself back in about ten years, and you have free electricity for the rest of the life of the panels which is well over 25 years!

So lets talk about the nuts and bolts of a system. It consists of three components, the PV panels which produce direct current (DC) electricity, an inverter to converter the DC to Alternating Current (AC), the stuff that powers you home, and storage for when the sun isn’t shining.

If a home is already connected to the grid then storage isn’t an issue. A “grid-tie” can be used as the storage, eliminating the considerable cost of batteries. The net metering law in Arkansas allows producers to utilize a bi-directional meter. When the sun isn’t shining power is drawn from the grid, when the sun is shining the meter runs backwards, crediting the production. A system can be sized to produce as much energy as is consumed.

And it doesn’t matter how big the system is, it always pays off in ten years or less. A larger system will cost more, but produce more so the break even point is the same regardless of size.

The average home is Arkansas uses about 1000 kWhs per month and hence has an electric bill in the vicinity of 100 dollars a month. Here is an illustrative calculation for the cost of a system to totally cover the electric needs for that household. The panels for a PV system should cost about 10 grand. Add in about 2 grand for a system inverter, and another 3 grand for installation and you get a total cost of about 15,000 dollars. There is a 30 % federal tax credit, a credit not a deduction, which will then lower the cost of the system to about 10,500 dollars.

For this household the system will generate all the energy needed to offset the billed amount of electricity, saving the consumer, now a producer, 1200 dollars a year. The payback time is less than nine years. And the system will continue to produce at this rate for two or three times as long as has been paid for already.

Do you have access to the southern sky? Then your roof, or open space can be utilized to pay for your electricity, and the cost can be spread over the life of the system. In the future companies like Entergy will be mainly involved in distributing energy, rather than producing it. Production will be at home.

Power to the people.

Proprety Assessed Clean Energy act- PACE

The Arkansas legislative session is winding down and there is not a lot to crow about environmentally speaking. One bright spot however is the passage of Act 1074 which will provide a novel method to finance energy efficiency projects in Arkansas. The bills leading to enactment were sponsored by Senator Johnson (D) Little Rock and Representative Leding (D) Fayetteville.

Assuming Arkansas is like the rest of the United States, about half of all the energy and three quarters of the electrical energy used goes into buildings. Acts, ordinances, etc. which lead to energy efficiency in buildings can go a long way to save energy, lower costs, and lessen the use of fossil fuels which drive global warming.  Act 1074, called the Property Assessed Clean Energy act or PACE is a bond financed program that allows a person or business to finance energy efficiency projects through inclusion of costs in a property tax assessment.

The act enables government such as cities, counties or combinations thereof to form Energy Improvement Districts which can sell bonds to finance projects. A property owner identifies a project that will save energy or water or create clean renewable energy. The improvement district then gives the property owner money to finance the project. The property owner repays the district through a property assessment tax over a defined period of time. Because the improvement is to the property, it stays with the property so if the original owner sells before the end of the assessment, the new owner continues to pay off the project.

A number of energy efficiency projects come to mind: Increased insulation, more efficient window windows with low-E glass, solar hot water systems, projects which reduce water consumption, more efficient heating and cooling systems such as ground source heat pumps.Projects which actually produce clean energy are also funded: Photo voltaic panels, micro hydro projects, wind turbines and biomass energy are all included.

Here is an example of how it could work. A homeowner with an older house decides to insulate the walls and attic, and replace the windows. The total cost of the project is 10,000 dollars. She goes the Energy Improvement district and receives 100 per cent financing. The cost is repaid over twenty years through a property tax assessment. Generally the savings in utility costs will cover or even exceed the annual fee. If she sells her home before twenty years the buyer assumes the assessment, just as they assume the energy savings from the energy improvement.

PACE benefits the local community by creating a cleaner, greener environment. Local businesses that supply the equipment will see increased sales. Installers will have more work and create jobs for skilled tradesmen and unskilled labor alike.

The best way to save money and the environment comes through energy efficiency. Reduced use of electricity means lower costs but also less burning of coal and natural gas. This is a win, win, win situation. This act will save the property owners money, create business opportunities and jobs for the community, clean the air, and cool the planet. As we approach Earth Day remember: Think globally, act locally.