Thursday, July 16, 2009
The mill has 1800s style machines all belt powered by one overhead shaft. The shaft was originally run by a waterwheel on the river but now it is electric. The concept is still amazing and I love how the operator can shift each machine to neutral and/or increase speed and power with extremely simple concepts.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Monday, March 9, 2009
Saturday, February 28, 2009
The pattern over the past fifty or so years is unmistakable. Across Montana, temperatures in March have been rising. An analysis by Climate Central shows that average March temperatures have risen over 7°F since the 1950s. This rise matches general expectations from other research on effects of human-caused global warming in the U.S. West; and the climb is projected to continue (see animated map), although its steepness will depend on how many more greenhouse gases go into the atmosphere.
Warmer March temperatures mean that snow in the mountains begins melting sooner. Earlier snowmelt means less snow remains during the summer months—especially late in the summer—which translates to less water flowing down Montana’s rivers. This means less water for irrigation, and slower flows in streams. Slow-moving water heats up more easily when the weather is hot, so slower summer flows mean more opportunities for water to get above the lethal 78°F threshold for trout.
Beyond this, Montanans also have to cope with increased wildfire activity and more outbreaks of tree-killing insects. Both trends, which have been linked to human-caused warming, cost the economy dearly.
Montanans are not sitting idly in the face of these challenges. They have already begun to tap their massive potential to produce climate-friendly wind energy. In fact, it is estimated that Montana’s winds could generate as much electricity as nineteen western states consume today; currently, Montana is tapping about 4% of this potential. Making energy from wind produces essentially no greenhouse gases.
Montana also sits on about a quarter of the nation’s coal reserves. Governor Brian Schweitzer wants to build coal to liquid (CTL) plants, which use coal to make liquid fuels that can replace gasoline or diesel fuel. However, CTL plants are water-intensive, and the production and use of CTL fuels generates twice the greenhouse gases that regular petroleum products do. Recognizing the carbon challenge from coal, Montana is aiming to be a leader in a new technology that would harvest coal’s energy while capturing and burying deep in the ground carbon dioxide that would otherwise be released in liquid fuel production. Even with this step, however, using CTL fuels would still release about the same amount of greenhouse gases overall as burning gasoline or other crude oil products.
Watch the video here: http://vimeo.com/2091418
However, the boom in corn for ethanol has also led farmers to convert more land into cropland. That releases carbon that was stored in shrubs and trees and in the soil, adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The result, surprisingly, is that corn ethanol may actually be worse for the climate than gasoline.
It’s easy to see why Iowa ramped up its corn output in the first place. The state was already America’s biggest corn producer, and over the past several years, concern over our dependence on foreign oil and worries about climate change led to a focus on biofuels—fuel derived from plants, which can be regrown season after season, within America’s borders. That resulted in the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, enacted in 2005 and updated in 2007, which dictates that by 2015 the nation must produce 15 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol, compared with only about 2 billion in 2000. A healthy government subsidy for ethanol is making sure it happens. As a result, about a third of the nation’s corn is already being turned into ethanol.
This has been a boon for farmers, who have long suffered from wild swings in the price of corn. It has also led to a major expansion in production of corn. Some land that was once used for soybean production is now devoted to corn—and land that had been set aside under the federal Conservation Reserve Program has been plowed up to grow even more corn.
While they acknowledge the economic benefit for Iowa farmers of these shifts, scientists are worried about some of their unintended consequences. Conservation Reserve Program land serves both as a buffer, to keep pesticides and fertilizers from leaching into waterways, and as a rich habitat for wildlife. Such areas can also accumulate topsoil over time. Turning them into cropland essentially eliminates all of these benefits.
The switch away from soybeans, meanwhile, may be leading indirectly to the destruction of rainforests in Brazil and other nations. The idea is that with less soy being grown in the U.S., the price of soybeans is rising, pushing other countries to cut down trees in order to make way for a cash crop.
The case hasn’t been rigorously proven, but some researchers are convinced it’s a growing danger. The felling of forests is a major contributor to climate change: trees that are burned or chopped down and left to rot add heat-trapping carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. That might not be so bad if corn ethanol were a much more climate-friendly fuel than gasoline. You might assume it is, since the carbon dioxide released in burning this ethanol was originally pulled out of the atmosphere by the growing corn plants. But it takes a lot of fossil-fuel energy to grow and harvest corn, and to convert it into ethanol. If you take that into account, only about 20% of the energy from corn ethanol is actually renewable.
For that reason, experts are now rethinking the rush to corn-based ethanol. A better source of ethanol, they think, may be crop wastes such as corn cobs and stalks, because they don’t increase the demand for agricultural land. Neither would another candidate source, native perennial grasses like switchgrass, if grown on marginal lands. These ingredients are not as easy as corn kernels to convert into ethanol, but there are a number of companies attempting to commercialize what is know as the production of “cellulosic ethanol.” For example, by 2011 the Poet ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa, plans to start producing fuel, not from kernels, but from corn cobs that would otherwise be left in the field. If they can do it economically, and in a way that keeps greenhouse gas emissions low—both “ifs” at this point—Iowa’s farmers may be able to keep riding the ethanol boom, and do it in a way that’s easier on the climate.
Watch the video here: http://vimeo.com/2607690