Abengoa plant featured in the Grey Lady

Nice overview of the Abengoa 20 MGY cellulosic ethanol facility under construction in Hugoton:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/15/business/energy-environment/dual-turning-point-for-biofuels.html

Apparently it’s supposed to come on line in just a few weeks!

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Lack of Math / Statistics – what to do?

Nice article on how students realize they suck at math / statistics, but don’t know what to do about it.. it ultimately falls on the universities and advisors to provide this training.. and they are currently failing!  While this article focuses on ecology, I would argue the same issue exists in genetics and molecular biology, especially related to “big data” and how biologists are poorly prepared to handle it..

https://peerj.com/articles/285/

Side note: PeerJ is a pretty cool new open access journal that posts the ENTIRE set of correspondence as an article is peer reviewed.. very interesting insight into what is usually hidden from our view..

 

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cellulosic industry reaching maturity?

Nice status report on the cellulosic industry in the US..

http://www.nature.com/news/cellulosic-ethanol-fights-for-life-1.14856

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‘Low carbon’ caveats watering down development aid?

Interesting article in the Financial Times about the tension between adopting low carbon development restrictions for international aid, versus trying maximizing the impact of donor dollars towards universal energy access:

The title is a bit dramatic, but the authors make a good point when you consider how much retrenchment on climate goals there has been in the developed countries lately…

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Interesting articles in this week’s Science

salt

Ants like salt.

A couple of interesting pieces relevant to ecosystem modeling and greenhouse gas accounting in this week’s issue of Science:

  1. It’s been hypothesized that the biogeochemistry of sodium (Na) may be important to consider when modeling the terrestrial carbon cycle (Ecosystems Say ‘Pass the Salt!’).  While elements like N and P are well-recognized as a limiting factor for plant biomass accumulation in many systems, this new theory suggests that Na may be limiting for detritivores, thus slowing the rate of organic matter turnover and potentially increasing net carbon stores in such systems.   If the effect turns out to be significant it’s potentially big news for ecosystem ecology models, which rarely consider elements beyond C, N, and P.
  2. After a poorly-understood lull in the early 2000′s, global concentrations of the potent greenhouse gas methane (CH4) are once again rising at pre-lull rates (Methane on the Rise—Again).  This one is particularly interesting because during the lull there was a big divergence between what GHG accountants calculated we were emitting (‘bottom-up’ method) and what atmospheric scientists were measuring (‘top-down’ method).  Also, concentration gradients and isotope analysis seem to suggest that much of the growth is attributable to biogenic sources in tropical latitudes, rather than from permafrost melting or fracking leaks.  And the article comes with a great quote:  “data without models are chaos, but models without data are fantasy.”

One other big news item: the US State Department environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL pipeline has been released.  Lifecycle assessment played a prominent role in the study, and while it deserves a detailed critique in a future dedicated post, spoiler alert:  their consequential LCA apparently found that the Canadian oil-sands are likely to be exploited with or without the new pipeline, so the huge CO2 potential of this new source was NOT attributed to the pipeline, against the wishes of many activists.

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NASA animation- Six Decades of a Warming Earth

Big changes within my lifetime!

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Video highlights research to improve crop residues for bioenergy

We’ve been a bit quiet on here lately, but some other projects have taken some of our time – in my case, helping to produce a video of some of my Ph.D. research.  In it, we discuss our project with the International Rice Research Institute aimed at identifying genes responsible for plant biomass production and composition.. Essentially, why when we compare plants, some grow much bigger, and are made of different stuff.. what genes control this?  Can we breed plants to optimize their composition for bioenergy or forage (feeding to animals)?  And can we do this for crop residues that are otherwise not useful for much?  I referenced a nice write-up of this idea a while back.  What is really cool is the technology that we are developing to measure these things (biomass, composition) in real fields.  Check it out!

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