Energy planning needs to include the “human component”

Nice post on the importance of the social aspect of energy use – hopefully not behind a paywall?

Reminds me of my very first post on this site, just over 3 years ago!

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Does an interdisciplinary focus distort a journal’s IF?

An interesting read about the trajectory of the impact factor (IF) of PLoS ONE:

There has been a lot of criticism towards the over-reliance on IF as a quantitative metric for researcher evaluation purposes.  This article touches on a related point that I hadn’t heard before –  to the extent that the distribution of journal impact factors is not uniform across disciplines (some subjects like molecular biology tend to have journals with high IF, while other subjects like crop science tend to have much lower average journal IF), the resulting impact factor of an interdisciplinary journal is potentially distorted, becoming more representative of the range of subjects covered rather than the actual quality of the articles within each of those subjects.  This is a potential boon for researchers in low-IF fields: the publication of collaborative work in a broadly-scoped journal might land you a higher-than-average IF to show off on your CV. 


Network analysis diagram showing average impact factors and citation trends across journals from different academic disciplines, from Althouse et al. 2009

For an in-depth analysis of what drives IF trends, check out

Althouse BM, West JD, Bergstrom CT, Bergstrom T (2009) Differences in impact factor across fields and over time. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 60, 27–34.

Those authors conclude that the IF metric becomes inflated over time as the number of citations included in the average journal article grows, and that much of the discrepancy between fields can be attributed to the rate at which researchers publish in indexed journals as opposed to non-indexed journals or alternate venues such as working papers, conference proceedings, books, etc.

To the extent that many young researchers will one day be evaluated based on their citation rates and the IF of the journals in which they publish, it behooves us to better understand the IF ranking system, flaws and all.  

Posted in bioenergy journals, research, science | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Fracking regulations go political


Well Pads in Weld County Colorado

Google Earth view of network of well pads in Weld County, Colorado

If they weren’t already, fracking and fracking regulations are becoming more and more political.  Colorado is at the forefront of this debate due to the proximity of extraction operations and affluent communities such as Boulder, CO.  Several of these communities have voted to ban drilling operations, and setup an epic fight with the state government who says they should have control over regulations (including any bans).  But the negotiations at the state level seem to be stalled for what regulations should exist.  Why is this interesting?  It is likely that whatever model works in Colorado will be adopted by other states, as well as influence federal policy (such as rules proposed by the Bureau of Land Management).  It seems from this report that outside interests are influencing the negotiations for a solution:

“Part of the reason could be an ideological opposition to tougher regulations within the large trade associations, or their wider membership, just as large unions tend to be uncompromising about trade policy or find themselves defending all their members, no matter what, said Floyd Ciruli, a Denver-based pollster.”

Not only is the American Petroleum Institute (API) involved but an intense Senate race between Udall and Gardner have focused some of their efforts on this hot button issue – clearly an attempt to get votes from their respective anti- and pro-fracking constituents.  In addition the legal fights, and the possibility of state level regulations, there are also several ballot measures (supported by Congressman Polis) that would increase setbacks (distance between operations and residences) and allow local control of fracking operations.  Gardner opposes these, and from the article linked above, it sounds like this is putting Udall in a difficult position – in the past Udall has been a strong proponent of the environment…

But Dick Wadhams, former chairman of the state GOP and now a Colorado-based Republican consultant, argued that the issue will develop as a problem for Udall as he and Gardner meet for debates and take to the campaign trail in earnest this fall.

“The fact is this kind of splits the Democratic Party down the middle,” Wadhams said. “It will drive up turnout among those folks who see fracking as a driver of the economy and the jobs. Udall is in a no-win position with those initiatives on the ballot.”

The legal battles between the state and communities will likely drag on for a while.. in the latest chapter, a judge has struck down Longmont’s ban..will the ban will stay in place while Longmont appeals..

The companies that operate in Colorado seem (in my limited opinion) to be open to regulations and are aware of the public perception issues that “fracking” has.  This opinion is mostly based on my experience with these companies at the the Natural Gas Symposiums at CSU.  We’ll see how this all plays out..

Posted in energy, policy | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Oil consumption in US outpaces China for #1 spot

Looks like recession is ending and leading to increased oil use in the US.. or could be just because of the shale oil boom?

Rühl said the rise in U.S. oil demand stemmed from industrial users of petrochemicals and other oil byproducts, a trend triggered more by a flood of cheap domestic oil supplies than by overall economic growth.

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2014 a big year for clean coal too

Kemper County power plant construction (from

Kemper County power plant construction

We know that 2014 is supposed to be a make-or-break year for cellulosic ethanol, with multiple new biorefineries recently or soon-to-be completed in order to fulfill RIN demand mandated by the Renewable Fuel Standard.  According to a recent Bloomberg article, this year might also be a turning-point year for ‘clean coal':

Coal’s Best Hope is Costly New Power Plant in Mississippi

Coming in the wake of the proposed new EPA rules requiring a net 30% reduction in US power sector greenhouse gas emissions, the article profiles a new clean coal facility under construction by Southern Co. in Kemper County, Mississippi.  It’s the only major new coal plant currently being built in the country, and is scheduled to come online by the end of the year.  Some system highlights for the nerds out there (additional gory details available from POWER magazine):

  • will be fueled with lignite, the lowest grade of coal, from new mine established adjacent to the plant
  • the plant is an Integrated Gasification and Combined Cycle (IGCC) pre-combustion CO2 capture & storage (CCS) design
    • low-quality coal is gasified to a synthetic CO-rich gas, and the water-gas shift reaction is then used to push it towards H2 & CO2
    • 65% of the CO2 is removed and piped into local oil fields at a rate of 3.5 Mt/year to enhance oil production
    • NOx/SOx precursors are scrubbed out as well, reducing final plant emissions
    • the synthetic gas is combusted in a gas turbine, and waste heat from the turbine, gasifier, and gas cleanup equipment drives an additional steam cycle
    • efficiencies for similat IGCC+CCS systems are estimated in the low 30% range
  • the capacity of ~600 MW is just a little smaller than our local Rawhide Energy Station; the mass of coal consumed by the plant every day is ~15 times more than the daily biomass consumption of the new Abengoa, Poet, or DuPont biorefineries
  • after many cost overruns the plant is on track to be one of the most expensive of its size ever constructed, with final costs coming in around $7/W, compared to about $1/W for natural gas or $5.50/W for nuclear

Us bioenergy folks should be paying particular attention to these CCS developments- the recent IPCC report strongly emphasized role of bioenergy+CCS technology (BECCS) in stabilizing atmospheric CO2 concentrations, and there are already some pilot projects underway (the biggest of which is ~1/4 the size of the Kemper plant).

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US climate policy in 2008 vs. 2014

From Vox:

Obama’s climate change regulations are less ambitious than what Republicans were proposing in 2008

Makes for some very interesting & depressing reading about how much the right side of the Overton Window on this issue has moved in just the last six years.

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EcoPress guest post on basic data analysis in Python

I have a guest post up on the CSU Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory’s EcoPress blog about transitioning from doing basic data analysis in Excel to writing simple programs to do so in Python: 

It’s very basic, laying out some reasons why you might want to make such a transition, and includes some general tips for getting started and a short example script that demonstrates how to process raw DayCent model output.  Go check it out, and learn yourself some Python skillz!

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