It surfaced yesterday that the Chinese government is selectively
denying its citizens access to YouTube. Google News has also been
blocked and media coverage has been denied to CNN. According to the
AP, the censorship is in response to the dozens of videos
posted of Friday’s violent Tibetan protests.
Although Chinese web/news restrictions are nothing new, it’s
nevertheless a bit unsettling to see how quickly such a big country
can so selectively shut down such potent communication channels. It
makes one wonder how fast that could occur in “more advanced”
nations given the “right” situation. Surely the contingency plans
have been laid even here in the United States and elsewhere.
At the same time, how could such control possibly be
sustainable? The advent of cheap videophones and pervasive
connectivity are making it very difficult to restrict information.
The next generations of both will further add to the censors’
headaches. For better or worse, we’re heading toward an
increasingly transparent world in which the cost of suppressing
information may soon be too high for nations (and companies) to
For most of the 20th Century, the U.S. was the world leader in science, technology, and innovation, with the best scientists, the best universities and the most advanced research and development programs. But all of that has begun to change as other countries and regions have become more advanced and more competitive and increasingly challenge U.S. dominance “
A recent article in the New York Times addressed the U.S. technological decline, and the ways Senators Obama and McCain have approached the issue. This story includes some eye-opening statistics about the loss of U.S. primacy in technology, innovation and R&D. At the top of the story, the Times points out the importance of this sector for America’s economy and role in the world:
For decades the United States dominated the technological revolution sweeping the globe. The nation’s science and engineering skills produced vast gains in productivity and wealth, powered its military and made it the de facto world leader. Today, the dominance is eroding.
One sees this in multiple indicators, but perhaps the most important is the country’s high-technology balance of trade. Until 2002, the U.S. always exported more high-tech products than it imported. In that year, the trend reversed, and the technology trade balance has steadily declined, with the annual gap exceeding $50 billion in 2007.
The U.S. has also fallen behind in spending on research and development, which drives high-tech innovation and development.
Want to think about a tough pill to swallow? Electric cars are not likely to make countries more energy independent. The US and Europe are likely to trade ‘foreign’ oil, for ‘foreign’ energy storage systems! And this might not be a bad thing. If we expect to transform the largest industries in the world (energy and transportation) it will have to be a global effort.
Key to Electric Vehicles – Asia & Energy Storage
If we look closely at recent announcements around electric vehicles, the future is looking very globally integrated and interdependent. Even as the US tries to grow its manufacturing base around ‘cleantech’ industries, Korea, China, and India are making strategic investments in the future of energy storage systems (batteries, fuel cells and capacitors) to power electric vehicles.
In the last few weeks Warren Buffet placed a $233 million bet on China’s BYD, a US firm purchased a Koren battery maker, India’s Tata announced plans to sell electric cars in Europe, and GM picked the unit of Korea’s LG Chem to supply batteries of its Volt electric car.
Today, Green Car Congress picked up a Reuters report that Korea’s number one refiner SK Energy is in talks with major automakers such as Daimler and Ford on the joint development of next-generation batteries used in electric cars. SK Energy is looking to leverage ‘separator’ components for lithium ion batteries that prevent overheating. SK joins the crowd of Exxon, Chevron and Toshiba who are getting involved in battery materials.
Selling a new message: The Eco benefits of being Global
In the months and year ahead leaders in the US and Europe might have to change their simplistic and nationalistic message of independence to reflect the complexities of the energy industry and the future. It will likely be globally integrated.
If the US and Europe expect to kill the combustion engine, and end the monopoly era of liquid fuels, they will need Asia and the rest of the world to join in the effort. This new message might better reflect the brutal facts of the global economy and fate of the planet – we’re all in it together whether we are talking energy finance, energy resources, energy emissions, energy software or energy storage.
The solar industry is growing globally. The wind industry is growing globally. Why not electric vehicles? Could that be an easier pill to swallow and a better image of the future?
Apparently China has a lot to prove at this year’s Olympics, not
just to the world, but to Mother Nature herself. After all, what
other city but Beijing can boast a governmental department called
the Weather Modification Office? To ensure the event goes off
without a hitch, China’s pulling out the technological stops to
keep the spectators and skies rain-free.
First, they’ll track the weather using a combination of
satellites, radar, and an IBM
supercomputer purchased from Big Blue. Then, armed with 7,113
anti-aircraft guns and 4,991 rocket launchers, they’ll shoot the
bejesus out of any incoming rain cloud. Weapons are loaded with a
variety of fun chemicals like silver iodide, dry ice, and liquid
nitrogen, which will work by flushing clouds of rain before they
pass over the stadium.
The world economy would be better off to move beyond combustion conversion towards more efficient, non-mechanical, and modular electrochemical conversion devices like fuel cells. (This doesn't require pure hydrogen, since you can still use hydrocarbon fuels.)
But I admit that diesel engines are not going away anytime soon, so efforts to improve efficiency for industrial applications could move us further down the road.
Now scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have created the first three-dimensional simulation that fully resolves flame features, such as chemical composition, temperature profile and flow characteristics in diesel engines. Their efforts could lead to new lower temperature engine designs that are more efficent.
3D Models / 120 Terabytes of Data Reveals Combustion Process Unfolding
In the next eight seconds 34 babies will be born to the world.
Of these five will be from India and four will be from China. In
ten years China will be the dominant English speaking country in
the world. With world population exploding and shifting so
dramatically, it’s easy to envision a future with billions more
humans inhabiting Earth than do today. But that may not be the
Consider the scenario presented in the sci-fi film Children
of Men (2006), a bleak vision of Earth in 2027 where humans
have mysteriously lost fertility and the ability to procreate. In
one scene, a scruffy-faced man named Theo, played by Clive Owen,
and a woman named Miriam walk across the dreary rust of an
abandoned school playground. Sitting on the squeaky swing set is
the African woman they are protecting, miraculously nursing in her
hands the first newborn the Earth has seen in over a decade. Miriam
recalls her days as a nurse delivering births. She notes that over
time fewer births were recorded until the day they ceased
“As the sound of the playgrounds faded, the despair set in. Very
odd, what happens in a world without children’s voices,” she grimly
The backdrop for the film is a future England that has adopted a
survivalist policy as it attempts to police millions of incoming
immigrants into concentration camps to preserve the little
remaining natural resources they have left. When I first watched
Children of Men, the idea of humanity wiped out by
widespread infertility seemed a little far-fetched. Certainly there
are many other, more viable ways for us to go: nuclear weapons,
terrorism, a nanotechnology nightmare, a super-resistant bacteria
strain, asteroids, global warming.
Growing up in the 90’s, schools and media have always drilled
into my head the post-war baby boom, exponential growth, limited
allocation of resources, and recycling, oh lots of talk about
recycling. (Note: I am an avid recycler.) Still, though we can and
should do something about issues like global warming and runaway
population growth, scenarios like the reality of the 2027 in
Children of Men remind us that there may well be other
formidable challenges on the horizon that may not be so much in our
Case in point, a recent NYTimes Sunday Magazine article
by Russell Shorto entitled “No Babies?” addresses the very
real possibility of population decline. Shorto examines the sleepy
Italian town of Laviano in Southern Italy, a spectacular sight with
magnificent steep slopes and wild poppies adorning medieval
fortress ruins of a fortress, in which a population of 3,000 has
fallen to just 1,600 and still dropping.
This has caused such alarm that the Laviano’s mayor has created
a new fund to give any woman that would rear a child in the
village, a sum of 10,000 euros ($15,000). Though the plan has
resulted in a slight uptick in residents, Laviano is still steadily
losing population. (cont.)
Need more evidence that the electric vehicle industry is going global, quickly?!
Bloomberg is reporting on plans that General Motors is expanding its investment and partnership with China’s SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile Co. It is unclear whether this investment is simply to secure GM’s position in China’s growing market, or if GM might tap China as the manufacturing hub for electric vehicles powered by batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
Why this is important to the future of energy?
The fastest way to move beyond the combustion engine is to tap the power of global markets. But it requires us to rethink our assumptions about the future. Namely, if Asia does leap ahead, the US and Europe will have to rethink their aspirations of being ‘energy independent’. Instead they will trade ‘foreign’ oil, for ‘foreign’ batteries!
The Good news
Electric cars can help to clean up air pollution around the world, expand opportunities for renewables to compete in transportation fuels, and could help us better manage the flow and storage of electrons currently limited to a one-way electrical grid.
Electric vehicles can change the world, but they are likely to do so in ways that we cannot currently imagine by mere extrapolation.
Add Warren Buffet’s latest investment to the list of major news indicators that fuel forecasts saying that the dominant days of the combustion engine are coming to an end. (Read GM to Combustion Engine-R.I.P.)
Through his Berkshire controlled MidAmerican Energy, The Oracle of Omaha has invested $230 million for a 10% stake in China’s car and battery maker BYD. BYD could soon become a global leader in electric propulsion auto systems and a mainstream vehicle brand.
Following the growth in electric propulsion systems
While there are reports
that BYD plans to ‘roll out fully electric cars before the end of next year’ and sell within the US, BYD does not have to displace GM or Toyota to return on Buffet’s investment.
Think of Shenzhen-based BYD as an advanced electric propulsion and electron storage device maker for Li-ion, Nickel batteries, capacitors and fuel cells. Rather than fight for market share against Toyota and GM in vehicle sales, BYD’s growth could be as an energy systems manufacturer.
Why MidAmerican might love BYD’s batteries more than its cars
Buffet’s other (or main) intention could be to expand the role of the electrical grid in fueling automobiles. He might also see promise in BYD’s battery systems for utility scale storage to improve the electrical grid.
Electric cars are coming in 2010-12 but we need to innovate energy storage solutions.
Recharging electric vehicles is not as simple as ‘plugging in at night.’ Our aging electrical grid and home wall sockets are not a suitable foundation for mainstream growth in battery vehicles- and automakers understand this.
Watch in the weeks and months ahead as electrical grid startups and electron storage companies like Shai Agassi’s Better Place gain more media attention and venture backing.
But what other innovative business models might emerge around electron-based transportation fleets? How about ‘swapping’ boxes?
In my book The End of the American Century, I point to China as one of America’s new rivals, but also as a major factor in U.S. profligacy and in U.S. economic decline. To a large extent, the false U.S. affluence of the last decade has been underwritten by China, in two ways: the country has supplied American consumers with cheap toys, gadgets and clothes; and has been bailing out the federal government by purchasing U.S. debt.
The rapid growth of foreign ownership of U.S. debt is yet another dimension of the unraveling of the U.S. economy. In 1970, only 4 percent of U.S. debt was held by foreigners; now almost half is. In recent years, foreigners have financed about 80 percent of the increase in public debt. The two biggest holders of U.S. debt are Japan and China, with China alone owning about $1 trillion in U.S. debt. Senator Hilary Clinton raised concerns about foreign ownership of U.S. debt in early 2007, when she sent a letter to Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. “In essence,” she observed,
"16% of our entire economy is being loaned to us by the Central Banks of other nations."
In a recent mock battle between two armored brigades (“Red” and “Blue”) in the Chinese Army, the Red Army was the victim of a virus attack which erased all their orders for re-supply.
“During the exercise, the Red Army basic command post, command and control station, received information from the main attack force that 3/4 of their ammunition had been depleted. A resupply order was immediately sent to the rear command post. However, after transmission, the order form appeared blank.”
Follow-up requests for ammunition were answered with the response that the request had been processed. The Red Army eventually lost the exercise once their ammunition ran out. It makes one wonder if all the money we’re pouring into the latest military gadgets could be compromised by a programmer working on a virus that would cost a few thousand.
It’s crazy to think that an army could be waylaid by a computer virus, but with our increasing reliance on technology for better and more efficient armies is was only a matter of time. You may have heard about how when Russia invaded Northern Georgia they preceded the attack by hacking Georgian systems as well as flooding Georgian government sites, shutting them down. There’s no doubt that cyber attacks are now a part of a nations battle-chest. This is the future of war.
Denmark-based bio-solutions firm Novozymes is trying to put an end to the biofuels debate of ‘food versus fuel’ and the politics of corn derived ethanol.
Its recipe for the future of 'next generation biofuels' is: Organic waste plus bio-enzymes = cellulosic ethanol (bioethanol)
China's Step Towards Waste to Energy Novozymes is now partnering with China's Sinopec and COFCO (China National Cereals, Oil & Foodstuff Corporation) to develop bioethanol from agricultural and food waste.
The partnership could help to scale next generation biofuels production in China as its market continues to evolve as the world's fastest growing market for automobiles and oil.
Novozyme's bioethanol is expected to be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 90% compared to oil-based fuels.
Steen Riisgaard, CEO at Novozymes, says: "With this partnership Novozymes has once again demonstrated its position as the leader in developing enzymes able to convert waste to fuel. This puts us one step closer to being able to produce commercial quantities of bioethanol from agricultural waste. Second-generation bioethanol production in China holds vast potential for Novozymes as the technology leader, and we expect to be the first company with enzymes ready for large-scale production by 2010."