Slime palaces

An experimental apartment block in Hamburg heated by a skin of algae.

It looks ordinary enough:
However, this is as far-out a building as you’ll ever likely to see. The green coating isn’t paint, it’s algae behind glass in a thin exothermic [Update] bioreactor.
The circuit includes biogas extraction and of course the algae eat carbon dioxide, so the building – with other less ostentatious tweaks – is claimed to be completely carbon-neutral.

Hamburg is cool and wet, so buildings need heating almost all of the year. The technology will therefore never take off in Haight-Ashbury or the liberal bits of Beverly Hills. [Update: this speculation retracted below in comments] But there’s nothing to stop Barack Obama from building himself a carbon-neutral slime palace retreat in Maine or Minnesota. And how about the Governor’s mansion in Alaska?

IBA website in German, via CleanTechnica.

Rudest abstract ever?

Mike O’Hare nails it. The target paper “presents a principal inference not supported by its results, that rests on a fundamental conceptual error, and that has no place in the current discussion of biofuels’ climate effects.”

From O’Hare et al., in Biomass and Bioenergy, 35:10 4485-4487:

“Indirect land use change for biofuels: Testing predictions and improving analytical methodologies” by S. Kim and B. Dale, presents a principal inference not supported by its results, that rests on a fundamental conceptual error, and that has no place in the current discussion of biofuels’ climate effects. The paper takes correlation between two variables in a system with many interacting factors to indicate (or contraindicate) causation, and draws a completely incorrect inference from observed sample statistics and their significance levels.

And yes, I read the whole thing, and yes, as far as I can tell Mike and his colleagues make out their case, leaving a small grease spot where a pair of academic reputations used to be.

(There’s a letter in response, but it’s behind a paywall. I invite Kim and Dale to reprint it in comments, or make any other response that seems right to them.)

National ethanol intoxication stays at DWI levels for another year at least

Bob Dineen, chief flack for the US biofuels industry, is delighted with the extension of the ethanol and biodiesel tax credits that ex-Illinois senator Obama didn’t filter out of the tax compromise.  No, the Brazilians aren’t going to be relieved of the import duty that’s preventing us from using the one biofuel (their sugar cane ethanol) that may be genuinely green.  Dineen’s remarks included the following notable admission about the credit: “It is the foundation upon which this industry was built.”  In other words, after twenty years of trying to make it a business, fuel ethanol from corn is a losing proposition that destroys value rather than creating it, and can only be sustained by reaching into the pockets of taxpayers for $6B a year, or about one in every seven dollars of all corn sales.  On top of the $4B in plain old corn subsidies.  It’s payable to those “family farmers” whose average operation in Illinois (for example) is worth $1.5m just for the land, and the nice folks at Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, and the like. Average farm household income, by the way, is about 15% higher than the US average.

There are losing businesses that should be subsidized with public money, like education, parks, public transit, policing, and the military.  They are called market failures.  But there is no market  failure associated with growing corn and making automotive bourbon out of it, except the negative externalities like the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico created by fertilizer runoff into the Mississippi, which should occasion a tax, not a credit.  The Investor’s Business Daily deplores the credit extension, but you know what kind of  commie lefty rag IBD is.

Is Ray LaHood trying to subsidize gas guzzlers?

The horrible idea of replacing the gasoline tax with a vehicle-miles-traveled tax.

We finally see Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (R-IL) emerge from his undisclosed location, and the result isn’t pretty:

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says he wants to consider taxing motorists based on how many miles they drive rather than how much gasoline they burn _ an idea that has angered drivers in some states where it has been proposed.

This idea is bad on several levels:

1) To the extent that we are concerned about climate change and energy consumption, it simply makes no sense to tax a Prius for going 4 miles more than taxing a Hummer for going 3 miles.

2) I see no evidence for the idea, floated by some, that somehow a vehicle miles traveled tax is more politically acceptable than a gasoline tax. If anything, it’s just the opposite: buying a more fuel-efficient vehicle is expensive, but it’s cheaper than changing your travel patterns, which might involve moving or getting a different job. (The exception here is deciding how often to make local trips, which would be just as affected by gasoline taxes than vehicle-miles-traveled taxes.). Republicans will oppose all taxes except those that fall on working class people, in which case they are called “user fees.”

3) One could argue that if you tax gasoline instead of vehicle miles traveled, then you would be letting plug-in hybrids off the hook, because they could drive all they want, and get their electricity from dirty coal plants. You know what? If our biggest problem in transportation and energy policy is that too many people are buying plug-in hybrids and scrapping their SUVs, I’ll take that problem when it arrives.

4) If anything, a vehicle miles traveled tax if politically more dangerous, because it requires the government to determine how many miles you have traveled. That will be a gift to those warning of “liberal fascism.” If we are serious about charging for vehicle miles traveled, the better way to do that is through private automobile insurance, and let the insurers take the lumps. Phone companies charge you for phone calls; auto insurers charge you for how much you drive. That’s a better analogy.

5) Moreover, a gasoline tax connects much more directly to energy independence, which is overstated as a policy goal (complete autarky is rarely a good policy strategy), but nevertheless resonates for good reason with the public.

If we think of transportation policy as being just about congestion, then I could see it. But it’s not just about congestion — that’s Transportation 101.

I can’t help but think this has something to do with the ethanol lobby — an Illinois Transportation Secretary, serving under an Illinois President, and working with an Iowan Agriculture Secretary, has figured out a way to get Americans to use more ethanol and pretend that they are helping the environment. But maybe it’s just a lousy idea. I hope so.