To Compete with Electric Engines, Aramco Incrementally Improving Fuel Efficiency of Combustion Engines

(p. B1) NOVI, Mich.—The world’s largest oil company has 30 engineers working away in this Detroit suburb on a project that sounds counterintuitive: an engine that burns less oil.

But there is a common-sense explanation for why the Saudi Arabian Oil Co., known as Saudi Aramco, wants a more efficient internal combustion engine. It is trying to protect its market share by slowing a potential exodus to electric vehicles.

David Cleary, head of Saudi Aramco’s Detroit Research Center, said the company’s goal with its research is to preserve the market for fuel. To that end, he said, any breakthroughs in better-engine designs would be widely shared.

“We are trying to get technology into production, and we want to be very fast,” Mr. Cleary said.

While electric-vehicle adoption remains small globally, and is expected to rise gradually, the prospect of a large-scale shift is setting up a showdown between oil companies and utilities over who will power tomorrow’s cars.

For the full story, see:

Russell Gold. “Big Oil Reinvents Engines to Survive.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, July 16, 2018): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 15, 2018, and has the title “Oil, Utilities Fight to Fuel Vehicles of the Future.”)

“Land Rebound” May Slow Glacial Retreat by 40%

(p. A5) The complex relationship between Antarctica’s glaciers and the land on which they rest may help slow the rate of ice loss in the long term, according to a new method for modeling such interactions.

. . .

The new model takes into account, at a higher resolution than previous ones, the way land springs up after ice is removed, according to glaciologists. (Models break up geographical areas into grids, like pixels in a photo. The smaller the area those grids represent, the more detail a model has.) The land rebound helps stabilize glaciers by propping them up at the point where the frozen rivers start to float. The ground’s hold increases friction, which steadies them.

The phenomenon has been documented and studied in other parts of the world, including North America, which was once covered with glaciers.

The effect is greatest after a lot of a glacier’s mass has been lost, according to the study, which was published Thursday [April 25, 2019] in the journal Science.

. . .

The team focused on West Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier, which scientists believe is especially vulnerable to climate change. Earlier this year, NASA scientists used radar to find a massive gap between its ice and the bedrock, where water could creep in and melt it from below.

Within the next 100 years, the rebound of land beneath Thwaites could slow down the glacier’s retreat by about 1%, according to the study. But by 2350, that effect could hover around 40%, as more mass is lost and the earth has more opportunity to rebound.

For the full story, see:

Daniela Hernandez. “Study Sees Slower Glacial Retreat.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, April 26, 2019): A5.

(Note: bracketed date, and ellipses, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 25, 2019, and has the title “New Model Suggests Slower Decline of Glaciers.”)

Cities Stop Recycling as Costs Exceed Benefits

(p. A1) Recycling, for decades an almost reflexive effort by American households and businesses to reduce waste and help the environment, is collapsing in many parts of the country.

Philadelphia is now burning about half of its 1.5 million residents’ recycling material in an incinerator that converts waste to energy. In Memphis, the international airport still has recycling bins around the terminals, but every collected can, bottle and newspaper is sent to a landfill. And last month, officials in the central Florida city of Deltona faced the reality that, despite their best efforts to recycle, their curbside program was not working and suspended it.

Those are just three of the hundreds of towns and cities across the country that have canceled recycling programs, limited the types of material they accepted or agreed to huge price increases.

“We are in a crisis moment in the recycling movement right now,” said Fiona Ma, the treasurer of California, where recycling costs have increased in some cities.

. . .

(p. A25)  With fewer buyers, recycling companies are recouping their lost profits by charging cities more, in some cases four times what they charged last year.

Amid the soaring costs, cities and towns are making hard choices about whether to raise taxes, cut other municipal services or abandon an effort that took hold during the environmental movement of the 1970s.

“Recycling has been dysfunctional for a long time,” said Mitch Hedlund, executive director of Recycle Across America, . . .

. . .

In Deltona, higher costs were not the only factor behind the decision last month to stop recycling. Even if the city agreed to pay the additional $25,000 a month that its recycling company was charging, there was no assurance that all the plastic containers and junk mail would be turned into something new, Mayor Heidi Herzberg said.

“We all did recycling because it was easy, but the reality is that not much was actually being recycled,” Ms. Herzberg said.

. . .

Some large waste producers are still going through the motions of recycling, no matter how futile.

Across Memphis, large commercial enterprises have had to stop recycling for now because of contamination problems. But the airport is keeping its recycling bins in place to preserve “the culture” of recycling among passengers and employees, a spokesman said.

For the full story, see:

(Note:  ellipses added.)

(Note:  the online version of the story has the date March 16, 2019, and has the title “As Costs Skyrocket, More U.S. Cities Stop Recycling.”  The online version says that the New York print version had the title “As Costs Surge, Cities’ Recycling Becomes Refuse.”  My National print edition had the title given in the citation above.)

“Macron Is Concerned with the End of the World; We Are Concerned with the End of the Month”

(p. A6) “Bosses prefer taking on temporary workers,” says Virginie Bonnin, 40, who works in local auto parts plants. “We are disposable.”

A single mother of three girls, Ms. Bonnin earns €1,900 a month. She learns on Thursday nights what her hours will be for the coming week. When her jobs end, she is sustained by unemployment benefits of about €1,400 a month.

“I’m not the worst off,” she says. “But it’s tricky.  In those times, I will not eat meat so that the kids can eat meat.” Her last summer vacation, a sacred French institution, was two years ago.

Ms. Bonnin was provoked into joining the Yellow Vests by the same measure that mobilized much of the country, a tax on gasoline that was to take effect in January.

Mr. Macron promoted it as a means of adapting to climate change. Outside major cities, where people rely on cars to get nearly everywhere, it supplied proof that the president was indifferent to the working class.  “Macron is concerned with the end of the world,” one Yellow Vest slogan put it.  “We are concerned with the end of the month.”

That accusation endured even after Mr. Macron suspended the gas tax in the face of Yellow Vest furor.

For the full story, see:

(Note:  the online version of the story has the date April 15, 2019, and has the title “Inequality Fuels Rage of ‘Yellow Vests’ in Equality-Obsessed France.”)

Mycologists Cure Ailing Bees

(p. 4) Sometime in the 1980s, microscopic mites that had been afflicting honeybees outside the United States found their way to Florida and Wisconsin and began wreaking havoc across the country.
. . .
This mite, Varroa destructor, injects a slew of viruses into bees, including one that causes shriveled wings, a primary factor in widespread colony collapse. Worse, these parasites have rapidly developed resistance to synthetic pesticides.
Beekeepers in the United States lost an estimated 40 percent of their colonies between April 2017 and April 2018. But we might be able to save honeybees at least from this parasitic scourge without chemical intervention. I along with scientists at Washington State University and the United States Department of Agriculture recently published in Scientific Reports, a journal from the publishers of Nature, a study that could inspire a paradigm shift in protecting bees.
Our research shows that extracts from the living mycelial tissue of common wood conk mushrooms known to have antiviral properties significantly reduced these viruses in honeybee colonies, in one field test by 45,000 times, compared to control colonies.
. . .
Nature can repair itself with a little help from mycologists.

For the full commentary, see:
Paul Stamets. “Saving Bees With Mushrooms.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018): 4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 28, 2018, and has the title “Will Mushrooms Be Magic for Threatened Bees?”)

The commentary is related to the author’s book:
Stamets, Paul. Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2005.

Plastic Bags Better for Environment Than Cotton Bags

(p. A25)  Back in 2011, Britain’s Environment Agency conducted a life-cycle assessment of various bag options, looking at every step of the production process.

. . .

That same British analysis also looked into reusable options, like heavier, more durable plastic bags or cotton bags. And it found that these are only sustainable options if you use them very frequently.

Making a cotton shopping bag is hardly cost-free. Growing cotton requires a fair bit of energy, land, fertilizer and pesticides, which can have all sorts of environmental effects — from greenhouse gas emissions to nitrogen pollution in waterways.

The study found that an avid shopper would have to reuse his or her cotton bag 131 times before it had a smaller global warming impact than a lightweight plastic bag used only once. And, depending on the make, more durable plastic bags would have to be used at least 4 to 11 times before they made up for their heftier upfront climate costs.

So if you’re going to opt for a reusable bag for environmental reasons, make sure you actually reuse it — often.

For the full story, see:

Erica Komisar.  “Paper or Plastic? Your Choice of Bag Matters Less Than What’s Inside.”  The New York Times (Saturday, March 30, 2019):  A25.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

(Note:  the online version of the story has the date March 29, 2019, and has the title “Plastic Bags, or Paper? Here’s What to Consider When You Hit the Grocery Store.”)

Variability of Wind and Solar Increase Costs of Reliable Energy Sources

(p. A17) President Trump mocked the Democrats’ Green New Deal and its renewable-energy aspirations in a recent speech: “When the wind stops blowing, that’s the end of your electric.” But the most destructive consequence of wind and solar power result from periods of oversupply.
Coal and gas generating plants have to be kept on standby and ramped up to cover the shortfall resulting from still air and darkness. That forces them to operate less efficiently and pushes their costs up. During periods of low demand, wind and solar can produce too much electricity, creating gluts and driving wholesale prices negative, meaning grid operators have to pay consumers to burn unwanted energy. That makes nuclear, coal and gas generators unprofitable, necessitating extra subsidies to save the power stations needed to keep the lights on.

For the full commentary, see:
Rupert Darwall. “When There’s Too Much Sun and Wind; The biggest danger of renewable energy is overproduction.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, March 11, 2019): A17.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 10, 2019.)