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Friday, November 02, 2007

Why feed and cure your hungry, sick population when you can build tiiiiiiny evil robots and try to take over the world?

Wired magazine reports on Russia's latest crazed neo-Soviet gambit:

Back in the mid-1980s, a joke made the rounds that the Kremlin was preparing a major announcement: After a decade-long top-secret crash program, socialist science had succeeded in building the world's largest microprocessor.

That was then. After sleeping through the high tech revolutions of the late 20th century, the Russian government is dumping billions into the burgeoning science of nanotechnology. The Kremlin last June announced the creation of Rosnanotekh, a state nanotechnology corporation slated for $5 billion in initial funding -- an outlay that propels Russia past China in nanotech spending, and puts the country on a par with the United States in government-funded nano research.

"Nanotechnology will be the (foundation) for all industries in a science-driven economy," said Mikhail Kovalchuk, director of Moscow's Kurchatov Institute. "Nanotechnology will be the driving force of the Russian economy -- if it can overcome the legacy of the recent past."

Russia's leap into nantotechnology is the sharp edge of Russian President Vladimir Putin's push to make up for this country's failure to develop high tech industries during the computing and biotech revolutions, and to compete globally in a field considered ripe for new discoveries. Nanotechnology is the science of assembling devices out of individual atoms or molecules. It was first theorized by physicist Richard Feynman in 1959, and today is widely expected to produce major advances in everything from pollution control to cancer treatment. It also represents a quiet admission that Siberian oil and gas, Russia's financial wellspring, won't last forever.

For Russia to succeed in nanotech, it must first overcome the yawning chasm between its deep intellectual resources and its economic infrastructure. Russian scientists have been quiet theoretical pioneers in nanotech since 1999, when the Russian Academy of Sciences began publishing the well-regarded Journal of Nano and Microsystem Technique. But Russia has no industry to put that research to use. When St. Petersburg hosted Russia's first international nanotech conference last fall, the audience was noticeably bereft of Russian companies, but packed with note-scribbling headhunters from Western technology firms like Intel, Siemens and Bosch.

"We could compete in the world market, and we are interesting to foreigners in the field of new ideas," said Sergei Kozyrev, director of the Center for Perspective Research in St. Petersburg, during the conference. "But when it comes to competition in the realm of production, to producing working samples, we find ourselves far behind other countries.... That has been our problem ever since Soviet times."

There's also the question of where all of Rosnanotekh's billions will end up. Transparency International routinely rates Russia among the most corrupt countries in the world, and state enterprises are dominated by Kremlin insiders with little public accountability and oversight. Rosnanotekh will likely be no exception.

"There's a lot of technical talent in Russia, but not all of the funds allocated to nanotech will be deployed effectively,” said Christine Peterson, a vice president at the Foresight Nanotech Institute, in an e-mail interview. "The lack of commercialization infrastructure will also be a serious handicap. Success will depend on convincing joint-venture partners from outside Russia that it is financially safe to participate."

Rosnanotekh will be a state entity, but will be free to pursue private partnerships unburdened by direct Kremlin control. While the company will dispense the research funds, the actual work will be overseen by the Kurchatov Institute, the leafy Moscow research campus named after the father of the Soviet bomb and home to the luminaries of 20th-century Russian science. Officials at Kurchatov will oversee grants to 50 state institutes engaged in nanotech research.

At the center of Russia's nanotech dreams is Kurchatov director Kovalchuk. The 62-year-old physicist from St. Petersburg is expansive to the point of dreaminess about the potential of nanotech. In a September lecture at a conference in Helsinki, Finland, Kovalchuk shared his vision of a postindustrial future defined by the "dematerialization of production" (write your own Marxism joke) and an energy grid fueled by nano-enabled solar and nuclear power. He envisions nothing less than a "nano revolution" that will solve the energy and environmental crises during his lifetime. "Nanotechnology is key to de-energization in the next century," Kovalchuk told Wired News. "Coupled with bionics, it has the potential to reduce drastically the amount of energy we consume, and the corresponding waste."

An interest in cleaner energy is also a pet interest of metals oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, who sits on Rosnanotekh's board. Prokhorov has pledged to channel part of his new $17 billion investment fund into developing hydrogen fuel cells using nanotech. This talk of clean and renewable energy can sound strange in Moscow. Russia is a petro-state known for its lax attitude toward domestic and international pollution. It has by far the most wasteful pipeline and electricity-transmission infrastructure of any industrialized nation, and is being outspent in alternative energy research by its fellow petro-states in the Persian Gulf.

But oil and gas are increasingly seen in Russia as a means to an end -- a bridge to a clean-energy future beyond oil and gas. Kovalchuk is even hopeful that nanotech will find the magic bullet to make all carbon-based fuels obsolete: fusion power. The key, he believes, lies in the nano-engineering of the Tokamak, a magnetic-confinement device considered the leading candidate to one day produce fusion energy. Its inventors? Two Kurchatov scientists named Igor Tamm and Andrei Sakharov.

1 comment:

nicole said...

Here's a near Nanotechnology that would help them & us now;

This technology represents the most comprehensive, low cost, and productive approach to long term stewardship and sustainability.Terra Preta Soils a process for Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration, 1/3 Lower CH4 & N2O soil emissions, and 3X FertilityToo

I thought the current news and links on Terra Preta (TP)soils and closed-loop pyrolysis of Biomass would interest you.


SCIAM Article May 15 07;

After many years of reviewing solutions to anthropogenic global warming (AGW) I believe this technology can manage Carbon for the greatest collective benefit at the lowest economic price, on vast scales. It just needs to be seen by ethical globally minded companies.

Could you please consider looking for a champion for this orphaned Terra Preta Carbon Soil Technology.

The main hurtle now is to change the current perspective held by the IPCC that the soil carbon cycle is a wash, to one in which soil can be used as a massive and ubiquitous Carbon sink via Charcoal. Below are the first concrete steps in that direction;

S.1884 – The Salazar Harvesting Energy Act of 2007

A Summary of Biochar Provisions in S.1884:

Carbon-Negative Biomass Energy and Soil Quality Initiative

for the 2007 Farm Bill

(...PLEASE!!..........Contact your Senators & Repps in Support of S.1884........NOW!!...)

Tackling Climate Change in the U.S.

Potential Carbon Emissions Reductions from Biomass by 2030by Ralph P. Overend, Ph.D. and Anelia Milbrandt
National Renewable Energy Laboratory

The organization 25x25 (see 25x'25 - Home) released it's (first-ever, 55-page )"Action Plan" ; see;
On page 29 , as one of four foci for recommended RD&D, the plan lists: "The development of biochar, animal agriculture residues and other non-fossil fuel based fertilizers, toward the end of integrating energy production with enhanced soil quality and carbon sequestration."
and on p 32, recommended as part of an expanded database aspect of infrastructure: "Information on the application of carbon as fertilizer and existing carbon credit trading systems."

I feel 25x25 is now the premier US advocacy organization for all forms of renewable energy, but way out in front on biomass topics.

There are 24 billion tons of carbon controlled by man in his agriculture and waste stream, all that farm & cellulose waste which is now dumped to rot or digested or combusted and ultimately returned to the atmosphere as GHG should be returned to the Soil.

Even with all the big corporations coming to the GHG negotiation table, like Exxon, Alcoa, .etc, we still need to keep watch as the Democrats/Enviromentalist try to influence how carbon management is legislated in the USA. Carbon must have a fair price, that fair price and the changes in the view of how the soil carbon cycle now can be used as a massive sink verses it now being viewed as a wash, will be of particular value to farmers and a global cool breath of fresh air for us all.

If you have any other questions please feel free to call me or visit the TP web site I've been drafted to co-administer.

It has been immensely gratifying to see all the major players join the mail list , Cornell folks, T. Beer of Kings Ford Charcoal (Clorox), Novozyne the M-Roots guys(fungus), chemical engineers, Dr. Danny Day of EPRIDA , Dr. Antal of U. of H., Virginia Tech folks and probably many others who's back round I don't know have joined.

Also Here is the Latest BIG Terra Preta Soil news;

The Honolulu Advertiser: “The nation's leading manufacturer of charcoal has licensed a University of Hawai'i process for turning green waste into barbecue briquets.”

About a year ago I got Clorox interested in TP soils and Dr. Antal's Plasma Carbonazation process.


ConocoPhillips Establishes $22.5 Million Pyrolysis Program at Iowa State 04/10/07

Here is my current Terra Preta posting which condenses the most important stories and links;

Terra Preta Soils Technology To Master the Carbon Cycle

Man has been controlling the carbon cycle , and there for the weather, since the invention of agriculture, all be it was as unintentional, as our current airliner contrails are in affecting global dimming. This unintentional warm stability in climate has over 10,000 years, allowed us to develop to the point that now we know what we did,............ and that now......... we are over doing it.

The prehistoric and historic records gives a logical thrust for soil carbon sequestration.
I wonder what the soil biome carbon concentration was REALLY like before the cutting and burning of the world's forest, my guess is that now we see a severely diminished community, and that only very recent Ag practices like no-till and reforestation have started to help rebuild it. It makes implementing Terra Preta soil technology like an act of penitence, a returning of the misplaced carbon to where it belongs.

On the Scale of CO2 remediation:

It is my understanding that atmospheric CO2 stands at 379 PPM, to stabilize the climate we need to reduce it to 350 PPM by the removal of 230 Billion tons of carbon.

The best estimates I've found are that the total loss of forest and soil carbon (combined
pre-industrial and industrial) has been about 200-240 billion tons. Of
that, the soils are estimated to account for about 1/3, and the vegetation
the other 2/3.

Since man controls 24 billion tons in his agriculture then it seems we have plenty to work with in sequestering our fossil fuel CO2 emissions as stable charcoal in the soil.

As Dr. Lehmann at Cornell points out, "Closed-Loop Pyrolysis systems such as Dr. Danny Day's are the only way to make a fuel that is actually carbon negative". and that " a strategy combining biochar with biofuels could ultimately offset 9.5 billion tons of carbon per year-an amount equal to the total current fossil fuel emissions! "

Terra Preta Soils Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration, 1/3 Lower CH4 & N2O soil emissions, and 3X FertilityToo

This some what orphaned new soil technology speaks to so many different interests and disciplines that it has not been embraced fully by any. I'm sure you will see both the potential of this system and the convergence needed for it's implementation.

The integrated energy strategy offered by Charcoal based Terra Preta Soil technology may
provide the only path to sustain our agricultural and fossil fueled power
structure without climate degradation, other than nuclear power.

The economics look good, and truly great if we had CO2 cap & trade or a Carbon tax in place.

.Nature article, Aug 06: Putting the carbon back Black is the new green:

Here's the Cornell page for an over view:

University of Beyreuth TP Program, Germany

This Earth Science Forum thread on these soils contains further links, and has been viewed by 19,000 self-selected folks. ( I post everything I find on Amazon Dark Soils, ADS here):

There is an ecology going on in these soils that is not completely understood, and if replicated and applied at scale would have multiple benefits for farmers and environmentalist.

Terra Preta creates a terrestrial carbon reef at a microscopic level. These nanoscale structures provide safe haven to the microbes and fungus that facilitate fertile soil creation, while sequestering carbon for many hundred if not thousands of years. The combination of these two forms of sequestration would also increase the growth rate and natural sequestration effort of growing plants.

The reason TP has elicited such interest on the Agricultural/horticultural side of it's benefits is this one static:

One gram of charcoal cooked to 650 C Has a surface area of 400 m2 (for soil microbes & fungus to live on), now for conversion fun:

One ton of charcoal has a surface area of 400,000 Acres!! which is equal to 625 square miles!! Rockingham Co. VA. , where I live, is only 851 Sq. miles

Now at a middle of the road application rate of 2 lbs/sq ft (which equals 1000 sqft/ton) or 43 tons/acre yields 26,000 Sq miles of surface area per Acre. VA is 39,594 Sq miles.

What this suggest to me is a potential of sequestering virgin forest amounts of carbon just in the soil alone, without counting the forest on top.

To take just one fairly representative example, in the classic Rothampstead experiments in England where arable land was allowed to revert to deciduous temperate woodland, soil organic carbon increased 300-400% from around 20 t/ha to 60-80 t/ha (or about 20-40 tons per acre) in less than a century (Jenkinson & Rayner 1977). The rapidity with which organic carbon can build up in soils is also indicated by examples of buried steppe soils formed during short-lived interstadial phases in Russia and Ukraine. Even though such warm, relatively moist phases usually lasted only a few hundred years, and started out from the skeletal loess desert/semi-desert soils of glacial conditions (with which they are inter-leaved), these buried steppe soils have all the rich organic content of a present-day chernozem soil that has had many thousands of years to build up its carbon (E. Zelikson, Russian Academy of Sciences, pers. comm., May 1994).

All the Bio-Char Companies and equipment manufactures I've found:

Carbon Diversion

Eprida: Sustainable Solutions for Global Concerns

BEST Pyrolysis, Inc. | Slow Pyrolysis - Biomass - Clean Energy - Renewable Ene

Dynamotive Energy Systems | The Evolution of Energy

Ensyn - Environmentally Friendly Energy and Chemicals

Agri-Therm, developing bio oils from agricultural waste

Advanced BioRefinery Inc.

Technology Review: Turning Slash into Cash

The International Agrichar Initiative (IAI) conference held at Terrigal, NSW, Australia in 2007. ( ) ( The papers from this conference are now being posted at their home page)

If pre-Columbian Kayopo Indians could produce these soils up to 6 feet deep over 15% of the Amazon basin using "Slash & CHAR" verses "Slash & Burn", it seems that our energy and agricultural industries could also product them at scale.

Harnessing the work of this vast number of microbes and fungi changes the whole equation of energy return over energy input (EROEI) for food and Bio fuels. I see this as the only sustainable agricultural strategy if we no longer have cheap fossil fuels for fertilizer.

We need this super community of wee beasties to work in concert with us by populating them into their proper Soil horizon Carbon Condos.

Erich J. Knight
Shenandoah Gardens
1047 Dave Berry Rd.
McGaheysville, VA. 22840
(540) 289-9750