Includes thoughts and comments about energy needs, resources, conservation and their relationship to politics at home and around the world.

Friday, August 24, 2007

With the 2008 elections a little more than a year away, it's not easy to avoid reaction and comment on some of the things that are going on out there. Iraq continues to be the single most discussed element in the campaigns for the President and Congress. The vast majority of Democrats and a few Republicans want us to pull out of Iraq while most Republicans are standing by the President's plan to stay there until the Iraqis show they can handle matters on their own. All are awaiting General Patraeus' report on the situation due in September. Some have expressed concern that the President and his staff will "filter" the report before it's made public. Of course, the fact that Patraeus is in the military chain of command and Bush is Commander-in-Chief means nothing to the Bush attackers.

Very likely, Patraeus will report that significant progress has been made militarily on the ground since the start of the"surge". He will also report political progress is lacking, a situation that will not change until the Iraqi parliment reconvenes and even then it is unlikely to change.
If that proves to be the case, look for pressure to build to withdraw our troops. I expect withdrawal will begin by year end but it will proceed at a very slow pace.

The Democrats and the liberal media have begun to make hay out of the scandal involving Senator Craig of Idaho. I expect he will announce his resignation any time now which should lower some of the rhetoric. I agree, he should resign but let us not think for one moment that homosexuality is exclusive to any political party. It's a human defect known to all political parties, nationalities, races and religions. The Democrats have their Barney Frank and the ex-governor of New Jersey, now the GOP has their Larry Craig. No doubt there are others in both parties yet to be revealed.

Let's see how much publicity the media gives to the Hsu/Hillary Clinton campaign contribution scandal including his contributions to other Democrats as well. Hillary announced today that she will send $23,000 of Hsu's conributions to a charity. It is believed that much of Hsu's contributions were funneled to Clinton and other Democrats through another entity to get around campaign funding laws. I guess it's asking too much to expect honesty in any campaign, Democrat or Republican.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Recently Al Gore accused some of the world's largest energy companies, including ExxonMobil, of funding research to dispute "scientific consensus" on global warming in a campaign to mislead the public. Let's have at it one more time...

Global warming is an accepted natural phenomenon and evidence strongly suggests it is cyclical. The sun's activity is another factor. Man's contribution to the phenomenon has become a factor since the dawn of the industrial age 150 years ago. The size and impact of the contribution remain in dispute. Further research, whether paid for by companies like ExxonMobil or taxpayer funds, may give us an answer. Meanwhile, we need to do what we can to reduce man's contribution. The effort needs to engage every nation on Earth, not just the USA if it's to be effective.

CO2 is believed to be a major component of the gasses that create a "greenhoue effect" in Earth's atmosphere. Total elimination of CO2 emissions is not possible but we can control it to a degree with advancing technology. Sequestration of CO2 at large power plants, chemical plants and oil refineries will soon be possible but at a sizeable investment unlikely to be made without significant tax and other incentives. But such facilities aren't the only source of CO2. All living oxygen-breathing creatures exhale CO2. Animal and human feces emit CO2. I know of no practical way of reducing such emissions.

Environmental activists continue to push for greater use of ethanol as a component in motor gasoline but fail to mention its limitations. First and foremost, ethanol contains significantly less energy (i.e., Btu content) than conventional gasoline which results in reduced fuel economy. It requires storage and transportation systems separate from conventional gasoline. Producing ethanol from food crops such as corn ratchets up the market price of such crops when sold as food. This can have a troublesome impact on the economies of third world countries where food is more important to the population than greenhouse gasses.

As noted in previous posts on this site, wind power, solar power, and geothermal power are helpful substitutes for fossil fuel power generation where conditions are conducive for their use. We need to move to more nuclear power facilities to replace those plants that use fossil fuel. I know environmental activists will fight such a move but they are whistling in the dark if they think we can do without it. Meanwhile, research will continue unabated to find whatever other energy sources there may be to displace fossil fuels.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The tragic failure of the I35W bridge in Minneapolis is a wake up call to the nation that we have some pretty sick bridges in need of repair or replacement. Transportation authorities have known for some time that is the case, but efforts to fix the situation have lagged badly. Now, I suspect things will change, at least they should.

As a student in civil engineering, bridge design was part of my studies. I got away from civil engineering after college and got more into chemical engineering in the oil industry. Still, the principles have stuck with me probably because engineering, regardless of specific discipline, is really a thought process. With that as background, a few thoughts about the Minneapolis tragedy may be helpful.

I expect the I35W bridge was designed for less than the estimated 100,000+ vehicles that were moving over it daily prior to its collapse. Even more likely, it was not designed for the huge truck loads now experienced on road and bridge systems throughout the country. There are many different designs in existence but the principles involved are much the same. All of them take into account two basic types of loading, deadweight or static loads ( i.e., the weight of the bridge itself) and moving or dynamic loads imposed by traffic moving over the bridge. Other types of load may come into play such as wind conditions and harmonic vibration (read Tacoma Narrows) depending on the location environment. Many older bridges were built in steel while most modern ones employ concrete, many parts of which are prestressed.

Steel has one major corrodes. The corrosion process can be slowed with the use of certain protective coatings, but nothing lasts forever. Even concrete bridge spans rest on intermediate and abutment pivot points made of steel that are subject to corrosion. Corrosion ultimately weakens the steel and thus its ability to support loads. Constant flexing of structural members may eventually destroy the elasticity in a critical member causing the member to fail.

Concrete bridge construction has all but replaced steel today. It permits more flexibility in design and presents a more pleasing appearance. Except for intermediate tressels and abutments which require onsite concrete pours, stringers and decking quite often are poured offsite and hauled to the bridge site for installation. These members are prestressed to put them in an installed state of compression. This permits the menber to absorb tension creating loads without damage to the concrete.

Construction errors can result in ultimate structural failure. The possibilities are numerous and can only be eliminated by close observation during construction and objective inspection by experts before the structure is opened to traffic. The same holds for all inspections to follow once the structure is in service.

In the ideal world, bridge inspections would be made on a precise schedule by competent engineers with no connections with the designers and builders of the bridge. Defects noted would be reported along with recommendations for traffic restrictions to stay within the safety limits set by the inspectors until the next inspection and/or repairs. It would be incombent upon bridge authorities in state and local governments to post such restrictions on the bridge and see to their enforcement. In the real world, it is anyone's guess as to what is actually happening.