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August 2008

August 31, 2008

Monsanto and Evogene Collaborate on Yield and Stress Research

Monsanto Company and Israel-based Evogene Ltd. have entered into a five-year research and development collaboration focused on identifying key plant genes related to yield, environmental stress and fertilizer utilization. The agreement is intended to enhance research efforts to discover and deliver novel, yield-enhancing technologies at a time of increasing demand for grain globally.

Monsanto believes this new collaboration will help support its commitment to double yields in its core crops by 2030 and strengthen its ongoing work with Evogene. In September of 2007, the two companies announced a collaboration to improve nitrogen use efficiency in corn, soybeans, canola and cotton.

We have been very impressed with Evogene’s discovery capabilities, particularly their computer-based, predictive biology efforts. We look forward to building upon our strong relationship with Evogene to deliver products to farmers’ fields that help meet the needs for increased food, fiber and energy while protecting the environment.

—Robb Fraley, Monsanto’s Chief Technology Officer

Under the terms of this collaboration:

  • Evogene will provide Monsanto with candidate genes discovered by Evogene’s computational platform that are predicted to improve yield, fertilizer utilization and a plant’s reaction to environmental stress. The genes will be validated in model plants.

  • The collaboration will provide Monsanto access to new genes strengthening its entire gene discovery program. Monsanto will receive exclusive licensing rights to such genes in a number of crops, including corn, soybean, canola, and cotton.

  • Monsanto will evaluate the licensed genes in its research and development pipeline. Products that emerge from the joint development will be commercialized by Monsanto through its branded and licensed businesses.

  • Evogene expects to receive approximately $35 million over the research term of the collaboration in the form of an upfront payment and annual research payments, in consideration for the performance of the research.

  • Evogene is also entitled to development milestone and royalty payments based on sales of any resulting products.

In a separate agreement, Monsanto has purchased an $18 million (USD) equity stake in Evogene and has agreed to purchase an additional $12 million in the future, subject to certain Evogene diligence requirements.

Evogene is a developer of improved plants for the ag-biotech and biofuel industries. The company’s proprietary product development platform combines computational gene discovery technologies, plant and field validation capabilities and unique selection systems. The platform’s computational biology component—the ATHLETE&madsh;is based on Compugen’s in-silico predictive discovery capabilities.

Evogene’s current programs focus on yield under normal and various environmental stress conditions (such as drought), fertilizer utilization and the improvement of plants specifically for biofuel uses.

August 31, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

California Gasoline Consumption Down 4.8%, Diesel 11.0% in May 2008

Gasoline consumption in California in May 2008 continued its downward trend, with Californians using 4.8% less gasoline in the month than during the same period the year before, according to figures from the State Board of Equilization (BOE). Diesel consumption in May 2008 was 11.0% below that of May 2007.

Total gallons of gasoline used were 65.0 million fewer in May 2008 than in May 2007. On a month-to-month basis, Californians used 26.2 million gallons (2.1%) more gasoline than in April 2008. Historically, May shows an increase over April, in part because of the Memorial Day holiday, which traditionally is the start of the summer when people travel more and consume more fuel.

The average California gas price at the pump rose from $3.85 per gallon in April to $4.02 in May 2008, which was 15.2% above the average price of May 2007 when it was $3.49. The BOE estimates that nearly twice as much sales tax is generated annually by higher gasoline prices than five years ago. Those higher prices generated approximately $3.6 billion in sales tax during 2007 when the average price was $3.12. In contrast, 2003’s gasoline sales generated $2.1 billion when the average pump price was $1.88.

May 2008 diesel fuel sold for use on California roads totaled 225 million gallons. A month-to-month comparison shows that in May 2008 Californians used 4.9 million (2.1%) gallons less diesel than April 2008. The decreased consumption reflects both the impacts of higher diesel prices and the slowing economy, which is associated with less freight movement on California roads and highways. California diesel prices were up 58% compared to May of 2007.

The BOE monitors gallons through tax receipts paid by fuel distributors. Figures for June 2008 are scheduled to be available near the end of September.

August 31, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Mayor of London Launches Climate Change Adaptation Strategy

Surface temperature of London at 21:30 on 7 August, 2003 showing the signature of the urban heat island during the killer heatwave. Click to enlarge. Source: NASA

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, launched the London Climate Change Adaptation Strategy—one of the first comprehensive climate change adaptation strategies produced by any major city worldwide. The launch of the strategy comes weeks after the UK Government’s chief scientist advised that the UK needs to adapt to increased average global temperatures of four degrees Celsius.

Expected results of climate change for London include warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers, with more extreme weather (heatwaves, tidal surges and heavy rainfall) and rising sea levels. These changes will increase the risk of heatwaves, floods and droughts, which will affect the prosperity of the city and the quality of life of Londoners.

Adaptation is a dynamic process. As the climate changes, so we must prepare for the impacts and opportunities that will occur. Measures that manage the impacts of our climate today may not provide the same level of protection or opportunity in the future, and so new measures will be needed as different thresholds are reached. There is therefore, no steady state of being ‘adapted’. There is considerable evidence to suggest that we are not actually very well adapted to our current climate—as the impacts of extreme weather regularly highlight.

Adapting to climate change is not about drafting lots of new policies. It is concerned with understanding how climate change may affect the world around us and then routinely integrating that understanding to make better decisions. Decisions about spatial planning and development, social justice, value for money and public safety will all be affected, positively or negatively, by climate change. Decisions with long-term implications will tend to be more affected by climate change as their outcomes will experience more climate change. It is essential that decisions taken today do not constrain adaptation options in the future.

—London Climate Change Adaptation Strategy

There are three key high-risk climate impacts for London: heatwaves, floods and drought.

  • Heat. 600 people died in the 2003 heatwave. A large proportion of London’s population is vulnerable to heat and much of London’s development and infrastructure is not designed for high temperatures.

    It is not possible to prevent a heatwave, and as heatwaves do not have a defined physical boundary (like a floodplain), the consequences are felt city-wide.

    While it is not possible to prevent a heatwave, it is possible to reduce vulnerable people and asset’s exposure to high temperatures and to reduce their sensitivity. Examples are managing London’s urban heat island through an ‘urban greening program’; designing new, and adapting existing buildings and infrastructure to minimize the need for cooling as far as possible; ensuring that where cooling is still required, low-carbon, energy efficient methods are used; ensuring that recommendations in the Heatwave Plan are implemented.

  • Flood. 15% of London currently lies in the ‘high’ risk flood zone, including 1.25 million people and extensive public infrastructure. Risk is increasing because of new development on flood plains.

    The Mayor will work with the Environment Agency to plan the next generation of tidal flood defences; encourage the restoration of London’s rivers to provide flood storage; and improve the permeability of London’s urban landscape through an urban greening program.

    Flood defences can reduce the probability of a flood, but there is always the risk that they might fail and therefore a residual risk exists to the people and assets behind the defences. The Mayor will review the London Strategic Flood Response Plan to identify the key assets at risk. The Mayor will promote flood resilient design for development at highest risk and raise public awareness through an information campaign.

  • Drought. As with a heatwave, a drought cannot be prevented, but its impacts can be managed.

    The Mayor’s Water Strategy proposes a hierarchy of actions: reduce water loss through better leakage management; improve the efficiency of water use in development; use reclaimed water for nonpotable uses; develop water resources that have least environmental impact. The Mayor will work with London Resilience Partnership to review the London Water Shortage Plan.

The potential climate impact on London’s transport network is also significant, the report notes, aside from the immediate impact of flooding on underground and overground rail and other surface transport or high temperatures causing discomfort and danger to passengers. Fluctuating soil moisture content, for example, can cause ground instability on clay soils, cutting embankments and water mains, while thermal expansion of tracks leads to speed restrictions and rail buckling, and melting binder in road material.

The combined effects of climate change could make travel on all forms of transport more uncomfortable and less predictable in the future. The emphasis of the Mayor’s transport policies is to encourage people to use public transport, walk or cycle rather than using their cars, through making public transport accessible, affordable and efficient and walking and cycling pleasant and safe. Anecdotal evidence suggests that extreme weather—high temperatures, rainfall or storminess—discourages people from using public transport, so unless steps are taken to manage the impacts of extreme weather on the transport network, the changing climate could make achieving the Mayor’s ambitions of getting people out of their cars and onto public transport more difficult.

—London Climate Change Adaptation Strategy

Transport for London (TfL) is tasked with preparing an adaptation plan for delivering the London Adaptation Strategy across their transport systems. The TfL adaptation plan will:

  • Undertake a climate impacts risk assessment to identify challenges and opportunities for each of the modes and the integration between the modes;

  • Improve the resilience of the existing network to the impacts of climate change;

  • Ensure major procurement contracts (including design, construction and maintenance) consider the impacts of climate change; and

  • Ensure passenger safety.

We need to concentrate efforts to slash carbon emissions and become more energy efficient in order to prevent dangerous climate change. But we also need to prepare for how our climate is expected to change in the future.

The strategy I am launching today outlines in detail the range of weather conditions facing London, which could both seriously threaten our quality of life—particularly that of the most vulnerable people—and endanger our pre-eminence as one of the world’s leading cities.

London is not unique—all major cities such as New York and Tokyo are at risk from climate change. By producing this strategy, we put London in a position of strength.

—Boris Johnson

The Mayor launched the strategy at a visit hosted by the Environment Agency to the Thames Barrier—London’s most famous example of a structure designed to manage the threat of extreme weather.

This strategy will now be open to consultation with the Greater London Authority bodies—the London Development Agency, Transport for London, London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, Metropolitan Police Authority—and the London Assembly although wider comment from organizations are invited. The Mayor will consider the responses submitted by these bodies and then publish a second version of the strategy for public consultation. The Mayor’s intention is to publish the public consultation draft of the London Climate Change Adaptation Strategy in 2009.


August 31, 2008 in Climate Change, Climate Change Adaptation | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Detroit Electric Claims New Investment and Technology Partners from Europe

Detroit Electric, the 100-year-old brand re-established in 2007 as a joint venture by ZAP and China Youngman Group (earlier post), said that a vehicle distributor and additional technology partners in Europe have agreed to provide capital financing and electric drive system technology for the venture. CEO Albert Lam expects to announce further details in the future.

Under the agreement, ZAP will transfer its ownership interest in Detroit Electric in exchange for North American sales and distribution rights for all vehicles developed and manufactured by Detroit Electric as well as US$750,000. According to Lam, China Youngman Automobile Group will relinquish its ownership under a separate arrangement, but will continue to provide vehicle platforms to Detroit Electric for pure electric transit buses and coaches.

Detroit Electric has attracted technology-based shareholders and investors in Europe to continue its development program for a range of four-wheeled, multi-passenger automobiles for manufacture in Malaysia and China. The company expects to announce its vehicle projects by the end of 2008.

Detroit Electric was an early 20th Century electric car, perhaps the most popular in history. The Anderson Electric Car Company of Detroit, Michigan built cars under the Detroit Electric brand between 1907 and 1939.

August 31, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Oil and Gas Operators Evacuating Platforms and Rigs in GOM; 76.77% of Oil Shut-In

Offshore oil and gas operators in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) are evacuating platforms and rigs in the path of Hurricane Gustav. Models now suggest that the hurricane will grow to Cat 5 status, and pass directly over the warm water of the Loop Current. The official National Hurricane Center forecast maintains Gustav at major hurricane status all the way to landfall late Monday or early Tuesday.

From offshore operators’ reports submitted to the US Minerals Management Service (MMS) as of 11:30 CST (16:30 GMT) on 30 August (Saturday), MMS estimates that approximately 76.77% of the oil production in the Gulf (998,021 barrels of oil per day) has been shut-in. Estimated current oil production from the Gulf of Mexico is 1.3 million barrels of oil per day.

MMS also estimates that approximately 37.16% of the natural gas production in the Gulf (2,750 mmcfd) has been shut-in. As of June 2008, estimated current natural gas production from the Gulf of Mexico was 7.0 billion cubic feet of gas per day. Since that time, gas production from the Independence Hub facility has increased and current gas production from the Gulf is estimated at 7.4 billion cubic feet of gas per day.

Based on data from offshore operator reports submitted to the US Minerals Management Service (MMS), personnel have been evacuated from a total of 223 production platforms, equivalent to 31.1% of the 717 manned platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Production platforms are the structures located offshore from which oil and natural gas are produced. These structures remain in the same location throughout a project’s duration unlike drilling rigs which typically move from location to location.

Personnel from 45 rigs have also been evacuated; this is equivalent to 37.2% of the 121 rigs currently operating in the Gulf.  Rigs can include several types of self-contained offshore drilling facilities including jackups, submersibles and semisubmersibles.

The production percentages are calculated using information submitted by offshore operators in daily reports. Shut-in production information included in these reports is based on what the operator expected to produce that day. The shut-in production figures therefore are estimates, which the MMS compares to historical production reports to ensure the estimates follow a logical pattern.

August 31, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 30, 2008

Three New Toyota Vehicles to Debut at Paris Motor Show

The diesel Urban Cruiser.

Toyota will introduce three new vehicles at the upcoming Paris Motor Show (Mondial de l’Automobile, 04-19 Oct): the third-generation Avensis, the production model of the iQ, showcased in design form earlier this year at the Geneva Motor Show (earlier post), and the 1.4-liter D-4D diesel All Wheel Drive (AWD) urban cruiser, a new “urban all-roader”. (Earlier post.)

Measuring less than 3 meters in length, the iQ is the world’s smallest production premium 4-seater. Toyota will offer the iQ with a choice of two gasoline engines and one diesel. With its compact design, low weight and aerodynamic shape, the iQ will have CO2 emissions starting at 99 g/km. Production will commence late this year, with 100,000 units expected worldwide in the first full year.

Important for a car of this size, the iQ will offer 360° protection to all occupants with high levels of active and passive safety, including the world’s first rear window curtain shield airbags.

The new Urban Cruiser will feature a 1.4-liter D-4D diesel engine. The CO2 emissions level is 133 g/km for the AWD version. Toyota also uses a 1.4L D-4D in its compact hatchback Auris. The 1.4-liter D-4D 90 engine in the Auris is well-suited for city driving, Toyota says, but is also economical out on the open road.

The engine has a flat torque curve, developing a maximum 190 Nm (140 lb-ft) from 1,800 to 3,000 rpm. Maximum power of 89 bhp (66 kW) is produced at 3,800 rpm. The engine has a catalytic converter inside the Exhaust Gas Recirculation unit’s cooling system to improve emissions control.

The Avensis is Toyota’s European flagship D-segment model, and will feature a new design as well as new, more powerful but more fuel efficient engines, the company says.

August 30, 2008 in Fuel Efficiency | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Researchers Developing Floating Power Plant

Yomiuri Shimbun. Researchers at Kyushu University in Japan are developing a large-scale at-sea power plant combining photovoltaics and windmills designed to match the output of a nuclear power reactor.

The planned plant will measure two kilometers by 800 meters and will be equipped with light-emitting diodes that shine light into the sea to promote seaweed growth, which in turn will absorb carbon dioxide and attract fish. The plant will comprise hexagonal floating units that support a length of netting on which wind-power generators and photovoltaic generators measuring six square meters will be placed.

About 200,000 photovoltaic generator units are to be placed about a meter apart on the netting, with the hexagonal units positioned at both ends. The units have a channel running through them to allow seawater to pass through. Each group of units will generate about 300,000 kilowatts of electricity, which means the generating capacity of the three planned sets will be equal to that of a nuclear power reactor.

The researchers project that the cost-to-power generation rate of the plant is between ¥70,000 to ¥140,000 per kW (US$643-US$1,287), compared to the ¥200,000 per kW (US$1,838) for constructing a nuclear power plant.

August 30, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (24) | TrackBack

DOE to Provide Up to $7M to Accelerate Commercialization of Energy Technology from Labs

The US Department of Energy (DOE) will provide up to $7 million to accelerate the movement of clean energy technologies from DOE’s national laboratories to the marketplace. The funding will help post-research technologies move toward commercial viability by providing pre-venture capital funding for activities such as prototype development, demonstration projects and market research.

The commercialization funds are intended to be spent only on activities such as prototype development, demonstration and deployment—not on further research and development.

Seven DOE National Laboratories have been selected to receive funding based on submitted applications. Amounts are rounded:

(link to respective tech transfer offices)
Oak Ridge National Laboratory $1.5
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory $1.5
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory $1.5
Argonne National Laboratory $0.7
Sandia National Laboratory $0.7
Los Alamos National Laboratory $0.6
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory $0.5

August 30, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Wichita, Kansas Unveils Hybrid Vehicle Fleet

City of Wichita (Kansas) officials unveiled a fleet of 12 Honda Civic hybrid vehicles, saying the 2008 model vehicles will be placed in service in September.

Eight of the hybrid vehicles will be part of the 10 vehicles used by City employees for travel to meetings, training, presentations and events. The other four hybrid vehicles will be placed into service in several City departments. They will help City departments evaluate hybrids in different work environments and under unique operating conditions. Employee feedback, along with other variables, will help provide information regarding additional hybrid vehicle purchases.

The hybrids cost $22,782 each—about $7,000 more than the sedans the City has been purchasing. With the fuel savings, if the price per gallon of gas is $3.50, the cost difference is expected to be paid back in a little more than 5 years.

August 30, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

EPA Approves Hurricane-Related Clean Fuel Waiver for 16 Parishes in Louisiana

In anticipation of Hurricane Gustav’s expected landfall in the northern US Gulf Coast on Monday evening, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) temporarily waived certain Federal clean fuel requirements for 16 parishes in the state of Louisiana until 8 September 2008.

Models are suggesting that Louisiana could take a direct hit from Gustav. Click to enlarge.

The waiver will allow greater flexibility for the fuel distribution system to be used to aid in the evacuation and subsequent return of affected residents. This waiver was granted by EPA in coordination with the Department of Energy, at the request of the State of Louisiana.

Given the projected path (models suggest landfall in Louisiana), severity of the storm (models suggest Gustav could swell to a Cat 4 hurricane before dropping to a Cat 3 at landfall), and the evacuation of major areas of the state, EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson determined that extreme and unusual supply circumstances exist, which are likely to result in a shortage of gasoline compliant with federal regulations. The federal waiver will help ensure an adequate supply of gasoline in the affected area during and in the immediate aftermath of the storm.

Parishes receiving the waiver. Click to enlarge.

The waiver applies to the 7.8 RVP (Reid vapor pressure) gasoline volatility requirements that apply in 16 parishes in Louisiana. Gasoline volatility standards are imposed during summer months to help control emissions from motor vehicles; temporary suspension of such standards will allow for the sale of available supplies of conventional gasoline that have higher volatility limits.

The 16 Louisiana parishes receiving waivers are: Ascension, Beauregard, Calcasieu, E. Baton Rouge, Iberville, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lafourche, Livingston, Orleans, Point Coupee, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. Mary, and W. Baton Rouge.

August 30, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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