The Next Frontier: Artificial Photosynthesis

The ultimate model for clean fuels? (Photo: KQED QUEST)

Amidst all the fretting over the development of solar and wind technology, it hasn’t been lost on some scientists that there are organisms on the planet that have already cracked the renewable energy code: plants.

Photosynthesis is a highly efficient way of converting sunlight to fuel. So why not try to copy them?

Continue reading

Climate Research Conference, Day 1

About 300 scientists, policymakers and resource managers turned out for the California Energy Commission’s 5th annual conference, with about twice that number watching via video webcast.

The focus for much of day one was marking the progress toward regional modeling, i.e. fine-tuning the well established global climate models to yield specific data and hence, forecasting power for local areas. Interesting findings so far include an apparent decrease in the intensity of SoCal’s Santa Ana winds, notorious for fanning wildfires in southland canyons.

Also, Robert Bornstein of San Jose State University is about to publish his study, showing a persistent cooling trend along the California coast, since the mid 1970s. According to Bornstein’s data, areas influenced by the sea breeze have actually cooled an average of 0.4 degrees C per decade over the period, a rate faster than the rest of the state has been warming. Bornstein was quick to point out that he’s not challenging the premise that California is warming as a whole. In fact, he says the coastal cooling trend is yet another weird artifact of global warming.

Stanford ecologist Terry Root dropped the first bombshell of the conference by uttering  a term deplored by her ilk: species “triage.” Root says the climate pressures on California wildlife species are so dire that we will need to pick and choose which ones to save. Asked where to start, she suggested those species that provide “ecosystem services,” such as insects that assist with plant pollination. “In an emergency situation,” she said, “you ask as many questions as you can–but you have to act. We’re plodding along, doing as much as we can. It’s not fun.”

Root’s bird phenology (migration timing) studies were the subject of a story I did for The California Report. The principal interview for that report, Dena Macmynowski, was a graduate student working with Root.