Tuesday, September 17, 2019

All-electric pickup trucks, still right around the corner--but now weeks away instead of years


What everyone in Hawai`i knows is that electric vehicles wonʻt fully take off in the Islands until there are electric pickup trucks with plenty of range.

Okay, theyʻre here, or should be before the end of the month, and certainly before the end of the year, and more are coming.

Itʻs a big deal in Hawai`i, which annually sells twice as many light trucks as cars. And the number is growing. The Hawai`i Auto Dealers Association said the percentage of light trucks sold in the first half of this year compared to last year was up from 67.1 percent to 68.8 percent.

So when is the electric wave going to sweep into the truck category? Within weeks...or months...the record for meeting deadlines on electric trucks hasnʻt been great.

Hereʻs a rundown of whatʻs coming soonest.

Bollinger (seen above, from the company website) has a boxy electric pickup, its B2, under construction. Think a three-way cross between a Land Rover, a Jeep and a Hummer.

It should have  200-mile range, and more than 600 horsepower! Itʻs all aluminum and designed to last, and Bollinger says they plan for it to be the last truck youʻll ever need to buy. Their first model is promised any time now, maybe before the end of the month, although that deadline is approaching fast.

The Bollinger has an unconventional pickup truck look, and Tesla has also promised a different truck look. After that, most of the announced e-trucks look more conventional.

Elon Musk has promised the Tesla pickup will be—"most likely"—available by November this year. 
Thereʻs not much detail on the Tesla website, and Musk has said the design was still being tweaked just two months before his announced sale date. He has suggested a $49,000 sale price.   

There is the Rivian, a pickup truck with four-wheel-drive (electric motor on each wheel) and 400 plus miles of range. You can pre-order it, but you canʻt buy it yet. Maybe next year. The first one ought to start at $69,000.

A company called Atlis has a hot looking truck. Four-wheel-drive, 500 miles of range, but of course, you canʻt quite buy it yet. You can reserve one, and you can invest in the company. It might be on sale next year. One fun feature: cameras instead of mirrors.

Ford has said its all-electric F-150 will come maybe in 2021. And it is working with Volkswagen on a smaller electric pickup, maybe available in 2022. Ford has also invested in Rivian, so is there a Ford-branded Rivian in the future?

General Motors earlier this year said it will certainly have an electric pickup truck option when the market is ready for it. Within the past few days, it suggested it could have one on the market maybe as early as late in 2021, for the 2022 model year.

The United Auto Workers is currently on strike against GM, and the electric pickup is part of the negotiation. 

Several companies have released or are talking about hybrid pickups, but weʻre talking all-electric here.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2019

Monday, September 16, 2019

Those blazing new internet sunsets? Thank a couple of summer volcanic eruptions.


Great sunsets are the new kitties on social media.

Lots of folks are posting their photographs of 
spectacular glowing orange and purple sunsets. Whereʻd they come from? 

Once again, this pulse of superb sunsets is thanks to atmospheric pollution from a volcano.

(Since youʻll find sunset shots elsewhere, hereʻs a shot of whatʻs causing them. This is the plume from Kuril Islands volcano Raikoke, taken from the International Space Station. Credit: NASA.)

This time, it is the Russian volcano, Raikoke, which erupted in June this year. The volcano dumped vast amounts of sulfur gas into the upper atmosphere, giving sunsets a new reddish-purple tinge.

High altitude balloon measurements just found sulfur density 20 times normal in the stratosphere. The story was reported in last weekʻs issue of the journal Science


There were some great sunsets in 2008, that time due to the ash-filled eruption of the Alaskan volcano Kasatochi. It exploded in August of that year.  

And there were years of great sunsets in the 1990s from the Philippine volcano Pinatubo, which erupted in June 1991.

(In the NASA images from space at left, the upper shot is before Pinatubo. In the lower image, the layers of aerosols from 1991ʻs eruption of Pinatubo are visible in the atmosphere.)

The latest bit of atmospheric pyrotechnics is thanks to Raikoke or Raykoke, a Russian volcano that dominates an island in the Kuril chain of the Northwest Pacific. The June 22 eruption ejected a plume of sulfur dioxide and particulate matter 50,000 feet into the atmosphere.

The Raikoke event may be helped a little by another eruption in the first week of August, this one from the volcano Ulawun in Papua New Guinea. Its plume is believed to have reached 63,000 feet.

But while those are impressive events, the volume is not believed to be sufficient to alter climate. Pinatubo was identified responsible for a two-year period of global cooling that temporarily halted the planetʻs pattern of warming.

Pinatubo lifted 15 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, where it formed a layer of sulfuric acid droplets that both blocked sunlight and made great sunsets. 

© Jan TenBruggencate 2019

Saturday, September 14, 2019

El Nino has faded to neutral, but those storms are still there


Although storm activity in the eastern and central Pacific is pretty active right now, itʻs not due to El Nino conditions, which have faded away.

The latest NOAA El Nino update  says the ocean continues to be in an ENSO-Neutral condition. (ENSO is for El Nino Southern Oscillation). The NOAA Climate Prediction Center says there is a better than even chance that neutral conditions will continue through the winter.

Thatʻs important to folks in the Islands, because El Nino is associated with a higher risk of major storms like hurricanes. Ocean surface water temperatures in the mid-Pacific tend to be higher in El Nino years and lower in La Nina periods.

But that said, itʻs a game of percentages. We can still get hurricanes in neutral or even La Nina conditions.

As this is written, there are four tropical disturbances and one tropical storm, Kiko, spinning in the waters from south of Hawai`i east to Mexico. Kiko is expected to die out, but still might bring us some rain in a week or so.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2019

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

You have a pile of yard waste. How best to deal with it?


Walking stick, coulda been a bonfire.
So, youʻve got a pile of yard waste or pruned tree limbs. What to do with it?

1. You could use it; 2. You could let it rot (compost); or 3. You could burn it.

This is an argument for the first and the second, but not the third.

Some yard waste, if it doesnʻt have a bunch of weed seeds in it, can be mulch to keep weeds down and retain soil moisture. Or parts of it can be used as planting material (stick a plumeria stalk or a trimmed hibiscus branch in the ground and theyʻll grow). Chunks of wood can be slabbed up for construction projects, or carved into art objects. Really, you donʻt need to buy a walking stick...itʻs called a stick for a reason.

Composting is magical. It turns waste into a valuable soil amendment. And you can get all scientific about it to get the best, fastest results that produce enough heat to kill weed seeds. Or you can just pile the stuff up and the natural world will break it down in its own time. The crawly bugs and fungi and bacteria, the mesophylic and thermophylic organisms, the worms and the larvae, theyʻll do all the work.

What about the burning option? It gets the volume down fast, and creates wood ash, which has a lot of potash and other micronutrients that you could use in your yard.

There are times when burning is appropriate, but the downsides to burning are compelling. The heat sterilizes the soil under the fire and kills anything living in the greenwaste. If composting is a technique that celebrates life, fire is the opposite. Fire can be a natural process, but weʻre not talking about lightning-lit fires in native forests or savannahs.

(We can concede that for some species fire is a friend—grasses in many cases thrive after fires, both because the competition is killed off and because the ash fertilizes the soil. And we note in passing that a dry compost pile can sometimes catch fire, but thatʻs another discussion.)

What else?

Smoke from fires can be irritating to human (and other species) breathing and to eyes. It can make allergies worse. Sometimes toxic compounds that were locked up in the biological matter can be released into the atmosphere.

Wood smoke contains particular matter as well as chemicals in gas form. Breathing that stuff can have both short-term and long-term health impacts.

Hereʻs a paper on hazards of wood burning. And hereʻs a warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And then, of course, thereʻs the elephant in the room—the whole climate thing. Every time you burn, youʻre dumping a pulse of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. Itʻs why folks are so exercised about the burning of the Amazon forests.

A few boring statistics: For every pound of wood you burn, you create 1.5 to 1.9 pounds of carbon dioxide (depending on the carbon density of the wood). Carbon dioxide, of course, is a big greenhouse gas. You also produce other greenhouse gases, like nitrogen oxides.

So to go back to the start, weʻre all better off if you make something (compost, mulch, a carved elephant, a picture frame) than if you immediately convert your woody waste to greenhouse gas. Youʻre just locking up that carbon for longer.

It seems clear that keeping that carbon in the soil rather than in the atmosphere is a good thing. And itʻs a good thing for more than just the climate, according to a 2005 article by Canadian researcher Henry H.Janzen. 

"Soil organic matter is far more than a potential tank for impounding excess CO2; it is a relentless flow of C atoms, through... myriad...streams—some fast, some slow—wending their way through the ecosystem, driving biotic processes along the way."

© Jan TenBruggencate 2019

Sunday, September 8, 2019

More on vaping deaths: black market vape fluid implicated, and the aerosol not the liquid has most caustic lung impacts


There is intriguing new evidence, but no hard conclusions yet, in the wave of hospitalizations and deaths associated with vaping.

Nearly 500 people have been hospitalized across the country with lung disease in the past few months, and five have died. All confirmed they had used e-cigarettes in the weeks or months before becoming ill.

Vaping has only been in the United States since 2006, but the sudden upsurge in hospital admissions starting early this summer is new. Researchers have recognized health issues with electronic cigarettes for some time, but now people are getting serious lung damage and some are dying.

It raises the question: It was always medically questionable, but what happened thatʻs new? What is making all these people so very sick, all of a sudden?

Early reports indicate that all the patients had used nicotine-based vaping fluids, but most of the sick had also used fluids containing a product from marijuana, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) or CBD (cannabidiol). Some of the THC vape fluid came from black market sources, so itʻs hard to know how they were created.

New York State health officials reported they have found unapproved compounds in some of the black market THC vape fluids.

Researchers say the disease appears to be one associated with chemical attack on the lungs. That is relevant since much of the early concern about vaping impacts was about the impact of heat—the electrically heated smoke that could potentially "cook" mouth and lung tissues.

Many of the sick admitted acquiring cheap THC vaping oil from online sites or from "pop-up" retail vendors. Most of the victims admitted using both tobacco and marijuana compounds. It is possible that nearly all the victims used at least some THC fluid, but wonʻt admit it, one researcher said.

"Not everyone reported using THC oil, but we can't say if that was because they were scared to acknowledge it or because they never used it," Ngozi Ezike, MD, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said in a report in MedPage Today. 

The Centers for Disease Control said that some patients reported getting nausea, vomiting or diarrhea before they noticed lung problems like trouble breathing or chest pain. Several went for medical care several times before they were admitted to hospitals.

Many are being treated with supplemental oxygen, and some medical centers have had treatment success with heavy doses of steroids. In North Carolina, they used intravenous doses of methylprednisone. 

Some patients who have been released after treatement continue to have long-term lung damage.

There appears to be some suggestion that itʻs not (or not just) the nicotine or THC that is causing the problem, but some other compound in the vaping fluids. More than 100 such compounds are being tested, but as yet, the CDC says it doesnʻt have a prime culprit.

"To date, the investigation has not identified any single substance or e-cigarette product that has been consistently associated with illness," the CDC said in an August 30, 2019, report. 

That said, some health officials are focusing on a product called vitamin E acetate, which has been recovered from the vaping gear and in the lungs of many victims. The New York State Department of Health issued a statement last week, that indicated this compound is a target of its investigation.

"Laboratory test results showed very high levels of vitamin E acetate in nearly all cannabis-containing samples analyzed by the Wadsworth Center as part of this investigation. At least one vitamin E acetate containing vape product has been linked to each patient who submitted a product for testing. Vitamin E acetate is not an approved additive for New York State Medical Marijuana Program-authorized vape products and was not seen in the nicotine-based products that were tested."

While vitamin E products are not known to be harmful when eaten or applied to the skin, there is concern that when heated and taken into the lungs, they could cause disease. The New York State Department of Health "continues to investigate its health effects when inhaled because its oil-like properties could be associated with the observed symptoms."

But before we all go pointing fingers at specific compounds, there is at least some evidence that itʻs the vaping process itself that causes health effects.

A scientific paper released in the journal Thorax just a month ago tested live human lung tissue against vaping fluid in liquid form, and vaping smoke both with and without nicotine. (In this test, THC was not included.) 

It is a small but elegant study conducted by British and American institutions, and researchers found that human lungs react badly to vape aerosol, and worse to the smoke than to the raw fluid.

Here is Science Dailyʻs report on the study. And here is the paper itself.

Unvaped fluid increased inflammation of lung tissue, but exposure to vaped fluid was far worse, causing more inflammation and also lung cell death. There was evidence vaped fluid also reduced the lungʻs ability to deal with bacteria—possibly setting people up for more severe infections.

"We show a significant increase in cytotoxicity caused by the vaping process itself," the authors write. Cytotoxicity is the quality of being poisonous to cells.

While the study was small and has limitations, its conclusions are consistent with other medical advice.

"While further research is needed to fully understand the effects of e-cigarette exposure in humans in vivo, we suggest continued caution against the widely held opinion that e-cigarettes are safe," the authors write.

For more on the vaping issue, see our previous post: https://raisingislands.blogspot.com/2019/09/hundreds-hospitalized-five-dead.html

© Jan TenBruggencate