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September 2009

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Today’s New York Times has an article about the oil industry which is interesting for its perspective. “More than 200 oil discoveries have been reported so far in 2009 in dozens of countries,” it says. These, “have totaled about 10 billion barrels in the first half of the year.”

But to put this in perspective we should remember that the production rate for 2008 (the amount extracted for use) was 24 billion barrels per year. In order to keep up with demand at today’s levels, the oil industry would HAVE to find new reserves in the amount of 24 billion barrels EACH year. To say that they’ve found 10 billion this year is only saying that they have added 5 months to the end-date of total depletion.

See the table below for a summary by country via. The total figure at the bottom in bbl/day of production is 63.5 million (x 365 days = 24 billion per year):

Summary of Reserve Data as of 2008
Country Reserves Production Reserve life 1
109 bbl 109 m3 106 bbl/d 103 m3/d years
Saudi Arabia 267 42.4 10.2 1,620 72
Canada 179 28.5 3.3 520 149
Iran 138 21.9 4.0 640 95
Iraq 115 18.3 2.1 330 150
Kuwait 104 16.5 2.6 410 110
United Arab Emirates 98 15.6 2.9 460 93
Venezuela 87 13.8 2.7 430 88
Russia 60 9.5 9.9 1,570 17
Libya 41 6.5 1.7 270 66
Nigeria 36 5.7 2.4 380 41
Kazakhstan 30 4.8 1.4 220 59
United States 21 3.3 7.5 1,190 8
China 16 2.5 3.9 620 11
Qatar 15 2.4 0.9 140 46
Algeria 12 1.9 2.2 350 15
Brazil 12 1.9 2.3 370 14

12 1.9 3.5 560 9
Total of top seventeen reserves 1,243 197.6 63.5 10,100 54
1 Reserve to Production ratio (in years), calculated as reserves / annual production. (from above)

So how did the article parse these facts?

It is normal for companies to discover billions of barrels of new oil every year, but this year’s pace is unusually brisk. New oil discoveries have totaled about 10 billion barrels in the first half of the year, according to IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates. If discoveries continue at that pace through year-end, they are likely to reach the highest level since 2000.

If discovering just enough extra to keep up with one year’s worth of 2008 global demand is referred to as “the highest level” and “unusually brisk” then we are surely deluding ourselves. And there is no mention of whether the discoveries are “proved” or not. They may be unrecoverable, or only partially recoverable.

BP actually has a quite honest assessment of the facts on its website. They note that actually:

Global proved oil reserves in 2008 fell by 3 billion barrels to 1,258 billion barrels, with an R/P ratio of 42 years.

If BP’s own estimates are at a reserve to production ratio of 42 years, then we can be sure that they are being conservative in their numbers. We may not have but 25 years until the cost of speculation and the increased resources required for more complicated recovery make the entire system collapse under the weight of market price instability. And please keep in mind that:

…proved reserves include an official estimate of oil sands ‘under active development’.

To include in the proved calculations reserves that will require severe ecological destruction, waste of water resources, and a cost per barrel at least twice that of conventional production is a bit self-deceiving.

Actually, if you look at the breakdown of the proved reserve types, only 30% is conventional oil. The other 70% requires more energy and natural resources to recover and will therefore be more expensive on the market.

With 1,258 billion barrels of oil proved recoverable reserves in the world, what is the value of the discovery of 10 billion more? It is less than 8/10 of one percent. By 2020 we will be using about 30 billion barrels per year, so the oil industry would have to discover three times as much each year (proven!) just to keep up. The bottom line is that the peak oil chart has not changed even a hairline. All that I’m saying is that preparing for an oil-free future that is all too close should probably not include front page coverage regarding new unproved discoveries.

Competition Jury

Below is the list of confirmed jurors for the upcoming competition. This international panel of esteemed individuals are leaders in their fields. They were chosen because we believe they will offer a truly interdisciplinary approach to the judging process with the highest standards. We are delighted and honored to have them involved with the Land Art Generator Initiative.

Interdisciplinary Arts

Jennifer Leonard
Interdisciplinary Project Leader at IDEO
Co-author of Massive Change (with Bruce Mau)

Jeanette Ingberman
Co-Founder/Director, Exit Art, NYC

Lauren Rosati
Assistant Curator, Exit Art, NYC

Jonah Brucker-Cohen
Researcher, artist and fellow in the Disruptive Design Team of the NTRG
Adjunct Assistant Professor of communications at NYU’s ITP

Jenna Didier & Oliver Hess
Directors, Materials & Applications (, architecture and landscape research
principals, Didier Hess (, public art studio.


Brett Steele
Director of the Architectural Association School of Architecture and AA Publications, London

Alice Chan
Manager of Architecture Masdar City, Abu Dhabi

Christopher Prelitz
Chief Sustainability Officer
New Leaf America, Inc., Laguna Beach, California

Urban Planning

Lukáš Sokol
Architect and Urban Planner at the Urban Planning Council (UPC) of Abu Dhabi


Georgeta Vidican, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, Abu Dhabi


Beth Carruthers
Independent Curator
Consultant, Arts and Sustainability Instructor, Critical & Cultural Studies - Continuing Studies, Emily Carr University, Vancouver

Sustainable Development

Dr. Mohamed H. Newera, P.E., MBA
Masdar Delivery and Design Divisions Director, Abu Dhabi

Reuben Andrews
Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), Dubai

Architectural Journalism

Michiel van Raaij
Editor Eikongraphia, Publisher

click to enlarge

We have been delighted at the popularity of the graphic that we posted a month ago. Now it is available in a poster size pdf for download! Click here, or on the thumbnails to the right to download.

If you download the poster for your use, we ask that you please donate some small token amount by clicking the donate button in the sidebar to the right. Your donation will go toward the prize money that we are currently raising for the design competition.


click to enlarge

We now have a poster size version of this infographic showing the era of fossil fuels as compared with the long and awesome human history. It shows how the carbon fuel era is only a very brief interlude, and makes evident that the choices that we make today will have an impact on what happens on the other side of what is really an exception to the ongoing state of affairs. Click here, or on the thumbnails to the right to download.

If you download the poster for your use, we ask that you please donate some small token amount by clicking the donate button on the right sidebar. Your donation will go toward the prize money that we are currently raising for the design competition.


Competition Website is Up


We’ve done a little re-arranging over here at LAGI virtual headquarters. As you can see from the navigation bar at the top of the page we have a new link “Competition Site” on the far right-hand side. There you will find the project schedule and a list of confirmed jurors that we have on board so far. We are pleased to have so much positive feedback from such an esteemed cast of professionals. It is truly an international and multidisciplinary set.

This blog will continue to be dedicated to discussions of sustainability, cleantech, energy experiments, and the environmental arts movement.

The competition will be entirely on-line via the competition site portal (this way it is a ‘green’ as possible: no flying people in, no printing of boards and mailing, etc.).

The jury will also be conducting their selection process on a secure site. All entries will appear anonymously to them. In this way we can engage the good opinion of a larger number of thinkers and arrive at a very valid and practical result. The complete brief and guidelines will be available on December 7, 2009. It will have all of the information about the process, procedures, and criteria.

Think big for this project. The brief is being finalized, but the sites that are being considered are vast expanses of landscape. It is the intention to be bold and beautiful and capture the minds of those who could see the value of the projects from the perspective of a developer and a municipal planner.

You are submitting ideas to forward the cause of sustainability and the pragmatic movement of the arts so as to contribute to a future of aesthetic infrastructure. As we move towards greater microgeneration and localized distribution of infrastructure, it will necessarily be more visible to us on a daily basis. Gone will be the gas or coal-fired power plant miles from the outskirts of town with its rusty chain-link fence and dirty bellowing stacks. renewable energy plants will be increasingly located in our neighborhoods and in our city centers, even integrated with buildings themselves.

We see the development of land art generator projects as a part of this greater endeavor. It is a way to show that energy can be beautiful and conceptually challenging. That it can be more than just itself and can speak to people on multiple levels of meaning. By creating works of art that solve practical problems we can at once engage minds, solve problems, and lift the arts.

We will have prize money, the exact amounts of which we are not 100% sure on, as we are continuing to gain pledges of financial support. It will not be insignificant — we are interested in making this attractive to talented people and we understand the value of your time.


I found links to these patent drawings on Inventing Green.

What is fascinating and relevant to a study of aesthetic infrastructure is that there are so many ways to harness a natural source of energy such as the ocean’s waves. Sometimes is is hard to think past the ubiquitous geometries of the pure utilitarian forms that have come to dominate the industry, especially in the case of wind power. But looking into these individual minds from 100+ years ago, it is exciting to see the vast expanse of creativity employed.
Never mind of course that the advent of cheap sources of fossil fuels snuffed out the ripening trajectory of this technology. It is only now that we are picking up this ball again

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A re-working of Jean Arp’s 1942 Silencieux that I have dubbed Solarcieux

Nanosolar has announced the release to the market of its ultra-low cost (CIGS printed on aluminum foil back-contacted with metal-wrap-through design) nanoparticle ink flexible solar panels. A PDF of the details from the company can be downloaded here. This could be a real breakthrough in efficiency and affordability of CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide) technology. It is less energy intensive than silicon-based technologies in its production and achieves greater efficiencies in the field as high as 21% (the latest panels from nanosolar are only at 12% total panel efficiency, but the cost per square meter is significantly lower which is the major breakthrough).

How sustainable are the resources that go into CIGS?


As with many natural resources, total amount of copper on Earth is vast (around 1014 tons just in the top kilometer of Earth’s crust, or about 5 million years worth at the current rate of extraction). However, only a tiny fraction of these reserves is economically viable, given present-day prices and technologies. Various estimates of existing copper reserves available for mining vary from 25 years to 60 years, depending on core assumptions such as the growth rate.


Up until 1924, there was only about a gram of isolated indium on the planet. Indium is produced mainly from residues generated during zinc ore processing but is also found in iron, lead, and copper ores. Based on content of indium in zinc ore stocks, there is a worldwide reserve base of approximately 6,000 tonnes of economically-viable indium. This figure has led to estimates suggesting that, at current consumption rates, there is only 13 years’ supply of indium left. However, the Indium Corporation, the largest processor of indium, claims that, on the basis of increasing recovery yields during extraction, recovery from a wider range of base metals (including tin, copper and other polymetallic deposits) and new mining investments, the long-term supply of indium is sustainable, reliable and sufficient to meet increasing future demands. This conclusion also seems reasonable in light of the fact that silver, three times less abundant than Indium in the earths crust, is currently mined at approximately 18,300 tonnes per annum, which is 40 times greater than current indium mining rates.


Gallium does not exist in free form in nature, and the few high-gallium minerals such as gallite (CuGaS2) are too rare to serve as a primary source of the element or its compounds. Its abundance in the Earth’s crust is approximately 16.9 ppm. Gallium is found and extracted as a trace component in bauxite and to a small extent from sphalerite. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimates gallium reserves to exceed 1 million tonnes, based on 50 ppm by weight concentration in known reserves of bauxite and zinc ores. Some flue dusts from burning coal have been shown to contain small quantities of gallium, typically less than 1% by weight.


The reserve base for selenium is based on identified copper deposits. Coal generally contains between 0.5 and 12 parts per million of selenium, or about 80 to 90 times the average for copper deposits. The recovery of selenium from coal, although technically feasible, does not appear likely in the foreseeable future. An assessment of U.S. copper resources indicated that total copper resources in identified and undiscovered resources totals about 550 million metric tons, almost eight times the estimated U.S. copper reserve base.

Assuming that sustainable extraction and refining processes are set in place it seems that there is enough of the raw materials to continue to supply CIGS panels for the near term but probably not in the abundance necessary to replace any real significant amount of fossil-fuel-combustion energy production. It’s hard to say from the numbers and I’m not sure how much goes into each square meter of nano-technology based panel production. The “ink” is probably very thin.


But questions of sustainability aside, what is the most amazing part of the advancements in nanoparticle photovoltaic technology from the standpoint of its application to Land Art projects is the ability for the surfaces to be three-dimensionally applied and configured. One can easily imagine endless variations of sculptural forms with the surfaces feeding solar energy into a grid of collectors.

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I’ve stumbled across a number of articles recently that seriously propose that we set up huge solar arrays in space and wirelessly beam kilowatts back to earth such as this one highlighting the plans being discussed in Japan. The originators these plans are very legitimate and there is even an international conference being held right now on the subject in Ontario. The subject has its own advocacy blog. Then there is the National Space Society version. NASA is working on it. MIT is working on it:

Space solar power stations are envisioned as large solar power collectors in geosynchronous earth orbit. Solar energy would be gathered by photovoltaic cells and converted to microwaves so that it can be beamed wirelessly to receivers on earth. Space solar power is clean, inexhaustible, available 24 hours a day, and has the potential to generate as much energy as terrestrial power plants.

If the orbit is geosynchronous though, wouldn’t it be in the shadow of the earth for at least 8 hours per day? I suppose that the further away from the earth it is placed in orbit, the longer the sunlight would strike its surfaces, but it also seems that the limiting technological factor of the beaming of microwaves from the satellite to the surface of the earth would also require that the orbit be as low as possible.

The idea is tempting since the available energy outside of the atmosphere is 136% that available on the surface due to the reflective effect of the atmosphere itself. The surface are required to fuel the world with solar would therefore be 74% of that required on a land-based installation.


And what about the arrows in this diagram that are bouncing back into space? Don’t we want that to continue to be the case? All things equal, wouldn’t it be adding to the overall amount of heat energy on the planet to harness more Joules of solar radiation than would naturally be absorbed by dark soils and plants down below? The law of conservation of energy tells me that bringing more sun energy into the atmosphere than would naturally be absorbed is not necessarily a good idea. Sure the energy is immediately captured as electricity and then sent to run kinetic devices, but the running of those devices creates heat and that heat is then a part of our inner atmosphere. Multiplying this continuously over many years and the effect may add up.

I don’t claim to know the answer to this, but I’m a bit of a precautionary person when it comes to messing with the natural order of things. Maybe it is better to stay down on the beautiful surface of the planet where we naturally are comfortable and to figure out solutions to our problems that are based on earth rather than out in space.

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Solar Roads


Two weeks ago it was announced that Solar Roadways received a $100,000 grant from the US DOT to prototype their idea for a “decentralized, secure, intelligent, self-healing power grid” that would “end dependence on fossil fuels and revitalize the economy”. I first saw it here on inhabitat.

Solar Roadway

This follows on many other road-related energy generating ideas for the unused right-of-way areas on the sides and medians of roads. These include the Green Roadways Project, ideas for micro-generation turbines in jersey barriers, and state-financed linear solar farms along highways. There are even prototypes being built with piezoelectric energy harvesting devices embedded in the road surface itself.

These are all fascinating ideas. Hopefully as we progress from the research and development phase and into the prototype and commercial viability phases, there is also a level of thought around aesthetics and the usefulness beyond the level of utility of what are sure to be extremely visible installations that will be passed by millions of drivers on a daily basis. I’m sure that integration with billboards and other advertising media will be in the works as these turbines and linear solar farms begin to make a more ubiquitous appearance on the periphery our highways.

As for the actual road surfaces providing a continuous smart grid, the Solar Roadways version is intriguing but I wonder if there would be a way to embed a more nano-scale technology into a surface that is pour-able and plastically mend-able rather than one that is more macro-mechanical and panelized. I’m sure that the inventors are working on the material properties and stability but the heaving of the freeze-thaw cycle in northern climates will surely be of grave concern to such rigid modules.

The potential to have vehicles that are constantly powered off of such a road system is of course the next step in the enticing arc of this narrative. The transition to this would be probably in phases, the first of which would be powering stations that are fed from the solar-road grid. The next would be to transfer the energy on the fly. A system being developed in Korea would embed the hardware for such a transfer in the road surface.

Another idea would be to use the recently resurgent ideas of wireless energy transfer to provide a field of energy through which vehicles would pass. The devices that would generate this energy field would be placed at the shoulder of the roadway at sufficient intervals. Hopefully such devices would be designed to be appealing to the eye. They could even have the added benefit of acting as noise canceling devices by sending out inverted sound waves of the real-time noise emitted from the passing traffic.

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