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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Geothermal Energy offering massive untapped potential

Story from TheStar.com:

Geothermal Power offers huge potential to replace oil and natural gas

Canada has significant `earth energy' potential, but critics say it's not doing much about it

By Tyler Hamilton, Toronto Star Energy Reporter

Canada's obsession with "clean coal" and carbon capture technologies has left it blind to the vast potential of its own geothermal resources, says the head of one of the country's few publicly traded developers of geothermal power.

Gary Thompson, chief executive of Sierra Geothermal Power Inc. of Vancouver, said the neglect has left Canada a laggard among peers who view emission-free geothermal power as a strategic part of their electricity mix.

"We're one of the few countries with significant geothermal potential that's not doing anything about it," said Thompson, adding that the federal government has shown little interest, despite calls for more study. "It's rather disconcerting. They've really been letting Canadians down."

Thompson recently became vice-chair of the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association in Calgary. He said he joined because geothermal "is not getting any love" in Canada and he wanted to create more public awareness of the potential.

It's a suggestion Natural Resources Canada disputes. "The Government of Canada supports increased supply of clean electricity from renewable sources, including geothermal," said department spokesperson Héloïse Perron, citing a government ecoENERGY program that supports up to 4,000 megawatts of electricity development from geothermal, wind, solar and other renewable power systems.

Critics, however, say the inclusion of geothermal power under a general program designed around renewables is not akin to specifically backing research and development of the resource.

"It's really a shotgun approach," said Michal Moore, former chief economist at the U.S. National Renewable Laboratory and a senior fellow at the University of Calgary's Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy.

Moore co-authored a study released last week, mostly focused on Alberta, that recommended geothermal be "subject to a co-ordinated and multi-faceted ongoing research program." It concluded that next-generation geothermal technologies could reduce or substitute for proposed clean coal or nuclear plants "at competitive prices."

But Thompson said more groundwork is needed. He said the association's first goal is to have Natural Resources Canada, through the Geological Survey of Canada, invest in a thorough assessment of the country's geothermal potential – something that hasn't been done in more than two decades. It's also preparing a policy white paper that will break down myths that have hindered development of the resource.

"A lot of politicians just don't understand it," Thompson said.

"In their view it has no potential."

Meanwhile, billions of dollars are being put into unproven technologies aimed at giving the oil sands and coal industry a greener image, he said.

Last week, Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach announced plans for a $2 billion fund that would accelerate development of carbon capture and storage technology.

The geothermal power plants tap hot temperatures kilometres below the surface to create steam that spin turbines that generate electricity.

Conventional geothermal, or earth energy, facilities tend to be located in countries, including Canada, that lie along the so-called Ring of Fire – a region with shallow heat.

Though out of date, estimates for potential in Canada range from 3,000 to 6,000 megawatts, much higher as drilling and engineering costs fall.

Thompson's company has focused its efforts on Nevada because of U.S. incentives that help fund early drilling costs.

The U.S. also offers a production tax credit of two cents per kilowatt-hour, while Canada offers one cent.

"I had done a lot of research in Canada and after several years ended up banging my head against the wall," said Thompson, recalling the difficulty of getting support.

"We ended up looking at projects stateside."

It's a similar story for Nevada Geothermal Power Inc., Polaris Geothermal Inc. and Western GeoPower Corp., all Canadian-based companies that have done most of their development outside of Canada.

The only commercial geothermal power initiative under development in Canada is Western Geo's South Meager project in B.C.

Germany, on the other hand, is forging ahead with next-generation "enhanced geothermal" that will make it possible to develop the technology in more locations around the world.

In the U.S., the Department of Energy last month pledged to invest up to $90 million (U.S.) over four years into research related to enhanced geothermal systems.

More info: Geothermal Energy Investing

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Dengue Fever spreading; early detection and replacement of fluids crucial


Dengue fever: spreading and often undiagnosed
Travellers are sometimes unaware they have contracted the illness, leaving them vulnerable to more dangerous subsequent infections


The Canadian Press

July 1, 2008

It goes by the nickname "break bone fever." And after his brush with dengue fever, Phil Day knows why.

Mr. Day, an expatriate Canadian living in Singapore, contracted the mosquito-borne viral disease in 2007 after years of working in cities across Asia. He and his wife, Karen, were both afflicted, struggling through an illness that left them exhausted and in pain.

While they were sick, they needed to be monitored for signs they were developing the severest form of the disease, a life-threatening hemorrhagic fever (neither did). That monitoring required them to go to hospital for daily blood tests. On one of those trips, Mr. Day saw a sight that embodied how he was feeling.

"We were waiting at a traffic light and this old guy, probably 90 years old or so, crossed the street with a cane. He was moving very slowly and every step looked painful," he recounts via e-mail.

"And I turned to my wife and said: 'That's it. That's exactly how I feel.' "

Dengue fever is a disease of warm climes; Canada's cold winters deter the virus from setting up shop here.

But the thousands of Canadians who travel to the wide swaths of the world where the virus does spread are at some risk of becoming infected with a virus that can trigger symptoms ranging from flu-like fatigue and aching joints to a hemorrhagic fever that can kill.

A newly published study looking at trends in dengue infections in travellers notes that the past 20 years have seen a marked expansion of the virus's turf, from Southeast Asia to the islands of the South Pacific, the Caribbean and the Americas. There have even been domestically acquired infections in the United States.

Dengue fever has become a more common diagnosis than malaria for ill travellers returning from tropical regions other than Africa, notes the study, published in the July issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

An analysis of cases reported to the GeoSentinel Surveillance Network, an international collaboration of specialized travel and tropical medicine clinics, shows that from October, 1997, through February, 2006, 522 of nearly 25,000 ill travellers seen at network clinics were diagnosed with dengue or dengue hemorrhagic fever.

While that is only 2.1 per cent, it is also only a fraction of the cases that would have occurred during that period, says one of the study's authors, Kevin Kain. Not everyone who falls sick after a trip will end up at a travel clinic.

"Many people will have ... feverish illnesses that don't progress and they just stay at home," says Dr. Kain, director of the travel and tropical medicine clinic at Toronto's University Health Network.

"Or they present to their GP and no one ever does a confirmation test - no one ever does [blood testing]. So this is the tip of the iceberg, the cases we're seeing."

Anyone who has had dengue fever once faces a much higher risk of developing dengue hemorrhagic fever if they contract the disease again. Nine out of 10 cases of dengue hemorrhagic fever occur in people who have previously had dengue fever, Dr. Kain says.

"The first time you get it you feel like you're going to die, but you survive. But it's the subsequent infections [that are dangerous]. So people want to know if they've actually had dengue, because then they're a little more apprehensive about subsequent exposures."

Every year, an estimated 50 million to 100 million people worldwide contract dengue fever, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. And several hundred thousand people come down with dengue hemorrhagic fever.

In Canada, 40 to 50 laboratory-confirmed cases of dengue fever are reported every year, in travellers who have visited parts of the world where the type of mosquito that spreads the virus are found.

Protecting against infection poses real challenges for travellers in these areas. There is no vaccine and, unlike for malaria, no pills that block infection. So it comes down to DEET-based insect repellents and luck.

The disease cannot spread from person to person directly, though mosquitoes become infected by drawing blood from an infected person and then pass the virus along.

The disease typically manifests itself with a high fever, severe headache, backache, joint pains, nausea and vomiting, eye pain and rash. Younger children usually suffer milder disease than older children and adults.

In a portion of cases, though, the hemorrhagic syndrome develops. Blood begins to pool under the skin and there can be bleeding from the nose and gums and even internal bleeding. Blood vessels become leaky, which can lead to blood loss, circulatory system failure, shock and death.

There are no drugs to combat the virus. But with good care - which largely involves replacing fluids - most people will survive. The earlier treatment starts, however, the better.

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