Re: Near-Term Scenarios

Paul Hughes (
Sun, 17 May 1998 20:37:34 -0700

GBurch1 wrote:

> -- Paul Hughes pointed out that the web, combined with increasing computer
> power might make "ecological accounting" a realistic near-term development.
> I'd encountered this idea before, but completely forgot about it in my first
> pass. A comment: I think (1) the "greens" and the big accounting firms would
> have to work together somehow to develop some kind of GAAP with this idea
> before it became common and (2) some kind of market or governmental impetus
> would have to drive it before it was widely adopted. Perhaps effective
> micropayments for resource handling would do the trick.

Actually, I think there are free market incentives for organizations accounting
for their waste. That incentive is efficiency and financial gain. Kevin Kelly
pointed out in his book 'Out of Control", the idea of industrial ecology parks
where one companies waste is used by another as raw material in their
manufacturing process. Right now, most companies spend large sums of money either
disposing of their waste within the strictures of the EPA, recycle, or dump it
illegally. Not only is the waste itself, a marker of the manufacturers
inefficiency, but a costly liability in today's stricter environmental policy.

In collaboration with a nearby cement plant that happened to be owned by its
parent company Texas Industries Inc., Chaparral set out to find new opportunities
reduce waste generation, increase efficiency and create value. The results have
been noteworthy. Chaparral has reduced the volume of baghouse dust (a hazardous
waste which costs
$220 ton to dispose of) to 28% below industry average, reduced lime content in the
dust by 87% (allowing it to be used in metals recovery), reduced lime use by
one-third and saved over $1 million in 1994 by using 5130 tons of recycled dust in
the furnace.

In 1993 Chaparral improved magnetic separation of slag, (which it had previously
sold as a road-building material for $0.55/ton), recycling iron back to the
furnace and selling the resulting higher grade, low iron slag to the cement plant
at $22/ton. Added revenue, $6 million. Chaparral has replaced hazardous mill
cleaning solvents: non-organic caustic, halogenated organic and ignitable organic
with non-toxic products, and reduced solvent use overall by 160 tons/year, for an
annual savings of $400,000. And closed loop processes have enabled Chaparral to
cut make-upwater consumption in half.

The only limitation of this idea so far has been geographic proximity. The
internet can alleviate this problem by allowing otherwise geographically remote
industries to start selling their waste products to companies who could use the
raw materials found within it. Even if companies gave their waste away, it would
be much cheaper than the money they now spend on disposal logistics.

> In the case of space tech, the astonishing number of serious private launching
> ventures seem very likely to yield impressive advances in LEO and translunar
> development before 2010; yet much of this development is not widely known
> outside of the space industry and its ancillary cloud of enthusiasts.

By advancements here I'm assuming you mean cheaper access to space. What kind of
$/kg costs are we looking at with these private ventures?

> 2005 - 2015
> Space:

I think the development of space during this period, assuming we still don't have
nanotech, will hinge largely on $/kg access costs to LEO. Assuming we can get
costs down below $100/kg, the long-term payoff vs the initial costs of development
will spur major private industry into space. For many applications Teledesic
will probably be replaced by much larger and more stable geostationary satellites
offering enhanced and comprehensive global telecommunication services. Near-Earth
asteroid capture will become big business as the cost of capturing such objects
will pale in comparison to the costs of transporting the same materials off
Earth. This in turn will facilitate major improvements in space-based
manufacturing, CELSS, space medicine, human-habitation-ergonomics.

Obviously, once nanoengineered materials arrive on the scene, such space
development will accelerate dramatically.

Paul Hughes