Ocean Therapy from Waterworld?


Just a short update on the Gulf Oil spill.

First of all, as mentioned in our updated post about the spill, you can watch a live feed of the leak directly at BP.com now.

Also, not related to fixing the cause, but still possibly going a long way towards repairing the symptom, Kevin Costner has been investing in a centrifuge technology to separate the water and oil, and it looks like BP is going to take Costner up on trying it in the gulf.  It involves deploying up to 300 “Ocean Therapy” machines which have the capacity to spin the oily water at high speeds and separate out the oil, producing nearly pure oil on one hand, and nearly pure seawater on the other.  Will it be as successful as the movie Waterworld?  Is it an Oilfield of Dreams?  Stay tuned.

From a project management perspective, BP is clearly in the workaround mode, and let’s all hope that this workaround…works.

Read the story here, and see a video news segment about that here.

Solar – Fact, not Fiction


Recently we reviewed the book Solar by Ian McEwan.  In that book, a fictional tale, the protagonist, Michael Beard, developed a means to generate energy using artificial photosynthesis – basically emulating what nature does with a leaf.

Well, here in this posting, we have a real protagonist (a much nicer man than Beard, I’m sure) who HAS a beard, doing much the same thing. His name is not Michael, though, it’s Dan.  Dan Nocera, and he’s a chemist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  According to Scientific American,

One drinking-water bottle could provide enough energy for an entire household in the developing world if Dan Nocera has his way. A chemist from M.I.T. and founder of the company Sun Catalytix, Nocera has developed a cobalt-based catalyst that allows him to store energy the same way plants do: by splitting water.

Have a look at this video.

Even better, here is Nocera describing his team’s discovery in this video.

The full Scientific American article, entitled, “Will Artificial Photosynthesis Power The World?” can be read here.

Why, you may be asking, is this on a project management blog?  Well, this is an example of a research project which has turned into a business which will be deploying energy projects and will be in need of project managers.  That’s why.  And you should know that there’s stimulus money around to help these research projects at ARPA-E.

In fact, your EarthPM bloggers wandered over to Dan Nocera’s company’s site at Sun Catalytix, and found that they are hiring.  Not project managers, yet – product development engineers, and electrochemists, but where there’s product development, there’s a project.

So that’s the East Coast side of the story.

There’s a West Coast side as well.

Researchers with the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have now found that nano-sized crystals of cobalt oxide can effectively carry out the critical photosynthetic reaction of splitting water molecules. Heinz Frei, a chemist with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division, and his postdoctoral fellow Feng Jiao reported the results of their study in the journal Angewandte Chemie, in a paper entitled: “Nanostructured Cobalt Oxide Clusters in Mesoporous Silica as Efficient Oxygen-Evolving Catalysts.”

This article from which the above is extracted, featuring the work of the Helios laboratory at UCal Berkely, can be read in its entirety here.

The goal of Helios SERC (Solar Energy Research Center) is to produce carbon-neutral transportation fuels using solar energy as the source of stored energy.  SERC pursues a route that doesn’t include biological photosynthesis or biomass. Instead, SERC is involved in using sunlight to drive chemical reactions that can reform the atoms in water and carbon dioxide into liquid transportation fuels. This route does not depend on arable land, but does depend on a significant amount of captured sunlight and carbon dioxide.

West Coast….East Coast…worldwide…

Bottom line: Solar power will eventually play an important role in powering up the grid.  Be smart and let it help power up your project management career!

Strategic Sustainability: A Framework for Community Planning

sustainableThis week I spent a very worthwhile 4 hours in the above titled workshop.  It was hosted by Heidi Spinella, a sustainability consultant, and Bert Cohen, an adjunct professor at the University of New Hampshire, teaching Sustainable Living and Systems Thinking for Sustainable Living.  Heidi is also a PMP so naturally, excuse the pun, my interpretation leaned more toward projects and how a project manager can lead sustainability efforts by using the tools we have available, one focus of our new book.  I certainly wasn’t far off, as a matter of fact, I think my interpretation was right-on.

One of the definitions of sustainability used in the workshop is the same Bruntland one we use in the book; “Sustainable Development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (United Nations 1987) The workshop was focused on the Natural Step Framework, the framework I believe “frames” the Green Wave. (For more information on the “green wave, please read our book’s introduction.)  In a nutshell, and quoting from the workshop, we need to ‘Begin to reduce what we TAKE (from the earth); Begin to reduce what we MAKE (stuff that isn’t biodegradable or recyclable); Begin to increase what we PROTECT (biodiversity); Begin to increase what we RESPECT (human rights).”

Further, following a project’s lifecycle, and using this workshop as an example, sustainability is a project and we must plan, organize and control the effort.  And as a final step, make sure that we take into consideration the long term effects of what we are doing, or as McDonough and Braungart say, consider “cradle-to-cradle”.

The workshop’s focus is on using the Natural Step Framework as a “practical approach to strategic planning” for a community’s (any community) efforts to advance sustainability.  The example used in the workshop was Portsmouth, New Hampshire, (an eco-municipality) which has made incredible strides in its sustainability efforts.  For more information go to their website.

Bottom-line, at least one of the things I took out of it, is that one person,  like a small ice ball rolling down a snow cover mountain, can unleash an avalanche of success for a project by getting more and more people involved in the project.  That ice ball, no matter what you call it, is a project manager. Using the immense arsenal of skills that project managers possess, will aid in the success of any project.  And I will say it again, projects are where ideas meet reality, and the project manager has to be and is the champion of change.  Thinking “sustainable” is one of those changes.

Doing Well, Doing Good

That was the titenvironment1le of a recent article in our local paper (The Portsmouth Herald).  It was subtitled “Timberland (one of the companies featured in Top of their Game in our new book) achieves profits while helping the environment.”  It is a good news environmental story for a change and it points out what we are saying, green projects make cents.  According to Timberland sources, “broad corporate social responsibility is the essence of good business.”  We can’t agree more.

“Business success, for us, is defined not not only by the return we earn for our stakeholders but also by the positive impact we have on our community and environment,” said Betsy Blaisdell, Timberland’s senior manager of environmental stewardship as quoted in the article.  Further she says, “Bottom-line results are obviously critical – if we cease to be profitable, we cease to exist – but if we earn them at the expense of our values and commitment to be responsible corporate citizens, we’ve failed.”

Projects like reducing energy, chemical, and resource use at Timberland-owned and operated facilities worldwide are being executed.  Timberland’s goal is also to engage employees, the public, and even challenge competitors to do the same.  Timberland continues to grow in spite of a weak economy.  “Success for us comes from a business model in which commerce and justice are inextricably linked,” Blaisdell explained.  Learn more about Timberland’s environmental stewardship.