A few interesting news items warrant some attention:
Drop-in biofuels for aviation
Out of all biofuels, drop-in biofuels are the best possible option from the consuming side – “drop-in” means they have properties that allow them to simply replace existing liquid fuels, with no changes required on the engines, distribution infrastructure or anything. That’s not the whole story, however, as there is the production side to consider as well: and biofuels tend to be quite evil on many accounts if they are produced from food crops. So algae-produced fuels, ones in no way competing with food production, are the holy grail here, which is why I was very interested in the fact that Qantas is teaming up with Solazyme to mass-produce drop-in aviation fuel from algae.
Solazyme claims their technology “allows algae to produce oil and biomaterials in standard fermentation facilities quickly, efficiently and at large scale” which, if true and if the fuel gets certified, would be awesome. It’d still be burning fuel and producing CO2 in the process, but with full lifecycle emissions 85 to 93 % lower than fossil fuels, it’s a pretty good transitional technology.
Here’s hoping they succeed. If they really can scale the production to the required massive quantities and do it relatively economically – say under $200 per barrel – it could save aviation from being a sunset industry.
One bad harvest away from chaos
Oil is back above $100 per barrel and food prices have risen to their highest level ever. Looks a lot like things did a few years ago. Among other developments, floods in Australia and drought in China are contributing to the precarious situation – Lester Brown points out that the world is one poor harvest away from chaos:
If the world has a poor harvest this year, food prices will rise to previously unimaginable levels. Food riots will multiply, political unrest will spread and governments will fall. The world is now one poor harvest away from chaos in world grain markets.
Time to ban biofuel production from food crops and shift some attention to basic priorities like food security. And rebuild some resilience back into societies.
Nokia switches strategies, everyone complains and nobody knows what they’re talking about
Exaggerating only slightly here. Nokia, my former employer, recently announced that they are going to decommission Symbian from smartphones in a couple of years’ time and use Windows Phone 7 as the primary smartphone platform. This sparked outrage from all over the tech industry and “expert” comments are all over the map. Taloussanomat has one of these experts calling operating systems “user interfaces” and how these “user interfaces don’t really matter”. Right. Kauppalehti, the second supposedly-respected-business-paper-turned-tabloid lambasted the strategy, only to actually use a WP7 handset a couple of days later and notice that hey, it’s actually pretty good.
Of course there were the mandatory walkout protests. And there’s the Facebook page calling for immediate firing of Mr Elop. Expert opinions abound, and surely Case Nokia is being written into a number of business and management books as we speak. But really, the extreme emotions (also for but mostly against) raised by this just go to highlight the myopic, besserwisser attitude that drove Nokia to the difficulties it now finds itself in.
How about using half of that energy to try & execute the new strategy instead of whinging about it? I’m not saying it’s necessarily the right one, but there’s one surefire way of ensuring it fails: not even try.