Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Thick Black Smoke Rising Over Jatropha and Glorietta

IOFUELS were originally sold to the Public on the notion that using them is "carbon neutral" on the theory that the plant absorbs CO2 during its lifetime, that being the maximum released to the atmosphere when burned as fuel. Fossil fuels, it is reasoned, release "excess" carbon because the carbon they contain was buried with the oil aeons ago. But this ignores the environmental impact of the large scale agro-industrial projects required to produce biofuels in economic quantities and on their impact on agricultural patterns as a whole, which have not before been used to feed the SUVs! Biofuel cultivation could destroy forests and are none too friendly to human respiratory systems either. Worse, they have already caused food prices to rise. Plenty of food for thought. Are biofuels green energy or grim reaper?

FILIPINOS burn about 7 billion liters of diesel fuel oil a year, mainly in motor vehicles and power plants, all of it imported. In the age of $100 Oil, finding alternatives is urgent. But after triumphantly enacting the Biofuels Law last year along with Miriam Defensor Santiago, (who seems to be having second thoughts) Sen. Miguel Zubiri has been besieged by questions about the viability of his proposal to go into large scale cultivation of jatropha. For one thing, would not precious agricultural resources now devoted to growing food crops for human beings be diverted to what would essentially be food production for the motor vehicle population? MIGZ counters that he does not plan to use valuable agricultural lands now used for rice, corn and other staple grains and vegetables. Rather he claims, there are ONE MILLION hectares of fallow or waste land not suitable for food crop cultivation available for his jatropha plantations.

HMM...How big an area of land is a million hectares anyway? Since a square kilometer equals 100 hectares (or hectometer) Zubiri's million hectares works out neatly to 10,000 square kilometers. Wow! That's a lotta jatropha! And it's not supposed to interfere with food crop production, sez Migz.

The GEOGRAPHY of the Philippines is well known and we find that:

Total Area: 300,000 km² = 30 million hectares
Land: 298,170 km² = 29.8 million hectares
Water: 1,830 km² = 1.83 million hectares
Arable land: 19% or 6 million hectares
Permanent crops: 12% or 3.6 million hectares
Permanent pastures: 4%
Forests and woodland: 46%
Other: 19% (1993 est.)

We see that the total arable land area of the Philippines is about 60,000 square kilometers (19% of 298,000 sq km) or 6 million hectares of which 3.6 million hectares are planted to permanent crops like rice, vegetables and corn, leaving 24,000 sq km or 2.4 million hectares. These figures were as of 1993, so I am sure that a lot more of the unused 2.4 million hectares has already been converted to crop cultivation under strong population pressures, perhaps along with a good bit of that forest and woodland, with any luck, though gravity and biology might not allow it.

Maybe Migz Zubiri got his Big Idea from India because jatropha is BIG in India, and it looks like they may have a serious shot at actually making it work there, though that remains to be seen. However, consider the following points made in a comparison between India and China by Bhanoji Rao riting for the Hindu Business Line:
China has 933 million hectares of total land, a little over three times of the Indian land area of 297 million ha. Yet, the Chinese are constrained by an arable land area of 124 million ha, which is three quarters of the Indian endowment of 162 million ha. Put differently, China's arable land is just about 13 per cent of its total land, in contrast to the much better 54 per cent in the case of India.
India has 162 million hectares of arable land, of which they are committing some 14 million hectares to jatropha production.

THE GLORIETTA BLAST I really can't blame Ayala for turning the Malaysian forensic expert AINI LING loose, (followed by Australian terrorism expert Kit Collier.) The Glorietta Blast could rock the Ayala empire with serious civil and criminal litigations for years if negligence is found and prosecuted. That's not to say she would lie, but I think it's deceptive to bill her as a pure "scientific expert" since the work that she does for her company, Forensic Services (M) Bhd. of Malaysia is mainly handling the legal and insurance problems of their clients that arise from major fires and explosions in the oil and gas industry. Aini Ling is more like a high powered lawyer with a Ph.D in chemistry.

She is retained to make any prosecution difficult or easy depending on the client. Nothing unethical about that. But when she talks to Ricky Carandang on camera and says, with a grave demeanor and meaningful tone that, "I am certain that in this particular explosion, the ignition of explosive was involved..." Huh? So, we suddenly get it in the Prime Time News that an explosions expert doubts the official investigation and that the Glorietta Blast was caused by a bomb with a high explosive like RDX.

Likewise, when Kit Collier, a researcher mainly into the communist insurgency in the Philippines from the Australian National University, parachutes into town and lands in front of Twink Macaraeg to opine that Glorietta might've been a terrorist attack, we suddenly get headlines screaming that TWO scientific experts, one forensic, one anti-terrorist, doubt the finding that Glorietta was a methane gas explosion (such as happens with greater or lesser devastation all around the world every year under quite similar physical circumstances).

I must admit, I was livid for months over the 2004 Super Ferry 14 Bombing which President Arroyo dismissed as the work of pranksters. No question that this administration's record against terrorism has been spotty and inconsistent.

But there are significant differences between Super Ferry 14 and Glorietta that Mr. Collier might not have noticed on the way down as his parachute opened. First of all, there was never a credible claim by any terrorist organization for the blast, although a great deal of mystery still enwraps that cell phone call from a Fake Sheik of the Rajah Sulaiman Movement about 48 hours after the blast. But Mr. Collier himself was never involved in the investigation and has never been to Glorietta, as far as I know. Yet he magically pops out of thin air and suddenly his opinion is called "expert" and gets aired on tv and headlined by the newspapers.

For whatever it's worth, I am personally convinced that this was not a terrorist bombing and a methane gas explanation fits the known facts best. The EXPERTS from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Australian National Police, the PNP Crime Lab and National Bureau of Investigation seem to agree on this. That's good enough for me, even if it ain't for Aini Ling and Kit Collier.

By the way, the traces of RDX originally reported by the head of the PNP Crime Lab, a certain Col. Ramos, a day or so after the blast, was revealed today by General Ticman, talking to Pinky Webb on ANC, to have have been collected not in the basement where the blast originated, but in a plastic bag on the floor of the outside delivery bay of the Glorietta Mall! No further RDX samples have been found except for those that Aini Ling claims to have collected in the early morning of November 2, two weeks after the blast!

Now if they could only show me a crater...


Adb said...

Re: "For one thing, would not precious agricultural resources now devoted to growing food crops for human beings be diverted to what would essentially be food production for the motor vehicle population?"

This practice albeit limited still is already having an incidence in the prices of foodstuff. Happening in Europe (and in the US already so I heard.)

Already noticeable in wheat and barley based products.

DJB Rizalist said...

In japan, the price of flour doubled overnight sometime before the holidays.

But you know, it's really gotta be oil that we worry about right now. I don't think Filipinos realize how vulnerable our situation actually is.

blackshama said...

The biofuels law mandates the planting of these biofuel crops. That's the danger.

Biofuels are a temporary fix to the fuel problem. A better alternative energy law should promote and give incentives to development of new technologies for more efficient transport.

When the state mandates production of something,then environmental degradation is a sure thing. The Tobacco monopoly of Spanish colonial times resulted in deforestation as well as starvation in the colonial populace.

DJB Rizalist said...

Brazil has certainly gotten something out of ethanol, though I guess they still import about 70% of their transportation fuel. And maybe India can make something out of jatropha. But these two countries are 5th and 6th largest arable landed areas in the world, while Philippines is 70th in land area yet 12th in population!

We need the food because of the burgeoning population! You are right we need a new strategy that fits our circumstances, resources and talents better.

manuelbuencamino said...

we could solve the biofuels controversy by shifting to the methane leaking out of Zubiri. And it won't leave craters either.

cvj said...

The PNP report says that it is a methane followed by a diesel explosion. My understanding from other blog discussions is that the loading bay explosion came first and this was a methane explosion. Then this triggered a diesel explosion which blew out the floor and the roof inside the Atrium itself. Are you saying it was methane explosion that's responsible for the damage in both the loading bay and the atrium?

DJB Rizalist said...

There are many missing details to the methane gas explanation. All I am saying here, however, is what Glorietta could NOT have been because of the absence of a crater full of RDX and other components of what blew up at its center.

The folks who've indulged Aini Ling and Kit Collier should really have made them look foolish and they only got on air because they are "foreign".

Jego said...

In a BBC podcast I listened to a couple of months back, they said it would take the entire land area of the UK to supply UK's energy needs using biofuels. I agree with blackshama. When the State steps in, especially this one (Philippines), and mandates the planting of a certain cash crop, disaster will follow.

Marcos had a vision of a Philippines that is less dependent on foreign oil. That's where all the hydroelectric and geothermal projects came from -- his vision. And the nuclear plant in Bataan. He had the right idea, but Marcos the person was so abhorent to the victors of EDSA that they went back to imported coal and bunker fuel fed power plants.

manuelbuencamino said...

Kasi naman si Aini Ling is chinese malay and Kit Collier is Australian. If only the Ayalas had hired an American ....

cvj said...

Both scenarios (the PNP's and Ayala's) need to be simulated and demonstrated to be credible, at least from the standpoint of physics. The hole on top of the old unused stairs is one possible candidate location for a crater.

DJB Rizalist said...

i think each type of explosion has well known characteristics, you might even say, a distinctive signature.

Now the hole in the floor of the first level above the basement is where the high pressure of the burning methane/diesel vapor was released with such force it sent supersonic debris into the walls of glorietta. It's the lid popping off the boiling cauldron.

If it was a c4 explosion almost nothing would be recognizable in the basement. I think when FBI first entered the basement, they knew instantly the explosion was a gas deflagration not a high explosive detonation. It should've been toothpicks down there.

cvj said...

Isn't the wave generated by deflagration subsonic? How then can it hurl supersonic debris into the walls of glorietta?

We have to consider the possibility that what 'popped the lid' was a bomb attached to bottom of that concrete slab (i.e. the 'lid'), the supersonic shockwave of which propagated to the open spaces of the Atrium and the loading bay.

A computation of how much force is needed to 'pop the lid' (270 tons of force according to Ayala) compared to the available force that can be supplied by the available amount of methane and diesel can confirm whether the deflagration scenario is plausible.

DJB Rizalist said...

The presence of a hole in the floor below which you suggest a bomb might have been detonated and the absence of a crater below such a bomb disproves it was bomb! The reason is that a bomb projects destructive energy more or less isotropically (in all directions). But, a hole in the relatively thin floor where a stairs punches thru, without a crater below it is precisely what one would expect from a methane gas explosion.

By the way, there are dozens of methane gas explosions reported on line, so it's not like this would be a first. In many of these incidents entire buildings are demolished by the deflagration.

The speed of propagation of the temperature spike upon ignition of 5% CH4/Air mixtures is not what creates supersonic debris but the accompanying high pressure buildup pulverizing the weakest point in the container (certainly NOT the ground or the basement walls (also the ground!). So it's like a rectangular biscuit can with a tight lid and burning methane inside. It's gonna pop the lid before it brakes open the metal box. In this case we basically had a concrete bunker full of high pressure high temperature methane and diesel vapor spiking up to tons per square inch pressure and popping that floor up.

BTW, it also explains very neatly the behavior of the building's sunroof. It was blown off like a cork, not blown up and shattered to smithereens and or sent up in a shower of shards.

That's exactly what you would expect if this was a deflagration.

On and On...the facts fit the gas explosion theory better.

But just show me a darn crater...!


"Kasi naman si Aini Ling is chinese malay and Kit Collier is Australian. If only the Ayalas had hired an American ...." - Manuel Buencamino

That was my initial thought too.

cvj said...

A can of biscuit does not have any other openings beside the lid. The same cannot be said of the basement which had an open stairwell. Since methane is lighter than air, Brownian motion would have allowed it to escape into the street.

If the bomb explodes above the ground (a-la Tunguska as Blackshama pointed out), there may be no crater. It could also be that the bomb was designed to explode upwards.

DJB Rizalist said...

your argument has that "intelligent design" flavor to it.

I mean c'mon, a bomb designed to "explode upwards?" Why? To avoid making a crater? Why avoid making a crater? To make it look like a methane gas explosion? Ouch. Far, far fetched!

Btw, Brownian motion is irrelevant here. It's true we aren't talking about an air tight space, but methane-air mixtures are explosive at even 5% concentration. So we aren't talking about methane building up pressure slowly over time in a closed space. Instead an explosive mixture forms at fairly low methane concentration, and yeah some of it leaks out slowly over time. Such an explosive mixture can be in equilibrium with whatever lil ventilation there was. Then if suddenly we get a spark, temperature spikes and then a huge pressure builds up in a fraction of a second. That's what popped the floor without setting everything on fire, because the release of pressure also kills the fire by evacuating the oxygen momentarily.

cvj said...

Terrorists have been known to design their bombs to explode in a specific direction to cause maximum damage.

When methane escapes from the sewage, its lighter than air property will cause it to go up and vent out into the street via the open stairwell so even the build up of 5% concentration does not look plausible since methane just go upwards and out.

BTW, i don't think the PNP's version gels completely with yours. You emphasize the methane explosion while the PNP says that the methane explosion triggered the diesel explosion.



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The Bataan nuclear plant and potentially, RP's independence: That was one of the most disastrous collateral damages of Cory's victory.