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Richard Maltzman
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Shhhhh! (Part 1 of 2)

That old report card of yours...

April Fuel!

Ammonia's Role in Renewable Energy

Another Wall Story?

Shhhhh! (Part 1 of 2)

Here’s a story about protecting ocean life that – in a twist – does not involve acidification, plastic, chemical pollution, melting ice, or climate change.  Those things are still all threats to ocean life, of course, but this post, which has some intriguing connections to project management, is about noise.

It started with a very interesting article from Nature, called The Quest for Quieter Seas, which is published online here.

The connections to project management have to do with:

  • Obtaining a solid baseline
  • Working with facts
  • Synergy
  • Cause/Effect
  • Linking a project to an enterprise’s mission statement
  • The Pareto Principle

…see if you can find these connections here.

Who’s making all of that noise?

First, let’s start with the sources of noise in our oceans.  Of course, some if it is quite natural and has always been around; things like dolphin whistles and clicks, whales’ songs, rainfall, snapping shrimp, and the rumbling of an undersea earthquake.

But some of the noise is most definitely anthropogenic (caused by humans), such as sonar, oil drilling rigs, vehicles (everything from frigates and supertankers to submarines), hydrographic mapping sensors, and seismic air-gun arrays.

See the chart below to place these in volume level and against the hearing frequency ranges of various forms of ocean life.

(From Nature, Volume 568, 11-April-2019)

The article expresses the need for a baseline so well, I’ll let it speak for itself:

Because noise is so pervasive, it is hard to study the impact as it ramps up.  It isn’t clear whether marine systems can work around or adapt to it – or whether it will drive crashes in already-stressed populations. So researchers are becoming acoustic prospectors, searching for quite zones and noisy habitats in efforts to chronicle what exactly happens when sound levels change.  Efforts (projects) range from natural experiments on the effects of a plan to reroute shipping lanes in the Baltic Sea, to investigate the impact of a trial scheme in Canada to reduce ship speed in coastal waters off Vancouver.

Complicating matters is the fact that there are other new and concurrent stressors on marine life, such as the aforementioned acidification and warming ocean temperatures.  The effects are not simply arithmetically added, though.  A plus B is not a simple equation.  The interactions are often causing a negative effect greater than the sum of its parts – also known as synergy.

So how much are we adding to the not-so-silent seas, in terms of noise?  Based on the amount of noise contributed by an average ship and looking at the number of ships (this does not include sonar and other items mentioned above) the sound contribution has risen about 3 dB per decade.  If you know your decibels, you know this is a logarithmic increase – a doubling of sound levels each decade.

Seismic air blasts, used to map the sea floor for possible oil or gas drilling opportunities, can be audible for hundreds of kilometers (think Boston to New York or Amsterdam to Dusseldorf). 

These are causes.  What are the effects?

It’s beginning to become obvious that loud marine noises can cause a panic dive in cetaceans (whales, dolphins, porpoises), as indicated by the increase in ‘beaching’.  These panic dives have the secondary effect of causing hemorrhages in the animals’ brains and hearts.   Research projects have also shown that loud waterborne noises can damage the ears and cause hearing loss (as you may expect).

In part II I’ll discuss more about the effects and the research and other projects that are being implemented to remedy ocean noise and make the oceans a little quieter.  As you can tell from the above, this is not a simple ‘quality of life’ issue – it’s life itself.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: April 15, 2019 10:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

That old report card of yours...

Remember that report card you didn’t want your parents to see?   And by “too see” I mean that your best grades were “two Cs”?

Well, forget about that – this post will make your old report card pale in comparison.

As reported in Nature’s 28-March-2019 issue, a project called “Beyond EPICA” is slated to start in June of this year and it is going to extract a 1.5-million-year-old report card from the ice below a section of Antarctica called Dome C (see map below in case you want to visit).

 EPICA stands for European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica.  This is a perfect example of a ‘green-by-definition’ project as we describe in our book Green Project Management.

The idea here is to vastly improve our understanding of our climate by getting an undisturbed record (report card!) of our Earth’s ancient atmosphere.  The ice that has accumulated over millennia contains samples of the world’s atmosphere at known dates.  This will help us get a more accurate picture of how climate has changed in the past, allowing us to make scientifically accurate predictions of how climate changes match up with atmospheric levels of greenhouse gasses.

From the Beyond EPICA website:

The Beyond EPICA – Oldest Ice (BE-OI) consortium and its international partners unite a globally unique concentration of scientific expertise and infrastructure for ice-core investigations. BE-OI is an EU Coordination and Support Action (CSA). It delivers the technical, scientific and financial basis for a comprehensive plan to retrieve an ice core up to 1.5 million years old in a future project during the Beyond EPICA – Drilling Phase. This would be an important contribution for the future exploration of Antarctica and promises unique insights about climate and the global carbon fluxes. This knowledge will improve future prognoses of climate development with solid quantitative data and will allow establishing more targeted strategies, to cope with the societal challenges of global change.

This project is following the discipline of project management quite strikingly well (excuse the pun). 

They have set clear objectives:

  • support the site selection through acquisition and synthesis of all necessary information on Antarctic sites through specific geophysical surveys and the use of fast drilling tools to qualify sites and validate the age of their ice;
  • select and evaluate the optimum drill site for the future “Oldest Ice” core project and establish a science and management plan for a future drilling;
  • coordinate the technical and scientific planning to ensure the availability of the technical means to implement suitable drill systems and analytical methodologies for a future ice-core drilling, and of well-trained personnel to operate them successfully;
  • establish the budget and the financial background for a future deep-drilling campaign;
  • embed the scientific aims of an “Oldest Ice” core project within the wider paleoclimate data and modelling communities through international and cross-disciplinary cooperation.

They have broken the project in to work packages (in other words they have created a WBS) as follows.

The  workpackages of BE-OI combine the different methodological aspects and the consecutive implementation based on the two key regions of interest.

The first three workpackages

Logistic support and coordination

Geophysical site definition

Fast drilling tools to qualify sites, age validation

cover the objective to "Prepare for site selection". They will consider the acquisition, analysis and evaluation of new data to create the pre-conditions for site selection. The worckpages

Site selection, and science and management plans

Drilling technology

Cost forecasting and financial frameworks

The international and cross-disciplinary context

are directed towards the planning and implementation of the BE-Drilling Phase.


Here's a video that shows the sort of project environment in which EPICA is taking place:

This project team will have a press conference on 9-April (the day after this post), so you can get the latest directly from the source!

Beyond EPICA will present the decision where to drill for 1.5 million year old ice at:

EGU Press Conference
Tuesday, 9 April, 2019 09:00 CET
Beyond EPICA: The quest for a 1.5 Million year ice core

I’m going to tune in.  Maybe it will help me forget about that bad, bad report card from long, long ago.


Posted by Richard Maltzman on: April 08, 2019 10:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

April Fuel!

I avoid posting on April 1, since it’s likely that all-y’all may not take the posting seriously.  So this is posted on April 2.  Because it's good news - serious good news.

My last post was about ammonia as potential ‘liquid battery’, a means to store renewable energy in liquid form.

It turns out that this is not the only liquid under investigation with this potential.

Let’s back up a moment and review why we’re even talking about this here on People, Planet, Profits & Projects.  First of all, any of these efforts to do apply research to reality is, by definition, a project.  Then, implementing the result into (in this case) using the ‘liquid storage’ will be a project.  The focus here is the intersection of sustainability in PM, which sometimes is directly dealing with ‘green’ topics, environmental protection or renewable energy or reducing carbon, or saving species, but sometimes is the integration of sustainable thinking – long-term thinking – into project planning.  This post is more on the former.

An article from MNN caught my attention.  It opens as follows:

It's hard to believe that we still use climate change-inducing fossil fuels when we have a sun that's bombarding our planet with plentiful, clean renewable energy on a daily basis. But fossil fuels do have one oft-overlooked advantage over solar power that has long prevented solar from truly emerging: they're a fuel.

That’s right.  As a fuel, fossil fuels (think gasoline) are easy to transport, deliver, and store.  Not so with energy from a wind farm.  We need a huge leap forward in battery technology (there will be posts on this as well here on this blog) and/or another method to store, transport, and deliver that renewable energy to users of energy.

This post, like the one before it, is about a means to do just that.

Again, from the article:

Researchers in Sweden have discovered a specialized fluid that works like a rechargeable battery. Shine sunlight on it, and the fluid traps it. Then, at a later date, that energy can be released as heat just by adding a catalyst. It's quite remarkable, and it could be how we power our homes by 2030.

Made up of molecules of carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen, this liquid reacts to sunlight by reconfiguring atomic bonds, transforming the structure of the molecules into a sort of container that holds energy from the sunlight within itself.  And here’s the part that I thought you’d see as an April Fuel’s joke: even when the liquid cools back down to room temperature, the energy remains stored within the liquid.

A cobalt-based catalyst (cobalt phthalocyanine) is used to release the energy when it is wanted.

Does it work?

Early results have demonstrated that once the fluid is passed through the catalyst, it warms up by 113 degrees Fahrenheit. But researchers believe that with the right manipulations, they can increase that output to 230 degrees Fahrenheit or more. Already, the system can double the the energy capacity of Tesla's reputed Powerwall batteries. Needless to say, this has drawn the interest of numerous investors.

Even better, researchers have tested the fluid through as many as 125 cycles, and the molecule has shown almost no degradation. In other words, it's a rechargeable battery that continues to take a charge without losing much capacity over many uses.

The technology seems to allow the storage of energy in such a liquid for up to 18 years.  The image below is courtesy of Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden).

Courtesy of Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden)

I felt this needed validation and further research so I dug in and found this article which indicates that the researches have published their results in four respected journals.  The name for the molecule that stores the energy is an isomer - a molecule made of the same atoms, but bound together differently.

If you want a quick review of isomers (like I did) click here.

The storage capability is called (by the researchers) MOST (Molecular Solar Thermal Energy Storage).  

For those of you who are scientifically inclined, here’s the abstract from the paper published in the highly-ranked journal, Energy and Environmental Science, published by the UK’s Royal Society of Chemistry.  The entire article is available as a PDF here.

The development of solar energy can potentially meet the growing requirements for a global energy system beyond fossil fuels, but necessitates new scalable technologies for solar energy storage. One approach is the development of energy storage systems based on molecular photoswitches, so-called molecular solar thermal energy storage (MOST). Here we present a novel norbornadiene derivative for this purpose, with a good solar spectral match, high robustness and an energy density of 0.4 MJ kg−1. By the use of heterogeneous catalyst cobalt phthalocyanine on a carbon support, we demonstrate a record high macroscopic heat release in a flow system using a fixed bed catalytic reactor, leading to a temperature increase of up to 63.4 °C (83.2 °C measured temperature). Successful outdoor testing shows proof of concept and illustrates that future implementation is feasible. The mechanism of the catalytic back reaction is modelled using density functional theory (DFT) calculations rationalizing the experimental observations.

So: No April Fool situation but rather a very promising technology to further enable renewable energy and to reduce our dependence on problematic and limited fossil fuels.

And project managers like you and I may be the ones making this a reality within the decade!

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: April 02, 2019 11:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Ammonia's Role in Renewable Energy

I’ve been fascinated this week by the idea of ammonia (NH3) as a fuel, or as a means to store and transport renewable energy.

First, let me talk about that storage part.  How can a household cleaner store energy???

Ammonia fuel cells can convert renewable electricity into an energy-rich gas that can easily be cooled and squeezed into a liquid fuel, which effectively bottles sunshine and wind, turning them into a commodity that can be shipped anywhere in the world and converted back into electricity or hydrogen gas to power fuel cell vehicles.

This video from Science magazine tells the story (click on image to launch).

But the concerns of creating NH3 without its own problems needs to be solved.

The article from Science magazine has an excellent graphic (sample below) that shows not only the problems, but the way that NH3 fuel cells work, and how ammonia can ‘transport’ energy.


Here’s another recent story, from about NH3 as a form of ‘conveyance’ for renewable energy.

Now, how about even more science?

This comes from Science Daily:

Taking measures against climate change and converting into societies that use significant amounts of renewable energy for power are two of the most important issues common to developed countries today. One promising technology in those efforts uses hydrogen (H2) as a renewable energy source. Although it is a primary candidate for clean secondary energy, large amounts of H2 must be converted into liquid form, which is a difficult process, for easier storage and transportation. Among the possible forms of liquid H2, ammonia (NH3) is a promising carrier because it has high H2 density, is easily liquefied, and can be produced on a large-scale.

Researchers at the International Research Organization for Advanced Science and Technology (IROAST) in Kumamoto University, Japan focused on a "catalytic combustion method" to solve the NH3 fuel problems. This method adds substances that promote or suppress chemical reactions during fuel combustion. Recently, they succeeded in developing a new catalyst which improves NH3 combustibility and suppresses the generation of NOx. The novel catalyst (CuOx/3A2S) stayed highly active in the selective production of N2, meaning that it suppressed NOx formation, and the catalyst itself did not change even at high temperatures.

Since 3A2S is a commercially available material and CuOx can be produced by a method widely used in industry (wet impregnation method), this new catalyst can be manufactured easily and at low cost. Its use allows for the decomposition of NH3 into H2 with the heat from (low ignition temperature) NH3 fuel combustion, and the purification of NH3 through oxidation.

"Our catalyst appears to be a step in the right direction to fight anthropogenic climate change since it does not emit greenhouse gasses like CO2 and should improve the sophistication of renewable energy within our society," said study leader Dr. Satoshi Hinokuma of IROAST. "We are planning to conduct further research and development under more practical conditions in the future."

And there you go!  That’s why I’m posting this here – the further research is a project.  

And if you want projects on a smaller scale, how about converting your vehicle to run on ammonia?  Here’s an article (fun to read) about a gentleman in Canada who has modified his Ford F-150 to run on NH3:

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: March 23, 2019 10:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Another Wall Story?

A wall.  A wall to stop a persistent and troublesome invasion from the ‘unwanted’.  While our news has been dominated by requirements for a wall on the southern border of the US, this is a story about another wall, much, much further to the North.  And the “unwanted” entity in this case is not human, but rather, it’s the ocean.

This particular wall was requested by the US Department of Defense.  As mentioned in my prior post, “Trouble In Tin City”, US radar installations are increasingly endangered by the onslaught of rising seas, a problem more noteworthy and extensive in Alaska than in other parts of the world.

This wall is, of course, if nothing else, a project.  A 5-year, US$47M project.

Orion Marine Contractors – with headquarters in Houston, Texas, but experienced in marine work in Alaska - won the bid on a five-year project to reconstruct a deteriorating seawall on Cape Lisburne (see map above), a remote, long-range Air Force radar site about 40 miles northeast of Point Hope on the Chukchi Sea, and only a little over 100 miles from Russia. (Source:

“There’s the radar site up there and a runway,” said Mark Leick, project manager for Orion Marine. “That’s all there is.”

Well, that’s until this spring, when his crew travels north to fire up the heavy machinery that’s been sitting idle all winter. Orion Marine mobilized on the site in July 2016, then shut down in October because of the region’s early onset of winter.

The project for the US Air Force consists of replacing and reinforcing a 5000+ foot seawall that protects the Air Force’s mile-long runway at Cape Lisburne from an every-encroaching ocean onslaught. Storms and rising seas have continued to decompose the seawall, originally built in 1952.

The same tough climate that has contributed to the demise of the seawall presents project obstacles in the form of cold and wind.  The project is expected to last five construction seasons. Orion previously completed a similar seawall project in Unalakleet and a breakwater extension in Seward for the Army Corps of Engineers.

“We are looking forward to working with the Air Force and Corps of Engineers to a successful completion of the Cape Lisburne project,” Leick said.

Here’s a description of the project from the US Department of Defense's report, "Climate-related Risk to DoD Infrastructure", just cleared for public release a couple of weeks ago (we try to keep things fresh here at People, Planet, Profits & Projects!).

Cape Lisburne Seawall Replacement Arctic sea ice is in constant change, growing in the fall and winter and receding in the spring and summer. The proximity of Air Force long range radar on the North Slope of Alaska to the Arctic shoreline makes them vulnerable to accelerated shoreline erosion from the duration and extent of sea ice fluctuations, increasing water temperatures, thawing of permafrost soils, and the effects of wave action. The rock seawall at the Cape Lisburne Long Rand Radar Station on the northwest Alaska coast line protects the installation’s gravel airstrip from tidal and storm driven wave action. Over the past decade the runway’s seawall has been depleted and eroded by wave action and extreme weather events. The damaged rock reinforcement became ineffective, and the 5,450 linear foot wall had to be replaced at a cost of $46.8 million.

If you think that the issue of climate change is limited to the US Department of Defense, well, you have underestimated not only climate change but the way in which the US DoD has acknowledged its effects.  I highly recommend this article:

In the article, you will find references to the recently-published Worldwide Threat Assessment by Dan Coates, Director of National Intelligence.


(Quoting from the above document)

Environment and Climate Change

The impacts of the long-term trends toward a warming climate, more air pollution, biodiversity loss, and water scarcity are likely to fuel economic and social discontent—and possibly upheaval—through 2018.  The past 115 years have been the warmest period in the history of modern civilization, and the past few years have been the warmest years on record. Extreme weather events in a warmer world have the potential for greater impacts and can compound with other drivers to raise the risk of humanitarian disasters, conflict, water and food shortages, population migration, labor shortfalls, price shocks, and power outages.  Research has not identified indicators of tipping points in climate-linked earth systems, suggesting a possibility of abrupt climate change.  Worsening air pollution from forest burning, agricultural waste incineration, urbanization, and rapid industrialization—with increasing public awareness—might drive protests against authorities, such as those recently in China, India, and Iran.  Accelerating biodiversity and species loss—driven by pollution, warming, unsustainable fishing, and acidifying oceans—will jeopardize vital ecosystems that support critical human systems.  Recent estimates suggest that the current extinction rate is 100 to 1,000 times the natural extinction rate.

Water scarcity, compounded by gaps in cooperative management agreements for nearly half of the world’s international river basins, and new unilateral dam development are likely to heighten tension between countries.


This is all coming directly from US Government intelligence and defense agencies.

If you want to go beyond simply ‘defense’, and beyond any one country, to look at the overall effects of climate change, and the projects that it will launch, have a look at this study by the USGS (US Geological Survey) on living in the Pacific Atoll region (such as the US Marshall Islands).

In the midst of this research, I also discovered a very nice “interactive documentary” produced by PBS (US Public Broadcasting Service) show called Frontline.

 Access it immediately here.

So.  Walls... we do need them sometimes...and when we do, project managers will be there to make sure they are on time, within budget, and are separating exactly what should be separated.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: March 12, 2019 12:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)