29 February 2008

Biomass to Petroleum Equivalent Gold: National Science Foundation Report

Oil has become the new gold in the modern world economy. The US National Science Foundation has discovered what Al Fin has been telling readers: there is gold in biocrude and biofuels.
  1. * First, green hydrocarbon fuels are essentially the same as those currently derived from petroleum, except that they are made from biomass. Therefore, it will not be necessary to modify existing infrastructure (e.g. pipelines, engines) and hydrocarbon biorefining processes can be tied into the fuel production systems of existing petroleum refineries.
  2. * Second, biomass-based hydrocarbon fuels are energy equivalent to fuels derived from petroleum. In contrast to the lower energy density of E85 flex fuel, there will be no penalty in gas mileage with biomass-based hydrocarbon fuels.
  3. * Third, hydrocarbons produced from lignocellulosic biomass are immiscible in water; they self-separate, which eliminates the need for an expensive, energy-consuming distillation step.
  4. * Fourth, biomass based hydrocarbon fuels are produced at high temperatures, which allows for faster conversion reactions in smaller reactors. Thus, processing units can be placed close to the biomass source or even transported on truck trailers.
  5. * Fifth, the amount of water needed for processing hydrocarbon fuels from biomass can be greatly reduced, compared with the dilute sugar solutions to which enzymes are constrained. This is because organic or heterogeneous catalysts work well in concentrated water solutions or even in the absence of water if ionic liquids are used.
  6. * Finally, heterogeneous catalysts are inherently recyclable. So they can be used over the course of months and even years, which significantly reduces costs compared to biological catalysts. The elimination of energy-intensive distillation, the higher reaction rates, and the much smaller process footprints can also lead to lower biofuel costs than are possible using currently available biological pathways for producing cellulosic ethanol.
[Here are the six areas of concentration in the NSF report]
  1. * Selective thermal processing of lignocellulosic biomass to produce liquid fuels (bio-oils) in distributed biorefineries.
  2. * Utilization of petroleum refining technology for conversion of biomass-derived oxygenates within existing petroleum refineries.
  3. * Hydrocarbon production by liquid phase processing of sugars to a heretofore “sleeping giant” intermediate, hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), followed by HMF conversion to “green” diesel and jet fuel.
  4. * Process intensification for diesel and gasoline production from synthesis gas (CO and H2) by Fisher-Tropsch synthesis (FTS), which dramatically decreases the economically viable size compared to traditional FTS processes with petroleum derived feedstocks.
  5. * Conceptual design of biorefining processes in conjunction with experimental studies at the beginning of research projects to allow rapid development of commercial biofuel technologies.
  6. * Design of recyclable, highly active and selective heterogeneous catalysts for biofuel production using advanced nanotechnology, synthesis methods and quantum chemical calculations.___NSF(PDF)___via__Biopact

According to the NSF report, petroleum-equivalent biofuels can be made for the equivalent of US $15 a barrel!

This is energy dynamite, virtually unknown in the mass media--although well known to readers of Al Fin. While bloggers and journalists on all sides of any conceivable debate have joined together in condemning "biofuels", the real story has gone virtually untold. I recommend a close reading of the above linked documents, for anyone who wishes to be in a position to take advantage of the new "gold rush".

We can hope that now that the NSF has given its "official blessing" to this new potential economic oil boom, the media, academia, and mainstream science reporting will finally catch on to what has been happening. After all, most modern people have been psychologically neotenised and academically lobotomised by normal modern upbringing and education. We cannot expect them to be able to think for themselves.

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Promising Nuclear Energy: An Important Bridge Into the Unlimited Energy Future

Nuclear fission offers an economical, low-pollution, highly efficient CHP energy path into a future where prices for oil and gas are uncertain. Nuclear power is reliable baseload power--unlike wind and photovoltaic which can fail due to weather (as in Texas). Within the next few decades, we will have reliable large-scale geothermal, large-scale utility energy storage for renewables, large-scale biofuels and synthetic fuels (Venter), and perhaps large-scale nuclear fusion. But until then, nuclear fission provides the bridge.

Two of my favourite blogger-Brians, Brian Wang, and Brian Westenhaus, have once again posted on an important topic at roughly the same point in time.

Brian Westenhaus looked at multiple nuclear options yesterday.
China ordered four Westinghouse AP 1000s, which should kick off a reduction in per plant costs, but the manufacturing capacity at Westinghouse might limit the benefit. South Africa’s Pebble Bed Modular Reactor is expected to offer a new step in safety, economics and proliferation resistance.

Today the leader must be the Westinghouse AP 1000 with several design certifications in hand now. The design offers the lowest installed cost projections of the current group at $1200 per kilowatt and a 36-month construction schedule. Those numbers would put power on the grid below US$0.035/kWh. That’s cheap power.___NewEnergyandFuel

Only two days before, Brian Wang looked at an even larger array of nuclear options:
A larger US design, the Modular Helium Reactor (MHR , formerly the GT-MHR), will be built as modules of up to 600 MWt. In its electrical application each would directly drive a gas turbine at 47% thermal efficiency, giving 280 MWe. It can also be used for hydrogen production (100,000 t/yr claimed) and other high temperature process heat applications. Half the core is replaced every 18 months. Burn-up is up to 220 GWd/t, and coolant outlet temperature is 850°C with a target of 1000°C.

The Westinghouse AP-1000 has received several design certifications. Overnight capital costs are projected at $1200 per kilowatt and modular design will reduce construction time to 36 months. The 1100 MWe AP-1000 generating costs are expected to be below US$ 3.5 cents/kWh and its has a 60 year operating life.

Another US-origin but international project which is a few years behind the AP-1000 is the International Reactor Innovative & Secure (IRIS). IRIS is a modular 335 MWe pressurised water reactor with integral steam generators and primary coolant system all within the pressure vessel.

...The Remote-Site Modular Helium Reactor (RS-MHR) of 10-25 MWe has been proposed by General Atomics. The fuel would be 20% enriched and refuelling interval would be 6-8 years.

Another full-size HTR design is Areva's Very High Temperature Reactor (VHTR) being put forward by Areva NP. It is based on the MHR and has also involved Fuji. Reference design is 600 MW (thermal) with prismatic block fuel like the MHR. HTRs can potentially use thorium-based fuels, such as HEU or LEU with Th, U-233 with Th, and Pu with Th.___NextBigFuture
Anyone interested in the future of nuclear power should go to both of the articles above and check out the figures and the links.

The modular helium reator (MHR) seems to offer scalable, safe ("meltdown-proof") power suitable for remote locations requiring reliable, plentiful heat and power (CHP).
Conventional, low-temperature nuclear plants operate at about 32% thermal efficiency. GT-MHR power plants can achieve thermal efficiencies of close to 50% now, and even higher efficiencies in the future.

• 50% more electrical power from the same number of fissions.

• Dramatically lower high-level radioactive waste per unit of energy – today’s reactors produce 50% more high-level waste than will the GT-MHR.

• Much less thermal discharge to the environment. Plants can use air cooling, which allows for more flexible siting options.___Source
A competing technology to such modular reactors as MHR, is the "nuclear battery" approach, which is also suitable for CHP--combined heat and power.

Here is more on small nuclear reactors.

Modular, scalable, safe, reliable nuclear reactors are suitable for many locations. More on that topic later.

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Greenhouse Global Warming? Informed Skepticism Wisest Course

It has almost become something of a joke when some "global warming" conference has to be cancelled because of a snowstorm or bitterly cold weather.

But stampedes and hysteria are no joke -- and creating stampedes and hysteria has become a major activity of those hyping a global warming "crisis."

They mobilize like-minded people from a variety of occupations, call them all "scientists" and then claim that "all" the experts agree on a global warming crisis.

Their biggest argument is that there is no argument.

A whole cottage industry has sprung up among people who get grants, government agencies who get appropriations, politicians who get publicity and the perpetually indignant who get something new to be indignant about. It gives teachers something to talk about in school instead of teaching.

Those who bother to check the facts often find that not all those who are called scientists are really scientists and not all of those who are scientists are specialists in climate. But who bothers to check facts these days?__Source
There are a number of reasons, besides the graphic divergence pictured above, to suspect that the High Orthodoxy of Climate Change has taken in large numbers of opportunists and the gullible. For instance, cyclic ocean oscillations can have a huge impact on multi-decadal climate trends, but GCMs cannot accurately capture them.
... remarkably high SOI averages as seen recently and now in February also took place in the past during periods of global cooling as late in the 19th century and in the 50’s and the 70’s as the PDO experimented a negative phase. This strong La Niña event and the behavior of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation may hint the beginning of a new negative phase of the PDO, but is too early to tell and it could be another false indicator as seen in 1999 and 2000. The same could be said about global cooling. The recent trend of global temperature (read Anthony Watts's excellent tracking) can be a brief lapse in the curve of global warming or may indicate the beginning of a long term cooling trend. I entirely agree with WOOD-TV Craig James’ opinion (read more) that this can be "just a noise in the upward trend or is it the start of a downward trend in temperatures". The famous and very competent meteorologist from Grand Rapids tells "it is a little too early to be proclaiming that global warming has ended" and it sounds reasonable to me, but at the same time it is very nice to see that natural forcing and not manmade global warming is driving our planet temperature.___Source__via_NCMediaWatch
Unlike the true believers who flock to the Climate High Orthodoxy, intelligent people reserve the right to be skeptical and to keep an open mind as the data accumulates.

In fact, it is starting to look as if the Climate Orthodoxy's massive media deluge is beginning to backfire.
“Mass media efforts to raise American public concern about climate change - such as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and the ‘scientific consensus’ media drumbeat - ironically may be having just the opposite effect, according to a new study appearing in the scientific journal Risk Analysis.”___Source
People are naturally curious, and skeptical. When certain ideas are pounded into their heads so unrelentingly, the more intelligent ones begin to wonder about the reasons for the militant attacks on their senses. Arguments for catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) are wearing thin, as they are repeated ad nauseum without satisfactory evidential support. Such growing discontent among the brighter and more skeptical members of the public makes them more likely to consider alternative explanations for climate phenomena.
Despite much evidence relating climatic changes on Earth to solar variability, a physical mechanism responsible for this is still poorly known. A possible link connecting solar activity and climate variations is related to cosmic rays and the physical-chemical changes they produce in the atmosphere. Here we review experimental evidence and theoretical grounds for this rela tion. The cosmic ray – climate link seems to be a plausible climate driver which effectively operates on different time scales, but its exact mechanism and relative importance still remain open questions.____Source
The High Orthodoxy of Climate has the advantage of the media, political, and academic high ground. The Orthodoxy can maintain multi-billion dollar media barrages for the indefinite future. With that kind of public relations and big media firepower, you would think that the skeptics would be "drowned out" and "obliterated" by now. But that would be ignorning the "new media," the internet. The High Orthodoxy may be fighting this century's war with the last century's weapons.

Certainly with intelligent and informed climate discussion as one finds here, here, here, and here, it is unlikely that the Orthodoxy will be able to shut down debate in the foreseeable future.

H/T Tom Nelson

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First Trillion Dollar Company? Synth-Bio

Yesterday we discussed trillion dollar ($Trillion) industries, and from which industry the first $Trillion company may come from. Consider the goal of Craig Venter's synth-bio research: to replace the entire petrochemical industry! According to Fortune, Venter's company would easily be a $Trillion company if it fulfills Venter's promise.
Geneticist Craig Venter disclosed his potentially world-changing "fourth-generation fuel" project at an elite Technology, Entertainment and Design conference in Monterey, California.

"We have modest goals of replacing the whole petrochemical industry and becoming a major source of energy," Venter told an audience that included global warming fighter Al Gore and Google co-founder Larry Page.

"We think we will have fourth-generation fuels in about 18 months, with CO2 as the fuel stock."

Simple organisms can be genetically re-engineered to produce vaccines or octane-based fuels as waste, according to Venter.

Biofuel alternatives to oil are third-generation. The next step is life forms that feed on CO2 and give off fuel such as methane gas as waste, according to Venter.

"We have 20 million genes which I call the design components of the future," Venter said. "We are limited here only by our imagination."___Source_via_NextEnergy
The problem with creating a $Trillion company is that there will likely be a lot of competitors trying to imitate your success. For most industries, there is only so much market share to go around.

But as I said yesterday, in the future, we are likely to see $Trillion companies the same way we see $Billion companies today. As the norm for large companies and corporations. We merely need to remove the artificial bottlenecks that cause humans to continue thinking "small".

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28 February 2008

Growing Better Designer IVF Babies?

UK researchers are trying to make having babies by IVF safer and more reliable. In the process, they may end up with healthier embryos.
The new device allows embryos created in the lab to be incubated inside a perforated silicon container inserted into a woman's own womb. After a few days, the capsule is recovered and some embryos are selected for implantation in the womb.

Embryos incubated in the lab must have their growth medium changed every few hours to provide new nutrients and get rid of waste. The new device provides a more natural environment.

The silicon capsule is about 5 millimetres long and less than a millimetre wide. Its walls are perforated with 360 holes, each around 40 microns across. After embryos have been loaded inside, the ends are sealed and the container is connected to a flexible wire that holds the device inside the uterus (see image, lower right). A thread trails through the cervix to allow it to be recovered later on.___NewScientist
In vitro fertilisation is a high-risk procedure for the embryo. Fewer than 50% of implanted embryos survive. The new technique provides the encapsulated embryos with a more natural environment, allowing embryos to develop more normally--leading to more selectively viable pregnancies.


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Home Fuel Cells: Dutch Nuon Makes a Move

image source
Dutch energy and utility, Nuon, plans to install home boilers incorporating ceramic fuel cells, for its residential customers. The Dutch company expects to begin supplying this combined heat and power approach to residential customers by 2014.
The deal is contingent on Ceramic Fuel, which is dual-listed on London's Alternative Investment Market, meeting commercial requirements set by Nuon. Ceramic Fuel's legal and commercial manager, Andrew Neilsen, said it needed to improve the durability of the fuel cells, from the current two years to four, to meet Nuon's targets, but was confident this would be met and that production would begin by June 2009.

Ceramic Fuel also announced the construction of a €12.4 million factory in Heinsberg, Germany, with an initial production capacity of 10,000 units per year. The cells emit around 60% less carbon dioxide than traditional combustion generators.

Ceramic Fuel has partnerships with several utilities and power appliance manufacturers, but this is its first major sales agreement. Nuon will distribute the cell, which will be integrated into boilers to allow residential customers to generate electricity and heating in their homes, the company said.

Mr Dow said the technology would enable utilities such as Nuon to lease out the boilers — reducing installation and servicing costs for consumers — in return for fixed-price contracts. This will improve customer retention, a major bugbear for European energy providers.___Source__via_NextEnergy_

Expect to see more such creative energy options provided to residential utility customers as time goes on. Combined heat and power (CHP) is more efficient than providing the services separately. With the efficiencies of fuel cells for generating both heat and power fitted to the residential scale, significant savings for the utility are possible. If you consider the load-leveling capability of home CHP as well, utilities have a lot to gain from such an approach.

On a related note, check out this Forbes.com article looking at the state of the art in battery technology.

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Early Childhood Achievement: IQ, EF, ST Memory

What are the relationships between early childhood achievement levels, and IQ, Executive Function (EF), mental speed, and Short-Term Memory? Researchers at Durham University suggest that short-term memory may be more important than IQ, in early childhood underachievers.
Working memory is the ability to hold information in your head and manipulate it mentally. You use this mental workspace when adding up two numbers spoken to you by someone else without being able to use pen and paper or a calculator. Children at school need this memory on a daily basis for a variety of tasks such as following teachers' instructions or remembering sentences they have been asked to write down.

Lead researcher Dr Tracy Alloway from Durham University's School of Education, who, with colleagues, has published widely on the subject, explains further: "Working memory is a bit like a mental jotting pad and how good this is in someone will either ease their path to learning or seriously prevent them from learning.

"From the various large-scale studies we have done, we believe the only way children with poor working memory can go onto achieving academic success is by teaching them how to learn despite their smaller capacity to store information mentally....If the teacher feels significantly concerned about a child's performance in class, he or she can then get the child to do the computerised Automated Working Memory Assessment (AWMA). The tools also suggest ways for teachers to manage the children's working memory loads which will minimise the chances of children failing to complete tasks. Recommendations include repetition of instructions, talking in simple short sentences and breaking down tasks into smaller chunks of information.

Both tools are published by Pearson Assessment. The research that provided the foundation for the AWMA was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the British Academy.___Source
We have learned that EF can be taught--to some degree--in early childhood. If diminished short-term memory can be partially compensated, as the Durham researchers claim, then two significant limiting factors in life achievement might be amenable to amelioration. Call these interventions "crutches" if you must, but these interventions may just perform a partial "equalization" in life accomplishment that no amount of conventional governmental or educational interventions can accomplish.

The important point is that we have to look at these issues unblinkingly, without the blinders of well-intentioned political correctness. Only by seeing things as they are, can we ever be in a position to intervene in a meaningful way to the benefit of as many possible.

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Jumping the Curb: Educating at Warp Speed

It is very difficult to believe in a "singularity" when government school systems are so dysfunctional and counter-productive. Jack Uldrich suggests ways to change all that--ways to jump the educational curb.
For example, innovative teachers are now using Curriki—an open source curriculum development tool—to continually modify their curriculum with the latest information.

Other cash-strapped school districts are considering following the example of Insight Schools in Oregon which educated 600 students last year with an all-digital curriculum—and they did it for a cost of $4,500 per student. The program now has a waiting list of 3000 students.

...educators in Japan are now using video technology to both engage students and help them learn better. In early studies, schools using DS Nintendo to teach writing and vocabulary have noted that 80 percent of the students using the technology have mastered junior-high-level competence in English. This compared with only 15 percent under the standard method....programs such as LanguageLab.com are exploring how virtual reality sites such as SecondLife can help students learn languages better by creating more realistic situations in which they can interact with native speakers.

...The field of education is ripe with opportunity and technology offers the educational community an exciting opportunity to do its job better and more effectively.___Source_via_futureblogger
Check out Uldrich's links to learn a bit more about the future of education. If the obstructionists in the government education departments, the teachers' unions, the school boards, and the university schools of education would step back, relinquish a bit of control, and get the *^&% out of the way(!), the future of education just might be enabled by innovative minds working in the creative marketplace of ideas.

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Trillion Dollar Enterprises

They are talking about trillion dollar companies over at exciting, brand-new community blog Future Blogger.
The 10 Most Likely $1,000,000,000,000 Industries

1. Artificial Intelligence: Any system that can outsmart the smartest businessman stands a great chance to accumulate enormous value for its owner. Ray Kurzweil has already devised an evolutionary program that does very well at picking stocks. Dick Pelletier points out that this is already a $21 billion industry . With Google, Microsoft and myriad promising start-ups converging on a viable AI, would you bet against this industry?

2. Space Mining: For the for time in history, space is about to open wide to private enterprises. The first company to figure out how to cheaply bring back large quantities of rare metals like uranium, platinum and gold will cash in. But there will be plenty of competition angling to carve up market share and the corresponding asteroids.

3. Human Genetics: Recent stem cell breakthroughs are turning the unimaginable into reality. We’re already selecting embryos for favorable characteristics. Organ cloning looks like a not-too-far-off reality. Barring complications, regulation, and an ethical backlash, the twin prospects of life extension and genetic enhancement will surely get the credits flowing.

4. Non-Human Genetics: We’ve already made glow-in-the-dark goldfish, grown ears from the backs of mice, and possibly created the first ever artificial life form. What custom creatures, designer pets and efficient new beasts of burden are just around the corner?

5. Super-Massive Solar Farms: As efficient solar cells continue to drop in price, somebody’s bound to put them to good use in a big way. The question is, will large industrial solar farms located in desolate, sunny areas pay off big, or will a decentralized model involving millions of private residents win the day. In both cases a central company that combines manufacturing and maintenance would stand to make a great deal of cashola. Of course, the Japanese national effort to install solar cells in space and then beam back the energy could trump both approaches.

6. Robotics: IRobot’s Roombas are storming the living rooms of the world. Farms and factories increasingly rely on industrial robotics. Honda’s robot can identify and navigate stairs with ease. Toyota envisions itself as a robotics rather than a car company in the future. The right robots at the right price could make their owners and manufacturers a great deal of money.

7. New-Fangled, Profitable Social Networks: MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn have attained multi-billion dollar valuations despite the fact that they are difficult to monetize. At some point, somebody’s going to figure out how to rally together a group of people into a super-company or mini-nation, as Philip Rosedale of Second Life labels it, that can more deliberately generate enormous value. Widening bandwidth, advances in processing power, the proliferation of video capture, new content processing models, advanced advertising models, and breakthrough semantic applications are just some of the near-term advances that could significantly increase the value of social networks and their parent companies.

8. Mirror Worlds: Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and numerous others are all busily working on Earth platforms that represent major efficiencies for diverse fields like transportation, real estate, and city planning. As these digital environments get richer, more real-time and merge with social networks, related content and business applications could cause their value to skyrocket.

9. Reliable Traffic Control Networks: As robots, self-driving cars, and short-range aerial vehicles proliferate, they’re going to need a kick-ass and ultra-reliable traffic regulation system to help them , and us, co-exist. Such systems will be critical to unlocking the the economic promise of these technologies and will therefore fetch large sums from the companies, cities and nations that require it.

10. Nano-Fabrication: It’s already possible to print human tissue and carbon nanotubes. The company that produces a reasonably priced molecular assembler will enable the alchemist’s dream of: a machine that can spit out a variety of matter in different shapes and sizes.___FutureBlogger

That is a fascinating list of potential trillion dollar fields. Space mining and space-based energy are bound to hit the $Trillion mark fairly quickly, once seriously engaged. We should make the distinction between $Trillion companies, and $Trillion industries. The sheer scale of global enterprise means that banking, finance, insurance, energy,and investment industries are already over the $Trillion mark, among others.

$Trillion companies are another story. The first $Trillion company may very well be a hum-drum retailer, banking/insurance/financial conglomerate, or industrial supplier based in China or India--where growing markets are already huge and due to grow much more.

But the first "mega-$Trillion" company is likely to be the first one to break into the "open-ended revolutionary" areas of human endeavour. Out of the top ten list above, provided by Vis, "Artificial Intelligence", "Nanofabrication" and "Space Mining" (or space enterprise, including space-based energy) have the explosive potential to take off in a blinding fashion. Those are areas where "all bets are off" once they hit the payload.

Once such an industry is truly launched, it may not take long for $Trillion level companies are the norm, and $Billion level companies are seen as mere $Million level companies are seen today--small business.

Some readers may be puzzled at the contrast between the optimism of this posting, and the pessimism of the previous posts. The answer is simple. Anyone who wants to truly see the future, has to be able to contemplate multiple visions, and play them against each other.

The top ten list above contains entries that may be seen as a bit flippant at best, and naive at worst. It should not be judged too harshly, since projecting the future necessarily involves a type of "brainstorming" or "braindumping." You put the ideas out there and see what happens. Hopefully, the feedback you get will be mainly constructive.

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27 February 2008

Never Be the Same Again

Technology empowers those who master its use. The more advanced the technology, the greater the power granted to its masters. Nanotech, biotech, robotics, and advanced electronics bring the costs of widespread violence, mayhem, and terror down within the reach of a lot more people.
Professor Sharkey, who is famously known for his roles as chief judge on the TV series Robot Wars and as onscreen expert for the BBC´s TechnoGames, said: "The trouble is that we can't really put the genie back in the bottle. Once the new weapons are out there, they will be fairly easy to copy. How long is it going to be before the terrorists get in on the act?"

"With the current prices of robot construction falling dramatically and the availability of ready-made components for the amateur market, it wouldn't require a lot of skill to make autonomous robot weapons."___Source
Biotech terror will likewise grow from the bioweapons programs of nations such as Russia, China, Iran, etc., and become more widely available as the tools of biotechnology become less expensive and more easily obtained. The same is true for chemical weapons and nanotech weapons.

Nanotechnology will be widely used by both legitimate authorities and criminal/terror groups for multiple purposes. As both stationary and mobile stealth sensor networks, nano-devices offer unprecedented information gathering capability. Molecular assemblers, once available, would allow rapid assembly of nano-weapon devices as well as larger weapons systems and devices.

Currently, westerners enjoy freedoms of movement and action unprecedented in the history of the Earth. At this time, significant violence and oppression are geographically limited to specific areas of the third world, or to specific cities or sections of cities in the advanced world. Most westerners feel free to travel anywhere from cross town to cross planet, without feeling too concerned about their personal safety.

Such a situation cannot last much longer. Within every western country, significant minorities of people nurse feelings of victimisation, along with violent revenge fantasies. The fact that such disturbed individuals have heretofore lacked the means to perpetrate their vengeance upon the majority has done nothing to dampen the intensity of these violent urges. As technologies which can easily be perverted to violent ends become more readily available, such malcontents will more often carry out their dreams of revenge.

Currently, individuals can carry weapons into the workplace, the school building, the shopping mall--and kill a handful or two of unfortunate victims. In the near future, such aggrieved individuals will be able to use more advanced technologies to cause the deaths of dozens, or hundreds of individuals--with less risk to themselves.

Consider all the computer hackers of the world (mostly Russia and China, but also in your hometown), who would do so much more damage if they only had greater reach. Consider the breakdown of government and commerce due to widespread failure of computer networks, financial networks, utility control networks, flight control networks, and so forth. Soon, the advantage may shift from the defense to the offense, with a simple breakthrough or two.

There is no need for Peak Oil, no need for Catastrophic Climate Change, no need for Islamic Nuclear Terror. Just a few advanced computing algorithms operating on some custom hardware. Or a suitcase full of stealth nano-weapons released into a water supply or skyscrapers' air supply.

The US is the world leader in scientific and technological research, but US labs are full of spies and potential spies. Secrets are difficult to keep in the US, with most other nations of the world--including putative allies of the US--trying to snatch whatever secrets they can. But as more technology and science originates within labs in China, and other emerging powers, the US and Europe have no analogous spy networks set up to warn them of potentially dangerous breakthroughs. The first hint of a problem may be the abrupt collapse of every building in NYC more than three stories tall.

The point is that informed individuals should be prepared for such a shift in reality well before it occurs. Just as Californians need to be prepared for earthquakes, Kansans and Oklahomans should be prepared for tornadoes, Alaskans should be prepared for blizzards and extreme cold, and individuals living along the Gulf of Mexico or the southern US Atlantic coast need to be prepared for hurricanes.

Civilisation rests upon the organisation of civil affairs, basic infrastructure. But nothing is easier to disrupt in the new era of tech-enabled terrorism, than basic civil infrastructure. There is no need for a hurricane, earthquake, or other natural disaster. Infrastructure breakdown can be its own disaster.

Think about it. Expect it. Count on it. And be prepared.

Sponsored by the Society for Creative Apocalyptology®

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26 February 2008

Europe, UK: Brain Drain in Science, Medicine

Europe and the UK are suffering from a growing stampede of educated professionals, scientists, and technical specialists out of the region.
Record numbers of Britons are leaving - many of them doctors, teachers and engineers - in the biggest exodus for almost 50 years.

Skilled professionals, including doctors, are leaving the UK in record numbers Over a quarter of qualified professionals who have moved abroad had health or education qualifications

There are now 3.247 million British-born people living abroad, of whom more than 1.1 million are highly-skilled university graduates, say the researchers.

More than three quarters of these professionals have settled abroad for more than 10 years, according to the study by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

No other nation is losing so many qualified people, it points out. Britain has now lost more than one in 10 of its most skilled citizens, while overall only Mexico has had more people emigrate.

The figures, based on official records from more than 220 countries, will alarm Gordon Brown as tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money is spent on educating graduates. The cost of training a junior doctor, for example, is £250,000.

The most popular destinations are English-speaking countries such as Australia, America, Canada and New Zealand and holiday areas including France and Spain.

Almost 60 per cent of those leaving take jobs, although hundreds of thousands of retired people live abroad.___Telegraph
Feedback on this issue from Telegraph readers can be found here. Many informed blog comments on the same article can be found here. North Americans may find it difficult to understand why so many Europeans are so eager to leave. Particularly leftist North Americans, who so badly want to reproduce Western Europe within the borders of North America.

Unfortunately, there are many good reasons for Europeans and Britons to leave their home countries, as the comments linked to above will demonstrate. I see two overwhelming themes dominating the reasons behind this brain drain.

  • 1. Out of control immigration into Europe by uneducated, undisciplined, intolerant newcomers, leading to higher violent crime and property crime rates.
  • 2. Excessive taxation and regulation of the productive classes to benefit the non-productive, quasi-parasitic classes (including many of the new immigrants).
The trend will only accelerate with time and continued immigration of violent and religiously intolerant, unassimilable newcomers. When you lose residents at the high end of education and income, and gain residents at the lowest end of education and income--in fact gaining criminals and welfare dependents--then the long-term prospects look grim. It is no wonder that European women are reproducing at only half the replacement levels.Bonus image from Noodle Food demonstrates the flow of emigrant MDs between the four countries: the UK, the US, Canada, and Australia. It is important to realise that although the flow of MDs goes both ways between each pair of countries, there is a distinct lopsidedness there. The desirability rankings, based upon the emigration:immigration ratio, go like this:

1. US
2. Canada
3. Australia
4. UK

The MDs are mostly leaving the UK, and eventually mostly ending up in the US. It would be helpful to have similar information regarding other medical professionals, scientists, teachers, engineers, IT professionals, etc. who are emigrating from the UK and Europe.

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The Biomass Promise

Biomass energy promises to change many of the rules the energy world has been operating on for over a century. For rural areas, centralised production and distribution of liquid fuels and electric power by mega-energy corporations, will begin giving way to smaller, de-centralised producers and refiners--closer to the end-consumer.

Brazil and India are at the forefront of this energy revolution.
The Brazilian government has unveiled a multi-billion dollar anti-poverty program to provide jobs, electricity and infrastructures in the poorest, rural parts of the country. Bioenergy and biofuels are a key part of the plan, because the sector offers major opportunities for rural development and poverty alleviation. Biofuels create jobs for the country's vast rural populations, improve incomes and livelihoods, and help boost local access to energy. Modern energy is key to health and development, which is why rural electrification is seen as a priority.___Biopact
India has been at the forefront of the utilisation of Jatropha biodiesel village scale agriculture. The small scale approach has worked for many Indian villages, and promises to bring many more villages into the electricity and communications age. But some in the upper reaches of Indian national government, are looking at going big-time in biofuels. They are considering using GM biotech:
"Biotech can solve bio-fuel needs of the world...India, the second biggest producer of sugar, is likely to gain," James said.

Mayee said India is working towards getting technology for developing GM sugarcane with better ethanol output from Brazil.___Checkbiotech
My advice to India is to stick to small and medium scale projects. Trying to outcompete Brazil in cane ethanol is the last thing India should be trying to do. That is obsolete, last century thinking.In the US, West Virginia is a perennially impoverished state. It is also a US state looking closely at using biomass to reduce its dependence on foreign liquid fossil fuels.
The most common biomass resources are residues - agricultural wastes (corn stalks, cereal straws, sugarcane), forest waste (sawdust, pulp waste from paper mills, wood chips) and municipal solid waste (paper towels, newspaper, cardboard and yard waste). These residues make West Virginia, and other U.S. states with strong timber or agricultural industries, the perfect place to develop these homegrown fuels.___Source
Unfortunately, West Virginia's government appears to be another bureaucracy that is stuck on the idea of bio-ethanol as the be-all and end-all of bio-energy. That is the type of "hick thinking" that could keep West Virginia in the impoverished grouping.Converting bio-mass (including waste and garbage) into electricity is the smartest approach to bio-energy. One company that would be worth including in your stock portfolio is Renegy (NASDAQ: RNGY).
Budd Zuckerman, president of Genesis Select, stated, "Renegy is well positioned to address a growing demand for clean, sustainable power, and to lead the biomass to electricity segment of the renewable energy industry in North America. Its first biomass plant is scheduled to come online in the second quarter of 2008 to supply electrical power to Arizona's two leading utility companies. Renegy has also identified and begun to explore multiple additional biomass to electricity project opportunities totaling more than one gigawatt...of power output. In addition to operating a growing portfolio of renewable energy facilities that convert organic waste into electrical power, Renegy has built a world-class fuel aggregation infrastructure and a solid fuel procurement strategy to harvest, collect and transport wood waste material to power existing and future biomass plants.___Source
What is the overall energy promise of biomass? Theoretically, over 90% of world energy needs could be met by sustainable bio-energy.

Initially, the easiest promise to fulfill is at the local level. Regional crops and bio-residues can be matched to appropriate technology bioreactors and small-scale power plants to produce liquid fuels (biodiesel, bio-alcohols, biocrude), gas fuels (methanol), and electricity.

For the larger scale promise, it will take time to grow the infrastructure to rival the enormous infrastructure devoted to petroleum, coal, and gas. But it will be done, incrementally. As long as petro-fuel prices remain high (above US $70/barrel) the development of the infrastructure for bio-energy will continue, and accelerate.

Image credit to zero.no, fes.ng, and World Bank

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Cuba is not a Place for Good Socialists

Neil Clark went to Havana looking for the socialist paradise he had always heard it would be. By the time he left, he was happy just to get out alive!
All the people whose views we respect had said that the Caribbean island was a progressive model whose policies on education and healthcare ought to be copied throughout the world. We went there last April desperately wanting to like the place — after all, if George W. Bush and other right-wing nasties hated Cuba so much, then the country must be on the right tracks.

But we returned home terribly disillusioned. Neither of us had been to a country which was so utterly decrepit.

...The average wage in Cuba is a pitiful $17 a month. The monthly ration which includes 283g of fish, 226g of chicken, ten eggs and 1.8kg of potatoes is barely enough for a fortnight, meaning most Cubans need to work the black market to stay alive. Things that we in Britain take totally for granted — such as toilet paper, toothpaste and pens — are luxury goods in Cuba. I’ll never forget the look of joy from an old lady when I handed her a couple of old marker pens and a coloured pencil.

For Fidel’s chums, life is somewhat easier. Despite its calls for further belt-tightening, the Cuban government last year ordered Series 1, 3 and 5 BMWs for all its ambassadors and a Series 5 model for Raúl Castro, who had taken charge of the country after his brother’s hospitalisation.

The heartbreaking consequences of Cuba’s currency apartheid were bought home to my wife and I on a Saturday afternoon visit to Havana’s Coppelia ‘Ice Cream’ park. To the right of the park gates was a long queue of Cubans who had only Cuban pesos. They have to wait on average two hours every weekend to get their weekly scoop of ice cream. On the left, there was walk-in access to tourists and the lucky locals who had convertible pesos. Fifty years on, the Cuban revolution has turned full circle in a truly Orwellian fashion. Once again the locals find themselves excluded from the best beaches in their country, as they were under Batista. And prostitution, so rife in pre-revolutionary days, is back — the jineteras being the only group of Cubans allowed to enter the new purpose-built resorts.

...The totalitarian nature of Castro’s Cuba is no right-wing myth, but a reality....After the stress of our final day in Cuba, my wife and I were hugely relieved to leave the country. And when we were safely airborne, we both reflected that if any country was in need of a revolution, it was Fidel Castro’s Cuba. ___Source

Go ahead and read the full story of Neil Clark's visit to Havana. Also consider Czech super-model Helena Houdova, who had to hide her digital memory card in her bra, to get visual evidence of Cuba's collapse out of the country. And think about the people who continue to repeat the lies about Castro's "revolution paradise", and consider what these dishonest rumour-bearers are really up to. And while you are thinking about that, think about the same brainless ideologues who mecca'd to Sandinista Nicaragua, and who continue to pilgrimage to Chavez' Venezuela.

These are the type of true believers who will happily make 90% of Earth's human population disappear, if that is what the gods of global warming and peak oil demand. It is an unhappy group of pilgrims, acolytes, disciples, and zombies. Their beliefs far outweigh anything that can be shown to their lying eyes.

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The Energy Promised Land?

Daniel Yergin from Cambridge Energy Research Associates recently spoke to the US National Governors Association meeting. His message to the governors was seen as optimistic on the future of energy, a welcome relief from the usual cant of negativism. Yergin suggested that clean energies such as nuclear and hydroelectric would provide most of the alternatives to fossil fuels in the future.
Yergin explained how CERA’s analysis in Crossing the Divide uses a scenarios framework to assess the prospects among the various clean energy technologies and help define key risks and opportunities as companies seek to place their technology bets. The analysis addresses new and conventional energy technologies that can provide energy with a minimal carbon footprint and facilitate greater energy security. These technologies include biofuels, renewable power technologies, carbon capture and storage, nuclear and hydropower.___CERA
As can be seen by Al Fin's recent postings on biomass, biofuels, and CHP, we here at Al Fin are particularly optimistic about the energy future--assuming the basic political and economic climate remains intact. Climate change is more of a religion than a science, but it is a particularly dominant religion in the area of government and foundation financing, and science publication. It is an unfalsifiable religion, however, and realists treat it as such when allowed to speak honestly.

Yergin is an energy realist, like Leonardo Maugeri. Energy realists understand that oil, gas, coal, and unconventional petroleum deposits are still plentiful. New technologies will make them even more accessible and economical than at present.

But even realists like Yergin have to saturate their communications with the cloying suffocation of "climate change" rhetoric. Even years after the discrediting of Naomi Oreskes, such caution is required in order to remain within the mainstream of government and quasi-governmental money flow. As James Watson, Larry Summers and many other scientists, engineers, and other technical people have learned, some things cannot be talked about honestly in public.

H/T Energy Blog

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25 February 2008

Tissue Scaffold News

Tissue and organ replacement--regenerative medicine--is dependent on new developments in stem cells, growth factors, genetic controls, and tissue scaffolds. One approach to tissue scaffold uses nano-polymers.
David Nisbet from Monash University's Department of Materials Engineering has used existing polymer-based biodegradable fibres, 100 times smaller than a human hair, and re-engineered them to create a unique 3-D scaffold that could potentially allow stem cells to repair damaged nerves in the human body more quickly and effectively.

Mr Nisbet said a combined process of electrospinning and chemical treatment was used to customise the fibre structure, which can then be located within the body.

"The scaffold is injected into the body at the site requiring nerve regeneration. We can embed the stem cells into the scaffold outside the body or once the scaffold is implanted. The nerve cells adhere to the scaffold in the same way ivy grips and weaves through a trellis, forming a bridge in the brain or spinal cord. Over time, the scaffold breaks down and is naturally passed from the body, leaving the newly regenerated nerves intact," Mr Nisbet said.___Source
Certainly polymer based scaffolding can be generated quickly, and modified relatively easily. I will be interested to follow developments from this approach.

A special award was given recently to a Yale researcher involved in tissue scaffold development.
Erin Lavik, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Yale, was honored recently by the Connecticut Technology Council as one of their 2008 Women of Innovation....Lavik, who was cited for her academic innovation and leadership, focuses her research on developing new therapeutic approaches for the treatment of spinal cord injury and retinal degeneration.

She begins repair of damaged tissues using biodegradable polymers formed into three-dimensional scaffolds that mimic the structure of the tissue. After chemically modifying the scaffold surfaces, she incorporates growth factors that further create an environment for repair.

By combining neural or retinal stem cells with these environments, she is discovering the cues that promote integration and differentiation of the cells into healthy tissue. In a rodent model of spinal cord injury, the seeded scaffold promoted functional recovery allowing the rats to regain a weight-bearing stride. She also collaborated on an implantable system that can form and stabilize a functional network of fine blood vessels critical for supporting tissues in the body.___Eurekalert
Tissue scaffolds are routinely subjected to a variety of testing, in order the achieve the proper combination of properties of mechanics and permeability.
Deformable scaffolds with specific mechanical properties were made by blending flexible, biodegradable polymers.3,4 Labyrinths of pores with specific shapes and interconnectivity were formed into cube-shaped samples using injection molding and 3D printing.5 These prototypes were then cyclically distorted to varying degrees and in several ways: compressed or twisted, for instance. Micro x-ray imaging followed the movement of a contrast dye through the scaffolds as they were manipulated.___Source
Current scaffold-like products being used in the OR include Apligraf, Alloderm, among a growing list of synthetic tissue graft and scaffold products.

The "inkjet" approach to printing tissue and tissue scaffolds is also an active area of research in regenerative medicine--although not ready for the OR yet. The time is certainly coming, when most human organs and tissues will be replaceable with lab-grown stand-ins. We do not need anything fancy. Just something that works.

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Return to Mitochondria

Mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell. If the mitochondria are not healthy, the cell will not be healthy. Drug researchers are beginning to make the connection between drug candidates and mitochondrial health. This dawning awareness should lead to some startling developments in treatments for degenerative diseases such as diabetes--perhaps even for chronic fatigue syndrome. Researchers should also now be able to better avoid new drugs that cause side effects due to induced mitochondrial dysfunction.
Mootha and his team zeroed in on five basic features of mitochondria activity, looking at how a library of 2,500 chemical compounds affected mitochondrial toxic byproducts (like all “chemical factories” mitochondria produce their own toxic waste), energy levels, speed with which substances pass through these organelles, membrane voltage, and expression of key mitochondrial and nuclear genes. (Mitochondria contain their own genome, consisting of approximately 37 genes in humans.)

It’s just like taking your car in for an engine diagnostic,” explains Mootha. “The mechanic will probe the battery, the exhaust system, the fan belt, etc., and as a result will then produce a read-out for the entire system. That’s analogous to what we’ve done.”

As a result of these investigations, Mootha and his group produced three major findings.

First, the team discovered a pathway by which the mitochondria and the cell’s nuclear genome communicate with each other. They found this by discovering that certain drugs actually broke communication between these two genomes. By reverse engineering the drugs’ toxic effects, they may be able to reconstruct normal function.

Second, the team looked at a class of the cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins. Roughly 100 million Americans take statins, and among that group, about 1 million experience muscle cramping and aches. Previous studies suggested that mitochondria were involved, but clinical evidence remained conflicting. Mootha and his colleagues found that three out of the six statins (Fluvastatin, Lovastatin, and Simvastatin) interfered with mitochondria energy levels, as did the blood-pressure drug Propranolol. When combined, the effect was worse.

“It’s likely that a fair number of patients with heart disease are on one of these three statins as well as Propranolol,” says Mootha, “Our cellular studies predict that these patients might be at a higher risk for developing the muscle cramps. Obviously, this is only a hypothesis, but now this is easily testable.”

The third and arguably most clinically relevant finding builds on a paper Mootha coauthored in 2003, a paper that demonstrated how type 2 diabetes was linked to a decrease in the expression of mitochondrial genes. A subsequent and unrelated paper showed a relationship between type 2 diabetes and an increase in mitochondrial toxic byproducts. Mootha’s group decided to query their toolkit and see if there were any drugs that affected both of these functions, drugs that could boost gene expression while reducing mitochondrial waste.

Indeed, they found six compounds that did just that, five of which were known to perturb the cell’s cytoskeleton, that is, the scaffolding that gives a cell its structure.

“Our data shows that when we disrupt the cytoskeleton of the cell, that sends a message to boost the mitochondria, turning on gene expression and dropping the toxic byproducts,” says Mootha. “The connection between the cytoskeleton and mitochondrial gene expression has never been shown before and could be very important to basic cell biology.”

Of the five drugs that did this, one, called Deoxysappanone, is found in green tea and is known to have anti-diabetic effects. Another, called Mebendazole, is used for treating intestinal worm infections. This connection gives a rationale to case reports in which diabetics treated with Mebendazole have described improvements in their glucose levels while on the drug.

The researchers intend to further investigate some of the basic biological questions that this study has raised, foremost being the relationship between the cytoskeleton and mitochondria. They also plan on using this toolkit to develop strategies for restoring normal mitochondrial function in certain metabolic and neurodegenerative conditions where it has broken down.

Nature Biotechnology, February 24, early online edition___Newswise
The connection between mitochondrial health and many other common degenerative diseases--besides diabetes--is there, waiting to be sorted out. Effective treatment for mitochondrial dysfunction is apt to be most widely applicable to a wide range of diseases which were formerly believed to be unrelated to each other.

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Hitting the G Spot

Why has it been so hard to find the "G Spot?" My private research in this area led me unfailingly to the elusive location after only limited exploration. I have used my navigational skills in this area without reservation, without mercy.
Named after German gynaecologist Ernst Gräfenberg who first hypothesized its existence in 1950, the G-spot is said to be an area a couple of inches inside the vagina behind the pubic bone.

However a lack of physical evidence led some scientists to dispute that there was any such thing....Dr Jannini took ultrasounds of nine women who said they had vaginal orgasms and 11 who said they did not.

They found the tissue between the vagina and the urethra, thought to contain the G-spot, was thicker in the first group....The zone is rich in blood vessels, glands, muscle fibres and nerves. It also contain the Skene's gland, the so-called "female prostate" - which varies widely between women and which some researchers have suggested plays a role in determining whether women can experience vaginal orgasms.

Dr Jannini accepted his study was too small to help determine what proportion of women has a G-spot, and is planning larger trials to answer that question.___Telegraph

I suspect that the G Spot is the origin of PSAS--persistant sexual arousal syndrome. Although mainstream "sex experts" remain clueless about the source of this condition, a bit of logic would relate PSAS to the G Spot's brain center--and a condition analogous to "phantom limb pain" in amputees. I will not say more about this now, since I believe this clue should be sufficient for the truly interested.

There is also the matter of the mysterious "Venus Butterfly Technique." Unknown to most men and women, the VBT is an elementary sexual technique that should be in the repertoire of every connoisseur of sex. I learned the technique on my own, many years ago, to great advantage. Developing true finesse with the VBT requires an intimate knowledge of female sexual anatomy--both genital and cerebral. Search for clues about the VBT in this post.

When I think you are ready, I will tell you more.

Previously published at Al Fin, You Sexy Thing

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What Is Wrong With This Picture?

The nuclear propulsion plant in the ship uses a pressurized water reactor design which has two basic systems: 1. the primary system; and, 2. the secondary system. The primary system circulates ordinary water and consists of the reactor, piping loops, pumps and steam generators. The heat produced in the reactor is transferred to the water under high pressure so it does not boil. The water is pumped through the steam generators and back into the reactor for reheating. In the steam generators, the heat from the water in the primary system is transferred to the secondary system to create steam.

The secondary system is isolated from the primary system so that the water in the two systems does not intermix. In the secondary system, the steam flows from the seam generators to drive the turbine generators, which simply supply the ship with electrictiy, and to the main propulsion turbines, which drive the propeller. After passing through the turbines, the steam is condensed back into water which is fed back to the steam generators by the feed pumps. Thus, both the primary and secondary systems are closed systems where water is recirculated and reused. There is no step in the generation of this power which requires the presence of air or oxygen. This allows the ship to operate completely independent from the earth's atmosphere for extended periods of time.___Source

The US Navy's nuclear needs are helping to drive a worldwide market in small nuclear reactor design. Small nuclear reactors are becoming more economical in operation, more versatile for fitting in various ship designs, and strategically more indispensable in naval operations.

Small and modular nuclear reactor designs are likely to find their way into more installations--both military and civilian--particularly as prices of fossil fuels remain high, and the nuclear designs become safer and more affordable. Ideal locations for small nuclear reactors would include undersea habitats, year-round arctic and antarctic outposts, relatively isolated oil-shale and tar-sands mining operations, dedicated desalination plants, etc. Small scale and modular nuclear electricity and heat fit into a wide variety of industrial and infrastructure needs.

Extra points for spotting the design mistake in the graphic.


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24 February 2008

Daring to Cross the Waters By Pedal, Sun, Beer, and Wave, 69 Year Old Ken-Ichi Horie

First he pedaled a boat from Hawaii to Okinawa. Then he crossed the Pacific in a solar-powered boat. Next he soloed the Pacific in a catamaran built of beer kegs. Now, he plans to sail from Hawaii to Japan in a novel "wave-powered" boat--in slow motion.
This month, 69-year-old Japanese sailor Ken-ichi Horie will attempt to captain the world’s most advanced wave-powered boat 4,350 miles from Hawaii to Japan. If all goes as planned, he’ll set the first Guinness world record for the longest distance traveled by a wave-powered boat and, along the way, show off the greenest nautical propulsion system since the sail.

A simple spring system enables twin fins beneath the bow of the Suntory to move up and down with the incoming waves and pull the boat forward.
At the heart of the record-setting bid is the Suntory Mermaid II, a three-ton catamaran made of recycled aluminum alloy that turns wave energy into thrust. Two fins mounted side by side beneath the bow move up and down with the incoming waves and generate dolphin-like kicks that propel the boat forward. “Waves are a negative factor for a ship—they slow it down,” says Yutaka Terao, an engineering professor at Tokai University in Japan who designed the boat’s propulsion system. “But the Suntory can transform wave energy into propulsive power regardless of where the wave comes from.”___PopSci
How efficient is the wave-powered mechanism? At first glance, I would have to say "not very." A maximum speed of 5 knots means his journey will take at least 3 months. His electronics and communication will be powered by solar panels. He will also have an emergency outboard engine on board, just in case.

I like the idea of tapping into the wave energy of the sea, to drive a boat. As a proof of concept, it is not a bad adventure. Yet, waves are a tertiary solar effect, derived from a secondary solar effect--the wind. Somehow, I cannot help but think that there is a good reason why ancient seafarers chose sail over wave power for traveling long distances by sea.

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USAF Prepares for Coming War with Russia, China

The small wars the US is fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Horn of Africa, and other lesser known locations, are typically small unit wars fought against small units of loosely organised insurgent and terrorist groups. But the nature of the current hot wars fought by the US military says nothing about future conflicts with large nations of growing belligerency, such as China and Russia. The US Air Force (as well as the Army and Navy) must continue to train for conflict against battalion and division level units on land, sea, and in the air. That is where new energy weapons come in.
Boeing will support research, design, development and testing at Air Force Research Laboratory sites at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M. Specific efforts will include:

  • - Working to advance gas, hybrid electric-gas and chemical laser systems, as well as technologies related to high-power fiber lasers, fiber laser pumps, non-linear optics, solid-state lasers and diode-pump lasers.
  • - Coordinating, preparing and executing tests of laser effects.
  • - Rapid prototyping of directed energy technology, including semiconductor lasers, thin-disk lasers, ultra-short lasers, laser-based infrared countermeasures, and mid-wave and long-wave infrared lasers.
  • - Supporting the Laser Center of Excellence, a joint Department of Defense/academic program that partners the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Air Force Research Lab, Air Force Institute of Technology, University of New Mexico and New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. The Center's efforts include gas, hybrid electric-gas and chemical laser systems.___Source
Other advanced energy weapons include advanced radio frequency and microwave weapons, particle beam technologies, high powered electromagnetic accelerator weapons being developed by the Navy.

The recent direct hit by a ship-launched missile on an errant spy satellite--in orbit--highlights the advanced level of weapons electronics incorporated into US weapons. And that technology was decades old. Imagine the type of weapons being tested in secret labs, waiting in the queue for implementation into actual weapons systems. The high technology of US weapons systems is a nightmare to Russian defense planners, and an exciting spy opportunity for the CCP PLA defense planners.

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23 February 2008

A School Bus for an Ice Age

If solar signs are being read correctly (PDF), we could very well be in for at least a little ice age, beginning in about a decade--if we are lucky. If we are unlucky, we may be in for more than just a "little" ice age. It all depends upon the brightest deity in our sky--the Sun God. As an atheo-agnostic, I do not actually believe in a Sun God, but it is quite true that humans at this stage in their development can not very well live without the Sun.

Suppose we do have a little ice age. How will we get around from place to place, on all of that ice? The red contraption pictured above may be one answer to the question. Believe it or not, it is used during colder winters as a School Bus, to ferry children living on Madeline Island to their mainland school in lovely Bayfield.
Though the trip offers a breathtaking panorama in a winter-wonderland sort of way, with this part of Lake Superior taking on the look of the grandest, most pristine ice rink the imagination can conjure, the windsled is purely utilitarian.

The 9,000-pound vehicle, propelled by its twin fans and steered by a driver much the way a regular bus would be, is heated and has padded benches with room for about 20 students. Beyond that, there are no luxuries. Loud and bumping along at 18 miles an hour, it hardly qualifies as a thrill ride...Because of the pounding it takes on the ice, the windsled is a high-maintenance machine. It was built in 2000 with a grant of half a million dollars from the federal Department of Transportation.

...The windsled was built by Arnie and Ronald Nelson, brothers who own a local construction business and who operate the sled under contract with La Pointe and the school district. It is kept light on its feet by its forward motion and the way the design disperses its four and a half tons over its 336 square feet.

The Nelsons regularly check the ice for safety. Once it freezes to a depth of greater than 11 inches, as it typically does by mid-to-late winter, the bay is deemed safe for cars and light trucks. A road is then plowed in the top layer of ice, and at that point the students are shuttled across by minivan. The ice road is open to anyone who wants to drive it. And many people do.____ImpactLab

So the ice sled is mainly used when the ice is too thick for boats but too thin for cars and trucks. I have ridden in air boats before, and driven many miles over frozen lakes. But an air-boat ice sled is a bit of a novelty for me.

I suspect that some type of hovercraft--similar to some US Navy vessels I observed in operation--would also be capable of carrying several dozen school kids across many miles of ice and snow. But honestly, when the weather gets too bad, would it not be simpler just to provide a classroom at home?

Whether we are truly headed into an extended duration ice age (lasting for decades at least) or not, it is not a bad idea to consider our options, just in case.

Remember: if the sun does decide to take it easy for a while, we will need to burn more fuel to stay warm. And since our capacity to grow biomass for electricity and fuel will be diminished during a period of weaker sun, we will have to look elsewhere for our sustaining heat and energy. Unless westerners get cracking, building new fission reactor power plants, we will no doubt have to burn more coal. A lot more coal.
The interesting thing to me about Archibald's predictions for an ice age beginning within the decade, is that he is putting his predictions boldly within the near future--where they can be refuted by reality. Contrast that boldness with the weasels at the IPCC, NASA Goddard, etc. who place their catastrophes well into the future. There is no fudging Archibald's theories. If they are wrong, we will soon know it. The CAGW orthodox tautology, on the other hand, can be used to explain virtually any climate whatsoever--short of a genuine ice age.


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Promising Biofuels Pact: India and Canada

The tremendous potential of biofuels and biomass are barely understood by policy-makers and planners. But technical experts from Canada and India are collaborating to bring biofuels out of the closet.
India says Saskatchewan University will help it in advanced research into second-generation technologies for biofuels...."Agri residues such as bagasse, wheat straw, sorghum and maize straws, leaf litter and various other plant biomass, which have not been adequately utilized for energy production, provide ample opportunities for use as biofuels," said S.A. Patil, director of the Indian institute.

"We have entered into an agreement with the Saskatchewan University in Canada for four specific projects on biofuels."...He said one project is for the conversion of biomass to ethanol using different technologies such as acid hydrolysis and supercritical carbon dioxide to produce fermentable sugars, which will be converted into ethanol via fermentation. Another project is production of biodiesel from jatropha and other oils using ultrasound technology.

Patil said the other two projects are for the conversion of waste biomass into biogas and fertilizers and for biomass conversion into hydrogen through supercritical water process.___Source__via biopact

Small-scale biorefinery projects promise to bring energy production down to a scale where ordinary entrepreneurs, businesspersons, and labourers can benefit--unlike megascale projects of big oil, big coal, and big nuclear.
“Biorefineries producing not just fuel, but also chemicals and energy can be built throughout the United States, utilizing locally available cellulosic biomass feedstocks. These small-scale projects will use a wide variety of feedstocks and test many different technologies for fuel and coproducts, providing experience and data that can be transferred to full-size, commercial-scale biorefineries....“A recent BIO report, ‘Achieving Sustainable Production of Agricultural Biomass for Biorefinery Feedstock,’ showed that through increased use of no-till agriculture farmers can produce and collect crop residues in an economically and environmentally sustainable way. The report identifies available techniques for sustainable harvesting of agricultural residues – such as corn stover and cereal straws – for use as feedstocks for advance biofuel biorefineries. The report is available at http://bio.org/ind/biofuel/SustainableBiomassReport.pdf.
The aspect of biomass and biofuels that seems to distress so many mega-scale energy analysts--its distributed, non-concentrated nature--is actually a good thing for small scale entrepreneurs, and small-town and small-village workers. Because biomass is so "spread out" over wide geographical areas, it lends itself far better to small-scale, local ventures. Faux environmentalists will fail to understand that feature, whereas true environmentalists who care about local economies, will seize sustainable biomass/biofuels as an important issue to promote.

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Peak Oil: Meet PIP

Discovering new oil and gas deposits is expensive and time-consuming. But new exploration technologies are making it easier to find deposits that were almost impossible to find with traditional seismic technology. One of these technologies is PIP: Passive Induced Polarization.
Eldorado Exploration (Pink Sheets:EDEX) announced today that it expects its Passive Induced Polarization “PIP” technology to locate hundreds of undiscovered commercial oil and gas deposits. ‘PIP’ can be used to survey large areas and find large and small targets that traditional 3D Seismic technology used by the major oil and gas companies couldn’t find or were judged cost prohibitive. The potential commercial value of these undiscovered oil and gas reserves if successfully located and drilled is in the billions.

...The process helps eliminate geological prospects that will be dry holes. Strong signals indicate commercial potential of discovering oil and/or gas. No signal or weak readings indicate low probability for a successful find. The cost of evaluating prospects is a small fraction of 3D Seismic and takes much less time. 'PIP' technology takes days instead of months or years for 3-D Seismic.___Source
The amount of oil still in the ground, undiscovered, is no doubt far larger than all the oil that has been extracted or discovered to this time. It would be absurd to assume otherwise, given the miniscule proportion of the Earth's crust that has actually been explored--in any meaningful way.

This year is projected to be an active year for oil exploration and production startups.
The number of start-up oil and gas exploration and production companies in the U.S. is on pace to match the high volume seen in 2007, according to Oil and Gas Investor This Week, the online weekly e-letter of Hart Energy Publishing.

Oil and Gas Investor This Week recently published its annual round-up of 2007 E&P start-ups, showcasing 36 new companies.

“The past year saw no shortage of new energy companies, with high equity commitments helping to form new E&Ps and the promise of long-term benefits inspiring an explosion of MLP IPOs. Already, 2008 is looking to continue the previous year's trend,” remarked Stephen Payne, editor of Oil and Gas Investor This Week....Oil and Gas Investor This Week is the most authoritative news source on new financings in North America. Fifty times a year, the e-letter features news on company formations, moves by key industry personnel and comprehensive lists of new financings and insider trading.____Source

The huge untapped petroleum resources that remain in the ground, will be of benefit as a bridge between present non-sustainable energy methods, and the more sustainable energy that humans are just beginning to master. When humans abandon petroleum, it will not be due to peak oil, or the lack of more oil to pump. It will be due to cleaner, sustainable, less expensive fuels that are readily available.

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