Wednesday, March 11, 2009

There is Good News.....


All that Hope stuff is not just smoke blown up our collective butts.

Despite reading a long depressing article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine about Cleveland real can buy a house in Cleveland for $4k on eBay, but the copper pipes and wiring will already be stripped out.

The old jobs are long gone: Walmart convinced everyone that it was more in our national interest to save all 300 million of us ten cents on t-shirts, and their stockholders another nickel a shirt.....than have, say North Carolina with a 300 year old textile industry.

And....we are betting on being smarter than the rest of the world to pull our asses out of the fire?

Here are some nuggets......two from Reno, one from Pittsburg, PA.... and one from Livermore.

You get Reno because I went to middle school and high school there. It was nice....Reno ain't Vegas. We will start there.

Biodiesel is all the rage. In Minnesota has a law now that all diesel sold in the state has to contain 2% biodiesel......grown by the Minnesota soy bean farmers, of course.

We won't even talk about how stupid it is to use food crops grown in frigid Northern Plains conditions to make fuel....

In Reno, researchers found two and pond scum.

In coffee.....these crazy Indian imports (scientists whose names literally look like a fist fight at a Scrabble tournament.......Narasimharoa Kondamundi is one. DOCTOR Narasimharoa Kondamundi to you.....) have figured out a way to extract oil from coffee grounds in a way that makes money.

As with all poor grad students the world over.....these guys live on coffee. One day one of them noticed an oily scum that formed over the surface of one of the many forgotten cups that littered the lab. Hmmm.

The boys started collecting all the grounds from the local Starbucks and working it. I won't go into detail, but it works and is financially feasible. Five kilos of grounds yields a litre of pure biodiesel. The fuel is of such quality that it can just be dumped in the tank without any modification or pre-heating, unlike the fast-food fat fryer biodiesel.

And...the upside is that your exhaust smells like a Venti Mocha.


Oh....and the by product of the process? Compost.

In American we consume seven million tonnes of coffee each year. This would yield 340 million gallons of biodiesel.

Isn't that a nice wake up?

The second Reno project is not so sexy. Another group of scholars have developed a strain of algae that loves salt and can grow outside in uncovered ponds even in winter. One 5,000 gallon pondlet produced a couple of hundred pounds of algae....that converted into twenty gallons of biodiesel every three weeks. Just by sitting around in the sun.

This would be a perfect industry for Cachagua. We have sun, we have scum, we have a whole reservoir full of algae....two actually. And Lord knows.....we have diesel engines. Many of them still run, most of the time.

Next, on to Pittsburgh, PA.....where you can also probably buy a house for $4k on eBay. Pittsburgh has a battery company called Axion Power who is rejuvenating 150 year old battery technology.

Previously, to be good a battery had to be heavy. Lead, after all, is among the densest of elements. Axion has figured out a way to use activated carbon instead of lead.....and has a lighter battery that lasts three times longer than even deep-cycle batteries available now.

Being from Pittsburgh, Axion did not put their energy into a sporty little roadster like the $120,000 Tesla from Burlingame.....they converted a pick-up truck. A Ford, of course. Conversion cost was only $8,000. So far, the truck only has a 45 mile range....but frankly that compares well with many of our current Cachagua vehicles.

The good news is that these are early days, and Axion is getting smarter. They already have a contract with the US Marines to power their assault vehicles. I can't picture a tougher trial arena.....and how sweetly ironic is it to think of electrically powered tanks and APC's cruising around over all of that fossil fuel in Iraq...

Finally.....back to California for some hot air and partying. Really. Some guys were probably stoned or drunk and contemplating metal balloons at a party. (I don't know their background offhand....but I am thinking Cal rather than Stanford). It is completely uncool to buy metallized balloons because they inevitably escape, fly away, and way too often wind up shorting out power lines and causing wild fires. Or landing in dry fields and randomly focussing sunrays on dry grass, etc.

CoolEarth in Livermore came up with the idea of coating half of a balloon with metal and leaving the other half clear....and putting a solar cell in the middle to collect the reflected energy. Rather than needing thousands of acres of mirrors in the desert to power one giant plant....the CoolEarth balloons can be anywhere.

Current costs run about a dollar a watt of energy to install.....the same as awful coal powered plants. Coal plants last longer, obviously...but balloons are fueled by the sun, for free. So far net costs are about ten cents a kilowatt-hour......which makes actual money.

So.....three of these going, viable projects.....if described on Fox News....would generate gales of laughter and ridicule: "Fucking Obama is spending money on diesel from Starbucks! And pond scum! And party balloons!"

Well, these things actually work....they are all made in America, will supply jobs, and don't need much more help from research dollars.

That help came last week with the big, dumb stimulus bill. I can't believe these are the only deals going like this....this is the result of five minutes of research.

Oh....Cool Earth and Axion are hiring.

So.....wake up, America! Smell the coffee! Or the pond scum!

It is not all bad news......


Blogger sam said...

Cal by no means has a monopoly on these hair-brained schemes, or the...ahem..."chemical catalysts" conducive to their imagining. As I remember Stuart impressing on us, Ken Kesey was a Stanford guy. But I digress.

There are thousands of these ideas out there. Just off the top of my head, I could rattle off a half dozen: a super-efficient hybrid car (200+ mpg), kites to generate wind power in the jet stream, high-efficiency cookware, floats that generate power from waves, passively-heated homes, and on and on. There are young engineers all over Silicon Valley just dying for a chance to put their idea into production. Maybe 9 out of 10 turn out to be impractical, but that still leaves a shitload of great ideas out there. So yes, there is hope!

5:52 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home