Stories tagged Flow of Matter and Energy

Jan
25
2010

NASAAlgae: An illustration of a NASA's offshore algae harvesting and turning into fuel. "The blue is turning green," said a team leader, Jonathan Trent, a bioengineer at NASA Ames Research Center.
NASAAlgae: An illustration of a NASA's offshore algae harvesting and turning into fuel. "The blue is turning green," said a team leader, Jonathan Trent, a bioengineer at NASA Ames Research Center.Courtesy NASA
AlgaeStock: The tiny green creatures - algae - the bright future for biofuel alternative.
AlgaeStock: The tiny green creatures - algae - the bright future for biofuel alternative.Courtesy Amy Westervelt
Remember the illuminating, healing Tree of Soul from the movie Avatar? Imagine similar light-absorbing creatures in glowing Olympic pool or convoluted, green blankets floating in the oceans of Pandora. But within the next decade, we’ll see those just off the coast of California. The age of alga[e]tar, algae-derived substitute for gasoline, is rising.

Jan 15, 2010, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) funds $80 million to develop "sustainable commercialization" of algae-based gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Several start-up companies like Dow Chemical and Algenol Biofuels have developed pilot plants, using CO2 to grow algae which produce biofuel. The plants are now in Freeport, TX, Bonita Spring, FL, and even in Kailua-Kona, HI.

Via photosynthesis, algae convert CO2 and water into oxygen, water, and hydrocarbons, one of which is ethanol. Ethanol is for vehicle fuel or an ingredient in plastics, replacing natural gas-derived plastic industry. Oxygen is fed into a chamber to burn coal. Unlike traditional coal plants, which have nitrogen as the main input and produce nitrogen exhaust, the exhaust from oxygen-input plants is mainly CO2. CO2 then goes back to the tanks to stimulate the growth of algae, doubling their mass several times a day and making15 times more fuel than palm.

But can’t soybean and sugar cane do the same job? Yes, they can but not as efficient. Compared to the yield of only hundreds of gallons from oil palm, sunflower and soybeans, according to DOE, biofuel yield from algae ranges between 1,000 - 4,000 gallons per acre per year. Those yields can be double when NASA steps in. Jonathan Trent, a bioengineer at NASA Ames Research Center, takes advantage of the ocean waves and open spaces to grow freshwater algae in biodegradable plastic bags offshore. Feeding on nutrients in sewage at typical cities’ dump sites, the algae would clean the wastewater. So, we are not only getting green energy, but clean water from the algae as well. Algae farms resolve an issue plaguing the corn ethanol industry which takes farmland out of food production. Deserts and ocean are out there, waiting to turn into green.

The win-win situation holds the promise of cleaner fuels, scrubbing CO2 off the atmosphere. However, 3 big challenges remain.

The first challenge is to identify the best algae strain for biofuel production. What kind should we use? Mutant vs. conventional? Carbon dioxide uptake of the conventional strain is highest at low light and level off as it gets brighter during the day. However, Christoph Benning , a Michigan State University professor of biochemistry, discovers that the mutant ingests carbon dioxide regardless of the light intensity, thus doubling the rate of carbon sequestration. But, what if those mutants leak out- a mutant algae boom? To avoid that, David Bayless, a professor of mechanical engineering at Ohio University, instead uses heat-resistant algae that naturally thrive in the hot springs. Bayless indicates that these algae, placed vertically on screens due to limited space, are efficient at absorbing CO2 from the power plant.

The second challenge - space. Like solarand wind energy, algae-derived biofuel also have a problem with scale production. Vast desert/ocean vs. domestic, low cost ponds. How can we reduce high-energy inputs for turning deserts into algae ponds, which require loads of temperature controlling and water management? Will the large-scale algae farm eventually compete for land and water resources as much as other biofuel alternatives? The household-scale production or NASA’s ocean scheme might do a better job here, but the scientific advances are still being tested.

The third challenge is to get every single bit of hydrocarbons out with cheap price. So far, separating oxygen and water from hydrocarbons, harvesting, and converting hydrocarbons into gasoline and diesel fuel have proven difficult. It’s a long way down to make it economically feasible. The technologies for those processes are under investigation at the University of Minnesota’s BioTechnology Institute and Institute on the Environment’s IREE - The Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment.

Despite pros and cons of algae-derived biofuel, one message is clear. People are making efforts to replace fossil-based energy with sustainable alternatives by using organisms as tiny as the algae. It might be the time for us to realize the real potential of algae, echoing “Algae, I see you,” which means I understand, “I see into you” in the Na’vi language.

Jan
10
2010

Kites over Lake Harriet
Kites over Lake HarrietCourtesy Mark Ryan
Over the centuries, kites have been used for ceremonial purposes, military tactics, scientific experiments, and of course just for fun. The actual origin of kites is sketchy. Some historians claim the islanders of the South Seas first used them to catch fish. But others say kites were first invented in China nearly 2500 years ago. Steady as she goes.: Kids love flying kites.
Steady as she goes.: Kids love flying kites.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Some fanciful kites
Some fanciful kitesCourtesy Mark Ryan
Whatever the case, kites are fun to fly. Yesterday, the 10th Annual Lake Harriet Winter Kite Festival took place on Lake Harriet in Minneapolis. Despite the frigid temperatures, it was a beautiful day for the event. A big crowd was present when I was there, and there were some colorful as well as unusual kites in the air. And it’s not just a matter of slapping a sheet of old newspaper to a couple slats of balsawood and adding a tail and some string, kite-flying involves a lot of science.
It ain't rocket science: But keeping a kite aloft takes more than just a good breeze.
It ain't rocket science: But keeping a kite aloft takes more than just a good breeze.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Anyway, the event was sponsored by several organizations, including the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board, and the Minnesota Kite Society. Successful kite launch: Up, up, and away!
Successful kite launch: Up, up, and away!Courtesy Mark Ryan

If you want to get involved in kite-flying yourself, there’s a ton of information on the Internet to get you started. I’ve linked to a few of the better ones I found including the site for National Kite Month, which runs this spring from March 27th to May 2nd.

Come on now; get off that couch, join in the fun, and go fly a kite.

Using Kites to Study Aerodynamics
World’s largest kite plan archive
PBS Challenge: How does a kite fly?
The Kite Society (UK)
Kite Study for Children (includes some history)
National Kite Month
Off we go!!: A bundled kite-flyer gives her aircraft a good boost at launch
Off we go!!: A bundled kite-flyer gives her aircraft a good boost at launchCourtesy Mark Ryan
All sorts of kites
All sorts of kitesCourtesy Mark Ryan

Giant bear kite dominates the sky
Giant bear kite dominates the skyCourtesy Mark Ryan
Lake Harriet Winter Kite Festival: Minneapolis, MN
Lake Harriet Winter Kite Festival: Minneapolis, MNCourtesy Mark Ryan

Dec
20
2009

Earn money, save money
Earn money, save moneyCourtesy Achim Hering

Obama's Home Depot speech

We are wasting money when heat is lost from our homes.
What would happen if economic stimulus money was used to improve the energy efficiency of our homes?

Benefits of improving energy efficiency

  • Economic boost ($20 billion cash flow)
  • Money saved on energy bills ($1k - $3k improvement / home X 5 million homes = $3.3 billion saved / yr on energy bills)
  • Jobs creation (600,000 to 850,000 new jobs - contractors, suppliers, and inspectors)

Weatherization legislation pending

Lawmakers recently have begun pushing to offer weatherization incentives immediately as a way to create 600,000 to 850,000 new jobs.

Lane Wesley Burt, manager of building energy policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the program could be set up as a government rebate administered by certified contractors that would shave the money from a homeowner's bill when the work was completed. The contractor then would apply to the government for reimbursement of the incentive, similar to how auto dealers administered cash-for-clunkers rebates.

Learn more about possible weatherization incentives

Source: Los Angeles Times
Obama pushes home improvement to create jobs, save energy

Nov
16
2009

He looks happy, but it's a facade: He's very worried about phthalates, BPAs, and his manliness. (Good thing that's a glass bottle.)
He looks happy, but it's a facade: He's very worried about phthalates, BPAs, and his manliness. (Good thing that's a glass bottle.)Courtesy sirgabe
There’s something I want to get out of the way straight off the bat: the original title for this post was “Monday Nutrition Extravaganza: Chemicals in your food, playing with your manhood!” And while that has a certain whimsical charm, a re-read revealed hidden, disturbing meaning in those words. And I didn’t want to subject you Buzzketeers to that. I just thought you should know.

So, moving on, what’s this stuff playing with our manhood, now?

Chemicalz in our foodz! And stuff.

Earlier today, I came across this study about how there seems to be a correlation between high levels of chemicals call phthalates in pregnant mothers’ urine, and a lowered incidence of “masculine play” in their male children. (“Girls’ play behavior” didn’t seem to be affected.)

Interesting, interesting.

Phthalates are a group of chemicals added to plastics to make them softer and more pliable. We all like soft plastic—no one is arguing that!—but phthalates are all over the place, and increased exposure to them (all sorts of products and packaging use phthalates) is raising concerns about how those chemicals affect us, particularly during childhood development. See, phthalates are antiandrogens, meaning that they mess with the way your body works with hormones like testosterone. Testosterone plays an important role in how we physically develop, and perhaps in how we act. The boys whose mothers had higher levels of a couple kinds of phthalates demonstrated less “male-typical” behavior. The study looked a preferred toy types (trucks versus dolls), activities (“rough-and-tumble play”), and “child characteristics.”

Now, these are slightly sticky things to go judging kids on. Some folks might argue that these characteristics aren’t linked to biology so much as social conditioning. And it feels a little weird quantifying characteristics in children (and, let’s be honest here, characteristics which may not have a solidly identified “norm,” but nonetheless have all sorts of social and sexual baggage that we are uncomfortable with and often deal with in the worst ways). However, there does seem to be some statistical association here, whatever the causal relationship is. One hypothesis is that phthalates alter fetal production of testosterone at an important period of development, affecting “brain sexual differentiation.” It’s not so hard to imagine—a year ago I did a post on how certain common chemicals in pregnant mothers seemed to be causing penis deformities in their male children. The culprit there? Phthalates. The women in that story, however, had had exceptionally high exposure to phthalates (their jobs had them in constant contact with phthalate-containing hairspray), so it’s probably not something to lose sleep over, but it’s worth knowing.

And while phthalates aren’t supposed to be in food packaging, the next article I came across (this is an extravaganza, after all) deals with another plastic additive, BPA, that is found in food packaging, and which may also cause some hormone-related havoc.

BPA has come up on Science Buzz before. It’s in all sorts of packaging and bottles (it’s the reason your over protective mother doesn’t want you to use nalgene bottles) and it may affect tissue development, potentially increasing cancer risks.

We don’t care about that, though, right? Sure, cancer is out there, but in the future, not right now, you know? I know. But BPA’s latest appearance in the news may bring some immediacy to the concern over its use. Concern for some people. For men, I mean.

Chemical BPA in workers related to sex problems, says the Washington Post. “Sex problems”? We don’t want those! Chinese men working in a factory that uses BPA were found to have high rates of sexual problems. (I won’t be defining what “sexual problems” are because whatever you just imagined was probably correct.) Now, these guys have BPA levels about 50 times higher than the average American. But, still, something like 90% of Americans have detectable levels of BPA in their urine. Again, probably nothing to lose a lot of sleep over, but something worth knowing about. This professor is of the opinion that BPAs should be banned, even though most of us will probably never be exposed to dangerous levels of it, because a) it’s not a natural part of our diet; b) it’s not actually necessary in plastics processing; c) it accumulates in the body, and we still don’t know what level at which it begins to become harmful (ask those Chinese guys); and d) it’d be relatively easy to get it out of the food and water supply, unlike some other potentially harmful chemicals.

Accepting that scientific studies are necessarily very focused to eliminate variables, both of these stories still left me wondering what affect phthalates and BPAs have on women and girls. On one hand, one tries to avoid the mindset that average human physiology=male physiology, but on the other hand it’s usually just males that have penises, making their medical problems a little more hilarious.

There are so many… things out there, and they’re all doing… stuff! Interesting to know.

Sep
03
2009

An electromagnetic gun: What's it for shooting? Disks, mostly.
An electromagnetic gun: What's it for shooting? Disks, mostly.Courtesy ScienceApe
Oh, you thought I forgot about the Geoengineering Extravaganza I promised, after just one entry? Did JGordon forget? Or is he just demonstrating a tremendous lack of respect for the Science Buzz audience?

Neither, respected friends, neither. First of all, I’ve never forgotten anything in my life. (This is in case anything I do eventually relates to someone else owing me money.) And I think I’ve demonstrated my respect for y’all over the years.

No, what happened was this: on Tuesday evening, my sock caught on a nail sticking out of my kitchen floor, and I went down like a redwood. Dried or decomposing pieces of food cushioned the fall for most of my body, but I’m afraid my face landed squarely in the mousetrap, which I had just baited with fresh poison. Luckily the trap pinned my lips shut before I ate too much of the poison, but I mix some potent poisons, and it only took a little to put me out.

My poisons are designed to remove a mouse from consciousness for anywhere from a week to several months, long enough for me to shave them, and ensure that they wake up somewhere frighteningly unfamiliar, like Thailand, or inside of someone recovering from major surgery.

At any rate, I was out for almost all of yesterday. It’s good that I woke up when I did, because I was covered with mice, but I’m afraid I just never found the opportunity to do another geoengineering post.

Until now.

So, let us continue with the “forget about the greenhouse gases, and just cool this place off, now!” theories. That is, those theories that could reduce the amount of absorbed heat (from the sun) rather than reduce what’s storing the heat (greenhouse gases). It’s called solar radiation management, and it includes a wide range of potential projects. And I shall now introduce you to several, starting with the most weaksauce of them, and moving on to something with giant space guns.

When I call something “weaksauce,” I don’t mean to imply that it’s a bad idea, only that it doesn’t involve huge guns, or giant sulfur-spewing zepellins. Sort of like how cool roofs are weaksauce. Cool roofs have come up on the Buzz before. The idea is that by simply having lighter-colored roofs, more sunlight and heat is reflected back away from the Earth. And, aside from the planet heating up a little less, your house heats up a little less too, so you don’t have to use as much energy on air conditioning, and the power companies don’t have to burn as much coal, etc. Pretty neat, huh?

Unfortunately, it’d be pretty tricky to get enough people to have reflective roofs for it to make much of a difference to global temperatures—otherwise the cooling would just be local, and who cares about that, right? Plus… no giant guns, or anything.

Not like the plans to build a sunshade in space. They have guns.

Remember that season finale episode of The Simpsons, where Mr. Burns built a giant metal shade to block the Sun from Springfield? I hope you do, because some scientists are actually proposing something like that, but on a larger scale, and in space. Like, massive mirrored satellites. Or there’s the plan mentioned in this Atlantic article (which I’ve linked to before)—A professor at the University of Arizona proposes building 20 giant electromagnetic guns (rail guns?), each more than a mile long, with the purpose of firing Frisbee-sized ceramic disks into space. Each gun would fire 180,000 disks a minute, 24 hours a day, for 10 years. At that point, there should be enough disks suspended “at the gravitational midpoint between the Earth and the Sun,” that sunlight headed toward Earth would be significantly scattered… lowering the planet’s temperature. Unfortunately, the technology for these guns doesn’t exist, it would be really expensive, and it would kind of last forever. Also, one gets the feeling that this professor is just trying to make a point. On the other hand… giant disk guns.

And then there are the middle ground plans, like cloud enhancement. The idea there is to make the clouds puffier and whiter by blasting seawater up into the air with special ships. These nice, white clouds would, again, reflect more sunlight away from the Earth, cooling things down. It shouldn’t last forever, and who doesn’t like puffy white clouds? Unfortunately, it ain’t cheap, and as with all most of the other solar radiation management plans, we don’t know exactly what all the repercussions would be. Clouds are just clouds, right? Yes, but clouds affect how much rain we get, and who gets it, and how much plants photosynthesize, and so forth and so forth. And the plan is slightly less gunny than the space-sunshade thing.

Next time we’ll move on to “carbon-removal projects.” But right now I have to get the taste of mouse blood out of my mouth. (It’s an ingredient in the poison.)

Sep
01
2009

A nice refreshing belch from Pinatubo: Repeat?
A nice refreshing belch from Pinatubo: Repeat?Courtesy D. Harlow
Ever want to change the world?

No, I’m not talking about the awesome drums and bass album you’re working on. And I’m not talking about your new theory of about time and mountains and stuff. And I’m not talking about your award winning bowel movements.

I’m talking about shaking the heavenly spheres until they throw up a little. I’m talking about jamming your boot into the nearest orifice until the planet cries uncle. I’m talking about pinning its arms and slapping its belly until it forgets its own name in frustration. I’m talking about changing the world.

Sure, it’s sort of supervillain territory. And it used to be that you’d need a bad childhood and some sort of superpower, or maybe a giant laser for this sort of thing. But these days… these days you don’t even need to be super-mega-rich to tear the planet a new one; you only need to be super rich. And it could be that the planet needs a new one torn.

We haven’t really talked much about geoengineering here on Buzz, which is weird, because it falls under both “quick fixes” and “things that might look awesome,” categories I very much appreciate. This is why I prefer to deal with hangnails by shooting them off, and why my dog has painted-on zebra stripes. (The “quick fix” there was spray paint being used to make him look less stupid.)

Geoengineering is engineering on the global scale; it’s changing the planet to solve some problem. What if we could, for instance, stop global warming without changing our energy-hungry lifestyles? What if it was as quick and cheap as spray-painting the dog?

The thing is, many geoengineering projects would be quick and easy (relative to, say, transitioning the planet to renewable energy). But, like spray-painting the dog, geoengineering comes with the potential for serious problems. If we’re spray-painting the dog instead of washing him, we have to keep spray-painting him forever, or else one day we’ll have an obviously incredibly unwashed dog on our hands. And what sort of health problems might a spray-painted dog unexpectedly develop? And can we get used to living with a dog that is spray-painted?

(Bryan Kennedy posted a link to an article about these issues this summer. Check it out.)

Consider these problems with me as we turn away from painted dogs, toward the wide world of geoengineering. In the coming days, if I remember to, and if I’m not feeling too lazy, we will meet some possible geoengineering scenarios. And, remember, these aren’t totally sci-fi—they’re very possible (for the most part). The question is, do we really want to do them?

And so, geoengineering day 1: A fart like you wouldn’t believe.

Y’all know what killed the last dinosaurs, right? Yes: loneliness. But how did they get so lonely? It was that, ah, meteorite thing, right? A big space rock smashed into the Earth, boom, no more dinosaurs. But it’s not like all the dinosaurs got smashed by that falling rock. Most of the trouble came after the impact. Vast quantities of dust were thrown way up into the atmosphere when the space rock hit the planet… and it stayed up there for a while. The affect all that dust had on climate is pretty complicated, but, if we boil it way down, it basically blocked sunlight, and made the world a shadier, colder place for a while. Lots of plants couldn’t live in colder, darker conditions, so they died. And the dinosaurs couldn’t live without those plants, and so they died. (Again, it’s more complicated than that, but…)

And now… now we have a situation where, in the coming decades, the world may be getting much hotter than a lot of organisms can survive for very long. We aren’t hoping for an asteroid or meteorite to smash into us, of course, but is there another way to fill the sky with sun-blocking particles?

Yes. In 1991, Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines exploded, blasting millions of tons of sulfur into the sky. All that sulfur, and other tiny particles from the eruption (called aerosols), reflected lots of energy from the Sun back into space. Because it’s solar energy that provides the heat for global warming (greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide just trap the heat here), the Pinatubo eruption is thought to be responsible for temporarily lowering global temperatures by about 0.5 degrees Celsius (0.9 degrees Fahrenheit). That might seem like only a small drop, but a few fractions of a degree change in temperature worldwide can have a big affect on climate, and when we think about how it was caused by just one eruption… We could do it too! We could change the world!

One of the major ideas in geoengineering is to essentially recreate the Pinatubo eruption. Over and over again. Factories on the ground could pump tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, where it would bond with water vapor and condense around floating dust, blocking solar radiation from heating the planet. (This article envisions zeppelins hovering 12 miles up, tethered to factories by SO2-carrying hoses.)

The project might cost only tens of billion dollars (small potatoes when talking about changing global climate), and it might actually work… but then what? What happens once the dog has been spray-painted?

Some scientists are concerned that all that SO2 in the atmosphere could damage the ozone layer, which protects us from UV radiation from the Sun. (After Pinatubo erupted, the ozone layer suffered temporary but significant depletion.) Others point out that the project would do nothing to remove greenhouse gases, so that once the sulfur settled back down to Earth, we’d face very sudden temperature rises again; we’d have to continue to block out the Sun until we could decrease our production of greenhouse gases. The main thing that could happen is, well, we don’t totally know what would happen. It’s unlikely that a solution like this would only lower global temperatures, but exactly how it would affect other aspects of the climate and life on the planet is unclear…

Is it worth it? Should we pump the skies full of sulfur gas, even if we don’t understand everything that could happen because of it? What if it was the only way to hold off a “tipping point”? (Many climate scientists are concerned that gradual global warming will lead to a “tipping point,” after which warming accelerates rapidly. Thawing frozen tundra, for instance, might release vast amounts of trapped methane, which is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.) Or do you think geoengineering would distract us from addressing the basic causes of climate change?

Any thooouuughts?

Aug
10
2009

Typical T. rex?: Image modified slightly by JGordon.
Typical T. rex?: Image modified slightly by JGordon.Courtesy ArthurWeasley
Oh, paleontologists… with your grabby little claws… always grabbing for the juiciest headlines… late to the table of the hard sciences, where your neighbors long ago grew fat and respected.

JK, of course. You’re a spunky young science, paleontology, and I love you for it. And who doesn’t want headlines? Why do you think I keep lighting fireworks off on my roof? If you’ve got something as loved, feared, and debated as the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex as your specialty, why not be a little provocative?

And so it went with a couple of paleontologists based out of Beijing and Munich. They’re all, “Ahem. Ahem. Is this thing on? Hello? We think, ah, that the Tyrannosaurus rex probably ate a lot of baby dinosaurs, and not so many fearsome adult dinosaurs. And, um, we…”

And then the press is all, “Say what?! Are you trying to say that the T. rex was just a big, dumb baby-eater? You are?”

Scientists: “Sort of, but not exactly.”

Press: “Print it!”

And so we have a new contender in the “Fearsome Hunter vs. Giant Scavenger” ring: Fearsome Baby-Hunter!

The idea, say the scientists, is that it’d be a lot easier to go around eating weak little babies than to go around fighting big triceratops and stuff, so that’s probably what T. rex did. (T. rex and other large, two-legged meat eaters.)

That part makes sense. Even if you’re as big and strong as the T. rex certainly was, eating something that can’t hurt you or run away from you pays off a lot more than eating something that can hurt seriously damage you, and takes a lot of energy to get. If you were a dinosaur, babies would probably be your favorite food. They’d be like the equivalent of individual serving yogurts. (Fun, delicious, and easy to eat.) That doesn’t mean that there were no epic dino-battles… they would have just been rare, I guess.

The paleontologists go on to say that T. rex-like dinosaurs specialized in baby eating so much, that it could explain the lack of immature dinosaurs in the fossil record. Juveniles would have been eaten whole, or at least in large chunks, their predators digesting the bones and everything. This would also explain, the claim, the low occurrence of bite marks on fossilized adult dinosaur bones—they just weren’t getting bitten much, if they made it to adulthood.

That’s where some of the theory falls apart for me. Why would an organism expend so much energy growing and maintaining a body the size of T. rex’s if its main prey was small and weak? Also, did dinosaurs just leave their young lying around for any old predator to eat? Unless a predator were small and sneaky (and whatever else T. rex was, it wasn’t small and sneaky), and could grab baby dinos on the sly, one would think that it would run into some protective parent dinosaurs pretty often. And then they’d have to fight, which defeats the purpose of going after little dinosaurs in the first place.

The lack of scarred adult bones seems to be incidental too. If a dinosaur died from whatever scarred its bones, I’d assume that it would be totally eaten (either by its killer, or later, by scavengers) before it fossilized. And maybe the type of wound that would leave scars on a bone would likely kill the attacked animal. And if the creature didn’t die, if it healed totally, it still might get eaten later on. And most animals don’t fossilize anyway.

And do we need a reason why there aren’t more baby dinosaur skeletons? They survive to adulthood, no baby skeletons. They get eaten, no skeleton. (Babies were bound to have been eaten, even without large dinosaurs specializing in eating them.) Even if they died of other causes, I wonder if their parents would eat the body themselves, or at least push it out of a nest, or leave it behind (where it would get eaten).

I wonder, too, if the ratio of baby dinosaurs to adults is similar in periods and areas without large theropods. (Theropods are the group of two-legged meat eaters T. rex belonged to.) If it’s the same, then the reason for so few specimens would have to be low fossilization rates, or a sampling problem, or just that everything was eating baby dinosaurs, not just theropods (which is a much less interesting claim to make).

Anyone care enough to offer an opinion?

Jul
19
2009

Proposed power grid for wind and solar
Proposed power grid for wind and solarCourtesy U. S. Dept. of Energy

A national energy grid - good or bad

About a year ago I wrote about our need for a national energy grid. Many politicians are moving to block the lines because they hurt their local economies or because of environmental local impacts. Others claim more local improvements would be better and less costly. Read more in Technology Review's, "A Costly and Unnecessary New Electricity Grid".

A new national grid, which has been likened to the Interstate Highway System constructed in the 1950s, has been proposed by groups such as the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based think tank, and AEP, a large utility; elements of the plans have been included in recent federal legislation.

Last week, investor T. Boone Pickens said that he's halting his planned four-gigawatt wind farm in Texas in part because of a lack of transmission lines to carry the power from the farm to urban centers.

Learn more about the national energy "smart grid"

If you have 20 minutes or so, Center for American Progress has several complete primers on the issue:

Smart appliances save electricity and money

Last Tuesday, General Electric showed utility industry executives how their new appliances could reduce electric demand and save everyone money. Read about it in Are consumers ready for the smart grid?

Jun
29
2009

It's only a squirt gun: Wait—what am I saying, "only"?
It's only a squirt gun: Wait—what am I saying, "only"?Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Gone are the heady days of the devil-may-care Raindrop Kid, and the infamous Morning Dew Gang. (Not to be confused with the morning dugong, which I believe is just an early-rising manitee-like creature.)

Yessir, the iron fisted rule of the rain barons is over, and the good people of Colorado can now legally gather rainwater.

Colorado is thirsty country, and they’ve got some serious laws regarding water rights. The folks who own flowing and standing water have wanted to make sure that no one tapped into their supply—precipitation in this case—and so it has been illegal to, say, put a bucket under your gutters and water your garden with it.

A 2007 study, however, showed that something like 97 percent of falling water in the Denver area never made it anywhere near a stream (it all either evaporated, or was quickly absorbed my plants), and so whoever owned water rights to a stream didn’t have much to complain about.

Taking this into consideration alongside the growing population of the region, and shrinking water supplies, state government decided to allow people to gather and use the water falling on their homes—so long as they have a permit. So if you’re dead set on maintaining that outlaw freedom, I suppose you could always just use a rain barrel without a permit. Yee-haw.

Jun
15
2009

Have you ever seen anything more dull?: Even the toilet seems to be yawning.
Have you ever seen anything more dull?: Even the toilet seems to be yawning.Courtesy luis echanove
It’s called growing up, Peter, and everyone does it. Even you. But, on the plus side, you can legally buy cigarettes now.

Or am I just tired of life?

Well, whatever. Poop is in the news. Yawn. Again. And again.

Where others might see a barrel, and be all, “Hey, I’m not scraping the bottom of that barrel,” the cleverest capitalists and the sharpest scientists look at the situation and say, “Are you done with that barrel? And does anyone want to buy what I can scrape out of here? Even if it’s poop?” And of course it’s poop. And of course someone wants it.

Awesome I guess.

I should be more excited, shouldn’t I? I mean, someone out there is taking human waste and turning it into an environmentally-conscious coal substitute. It probably looks hilarious. But there’s only so much human waste a person can take. It’s just not exciting anymore.

So some company is squeezing the water from the brown gold of southern California, and turning it into coal-y stuff. Cement factories buy it, they burn it, they mix the ashes with their cement. At full capacity they’ll produce enough crapcoal to equal the energy out put of a 7-megawatt power station.

Great.

The fecal sciences just seem to have lost their flavor.