Courtesy Steve Wampler
We’ve talked before about how rich cities also tend to be clean cities. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, people in subsistence situations tend to scrabble for mere survival, without much regard to any other issues. Only after securing basic life necessities can they focus attention on externalities, such as the environment.
Now comes word that there is something of a linear progression going on:
the richer you are, the greener you are.
As their wealth grows, people consume more energy, but they move to more efficient and cleaner sources — from wood to coal and oil, and then to natural gas and nuclear power, progressively emitting less carbon per unit of energy. This global decarbonization trend has been proceeding at a remarkably steady rate since 1850, according to Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University and Paul Waggoner of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.
The professors argue: “If the energy system is left to its own devices, most of the carbon will be out of it by 2060 or 2070.” All thanks to the free-market system, and the wealth that it brings to us all.
Money…it’s greener than you think!
Courtesy Stefan ThlesenBTW, Buzzketeers, if I ever catch you using the term “the john” when talking about a toilet, I will erase you from the story of my life. Sure, I just used it, but think I have the right to take possession of that word to divest it of its hurtfulness. Sort of like how ugly people are allowed to call stuff “fugly.”
Anyway, let’s consider the future of energy. We all know that we have to start conserving fossil fuels, so that we can use them with abandon in a dune buggy-filled Mad Max style future. (I like to think of this as “saving it for the party.”) In the mean time, we have to get clever. This week I noticed a couple of stories about people thinking outside the box with regards to energy. In one case, they’re thinking above the box, in the other they’re thinking below the box. (Or maybe they’re thinking in the box. It depends on what you use your boxes for.)
Check it out: a company called Solaren Corp has convinced the largest energy utility in California to purchase 200 megawatts of solar power from them by around 2016. The way they propose getting that power is the interesting thing—they plan on getting it from space.
Wait… that was poorly phrased. All solar power comes from space. What Solaren intends to do is launch a massive array of mirrors (as large as several miles across) into orbit to collect and reflect sunlight onto photoelectric cells. The cells will convert the sunlight into electric power, which will then be converted into radio waves and blasted down to a receiver on Earth. The radio energy will then be turned back into electricity. Solaren claims that the system could eventually generate 1.2 to 4.8 gigawatts of power at a price comparable to that of other alternative energy sources, enough to power 250,000 homes in California. And unlike land-based solar panels, the flow of energy wouldn’t depend on weather, and the orbit would be high enough that the system could provide energy 24 ours a day. They intend to launch it up to about 22,000 miles above the surface of the planet, meaning that it would be just inside of a high Earth orbit, and therefore geosynchronous. (I think.) Pretty neat, huh?
However, getting a couple miles of mirrors up to 22,000 miles above Earth is a little tricky. A little tricky, and super expensive. Building the receiving systems isn’t going to be cheap either. Some folks think that the project is altogether… unlikely. But the California power utility isn’t actually making an investment (i.e., taking a risk) they just promised to buy the power when it’s there (or if). But that commitment is probably comforting for investors.
Solaren says that the radio waves being sent back to Earth will be one sixth the intensity of sunlight. But what kind of radio waves are we talking about here? Visible light is composed of radio waves. So are radio, um, radio waves. Nope, we’re talking about microwaves. Microwaves have the advantage of being pretty high-energy. They have the disadvantage of being a little scary to me. And to other people. But it seems like it’s not all that dangerous; the center of the microwave beam would have an intensity of about 23 milliwatts per square centimeter. The limit for workplace exposure to microwaves in the US is 10 mw/cm2, so obviously 23 mw/cm2 is beyond what the government considers safe, but the area of maximum intensity is relatively small. Near the outside of the receiving array, the intensity would be closer to 1 mw/cm2. Birds flying through the center of the beam could have some trouble, and small aircraft and hot air balloons would do well to avoid it, but the metal shell of conventional planes should protect passengers entirely (the same way that your metal microwave protects you from the forces cooking your food). I suppose a super-villain could always hack into the satellite controls, and re-aim the system at a neighborhood. But that’s assuming that it ever gets built.
So from pie in the sky (a huge mirror pie), let’s turn our attention to fudge underground. It doesn’t have quite the sunshiny appeal of space mirrors, but it’s a little more feasible at the moment.
Remember how, in Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome, Master Blaster was harvesting methane fuel from pig feces? Well, that works in the real world too, and not just with pig feces.
Consider the following: if you were to safe all of your… solid waste for one year, you could produce an amount of fuel equivalent to about 2.1 gallons of diesel fuel. I know—it doesn’t seem as much a it should, right? But if a city of 250,000 people was converting its waste into fuel, they’d have enough to drive 80 buses 62,000 miles each. If that figure sounds oddly specific, it’s only because that’s what Oslo, Norway intends to do. The city is all set to fuel its public transportation with brown gold. (Or with the biomethane produced by it.)
The cost of producing an amount of biomethane equivalent to a liter of diesel fuel comes to about 98 cents, while a liter of diesel costs about $1.30 at the pumps in Norway. And, unlike some other biofuels we won’t mention, it only gets into your food supply after you’ve eaten it.
Because the fuel comes from recently grown organic materials, it’s supposed to be carbon neutral, which is good. The article doesn’t say how energy intensive the process of making it is, though. Also, methane itself is a pretty bad greenhouse gas, but I suppose if it’s all burned efficiently that shouldn’t be a problem. (Burned methane makes CO2 and water.)
Energy may be plentiful in the future. We’ll just have to watch where we step.
Courtesy GAP archaeology specialistsWith an avalanche of new archaeological discoveries coming from Egypt in recent weeks, this latest find has thrown all previous ideas of ancient Egyptian culture on end.
Archaeologists working at the site of the Giza pyramids just west of Cairo have found evidence of what is believed to be primitive cellular telephone technology. While ancient Egyptians were considered to be way ahead of their time in architecture, engineering and language development, previous work in Egypt has not shown any signs of electronic communication potential.
Researchers admit they were slow to report their findings since people would find it so hard to believe. In fact, they couldn’t fully believe it themselves until they did more analysis.
Back in December, they discovered a tomb wall rendering of a device that looks a lot a cell phone. But they quickly turned their attentions to other meanings for the symbol since it couldn’t have possibly been a telecommunications tool. Then in mid-February, members of the same research team looking in a newly discovered burial chamber in the Pyramid of Khafre found an unbelievable discovery: a wooden device that looks similar to a cell phone was mixed in among the gold and treasures buried with the royal dead at the scene.
“At first we thought it was simply a religious relic,” said lead research Mike Lohnor of GAP. “Then one of our more nerdy archaeologists started poking around on it during his coffee break and discovered there was a crude network of wires in a hollowed out area inside the device.”
Doing some chemical tests on the unit, the archaeology team found that the wood was actually a special strain of cedar that has properties that conduct, and actually amplify electricity.
“The network of wires inside the wood block was arranged in such a way that when held out in the sun at about a 45-degree angle, a fairly strong electrical field could be induced,” Lohnor said. “While the Egyptians hadn’t figured out a speaker system to tie into this electrical format, they did have a ten-digit numerical keypad that allowed them to send coded messages.
Courtesy GAP archaeology specialists“I essence, the leaders of ancient Egypt were text messaging each other,” he added.
Just a couple days after finding the inner workings of the wood device, archaeologists doing more work inside the Pyramid of Khafre found a narrow vertical passage leading to the tip of the pyramid. Inside was another tight web of crude copper wires.
“So the pyramids were serving a dual purpose,” said Lohnor. “As we’ve known for a long time, they were burial monuments. But it also appears they were cell phone signal towers.”
Hieroglyphic experts have been brought on to the project to see if there are any recorded samples of these ancient text messages might have said.
“We’re really at a loss to figure out how these text messages were used,” Lohnor said. “Like a lot of ancient Egyptian language, it was probably only used by the elite: the ruling authorities and the religious leaders. Maybe it was a quick way to communicate with masons working in quarries in Upper Egypt, or a way for the Pharaoh to get updates from generals in the battlefield. We won’t really know until we can get our hands on more message samples.”
So far, the only text samples that have been uncovered are a warning to not text while driving a chariot and another passage noting that there was a daily limit of 10 texts per day to vote for Egyptian Idol.
And if you’ve made it this far without figuring it out: Happy April Fool’s Day!!!
Just like Ford's Model-T, Tata motor's Nano will make owning an automobile possible for several hundred million families. Use this link to Wired Magazine to learn more about India's 50-MPG Tata Nano.
Demand for the Tata Nano is so high the company is using a lottery system to select the first 100,000 lucky owners.
At the moment, the Nano will be offered only overseas, but the company insists a version could be headed to North America in three years. Wired
If hundreds of millions of poor families can now afford to drive a car, won't that demand raise the price of gas? Millions of new automobile users will surely emit additional carbon dioxide into the world's atmosphere.
The Nano supposedly emits 30 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer, well below the 160 g/km average of Europe's cars and far less than the 130 g/km standard the European Union will adopt in 2012. Wired (click link to learn more)
Courtesy whaltHey Buzzketeers! Welcome to the new week! Is it everything you imagined it would be?
So, if I said “Radioactive Man,” would y’all get the Simpsons reference? Bart’s favorite comic book hero is Radioactive Man, a guy who survived an atomic blast, and a lightning bolt shaped piece of metal stuck in his head.
Hey, guess what! There’s a real life Radioactive Man running around now!
Oh… but the radioactivity is potentially dangerous. And he’s some kind of sex offender, who has run away from the authorities.
So that’s a bummer, but the situation provides some opportunity for science education (which is, like, my favorite thing).
How does a sex offender get to be radioactive? Good question.
Not all sex offenders are radioactive. For the most part, you still don’t want to come in close contact with them, but not because of radioactivity.
This particular sex offender, Thomas Marius Leopold, is radioactive because he has an overactive thyroid gland.
The thyroid gland hides out in your neck, and it produces hormones that help regulate your metabolism. Too much thyroid hormone, and your metabolism goes nuts—you get weak and hungry, you can lose weight, and your heart rate becomes jittery. That sort of thing. Some thyroid conditions also cause your eyes to become protuberant, and your thyroid gland to swell, forming a goiter.
One of the treatments for hyperthyroidism involves the use of radioiodine. Radioiodine is an isotope of the element iodine. Iodine is number 53 on the periodic table, so it has 53 protons in each atom. Naturally occurring iodine has 74 neutrons in each atom, but iodine can have different numbers of neutrons (different isotopes). The radioiodine isotope has 78 neutrons, but the atom isn’t stable with that many neutrons, so they decay until there are just 74 left. These decaying neutrons give off beta emissions (electrons and positrons), and gamma rays (highly energetic electromagnetic radiation).
Normally we want to avoid this sort of radioactive stuff, but materials like radioiodine can be very useful when they’re targeted at certain cells or organs (sort of like how we blast tumors with radiation to treat cancer). It just so happens that the thyroid naturally traps iodine in our bodies (it needs iodine to make hormones), so when a patient is given radioactive iodine, the thyroid sucks it right up. When the emissions from decaying neutrons blast into thyroid tissue, the thyroid kind of gets worn out, and slows down—that’s why radioiodine can be good for a thyroid that was overactive in the first place.
Radioiodine is radioactive enough, however, that hospitals often recommend keeping extra space between someone who is on the treatment, like this sex offender on the lam, and folks who might be particularly susceptible to radiation, like small children, or arresting police officers.
The radioactivity isn’t super bad, at least, and it doesn’t last forever—radioiodine has a half-life of about 8 days. That means that after 8 days, half of the radioactive material is gone (turned into something more stable). And after 8 more days, half of what was left is gone (so there’s just ¼ of the original amount left). Eventually the amount of radioiodine left in the body is so negligible that you’re safe hugging pregnant women and handcuffing fugitives.
Wasn’t that interesting? We know about radioiodine now! So if you’re in Great Britain (where this story came from), and there’s a creepy-looking dude who seems to be ruining your film just by being around you, call the police!
Courtesy Mark RyanTwo recent stories in the news highlight environmental issues with Earth’s oceans. The first deals with how the oceans’ pH levels are changing at a much faster rate than normally due to increased levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. The second concerns the rise of sea levels due to climate change.
With the first story, Prince Albert II of Monaco and over 150 marine scientists are urging world policymakers to confront the problem of ocean acidification. They stated their concerns in the Monaco Declaration, a document that arose from the 2nd International Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 World held in Monaco last October.
According to the Monaco Declaration, the rapid change in seawater chemistry is already measurable and could by mid-century cause oceans to become inhospitable to coral reefs, inhibit calcification in mussels, plankton, and other calcifying organisms, and subsequently harm the fish population to the extent of causing massive deficits in the food source for millions of people.
The world’s oceans have long acted as buffers against CO2 - absorbing up to a third of it - but are now straining to keep up with rising levels of the greenhouse gas. When CO2 dissolves in seawater it causes pH levels to drop, resulting in a more acidic chemistry. Oceans are 30 percent more acidic than before the Industrial Revolution, and in recent years, researchers at Scripps Oceanography have recorded a drop in the pH from 8.16 to 8.05
The declaration warns that only a serious and immediate reduction in CO2 levels will reverse ocean acidification.
You can find more info at the following links:
In the second story, the rise of sea levels due to climate change may actually be a greater threat than previously thought. The potential for rising water from melting ice sheets is not news. Earlier studies have predicted rising ocean levels from the melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet and other ice could, by the end of the century, inundate coastal cities and low-lying areas with up to 3 feet of water.
But previously unrecognized factors are ratcheting up the severity of that number. Authors of a new study say related events triggered by the initial ice melt could cause the sea-levels to rise as much as 21 feet. But it’s really more of a “could happen” rather than a “will happen” situation.
Geophysicist Jerry X. Mitrovica (University of Toronto) and geoscientist Peter Clark (Oregon State) predict not only would the melted ice add more water to the oceans, but also the reduced gravitational pull from the melted (and missing) ice sheet could cause the Antarctic water levels to decrease while northern water levels increased. Also, once the weight of the heavy ice sheet was gone the Antarctic land mass would rebound, pushing more water outward. Finally, the redistribution of water could cause a shift in the Earth’s rotation and potentially push more water northward toward highly populated coastal regions.
University of Toronto physics grad student Natalya Gomez also contributed to the study that appears in the journal Science.
Courtesy JGordonI don't know about this... if God had meant for man to fly, He would have created us with high-power hoses attached to our butts. So unless this guy was born this way, I think he might be committing a crime against nature.
This seems kind of fakey, but also kind of totally awesome. And here's a year and a half old post from Wired.com that seems to be the patent for this very same water jet-powered recreational vehicle.
The future is shaping up to be pretty cool, my friends. Pretty cool.
Courtesy Mark RyanA new dual solar and wind-powered charger for personal electronic devices was on display at last weekend’s annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The K2 by Kinesis Industries is a handheld unit that allows you to harvest energy from both the sun and the wind and store it in an internal battery that can then be used to power all your energy-hungry USB-powered electronic gadgets.
You know what? I’m a sucker for this kind of thing. There’s been a few times I’ve lost battery power in my camera or cell phone and wished I had something like this. I’ll probably buy one even if I never use it. The idea is just so cool.
Portable chargers like this have been around for a while. Solio of California produces an array of solar-powered handheld chargers. PowerFilm in Ames, Iowa manufactures foldable thin film solar modules for a number of charging and direct powering applications. They rolled out a new USB and AA charger at this year’s show.
But evidently none match K2’s capacity or versatility. One hour gathering sunlight or wind with the K2 is enough to power 30 minutes of cell phone use or over 300 minutes of mp3 music. A full charge is enough to fully power your cell phone five times over. You can also plug the K2 into an AC outlet and store up power for later use that way.
But what happens if you forget to do that and it’s a cloudy day and the weather is dead calm? What’s a poor techno-weenie to do? Well, not to worry, the K2 also has a nifty side clip so you can attach it to your bicycle and generate your own wind. As of yet there’s no release date for the K2 but when it does come out, it’s expected to retail for about a hundred bucks.
Now, just so we’re clear, I have not personally tried any of the products mentioned in this story, so I can’t endorse or pooh-pooh any of them. You should do your own research before making any purchase of this technology. I just like the idea of being able to charge my gadgets anywhere I go. That way next time I’m stranded out in the middle of Wyoming and my iPod’s battery starts to fizzle during Britney’s latest hit, I’ll be golden.
Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd., the world's largest solar module maker, suspended its plan to expand capacity by 40 percent in 2009. Instead, it laid off 10 percent of its 8,000 strong workforce.
Global revenues for photovoltaic solar panels are expected to drop 19 percent in 2009, believed to be the sector's first-ever contraction, as prices fall due to oversupply, research firm iSuppli said last December" Reuters
My hope is that a change in government incentives will prove to be a game changer.
First Solar was featured by Investopedia yesterday as a solar company to watch in 2009.
This http://www.engadget.com/2008/11/21/better-places-1-billion-electric-vehi... caught my eye today. Hawaii became the latest addition to follow suite of Israel and Denmark and theoretically gave nod to creating Electrical Vehicle Infrastructure. Silicon Valley startup Better Place is going to make that happen. The cars equipped with system and service from Better Place will be able to locate the nearest battery exchange station using GPS and electronic ID for the car and little intelligence from the computer on-board. The driver will tell the car where she wants to go and car will locate the on-board computer calculates how much charge is left in the battery, determines does it need to recharge and the location of the nearest battery exchange station.
This is just like OnStar service. The vehicles equipped with OnStar get to have certain services like emergency road side assistance. Now, companies will offer "Green" services.