Search This Blog

Thursday, May 24, 2007

More corn ethanol turmoil

The WSJ has a report on what is being fed to Pigs and cows now that corn is more expensive.

A very strange thing is happening right now in livestock operations in the United States. As corn becomes a hot commodity for ethanol production, livestock producers are replacing some of their animal feed with products that would look more at home in the candy aisles of supermarkets. According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, producers are feeding their cows and pigs an odd assortment of junk food, including hard candy, trail mix, licorice, chocolate bars, French fries, and cheese curls, among other things.

Why would farmers mix sugary, salty, and high-fat foods into animal feed? Corn prices have jumped to $4 a bushel, twice the level of just a few years ago. And as corn prices go up, it means that farmers have to pay more to get their animals to slaughter weight. They have found, not surprisingly, that tater tots, peanuts, and chocolate chips can pack on the pounds. Some cattle producers have replaced 100 percent of their feed with discarded junk food.

More than half a century ago, the livestock industry started messing with animals’ diets, confining them indoors, and replacing their natural grass diet with a high-protein diet of grain. Why? Thanks to subsidies that encouraged overproduction, corn and soybeans were cheap. But today, with these inputs not quite as alluring, it’s somehow become cost effective to feed livestock—the very animals that eventually end up on our dinner plates—discarded junk food. That’s definitely not a step in the right direction

Osram LED's for Opel head lamps

Osram has developed exterior lighting for a concept car using new thin film Ostar and golden dragon LED's. Quite an achievement given the light output required. From the article
LEDs from Osram Opto Semiconductors have been used for all the exterior lighting on the Opel GTC concept car. Using thin-film LED chip technology, Osram says that its LEDs have received a huge boost in brightness, which reduces the number of devices needed for each specific lighting application.

In each headlight, two Ostar LEDs are used for the dipped beam, with three further OSTAR LEDs providing the high beam.

Parking lights and daylight running lights (DRLs) are provided by Golden Dragon LEDs, and each fog light is equipped with one Ostar LED. For the interior lighting, red TopLEDs from Osram were featured to backlight the dashboard instruments, accen-tuating and complementing the red design accents on the steering wheel and seats of the sports coupe.

In addition, LEDs are utilized in automobiles to increase road safety. These compact light sources have a quicker response time and are brighter than incandescent lamps, factors which contribute to the safety of passengers, par-ticularly in instances when sudden braking is called for.

LEDs give car designers new freedom to give the front and rear light clusters an eye-catching make-over. The front of the Opel GTC is a good example with its large vertical air intakes and trapezoidal grille giving it a smooth yet aggressive appearance.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Wake up Aussies

The BBC reports that the Australian wheat exports have been badly hit by the worst drought in the century. Point is every ton of wheat requires 100's of tons of water to grow. In effect that aussies are exporting the very water that they can ill afford to. The Murray-Darling basin is finished and the water available is barely enough to drink. Finally the ills of food export are catching up with mankind. Food should be locally grown and consumed. For residents of the worlds driest continent to ravage their land in the name of economic development is akin to Kalidasa cutting the branch while sitting on it. The meat & wool business is even more dangerous from the sustainability perspective. It takes 500 tons of water for one ton of beef !

Food or Fuel

More on the corn ethanol issue. Clearly the effects of using a major food crop for fuel has already being felt in the America's. While these are still early days to draw firm conclusions, the trend emerging is clearly scary. One wonders if corn ethanol is a transportation strategy or a population control program. The numbers seem to indicate that the average US grocery basket was dearer by $47/month due to the increased demand for corn as fuel. Read more here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Gold from waste - new twist to 'data' mining

The implications of e-waste are becoming clear day by day. For the record e-waste has 17 times more gold that gold bearing ore and 40 times more copper. Given the prices of metals it looks like mining refineries may soon switch to extracting the metals from waste rather than mining it. China seems to have a lead in this (basically no environmental) with pesants doing this for peanuts. India has a strong recycling industry (informal) and safe e-waste treatment may be the way to go. There are however caveats as the environmental costs are high. This needs to be addressed urgently. In fact e-waste should be recycled in areas where hazardous industries are already using similar processes for different purposes so that the effluent treatment can be centralized and the investments amortized faster.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Hydrogen economy : Ga & Al

Physorg reports
Purdue researchers demonstrate their method for producing hydrogen by adding water to an alloy of aluminum and gallium. The hydrogen could then be used to run an internal combustion engine. The reaction was discovered by Jerry Woodall, center, a distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering. The method makes it unnecessary to store or transport hydrogen - two major challenges in creating a hydrogen economy, said Jerry Woodall, a distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue who invented the process. The hydrogen is generated on demand, so you only produce as much as you need when you need it," said Woodall, who presented research findings detailing how the system works during a recent energy symposium at Purdue.

The technology could be used to drive small internal combustion engines in various applications, including portable emergency generators, lawn mowers and chain saws. The process could, in theory, also be used to replace gasoline for cars and trucks, he said.

Hydrogen is generated spontaneously when water is added to pellets of the alloy, which is made of aluminum and a metal called gallium. The researchers have shown how hydrogen is produced when water is added to a small tank containing the pellets. Hydrogen produced in such a system could be fed directly to an engine, such as those on lawn mowers.

"When water is added to the pellets, the aluminum in the solid alloy reacts because it has a strong attraction to the oxygen in the water," Woodall said.

This reaction splits the oxygen and hydrogen contained in water, releasing hydrogen in the process.

The gallium is critical to the process because it hinders the formation of a skin normally created on aluminum's surface after oxidation. This skin usually prevents oxygen from reacting with aluminum, acting as a barrier. Preventing the skin's formation allows the reaction to continue until all of the aluminum is used.

OLED's at work

A beautiful (that is the right adjective) new keyboard the Optimus has raised the humble keyboard to the the next level. Each key is a complete bitmapped OLED display that allows any character, image or bit map to be assigned to the key. For people who use scripts other than latin this is a major move forward. Yet another amazing LED application.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Commercial : Innovative new off-grid product

Alternate Lighting has introduced a battery backed low cost LED table lamp in AC and Solar chargeable formats. The lightweight 7 LED lamp is targeted at rural households (and given the current power scenario, even metros :) and provides upto 3 hours of off-grid operation. Comes with a built in Ni-Cd battery pack and charger electronics. Quite a unique and off-beat product (even if i have to say so myself :) The lamps are available for online purchase on eBay.

Autonomous valve train & HCCI

A new idea from Purdue seems to be the next big thing in making the IC engined (petrol) auto a bit more eco-friendly. The concept is based on variable valve timing that is facilitated by an autonomous power and control system for the valve train ( i wonder if this can be called a valve train as it has not connection with the crankshaft). The kicker seems to be the fact that the more granular valve control independent of the timing allows the implementation of homogeneous charge compression ignition that in turn pushes up efficiency by about 20 %. Read more here.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

nature: quantum karma - super massive supernovae

What defines krazilec ? Surely leto-2 was referring to super massive supernovae! The natural universe, if obeserved, far exceeds mere human inventivness in granduer. Behold a 150 solar mass super nova and reflect on your physical universe..

Read more below

Berkeley (May 7th, 2007) An exploding star first observed last September is the largest and most luminous supernova ever seen, according to University of California, Berkeley, astronomers, and may be the first example of a type of massive exploding star rare today but probably common in the very early universe.

Unlike typical supernovas that reach a peak brightness in days to a few weeks and then dim into obscurity a few months later, SN2006gy took 70 days to reach full brightness and stayed brighter than any previously observed supernova for more than three months. Nearly eight months later, it still is as bright as a typical supernova at its peak, outshining its host galaxy 240 million light years away.

UC Berkeley post-doctoral fellows Nathan Smith and David Pooley estimate the star's mass at between 100 and 200 times that of the sun. Such massive stars are so rare that galaxies like our own Milky Way may contain only a dozen out of a stellar population of 400 billion.

"This was a truly monstrous explosion, a hundred times more energetic than a typical supernova," said Smith, who led a team of astronomers from UC Berkeley and the University of Texas. "That means the star that exploded might have been as massive as a star can get, about 150 times that of our sun. We've never seen that before."

"Of all exploding stars ever observed, this was the king," said Alex Filippenko, UC Berkeley astronomer and leader of the ground-based observations at the University of California's Lick Observatory in California and the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. "We were astonished to see how bright it got, and how long it lasted."

Based on the Lick and Keck observations, plus data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory, Smith, Pooley, Filippenko and their colleagues argue that the stellar explosion was not your run-of-the-mill supernova, but a possible pair-instability supernova.

Stars with masses at least 10 times greater than our sun end their lives after burning hydrogen to helium, helium to carbon, and on to larger elements until they reach iron, when fusion stops. Toward the end of this process, the heat produced in the core of the star becomes insufficient to support the outer layers, which collapse inward, finishing the fusion process and crunching the core to a neutron star or black hole. The outer layers of the star are blown off in a bright flare-up we observe as a supernova.

For stars much more massive than this, ranging from 140 solar masses to as many as 250, the temperature at the core becomes so great that before the fusion cascade is complete, high-energy gamma rays in the core start annihilating one another, creating matter-antimatter pairs, mostly electron-positron pairs. Since gamma radiation is the energy that prevents collapse of the outer layers of the star, once the radiation starts disappearing, the outer layers fall inward. The net result is a thermonuclear explosion that, theoretically, would be brighter than any typical supernova. In this type of supernova, the star is blown to smithereens, leaving behind no black hole.

"This discovery forces us to go back to the drawing board to understand how the most massive stars die," Smith said. "Instead of just winking away into a black hole, they apparently can suffer these brilliant explosions that can be seen far across the universe. The fact that this thing is so bright, and stayed bright for a long time, makes our chances of detecting them in the early universe much better."

Such pair-instability supernovas should theoretically produce a greater percentage of heavy elements. According to Smith, the radioactive decay of
nickel-56 produces most of the light of a supernova, and this pair-instability supernova produced about 20 solar masses of nickel, compared to maybe 0.6 solar masses in a Type Ia supernova. Astronomers think that a large proportion of the universe's first stars were supermassive stars like this that, upon exploding, seeded the early universe with the heavy elements from which planets and later, humans, were made.

"We may have witnessed a modern-day version of how the first generation of the most massive stars ended their lives, when the universe was very young," Filippenko said.

The star that produced SN 2006gy apparently expelled a large amount of mass prior to exploding, reminiscent of the star eta Carinae, a so-called luminous blue variable which, at 100 to 120 solar masses, is the most massive star in our galaxy.

"This is also very exciting because it suggests that eta Carinae, only 7,500 light years away, might possibly explode in a similar manner, becoming a spectacularly bright star in our sky," Filippenko said.

"We don't know for sure if Eta Carinae will explode soon, but we had better keep a close eye on it just in case," added Mario Livio of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., who was not involved in the research. "Eta Carinae's explosion could be the best star-show in the history of modern civilization."

University of Texas graduate student Robert Quimby first observed the supernova on Sept. 18, 2006 in the galaxy NGC 1260, located in the constellation Perseus. Filippenko's team immediately began observing it with its dedicated supernova search and monitor telescope at Lick, the Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope.

Filippenko and his graduate student Ryan Foley subsequently obtained spectra of the star using the Lick 3-meter Shane telescope and the DEIMOS spectrograph mounted on the Keck II telescope.

Pooley led the Chandra observation, which allowed the team to rule out the most likely alternative explanation for the supernova, namely that it was an explosion of a white dwarf star into a dense, hydrogen-rich environment.

"If that were the case, this supernova would have been 1,000 times brighter in X-rays than what we detected with Chandra," said Pooley. "This must have been an extremely massive star."

"In terms of the effect on the early universe, there's a huge difference between these two possibilities," said Smith. "One pollutes the galaxy with large quantities of newly synthesized elements, and the other locks them up forever in a black hole."

"One exciting repercussion of this is that, if pair-instability supernovas really are this bright, it gives us hope that the James Webb Space Telescope might actually be able to detect these explosions from the first stars, thereby verifying that they may actually exist," he added.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Solid State ! really

Sheets of glass with a veneer of natural stone backlit by LED's! this is solid state lighting through and through. The light sources are good enough to illuminate the stone and bring out its natural beauty from inside. From the LED Mag article

Lighting designers Chaos Design Consultants have installed an illuminated bar in the atrium of the Hilton Hotel, Heathrow.

Dancer’s Bar consists of 9 panels of a special product consisting of a thin veneer of real natural stone, which is bonded on to glass, the end result being beautiful translucent panels.

In order to produce the "floating" effect required by the client, Chaos installed panels of Prismex behind the veneer of natural stone and then edgelit each panel with a total of 450 white LEDs.
Prismex is an ultra-slim acrylic which makes it ideal to use where space is at a minimum. The acrylic also has a special pattern printed on it, which allows the light to be picked up and evenly spread across the panels.

Techwatch: Nano light sources

The nano buzz around lighting is getting louder. Cornell announces the development of nano-light emitting fibers that could revolutionalize lighting and especially LCD backlighting as we know it. I guess we should welcome 'the sheet screen' if this can be scaled. From the article in Just Chromatography:

Every day scientists continue to surprises us with the new discoveries; however, the most noted and admired by the vast majority of folks as well as science professionals are the achievements and developments in the field of nanotechnology. We all get easily amused when we see the next “nano” research headline because the “nanotech world” is not yet fully understood or explored.

Recently Craighead Research Group at Corenll University reported their next “nano” breakthrough. They created a so-called “Nano-Lamp” - a microscopic collection of light-emitting fibers with dimensions of only a few hundred nanometers.

According to the research article published in “Nano Letters”, the scientists were able to create one of the smallest manmade source of light that world has ever seen. The light-emitting spots on the fibers measure less than 250 nm in diameter which makes this light source smaller than the wavelength of light that they emit - 600nm. The fibers are made from a polymer with ruthenium-based molecules using a complex technique called - electrospinning - when a small droplet of polymer solution is placed on a metal needle tip followed by application of a high voltage between the tip and gold electrodes in a silicon base placed a few millimeters away.

A light-emitting nanofiber spans gold electrodes that are 500 nm apart and ruthenium-based molecules embedded in the fiber light up when exposed to an electric field of 3-4 V. An interesting fact is that when researches applied a high voltage of 100 volts, the orange light was bright enough to be seen by a human eye in the dark.

'Tabletop' fusion back

After a rather rough ride in the 1990's table top fusion or fusion of light atomic nucleii at room temprature (as opposed to the core of the sun) is making a comeback. The US Navy has thrown its weight behind one of the new genere of experiments in this line. Excerpt from :

Cold fusion, the ability to generate nuclear power at room temperatures, has proven to be a highly elusive feat. In fact, it is considered by many experts to be a mere pipe dream -- a potentially unlimited source of clean energy that remains tantalizing, but so far unattainable.

However, a recently published academic paper from the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SPAWAR) in San Diego throws cold water on skeptics of cold fusion. Appearing in the respected journal Naturwissenschaften, which counts Albert Einstein among its distinguished authors, the article claims that Spawar scientists Stanislaw Szpak and Pamela Mosier-Boss have achieved a low energy nuclear reaction (LENR) that can be replicated and verified by the scientific community.

Cold fusion has gotten the cold shoulder from serious nuclear physicists since 1989, when Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann were unable to substantiate their sensational claims that deuterium nuclei could be forced to fuse and release excess energy at room temperature. Spawar researchers apparently kept the faith, however, and continued to refine the procedure by experimenting with new fusionable materials.

Szpak and Boss now claim to have succeeded at last by coating a thin wire with palladium and deuterium, then subjected it to magnetic and electric fields. The researchers have offered plastic films called CR-39 detectors as evidence that charged particles have emerging from their reaction experiments.

The Spawar method shows promise, particularly in terms of being easily reproduced and verified by other institutions. Such verification is essential to widespread acceptance of the apparent breakthrough, an important precursor to scientists receiving the necessary funding to fuel additional research in the field.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Highway power

wind turbines powered by the breeze generated from the renowned Jersey highways, to help reduce the amount of electricity being used.
The big shocker of this story? The wind turbines won’t be built on the side of the highway. They will be built in under the road. It is proposed to use the power thus generated to run a light railway. Not bad as a lateral idea. How much pertol one needs to burn to make the wind turbines break even is anyones guess :)