Saturday, November 24, 2007

Really, more green than red

Wow, holidays just came and kicked me in the butt this year.

In order to avoid being caught off-guard by the impending holiday season, the happy couple concocted a continuous reminder of the upcoming festivities in the form of a plant draped with electronics and doo-dads. Feel free to follow our festive lead.

LED Christmas lights
How does it look? I'm very pleased with the whole set-up. The lights are low-energy Phillips LED lights in the "soft white" color. Being a complete green-compulsive that I am now, I was unable to just go with regular lights. These are $12 at Target, not anymore than regular lights, and, according to the general hype, use 80-90% of the energy. That's enough to switch if you already have a set, that's for sure.

The interesting thing you will notice about these lights, despite the strange things they do to your eyes when the lights or your head is moving, is that they emit no heat whatsoever. Grab the bulbs and you feel nothing but room-temp plastic. This is where all the energy savings is coming from and, when you understand this, you begin to understand some of the energy waste that plagues our, well, world.

Light bulbs certainly don't need to emit heat to light our way, only photons. Same goes for your car engine; you don't need all the heat of a combustion engine to get from one place to another. The heat, in fact, is a bad thing for our cars (particularly turbocharged ones like my VW). Heat, in many instances, is just a byproduct of the process required to get energy out of a substance/material. Find a technology that gets rid of an energetic byproduct (heat for lighting your house or light for, say, welding metal) and you save energy.

Anyways, I'm 100% satisfied with the LED light purchase and would recommend storing as many strands of regular lights as you can afford. Save some dough, save some electrons, and lower your risk of fire. Also, pick up a glass pickle ornament while you're out:

LED Christmas lights and a glass pickle

Wiki says:

The Christmas Pickle is an American tradition related to the Christmas tree. In this tradition, a family decorates its Christmas tree with ornaments including one glass pickle. On Christmas morning, the first child to find the pickle on the tree would get a special gift and would supposedly have a year of good fortune.

No kids here and I'm not a particularly traditional American but the thought of a random, glass pickle on the Christmas tree was simply too enticing to ignore.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm thankful for:

- My friends, family, and everything in between that keep me going through everything. I need you more than you might think I do. Take care of yourself and stay in touch.

- My health, mental stability, and employment. I never take these attributes for granted and I'm glad I know how to retain them; I spent years trying to do away with them, glad that's over.

- The skills, talents, abilities, and capacities people keep telling me I have (I won't admit to them... not ever).

And, because you've been good, here's a treat :)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thermodynamics... very funny

Thermodynamics is a funny subject. The first time you go through it, you don't understand it at all. The second time you go through it, you think you understand it, except for one or two small points. The third time you go through it, you know you don't understand it, but by that time you are so used to it, it doesn't bother you any more.

Arnold Sommerfeld

Hydrogen from biological sources

Sunrise in Cancun, Mexico

What's the most miraculous thing you can think of? What is the most amazing thing that exists on this planet? What just totally blows your mind about your existence? If you said "my existence," you totally got that question right.

Life is amazing, plain and simple. If you're unconvinced, Wiki "DNA" or "protein folding" or "hemoglobin" and try to make sense of it. The processes that are involved with living are just... incredible. English will fail in describing just how incredible they are so I'll stop stuttering and move on. The reason I'm on this tear is that I had a biochem test today and, with my regimen of chemistry lecture classes, I'm always torn between overworked and utterly fascinated. I guess that's how you know you picked the right major, ya?

We know so much about life and, yet, so little. What we do know is that, in it's present form and capacity, the earth can handle a whole ton of organisms without importing anything from anywhere. Well, there is one exception: the sun. Without the sun, we're toast. Actually, we're the opposite of toast but either way we're screwed. Solar radiation is pretty much the source and power for all life on the planet.

Sunset in La Jolla, California
Point being, the sun will be here while we're here and, when it's gone, we're gone too. While it's here, it's unlimited and we must find a better way to use it than we are doing at present. Solar power and all of it's subsets are THE way to energy independence for every country, state, and person on this planet. I've said it before and I'll say it again:

biological processes can solve virtually any problem. in particular, it can solve our energy problem

Here's just one reason why:

Researchers at Penn State University say they've developed a way to use bacteria to extract hydrogen from almost any biodegradable organic substance, from grass clippings to wastewater.

You always hear that hydrogen is the most abundant element on the planet. It is but not in the gas phase that we need it to use it for energy. Why? Because it just can't ever be that easy, can it? That and it is really energy dense so creating it costs energy. Thermodynamics says you can't create or destroy energy - one system uses it to do work on other systems and the energy just moves around. Anyways...

The main problem with a hydrogen economy as it stands (and, if I say, from a very pessimistic or simpleton mindset) is our current inability to get hydrogen out of the states it likes to be in (mostly bonded to carbon like in oils, tissue, hair, anything relating to life). Algae is currently being explored, now bacteria.
Logan and his research assistant Shaoan Cheng's method uses bacteria called exoelectrogens to break down acetic acid -- produced by fermenting cellulose, glucose or other biodegradable organic matter -- in a microbial electrolysis cell to create hydrogen.

You might, at this point, be asking "whathef..." What they're doing is taking cellulose (very abundant, non-digestible carbohydrate from plants) or any other organic material (something that contains carbon and hydrogen like your bod, anything you eat, anything that grows) and making acetic acid by fermenting it (letting it go bad). The little micro-organisms break it down and...
When bacteria consume the acid, electrons are transferred to a graphite anode. The bacteria also release protons -- hydrogen atoms stripped of electrons -- that are held in solution. As electrons are transferred to a platinum cathode, they combine with the protons and generate 0.3 volts of electricity. Adding another 0.2 volts creates hydrogen gas.

These bacteria are actually oxidizing (removing electrons [what electricity consists of]) the acid! Stuff happens and electricity is created. Boost that voltage with a little bit more and hydrogen gas is generated. Wow... Here is the big picture:
The researchers noted that the method produces up to 82 percent more energy than the electricity and biomass needed to produce it.

Keep that in mind... that is an important figure. The higher that percentage is, the better. Oil is probably 200-300% (total guess) while ethanol is under 10% and sometimes less.

Here is the Penn State announcement.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A few quick ones

I went back to Washington this last weekend and had no time to update while my list of links was getting longer and longer.

Hybrid pick-up truck... a step in the right direction I guess but sub-20 MPG is still pretty bad. Here's the problem:

Partnering General Motors' patented 2-Mode Hybrid system and a powerful 6.0L gas V-8, the Silverado Hybrid delivers highly efficient performance while maintaining full-size pickup capability

Why the heck do you need a 6.0L engine? That's really big, probably one of the biggest in its class. Drop the displacement and keep the hybrid system. I'm well aware that the electric motors are not going to haul/tow very much but you don't need more than probably 100-150 HP to cruise on the freeway.



Well, maybe just one quick one. Time for class