02 December, 2007

Spotlight on the Automotive X Prize, and the death of this blog:

The last time I posted here was July 18, 2007, and while it was a good idea, frankly, I have times when I barely have the energy to devote to one blog, let alone two. I will be keeping it up for reference, but anything I have to say about the environment will be posted on my main blog first and then copied over here for those who just want to see what I have to say about the environment.

I have been keeping up with the Automotive X-Prize and have looked into the various signatories of their Letter of Intent program. Of those who have websites, I have seen a breadth and depth of innovative thought that frankly boggles my mind and gives me hope for the future. Any of these teams, if they are able to execute their respective visions, will be more than worthy competitors in this competition, and more importantly, they will help reduce our suicidal dependence on gasoline and petrodiesel to drive our vehicles and our economy. However, there are a few that I found, in a word, shocking in their ambition and innovation. Foremost among them, at least in my view, is Aptera Motors Typ-1 gasoline/plug-in electric hybrid. On the details screen, the fuel economy at 120 miles after a charge is a mind-blowing 300 miles per gallon. This later reduces to a still highly respectable 130 miles per gallon after 350-400 miles and beyond, which is its minimum efficiency as stated in the Vehicle Details section of their web site. Given an 11 gallon fuel tank, that would equate to being able to drive from the beach at Santa Monica, CA to Broadway, where the stagehands are currently on strike, on only two tanks of gas. The most notable downside, however, is the capacity: It only seats two plus an infant, though it does have capacity for 15 bags of groceries. Its projected sticker price is under $30k.

Another worth mentioning is Loremo, a turbo-diesel vehicle that achieves a fuel economy of less than of 2 litres per 100 km. I knew that Javascript widget I put on the side would come in handy some day. That translates into a fuel economy in excess of 117 miles per gallon without using any hybrid technology. The tank size is a bit smallish by American standards at 20 litres, but with a range of around 600 miles per tank, well, I doubt I'd have much trouble at all getting used to that. :) The projected sticker price of the more fuel-efficient (and slower to accelerate at 16 seconds to go from 0-60 mph) LS version will be less than €15 000, or just under $22,000 at the current exchange rate. The downside is, of course, the slow acceleration rate if and when it is presented to the U.S. market. However, this is still an excellent vehicle.

A third team is ZAP, a company that specializes in electric vehicles. The main concern with any such vehicle is range, and that is certainly a concern for their current offerings with a maximum range of 25 miles per charge. However, their future offerings have a stated range of 350 miles per charge, which is more than enough for daily use. While that would be a problem for extended road trips, it's certainly more than a step in the right direction.

The last team I'll mention is PsychoActive, whose engine design has the potential to be nothing short of revolutionary. With a turbine engine that has only 9 major parts, it could signal a fundamental shift in car engine design. However, since it has not been tested in a real car, it remains only a possibility. Nevertheless, I found it intriguing enough to add to the list of my four favorites.

I strongly encourage all of my very few readers/blogfriends to look closely at the various teams that have already announced their signing with the Automotive X-Prize Letter of Intent program. Ultimately, fuel economy is a free market problem, and it will only be solved with a free market solution. I am grateful for the hard work and innovation of each of the teams involved in this race, and I'm also grateful for the X Prize foundation for spurring this innovation by creating this competition. It is my hope and belief that their hard work and ingenuity will help lead to a better future for our children, our environment, and our world.

I'm posting this video as an indictment of modern America. Enjoy.

18 July, 2007

First, an apology:

I'm very sorry that I've taken such a long hiatus from this blog. I haven't had all that much to add to this topic that hadn't already been discussed to death, so I decided to be silent. I still care about the environment, but anything different I've had to say has been political and/or just weird or moody, and as such, more fitting for my other blog.

Now onto the purpose of this post: For a long time, I've said that I would have no problem becoming a vegetarian or using non-animal-source food products if the price were comparable to the natural product and if the flavor and texture were very similar. I have finally found one product that qualifies: Silk Soy Milk(TM). As of late, I've been drinking either 1% or 2% milk, and when I checked the price of the house brand at my favorite grocery store, I found that the price of the 2% milk was $3.19/half gallon U.S. (1.893L). The price of the original Silk Soy Milk (TM) was identical, $3.19/half gallon. I tried it, and found its flavor was either comparable or superior, while being a more heart-healthy product. Also, the company that makes this soy milk is green, having derived 100% of its operating energy from wind power and/or other renewable sources. Finally, the product I enjoyed is independently certified organic and packaged in a recyclable container. My one complaint is that it was a touch sweet for my tastes, but when used for cooking or cereal, I'm certain this shortcoming will be mitigated. For those few who are likely to read this blog who haven't actually tried it, I strongly recommend it.

I've become more interested in my health with my impending doom, er, 30th birthday, though I won't say exactly when it will be. Also, I've noticed that I get out of breath far easier than I used to and cannot endure as strenuous exercise as I once could. So, in the name of all that is unholy, I stepped my fat ass on the scale. According to the USDA, a healthy weight is defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 18.5 to 24.9. A person is considered overweight if their BMI is between 25 and 29.9, and obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 or greater. For someone of my height of 6'1", the healthy range is 140-189 lbs.; overweight is defined as 189-226 lbs.; and obesity begins at 227 lbs. Of course, this doesn't take into account various types of athletes who may weigh more than this and still be in perfect health, so this is just a yardstick. After stepping on the scales, I've found that I've joined the ranks of the obese. Yippee fucking kay-yay.

08 May, 2007

Think globally, act globally: Wind power

Finally, I'm writing the long-promised post on wind power. I've found this fascinating blog by MAKE Magazine, and it has some interesting plans for making your own wind turbines and other turbines. The largest wind turbine on that site only generates 3 kW, but still, it's simply fascinating what a little bit of equipment and know-how can do.

Now that I've covered the micro, let's look at the macro: Wind farms. For this, I'll save myself some effort and refer you to the Wikipedia page on the topic, but I find myself more intrigued by the vertical-axis wind turbines. Although they have a lower efficiency on average than HAWT's, this can be offset by their greater versatility. In particular, I'm interested in giromills and Windstar turbines. I was, however, also moved by this article by ScienceDaily about the potential viability of wind turbines off the mid-Atlantic U.S. coast. Furthermore, I wonder if this might be, from a philosophical stance at least, considered a form of solar power, since it is the sun that generates the heat that causes the temperature imbalances that form the winds. This is just a few thoughts I had.

06 May, 2007

Peacock. Witch Hazel.

The above title is based on some odd stream of consciousness thought I'd had recently. And no, I'm not high and I have never chased the hookah. Besides, consider it an experiment in odd titles generating greater interest in what I have to say. It was while I was letting my mind wander that day that I got to thinking about Stirling engines. I read a Wikipedia article on the subject, and it looks fairly fascinating. I am fully aware of the weaknesses of this particular engine type, but the biggest one is getting a good heat differential. For this reason, I think this would probably be best with some source of high-heat electricity generation sources. My personal favorites are solar and geothermal, with mirrors that reflect as much of the light spectrum as possible instead of solar panels being used for the former. However, nuclear could be used, as much as I am loathe to endorse that option. Another article I read of interest was about the Kalina cycle, though I'm not sure if one of these has actually been built.

While there are countless naysayers about the concept of the Stirling engine, there have been many instances in human history where the true potential of great inventions were not realized until decades or even centuries had passed. I'm wondering if the Stirling engine's time has finally come 'round at last.

Update, 21:51 CDT: I was just thinking about the efficiency of induction cookers and the various advantages built into them. Since Stirling engines run on a temperature differential of internal gases, I wonder, in an all-electric car configuration, if somehow incorporating magnetic induction as the heat source for the hot side might allow for a leap in the efficiency of current electric and hybrid vehicles. Please, tell me if this is stupid, or stupidly brilliant, or just brilliant.

15 April, 2007

First, an apology:

I had promised Snave that I would discuss wind energy, and I hope to in a few days. However, I'm still focused on my previous topic, and wanted to expand upon some highly mature technologies that could lead to huge savings in energy. The two technologies in particular are geothermal heat pumps/water heaters and earth-sheltered homes. I will address the geothermal heat pumps and water heaters first.

I lumped geothermal heat pumps and water heaters in the same category since they're essentially the same technology applied differently, and, according to an industry group, an increasing number of professional installers are doing both. I'll get back to that later, but for now, I'll instead link to the Department of Energy's page on this topic. Granted, these are 1996 dollars, but Keith Swilley of Panama City, FL, homeowner spent only $253 in one YEAR on heating and cooling costs, and the PDF is available on the aforementioned site. At the 1996 rate of $0.06/kWh in Panama City, FL, this works out to a total of just over 4200 kWh per year consumed for heating and, more commonly in this climate, cooling. I cited this example because that city is just a bit to the east of me, and the climates are about as close to identical. Put another way, we're both on the Gulf Coast and within the same network television viewing area, albeit on different ends. Let that sink in for a moment: 4200 kWh per year for heating and cooling in one of the hottest, most humid climates in the U.S. Add to this the fact that this type of heat pump is even more efficient at heating homes than it is at cooling homes, and you get some truly startling numbers for those who live farther north. I promised a link to an industry site for geothermal heat pumps, so I've chosen their FAQ page. Since this industry site is also referenced on the DOE page, I believe this site can be trusted to provide accurate and reliable information, as well as additional resources not available on the DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy website.

Next is the concept of earth-sheltered homes. Since this is one of the cases where Wikipedia serves as an excellent and well-organized resource for information, here is a link to their article. If executed well, this can provide an energy savings approaching 80%, but the key term is "executed well." Perhaps the most famous example is Bill Gates' house, a feat as ambitious as it was funny in one of its side-effects: The permits required pushed his hometown to a Linux-based document management system. I may finally stop laughing about that in a few years. Still, the concept behind earth-sheltered homes is sound, and may partially or totally eliminate the need for any type of artificial heating or cooling, though ventilation and moisture control are issues that are particularly critical for this type of construction. Should I have the resources to build my dream home, this will probably be the type of home I will build.

As an additional bonus, I have included an additional link to a page devoted to screw-in fluorescent light bulbs, detailing their environmental benefits. Energy efficiency isn't just about the big things. Sometimes, it can be about something as simple as screwing in a light bulb. It's easy, and depending on usage, the return on investment can be as little as two to three weeks even before you factor in the savings caused by not having to replace the incandescent bulbs as often Please look to the left of the page for more information.

11 April, 2007


According to a Wikipedia article, this was term first coined by Amory Lovins. I know, it sounds a bit weird, but the concept is actually fairly straightforward, and is covered in decent depth by the aforementioned article, and in more depth by the links within it. After reading up on Mr. Lovins, my only surprise is that more people don't know who he is. He is simply brilliant, and his ideas are both sensible and easily practical. The gist of the "negawatt" concept is creating a market for increased energy efficiency, essentially decreasing our power generation needs by achieving the same or even better results by using less energy. For a personal example, we recently replaced a 40-watt incandescent bulb with a 9-watt screw-in fluorescent bulb. This light is on all the time so that people can actually see when they're walking through the kitchen. Assuming 10 cents per kWh, that one bulb will save right around $30 in energy costs and about 272 kWh of energy over the course of the next year. What's more, that bulb puts out much better light than the bulb it replaced. Multiply that by a household, or a workplace, or a town or city, and you get the picture. Sometimes, it's just as simple as turning off lights in rooms you're not in, and using natural lighting when possible. Other times, it's keeping the air conditioning at a higher setting and using fans. It's mostly simple, it makes sense, and it can have a huge impact. Also, if applied widely enough, it can prevent the need for additional power plants. Living simply doesn't always mean living uncomfortably, or doing without conveniences to which we have become accustomed. Sometimes, it means just being a little more thoughtful about the way we go about things.

I have added several links to the sidebar. I strongly encourage visiting all of them. I especially recommend visiting Journey to Forever. I have found it an invaluable resource on biofuel production, and I'm sure you'll find the same. I'm not sure if the links will open in a new window or not because I didn't do the code. Instead, I let Blogger do all the work just because I'm feeling a bit lazy today. :)

06 April, 2007


The inspiration for this blog was, as was the case with my other, less structured blog, pure ego. :) But seriously... Ugh, save us all from environmentalists and others concerned about the environment who are so serious about EVERYTHING! Where was I? Oh yeah. The real reason I created this was as a forum for ideas. I've read a great deal of information on various environmental concerns, and unlike the increasingly radical modern environmental movement, I wanted to discuss things in a reasoned, rational manner. As I said above, if I've found information elsewhere, I'll cite it.

The reason I chose this name was because I envision a world where technology is used to enhance the environment and crop productivity, though not through the use of pesticides. I'm also not entirely opposed to the genetic modification of organisms, as long as it takes place in a sane and reasoned manner. This has been occurring for countless centuries and will continue to do so. The most significant difference is that much of it now occurs on a far shorter timescale. All that said, the technology to which I am principally referring in the name of my blog is information technology. Also, I believe that we need to respect and honor the ways of our ancestors, and to do that, I believe we need to look at how they did things, see what they did right, and figure out ways to do them better in a responsible, sustainable manner. I see this as key not only to preserving our heritage for the generations to come, but also as a core principle for manned exploration of the rest of the solar system.

Over the coming days, I will be adding previous postings on this and related topics, and when I have something new to say, I won't be shy. For my visitors on this blog, I only ask the same, and that you be courteous and try to leave this site better than you found it, whether that be in the form of insightful commentary, links to other resources, or even a joke or funny story. I don't bite... much. :P

More thoughts about biofuel production:

This is probably more relevant to home-brewed ethanol production, or at least more easily accomplished in this setting, for both fuel and... entertainment purposes, but here are a few ideas I had about some of the wastes from the fermentation process. Since, unless someone is just figuring it out or they're completely barmy, this will be occurring in a dedicated building, and since the fermentation process produces significant amounts of carbon dioxide, why not duct the waste air to a rooftop garden? If there is an engineering solution, perhaps allow the fans to be powered by the heat generated by the fermentation, but if not, other non-polluting energy sources would be good. Eventually, a compost heap could be created on the roof from the waste plant matter, and any excess compost could be lowered to the ground via a chute or a simple, human-powered pulley system. And, again, since this will be a fairly warm building, the composting process will take less time than it might otherwise in certain climates. I'm just thinking of ways to minimize the ecological impact of ethanol production, and perhaps, to find a way to make a single organic farm into a concept that could eventually be used to send people to colonize the stars... Yes, I have heard of the Biosphere, but they clearly fucked up, and part of that may be that they tried to be too cute about it. Perhaps if they had asked farmers as well as scientists, or perhaps if they had made proper use of their scientists, it may not have been such a spectacular failure.

Some questions about biofuels:

I've been reading up on this subject for quite a while now, and my favorite site is Journey to Forever. Frankly, if there's a better website out there on this topic, I haven't seen it. However, I do have some lingering questions, and if anyone who visits this blog regularly knows anyone with the answers, I'd be interested to find out. The questions are as follows: To create ethanol from any raw feedstock (cane sorghum, sugar beets, etc.), how many units of water are required to produce a unit of ethanol? After distillation, can that water be reclaimed and used for other purposes (drinking, etc.)? How many BTU's per unit of ethanol are required for the distillation process? Are there non-petrochemical denaturants or stabilizers for ethanol? Would a mild gelling agent reduce vapor loss of ethanol, and would this cause more problems for an internal combustion engine? Is there an environmentally-friendly bactericide to prevent losses of stored biodiesel? Finally, which engines can run on butanol, an alcohol that can be made with both cellulose and starch/sugars? I'm strongly in favor of biofuels, and I can envision the day when the United States becomes a net exporter of fuel and energy, much like the Middle East is today, only with much better human rights. I just don't know all the answers.

11 September, 2005: Politics, Environment, and Biodiesel

Now, for something that was actually part of the title of the post, I've expressed my support for biodiesel and PHEV's (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles) in the past. I encourage everyone to join the California Cars Initiative group on Yahoo, as I find it has some seriously thought-provoking material. In the 135th post on that group, the fourth point referred to "a 'neo-con-green' alliance of environmentalists and national-security conservatives who see it as the best way to rapidly reduce consumption of foreign oil." I guess I don't quite fit into either of the groups referenced in that alliance, but that's nothing new. Those of you who read my blog know that I stubbornly refuse to fit neatly into any category. So as for me, I see strong arguments in favor of both the neo-cons and the environmentalists supporting PHEV's. Reducing smog and our dependence on foreign energy sources is good for the nation as a whole. However, that also ignores the positive human rights implications of PHEV's. A reduced demand for petrochemicals equates to reduced funding for regimes that treat women as chattel at best and treat all of their people with the exception of their ruling classes like shit. Reducing the money available to tyrants is a good thing. My personal preference would be to see diesel-electric hybrids be at the forefront, since, with my admittedly limited understanding, biodiesel can be used straight in many, if not most, existing diesel engines and all newer diesels. Journeytoforever.org is a good site for information on this topic. Also, Biodiesel.org is a good trade site owned by the National Biodiesel Board and has some interesting information. Also, even as old as he is, Willie Nelson is still kinda cool. Thankfully, such sites and other car sites exist, because my actual knowledge of cars is limited to adding and checking the oil, gasoline, and antifreeze, and changing the air filter. Somehow, that makes me feel less manly than I'd prefer, but I guess we each have our own knowledge base and things that make us curious, and the drive to expand the former and satisfy the latter. In my case, the first is esoteric, the second encompasses very nearly everything, and the third is sorely lacking in this regard.