Capturing and storing carbon

older coal power plantWhich of these images is the most common mental picture of a coal fired power plant?

Opponents of coal power usually post images that smother the air and rampage the earth.

All of which is true, yet recent proposals show a very different picture – sponsored by huge if not always credible institutions such as the US DOE.

FutureGen power plantFutureGen, scheduled to begin operating in 2013, is a US$1-billion “clean-coal” prototype, bound for either Illinois or Texas, the finalist states.

FutureGen’s power plant will be the first coal-fired operation ever designed to produce electricity and hydrogen with virtually no harmful pollution.

And why pollution?

The Future of Coal – a report that was released this week by the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology predicts that coal consumption in the US will grow significantly by mid-century. “In virtually any scenario that we’ve explored, coal use increases – even when you place a substantial price on CO2 emissions.” Unlike oil, which is expensive and concentrated in geopolitically problematic locations, coal is plentiful in those countries where future demand is likely to be greatest, notably the US, China and India. [story at New Scientist Environment]

Given that coal generates the most CO2 per unit energy of any fossil fuel, the implications for climate change are serious.

Graphic of carbon sequestration

MIT is recommending a massive scale-up of technologies that capture the carbon released by coal burning and sequester it underground in porous rock formations.

Others promote what they say is a technologically simple method to grind coke and pipeline it to salt mines.

Several urban governments are considering pipelines that will force carbon dioxide into empty underground pockets around their cities.

Alberta is discussing a pipeline to move carbon dioxide from the oilsands and store it underground at a cost as much as $5 billion.

The Sierra Club has said carbon sequestration only encourages dependence on fossil fuels. [wiki on artificially
capturing and storing carbon

Scripps researchers found large amounts of carbon particulates from Asia over the West Coast of the United States.

More than three-quarters of the particulate pollution known as black carbon transported at high altitudes over the West Coast during spring is from Asian sources, according to a research team led by Professor V. Ramanathan at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

Future Pundit posits that with the Chinese putting 1 to 2 new coal burning electric plants online per week this problem of soot from Asia is going to get much worse before it gets better.

In the book, a cheese-loving king’s castle is infested with mice. So the king brings in cats to get rid of the mice. Then the castle’s overrun with cats, so he brings in dogs to get rid of them, then lions to get rid of the dogs, elephants to get rid of the lions, and finally, mice to get rid of the elephants.

That scenario in “The King, the Mice and the Cheese,” by Nancy and Eric Gurney, should give scientists pause before taking extreme measures to mess with Mother Nature, says Weaver of the University of Victoria.

However, in recent months, several scientists are considering doing just that.

They are exploring global warming solutions that sound wholly far-fetched, including giant artificial “trees” that would filter carbon dioxide out of the air, a bizarre “solar shade” created by a trillion flying saucers that lower Earth’s temperature, and a scheme that mimics a volcano by spewing light-reflecting sulfates high in the sky.

Heat mapping where men focus

heat tracking men and womenGender makes a distinct difference on what parts are stared at the longest.

Take a look at the hotspot picture.

All users tested looked the image, but there was a distinct difference in focus between men and women.

Although both men and women looked at the image of George Brett when directed to find out information about his sport and position, men tend to focus on private anatomy as well as the face.

For the women, the face is the only place they viewed.

This difference doesn’t just occur with images of people.

Men tend to fixate more on areas of private anatomy on animals as well, as evidenced when users were directed to browse the American Kennel Club site.

Where men focus and where women do not. Ha!

eyetracking research

Update: Mind Hacks posted this link.

Cognitive Daily has a fantastic piece on a eye-tracking study looking how artists and non-artists look differently at visual scenes.

Reported in Hormones and Behavior [story at physorg]

Women using hormonal contraceptives looked more at the genitals.

Women who were not using hormonal contraceptives paid more attention to contextual elements of the photographs.

Men looked at the female face much more than women, and both looked at the genitals comparably.

Growing in the air

aeroponic potato growingGrowing potatoes in mid-air, in a new technique called aeroponics, is showing great promise. The technique consists of cultivating potato seedlings on specially adapted frames so that the roots, and the tubers, grow suspended in the air, without touching the soil.

This avoids the need to disinfect the soil with harmful chemicals and keeps the tubers healthy as well. The frames are covered with black plastic to keep out the light and the plants are sprayed with a solution of nutrients to allow them to grow.

The International Potato Center (CIP) is using the technique to improve production and reduce the cost of producing seed potatoes. The method is up to ten times more effective than with the conventional techniques. Another advantage is that the little tubers can be harvested at any size seed user wants, from 5 to 30 grams. Spraying fertilizers directly on to the roots makes it possible for the growth phase to continue for more than 180 days without interruption, which does not happen with conventional techniques.

First results have been very successful. For example, 67 seed tubers were obtained per plant with the variety Yungay; with Canchán INIA, 70 tubers and with Perricholi, 69.

With conventional techniques, the average is from 5 to 10 tubers per plant.

Summize shopping engine

Summize comparisonComparison shopping is an essential part of shopping and product research. Summize uses heatmaps to compare products. Again, the ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ wisdom proves true. Seeing the heatmaps side by side gives the consumer a quick verdict on what other consumers collectively voted for…

readwriteweb has a thorough review which states, ”

Summize is impressive. Its power is in delivering a lot of information, using a relatively simple interface. Summize brings together reviews and normalizes ratings to output essentially a single rating number.

The presentation is not only innovative, but useful.

Crowdsourcing is improving.

Everyone sells everything

Fred Wilson has an interesting idea:

“Superdistribution means turning every consumer into a distribution partner. Every person who buys a record, a movie, reads a newspaper, a book, every person who buys a Sonos or a Vespa becomes a retailer of that item. It’s word of mouth marketing, referral marketing, but with one important difference. The consumer is the retailer.”

“The thing I want to eliminate is FRICTION. I want to supercharge commerce.”

“I am done with the old way of selling goods.”

“I don’t want to buy from an institution. I want to buy from my friends. And I want to sell to them.”

via emergic

Can’t you just imagine the confrontation of economists? Roll over Adam Smith.

We each use one tire per year

tire sculptureHere’s a pic from an older post about turning used tires into a thing of beauty.

Last year, 300 million tires were discarded – about one per American – and 261 million of those were recycled. Most of the 39 million or so tires not recycled were processed for landfill disposal.

A Pittsburgh area company has succeeded in becoming the nation’s largest waste tire processor. Liberty Tire Recycling LLC handled 70 million tires, most of which were recycled for use as fuel or in products ranging from welcome mats and railroad ties to asphalt and athletic fields.

That’s nearly a quarter of all waste tires produced nationwide last year.

The company operates 10 processing centers, which serve 16 states, mostly in the East, and employs 450. Its Braddock plant, with 25 employees, processed about 3 million tires last year with plans this year to recycle 4 million.

“We’re 21/2 times bigger than the next guy in the industry…

“We’re looking to fill in the map from one state to the next and keep building up market share…”

Tires are shredded and processed to produce crumb rubber. The shredded rubber is frozen with liquid nitrogen, then shattered into crumbs as fine as talcum powder.

Steel belting and fiber are removed before the rubber is screened for size for different uses, and the steel is recycled. The 40 million pounds of crumb rubber produced in Braddock is shipped in 1-ton containers to companies that make new tires, mix it with glue to make matting and other rubber products, or combine it with asphalt to make roads more durable and quieter.

The Rubber Manufacturers Association said “rubber asphalt concrete” is used in California, Arizona, Texas, Florida and South Carolina. It’s recently been used to make railroad ties that are stronger, longer lasting and require no creosote as wooden ties do. Shredded rubber, high in BTUs, is burned in power plants and produces fewer pollutants than other fuels such as coal. As more profitable methods of rubber use are developed, less will be burned.

The bulk of crumb rubber is used in athletic fields, where it’s mixed with sand or used as its own layer below artificial turf. Crumb also is poured atop the turf to make the blades stand tall and resemble grass. An athletic field requires 250,000 pounds of crumb rubber – about 20,000 tires.

[Salem News]

I spent a few months building proposals to export hammer mill machines and tire shredders to the USSR in the late 1980s. The tough part was gaining the patience of American vendors while they tried to figure out why we were taking months to arrange cross-trading in order to convert rubles into dollars. There are mountains of used tires in the region.

It’s all in the moves

Attraction is ‘determined by walk’

An hourglass figure has long been perceived to be the ideal figure for a woman to have.

But New York University researchers have found that to be found attractive, a woman had to move in a feminine way – swaying her hips.

Men, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper found, were more attractive if they moved with a “shoulder swagger”. [BBC]

Trauma affecting soldiers

A quarter of US veterans treated by doctors when they return from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer mental health problems, according to US research.

The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, looked at 103,788 personnel between 2001 and 2005.

The most frequent diagnosis was post-traumatic stress disorder, but anxiety, depression and substance-use also counted as mental health problems. [BBC]

Cameras with brains

Surveillance cameras are common in many cities, monitoring tough street corners to deter crime, watching over sensitive government buildings and even catching speeders. Cameras are on public buses and in train stations, building lobbies, schools and stores. Most feed video to central control rooms, where they are monitored by security staff. The latest breed, known as “intelligent video,” could transform cameras from passive observers to eyes with brains, able to detect suspicious behavior.

A person carrying a heavy load under a jacket would walk differently than someone unencumbered – which could help identify a person hiding a weapon.

A car pulled into a parking lot and the driver got out, a box springing up around him. It moved with the driver as he went from car to car, looking in the windows instead of heading into the building.

In both cases, the camera knew what was normal and what was not.

The gaming industry uses camera systems that can detect facial features, according to Bordes. Casinos use their vast banks of security cameras to hunt cheating gamblers


Seabed power plant

By the time the Atlantic Ocean pours through the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia with a controlled fury that is unmatched anywhere in the world, nearly 14 billion tonnes of seawater will have sloshed into that channel — equivalent to the combined flow, some have calculated, of every river on earth.

Canada may well be the place for tidal power, or at least what is called in-stream generators.

The latest technology relies on small propellers or turbines that can be anchored to the sea floor.

Nova Scotia is considering as many as 300 units in a seabed farm, at least twice the 20 foot diameter of the test unit in this picture of a test unit by Scotland’s OpenHydro, in strategic locations around the bay.

[story at CBC]

The world’s first field of underwater turbines, using currents of the East River, will be in New York City. [link to post]

TB infection is rising

Tuberculosis is back with a vengeance with a third of the world’s population currently infected.

TB is a highly contagious disease of the lungs that was thought to have been virtually eliminated by the 1960s, but is now resurgent and kills nearly two million people worldwide every year.

New infections are occurring at a rate of one per second.

There’s a dramatic rise in the incidence of new strains of TB that are resistant to traditional antibiotics. As a result, the World Health Organisation, the Bill Gates Foundation and the European Union have all launched initiatives to tackle the problem.

The bacterium survives the initial attack by the body’s immune system and then lies dormant, usually in the lungs, waiting for any sign of weakness, such as a secondary infection. Its resurgence over the last 20 years has been closely associated with the AIDS epidemic, which destroys the human immune system and has allowed TB to get a grip once again.

London is the TB capital of Europe, although most large cities here and in North America have seen rapid increases in the number of TB infections. However, the problem is most acute in Africa and Asia where HIV/AIDS is also most prolific and a shortage of traditional TB medicines and problems with patient compliance has led to the emergence of drug-resistant strains of the disease.

“There were only ever a limited number of drugs that were effective against TB… [link]

New migration of the Africanized honey bee

No honey bees are native to the New World.

European colonists in the 1600s and 1700s brought honey bees with them, some of which became feral. But honey bees are essential to U.S. agriculture, pollinating more than 90 crops. That pollination leads to yield and quality improvements worth more than $14 billion annually.

Africanized honey bees more ardently defend their nests than do the European honey bees that are common to the United States and sting in greater numbers with less provocation.

There are very minor genetic differences between African and European honey bees, but it is not yet known whether these differences govern the honey bee traits that people are most concerned about.

After 5 years of being fairly settled, Africanized honey bees have been on the move for the past 2 years, spreading into four new states—Florida, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana—since fall 2005.

Before that, Africanized honey bees had spread into five southwestern states— Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, California, and Nevada, in that order—between October 1990 and 2005.

[link to USDA]