Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Sweet Way to Fuel the Future

What’s the future of fuel?  Well, there are many ideas that have been presented ranging from solar to wind to hydropower.  The growing energy needs of our planet will require some creative thinking and likely some ideas that don’t reside in the standard energy toolbox that we are accustom to today.  With that said, a sweet new idea has been brought to the table that involves using sugar to help fuel the world of tomorrow. 

An international group of researchers have been working with the US Department of Energy and have recently presented a very interesting idea on how sugar polymers could help provide a form of fuel that would work with our existing vehicles.

This discovery is centered on an enzyme that could enhance the growth of cell walls in plants.  The thicker cell walls would contain an abundance of a sugar polymer called Galactan.   In theory using this sugar polymer and a fermentation process, scientists could create fuel.  Not just any old fuel, but a fuel that works in existing engines. 

In addition to this, the plant in use would not be a food plant.  Currently we use corn to help make the ethanol as a vital component to the gas we use.  Corn is certainly an edible item that could be used to feed many people around the world, but a sizeable amount is going into the production of fuel.  This new idea would involve using non-food plants, thus not impacting the global production of food.

Wait, there’s more!  The process by which this fuel would be made would involve having large areas dedicated to vast fields to grow these plants.  Plants take in CO2 as they grow, thus (globally) consuming the CO2 that is put out by vehicle emissions.  The plants with enhanced cell walls would effectively be a carbon neutral process, meaning it balances out the input and output of CO2 in our atmosphere. Making this a step in the right direction for dealing with the large amount of unchecked emissions, which we experience today.

So, a carbon neutral process that doesn’t take food out of the mouths of others AND works in the existing vehicles we have today?  Galactan fuel is definitely a creative idea that warrants more research and attention!

Fuel your curiosity for this topic:

What is Galactan?

What does it mean to be CARBON NEUTRAL? 

Why Planet Cell Walls?

Is anyone else talking about this?:

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What does a loom have in common with your laptop?

If you’re reading this you must be using some sort of computer. Most of us have an idea about the origins of our modern computer units, but sometimes explaining the lineage of these machines leads only up to the first design. The big question is - how did we get all the way to a computing machine? We could not have gone from fire or the wheel straight to iTunes, right? What’s responsible for the giant leaps and bounds in technology that make our life what it is today? The process of science, that’s how!

Clothing, oddly enough, has a distant relation to the machine that is allowing you to read these words right now. In the early 1800s, Joseph-Marie Jacquard invented a mechanical power loom that could weave really intricate patterns in fabric. The designs of fabric were rooted in a wooden slot card that controlled the loom’s weaving directions.
A few decades later, Charles Babbage used this slot card idea to create a machine that calculated numbers based on a paper slot card, his machine had the way cool name of ‘The Difference Engine.’ Instead of resulting in a lovely rug with intricate colored designs, Babbage had intricate data and numbers punched into a card. The detailed weaving concept inspired detailed data processing. 
Then, Herman Hollerith took Babbage’s paper slot idea to the next level by creating a system that could input detailed numbers and data on a larger scale. This invention was soon picked up by the U.S. Census Bureauand Hollerith was rewarded quite nicely. So, what does a math-freak do with a lot of money in the late 1800s? Well, this particular math-addict helped co-found a little company that we now know as IBM. The rest, as they say, is history…or cache and cookies.

For more information check these links out!