Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Biodiesel power EcoRoamer

Just spend the morning with Alice Gugelev and Jay Shapiro owners of the Biodiesel power Eco-Roamer and my friend David from High School.  Alice sister and her husband Jay are planning a 3 year would tour driving from the US to Brazil then ship to Africa, and driving through Europe, India and Asia. You can follow along on their web site.

Monday, December 28, 2009

DIY ‘Boat Tail’ Gives Little Car Big Fuel Economy

Read article at:

 a homemade boat tail and boosted his fuel economy to 64 mpg.

 Aerocivic, a Honda Civic that gets 95 mpg.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

TED Talks: Steven Cowley: Fusion is energy's future

About this talk

Physicist Steven Cowley is certain that nuclear fusion is the only truly sustainable solution to the fuel crisis. He explains why fusion will work -- and details the projects that he and many others have devoted their lives to, working against the clock to create a new source of energy.

Steven Cowley directs the UK's leading fusion research center. Soon he'll helm new experiments that may make cheap fusion energy real on a commercial scale.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Solar heat number

Bibliographic Entry Result
(w/surrounding text)
Tipler, Paul A. College Physics. New York: Worth, 1987: 316. "The average energy flux at this distance on a surface perpendicular to the sun's rays is about 1353 W/m2 1.353 kW/m2
"The Sun." Encyclopedia Britannica. vol. 27. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1998: 456. "… it's radiative output, called the solar constant, is 137 ergs/m2/sec, or 1.98 cal/cm2/min" 1.38 kW/m2
Cowen, R. Science News. 152 (27 September 1997): 197. "… the sun's output had climbed from 1367.0 to 1367.5 watts per square meter" 1.367–1.3675 kW/m2
Brooks, William O. and George R. Tracy. Modern Physical Science.New York: Holt, 1957: 566. "We get energy from the sun at the rate of five million horsepower per square mile." 1.44 kW/m2
Rosner, Robert. MacMillan Encyclopedia of Physics.vol. 4. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996: 1545. "The most obvious solar effect on the earth is radiation, roughly 1.4 kW/m2 (the so called solar constant)" 1.4 kW/m2

1 joule = 1 watt of power applied for 1 second.
You will need 4,180 Joules of energy to raise 1 kg of water (approx 1 liter depending on temp)  by 1 degree C.

1 liter spread out across 1 square meter would be a layer of water 1mm thick.

Let's assume 0 evaporation and 100% solar absorption.

It would take about 3 seconds to raise the water 1 deg C.

But you fighting other forces:
* Evaporation (easy enough to solve with a sealed container)
* Emissivity  (re-radiating the energy back out)
* Reflectivity (reflecting the IR radiation back before absorbing)
* Solar Absorption (Amount of IR converted to head from solar radiation) this is seldom perfect
* Convection (heat radiating in to the air)


For most materials absorption and emissivity of IR is usually the same for any given frequency.
Paint: Krylon, flat white #1502  @ 3m wavelenght  = 0.992 emissivity

So weirdly enough this one specific "Visibly" white paint has one of the highest emissivities, and would absorb or reflect a lot of heat.

Paint: 3M, black velvet coating 9560 series optical black @ 3m to 10m wavelenght   = 1.00 emissivity
These are near perfect in emissivity

Water's emissivity is around  0.95 to 0.963, but it evaporates from the photos of light striking even more then from the temperature.
 (Read about pan evaporation rates.)

Selective Coatings
With the solar absorption ranging from 0.94 to 0.96 and the thermal emissivity ranging from 0.04 to 0.09,

The basic challenge in the use of solar energy is to transform solar energy radiation into useful heat. Solar /Thermafin Manufacturing has set a benchmark for efficiency and quality with the introduction of Crystal Clear™ solar selective coating.

Crystal Clear™selective coatings increases solar collector efficiency due to its unique optical properties. It has the ability to strongly absorb short-wave light while simultaneously reflecting long-wave light. These intrinsic properties of Crystal Clear™ enable the collector to reach optimum temperature in a minimal amount of time and retain the absorbed heat longer.   (India)

Stored Energy Calculations

QUESTION: How hot will 2 cups of water get from 2 minutes in a microwave oven?

     Specific Heat of Water = 4180 -----------
                                   Kg - Deg. C

     Power of Microwave = 750 Watts

     Watt =  ------

     Weight of Water = 0.454 Kg

     Time of Heating = 120 Seconds

You want to write an equation so the units cancel and you are left with degrees C. The Specific Heat of Water has Deg. C in the denominator, so we will have to divide by it.

                         Kg - Deg. C 
  X Deg. C = something * -----------
                         4180 Joules

"X" will be the increase in temperature (in degrees Celsius) we expect to see from applying the facts above. "something" has to have Kg in the denominator, so:

                              Kg - Deg. C      1
  X Deg. C = something else * ----------- * -------
                              4180 Joules   0.454 Kg 
Now we need to cancel Joules, so let's multiply by what a watt is:

                              Kg - Deg. C      1       Joule/second   
  X Deg. C = another thing *  ----------- * -------- * ------------
                              4180 Joules   0.454 Kg      Watt
Another way to write that is:

                              Kg - Deg. C      1          Joule
  X Deg. C = another thing *  ----------- * -------- * ------------
                              4180 Joules   0.454 Kg   Watt*second
Joules and Kg cancel out; now let's get rid of Watts and seconds in the next step:

              Kg - Deg. C      1          Joule
  X Deg. C =  ----------- * -------- * ------------ * 750 Watts * 120 Seconds
              4180 Joules   0.454 Kg   Watt*second

All the units now cancel on the right hand side of the equation leaving Degrees Celsius. So the answer is : 750 * 120 / 4180 / 0.454 = 47.425 Degrees Celsius increase in temperature! In the real world, "your mileage may vary." Try and think why that could be.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Renewable Energy using Hot Air!

Renewable Energy using Hot Air!
[not involving politicians]

The U.S. needs more energy as well as a need for more jobs. Combining these areas with an alternate, renewable energy producer may be of interest to someone.

To improve the U.S.’s energy position, and provide jobs in the “green” sector, I would like to bring to your attention to the concept of the Solar Updraft Tower, .
Isidoro Cabanyes first proposed the concept of a solar chimney in 1903 in the magazine “Electrical Energy.”
In 1982 an experimental tower was built in Manzanares, Spain, about 150 km/95 miles south of Madrid.  While intended to only operate for approximately 3 years, it did in fact produce up to 50kW until 1989.
Unlike a lot of experimental technology, this one has produced power and as predicted.  The research data is available for study and advancement.  A summary of the results of the experimental tower is in “The Solar Chimney: Electricity from the Sun” by Jorg Schlaig. This paper suggests some quite interesting variations on how to develop and use the concept.

My suggestion is that the U.S. explore making use of this off-the-shelf technology to produce power for the U.S.’s energy users.  I’m not unaware that the initial tower[s] will be part experimental, as well as part of the energy grid of the US. 
As with all such projects, the capital costs for such projects will most likely be high, though the upkeep and maintenance of the Solar Updraft Towers will be quite low.  A 5MW tower would cost in the neighborhood of 60 Million dollars , less than the cost of a comparable coal-fired plant, and far more "green." It would produce power at the cost of about 5¢ per kWh.

My suggestion to increase the incentive to build such a project, would be to allow a company to write off the capital expenses in, say 5 years, using accelerated depreciation.  This assumes the Solar Updraft Tower would be built to last & produce power for at least 40 years.  
Where to put the towers?  I would suggest the desert areas of the US southwest.  The project would consist of a series of towers.  Each succeeding tower would initiate construction about 3 years after ground is broken for the
previous tower.  Each new tower would build on and incorporate new technologies and materials as well as adapting to any challenges appearing during construction and operation of the previous towers.  Using knowledge gained,
each succeeding tower would be larger than the previous: 5 MW, 30 MW, 100 MW and 200 MW.  Larger towers are possible as well. 

In 25 years since the Spanish tower was built and operated, not only have wind turbines improved, but so have the materials needed to build a Solar Updraft Tower.  They will continue to improve over the coming years.

So why isn’t anything being done?
Thank you for hearing me out.

Yours sincerely, 
Mr. jan howard finder
164 Williamsburg Court
Albany, NY 12203-5506, USA
jan "dot" finder  "at"  gmail "dot" com

Friday, November 20, 2009

use bacteria to turn corn into biodegradable plastics.

Article Here - One word: bioplastics

At a new plant in Iowa, Metabolix will use bacteria to turn corn into biodegradable plastics.

A gene from the bacterium R. eutropha, turned out to code for an enzyme that allows bacteria to produce polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA),a naturally occurring form of polyester

(Bacteria normally manufacture PHA as a way to store carbon and energy.)

bioplastics have been commercially available for about a decade, mostly in the form of plastic cups, bottles and food packaging. Most of those products are made from a type of plastic called polylactic acid (PLA), which is also produced from corn. PLA is similar to PHA, but PHA has higher heat resistance

Metabolix: Bio-industrial Evolution
"Working to create a new generation of highly versatile, sustainable, environmentally-friendly plastics and chemicals."

Monday, November 16, 2009

PNNL Economic Development: Harvesting Clean Energy 2010 Registration Open

Harvesting Clean Energy Conference X
February 7 - 9, 2010 | Kennewick, WA | Three Rivers Convention Center

PNNL is Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Sent: Monday, November 16, 2009 7:44 AM
Subject: SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT from PNNL Economic Development: Harvesting Clean Energy 2010 Registration Open

The 10th annual Harvesting Clean Energy conference is coming to Eastern Washington – register now for special early bird rates!

Learn from a host of experts gathered in one place at the
Harvesting Clean Energy conference – February 7-9, 2010, in Kennewick, WA at the Three Rivers Convention Center.
·       How can farmers, ranchers, food processors and rural communities prosper in the new energy economy?  
·       Where are your best opportunities in: wind power, solar technologies, geothermal, small hydro, biomass or biofuels, upgrading to energy efficient equipment?  
·       What financing, technical expertise, and partners are available to help?  

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington State. Senator Cantwell chairs the Energy Subcommittee of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is a leading voice for making America more energy independent.

David Kolsrud, CEO of DAK Renewable Energy.  David is a lifelong farmer and, for the past 13 years, renewable energy entrepreneur in which time he’s helped develop and fund over $1 billion worth of farmer-owned wind power and biofuel projects.

Richard Wynne, Director of Geopolitical and Policy Analysis, Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Richard will speak on Boeing's pursuit of sustainable biofuels and outline the potential agricultural role in developing renewable energy sources for aviation.


Thanks to the generous support of our sponsors, registration for the conference is remarkably affordable. Farmers, ranchers and other private individuals can register early for just $90, professionals for $140. Register on line at www.harvestcleanenergy/conference, or call Dana Colwell at 253-445-4575 for more information.

I look forward to seeing you there!
Rhys Roth

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Researchers Turn Algae Into High-Temperature Hydrogen Source

From Red Orbit:

Researchers Turn Algae Into High-Temperature Hydrogen Source

Platinum-catalyzed photosynthetic process creates high-yield sustainable source of hydrogen
In the quest to make hydrogen as a clean alternative fuel source, researchers have been stymied about how to create usable hydrogen that is clean and sustainable without relying on an intensive, high-energy process that outweighs the benefits of not using petroleum to power vehicles.

New findings from a team of researchers from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, however, show that photosynthesis – the process by which plants regenerate using energy from the sun – may function as that clean, sustainable source of hydrogen.

The team, led by Barry Bruce, a professor of biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology at UT Knoxville, found that the inner machinery of photosynthesis can be isolated from certain algae and, when coupled with a platinum catalyst, is able to produce a steady supply of hydrogen when exposed to light.

The findings are outlined in this week's issue of the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
Bruce, who serves as the associate director for UT Knoxville's Sustainable Energy and Education Research Center, notes that we already get most of our energy from photosynthesis, albeit indirectly.

The fossil fuels of today were once, millions of years ago, energy-rich plant matter whose growth also was supported by the sun via the process of photosynthesis. There have been efforts to shorten this process, namely through the creation of biomass fuels that harvest plants and covert their hydrocarbons into ethanol or biodiesel.

"Biofuel as many people think of it now -- harvesting plants and converting their woody material into sugars which get distilled into combustible liquids -- probably cannot replace gasoline as a major source of fuel," said Bruce. "We found that our process is more direct and has the potential to create a much larger quantity of fuel using much less energy, which has a wide range of benefits."

A major benefit of Bruce's method is that it cuts out two key middlemen in the process of using plants' solar conversion abilities. The first middle man is the time required for a plant to capture solar energy, grow and reproduce, then die and eventually become fossil fuel. The second middle man is energy, in this case the substantial amount of energy required to cultivate, harvest and process plant material into biofuel. Bypassing these two options and directly using the plant or algae's built-in solar system to create clean fuel can be a major step forward.

Other scientists have studied the possibility of using photosynthesis as a hydrogen source, but have not yet found a way to make the reaction occur efficiently at the high temperatures that would exist in a large system designed to harness sunlight.
Bruce and his colleagues found that by starting with a thermophilic blue-green algae, which favors warmer temperatures, they could sustain the reaction at temperatures as high as 55 degrees C, or 131 degrees F. That is roughly the temperature in arid deserts with high solar irradiation, where the process would be most productive. They also found the process was more than 10 times more efficient as the temperature increased.

"As both a dean and a chemist, I am very impressed with this recent work by Professor Bruce and his colleagues," said Bruce Bursten, dean of UT Knoxville's College of Arts and Sciences. "Hydrogen has the potential to be the cleanest fuel alternative to petroleum, with no greenhouse gas production, and we need new innovations that allow for hydrogen to be readily produced from non-hydrocarbon sources. Professor Bruce and his team have provided a superb example of how excellence in basic research can contribute significantly to technological and societal advances."

UFO crash hits wind turbine!

Be on the lookout for a UFO with a giant wind turbine blade sticking out of it. LOL

A UFO is believed to have struck a giant wind turbine in South Lincolnshire.

These blade are just massive, and you have to admit it really look like it hit something hard but there is no damage on the mast. Also one of the blades are just missing, how do you loose a telephone pole size windmill blade and can't find where it went? Is the owner of the turbine.

In a later report they found out the real cause metal fatigue.
It wasn't ET 'wat done it'  10 February 2009 Interim report rules out UFO’s

Friday, November 13, 2009

Wind turbines make bat lungs explode

Researchers at the University of Calgary have found out why bats have been dying near wind turbines.

From: New Scientist

"Beware: exploding lungs" is not a sign one would expect to see at a wind farm. But a new study suggests this is the main reason bats die in large numbers around wind turbines.
The risk that wind turbines pose to birds is well known and has dogged debates over wind energy. In fact, several studies have suggested the risk to bats is greater. In May 2007, the US National Research Council published the results of a survey of US wind farms showing that two bat species accounted for 60% of winged animals killed. Migrating birds, meanwhile, appear to steer clear of the turbines.
Why bats - who echolocate moving objects - are killed by turbines has remained a mystery until now. The research council thought the high-frequency noise from the turbines' gears and blades could be disrupting the bats' echolocation systems.
In fact, a new study shows that the moving blades cause a drop in pressure that makes the delicate lungs of bats suddenly expand, bursting the tissue's blood vessels. This is known as a barotrauma, and is well-known to scuba divers.
"While searching for bat carcasses under wind turbines, we noticed that many of the carcasses had no external injuries or no visible cause of death," says Erin Baerwald of the University of Calgary in Canada.

Internal injuries

Baerwald and colleagues collected 188 dead bats from wind farms across southern Alberta, and determined their cause of death. They found that 90% of the bats had signs of internal haemorrhaging, but only half showed any signs of direct contact with the windmill blades. Only 8% had signs of external injuries but no internal injuries.
The movement of wind-turbine blades creates a vortex of lower air pressure around the blade tips similar to the vortex at the tip of aeroplane wings. Others have suggested that this could be lethal to bats, but until now no-one had carried out necropsies to verify the theory.
Baerwald and her colleagues believe that birds do not suffer the same fate as bats - the majority of birds are killed by direct contact with the blades - because their lungs are more rigid than those of bats and therefore more resistant to sudden changes in pressure.
Bats eat nocturnal insects including agricultural pests, so if wind turbines affected their population levels, this could affect the rest of the local ecosystems. And the effects could even be international. "The species being killed are migrants," says Baerwald. "If bats are killed in Canada that could have consequences for ecosystems as far away as Mexico."

Windy day

One solution could be to increase the minimum wind speed needed to set the blades in motion. Most bats are more active in low wind.
The study was funded by a number of bat conservation groups together with energy companies with a financial interest in wind energy, such as Shell Canada and Alberta Wind Energy.
Journal reference: Current Biology (vol 18 p R696)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

10% of US Energy Derived From Old Soviet Nukes

There is a strange irony about this.

"The New York Times reports that about 10 percent of electricity generated in the United States comes from fuel from dismantled nuclear bombs, mostly Russian. 'It's a great, easy source' of fuel, said Marina V. Alekseyenkova, an analyst at Renaissance Bank and an expert in the Russian nuclear industry that has profited from the arrangement since the end of the cold war. But if more diluted weapons-grade uranium isn't secured soon, the pipeline could run dry, with ramifications for consumers, as well as some American utilities and their Russian suppliers.'"

Discussion on Slashdot

Monday, November 9, 2009


There are super conductors, and would you believe there are super dielectrics!

In theory you could store an almost unlimited amount of power in a cap made of super conductors and super dielectrics.
So "in theory" you could store enough electricity in a sugar cube to drive for years.

In reality neither material would be perfect setting upper limits. Still EESTOR's super caps at 3600 V can complete with lithium Ion batteries in power to weight already.

There is no reason why we don't have 1MV super caps.

There is no one looking at super conductors or dielectrics for caps right now. Most are building supercaps that are only good for 1 Volt or very low voltages, which means the dielectrics are super thin and therefor must be almost perfect in order not the short out.
The thicker the dielectrics the less perfection on the nano scale is needed.

I bet in 2015 we are still driving gasoline based cars and almost nothing would have changed, but just a lot of political rhetoric as people die from climate change.

They aren't using the best supercaps, just the cheapest ones.



In the EEStor patent they were claiming 610 V/um breakdown voltages for Aluminum coated CMBT, this is astonishing since I was having a hard time finding anything else above 100 V/um with Mica at 140 to 210 V/um

1100 V/um for bulk alumina which is basically Aluminum oxide also know as Saphire. 
But can you really get this in a bulk manufactured product?

Super Dielectrics.
Perovskite with High Dielectric Constant May Lead to High Performance Capacitors

Perovskite crystals, seems there are some geometric structures that make this material Super-K CCTO CaCu3Ti4O12 a very good dielectric, it has some interesting properties at low temeratures too.

Physicists discover the 'superinsulator'
thin films of titanium nitride cooled towards absolute zero in a magnetic field. Although the material is usually a superconductor, in which electrical current can propagate without resistance, the team have found that in these conditions the material’s resistance rises to infinity


EEStor Issued a Patent For Its Supercapacitor

US Patent 7466536 EEStor
Utilization of poly(ethylene terephthalate) plastic and composition-modified barium titanate powders in a matrix that allows polarization and the use of integrated-circuit technologies for the production of lightweight ultrahigh electrical energy storage units (EESU) News, Reviews and Discussion of EEStor Inc.

US Patent 7251118 Nonplanar-Nanostructures
Method and apparatus for large scale storage of electrical potential
Nonplanar-Nanostructures company web site



Tecate Group - ultracapacitors

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Tech Allows Stable Integration of Wind In the Power Grid

From Slashdot:
"One of the most frequently raised arguments against renewable power sources is that they can only supply a low percentage of the total power because their unpredictability can destabilize the grid. Spain seems to have disproved this assertion. In the last three days, the wind power generation records with respect to the total demand were beaten twice (in special conditions: a very windy weekend, at night): 45% on November 5 and almost 54% last night (Google translation; Spanish original). There was no instability. These milestones were accomplished with the help of a control center that processes meteorologic data from the whole country and predicts, with high certainty, the wind and solar power that will be generated, allowing a stable integration of all the renewable power. You can see a graphic of the record here."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Warren Buffett just bought a railroad

"This is all happening because my father didn't buy me a train set as a kid."
WARREN BUFFETT, joking about his decision to buy a railroad, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation.(NYT)

On Tue, Nov 3, 2009 at 10:27 PM, Steve T wrote:
By the way, literally today Buffet just bought a railroad, the largest  single purchase he has ever made . . . and as you pointed out, the railroads in India use the Jatropha plant as a fuel base.  I'm guessing you can see the possible connection I'm trying to make here - should we focus on Jatropha instead of wind?

One of the most valuable things with Railroads in long tracts of contiguous land.

There is a huge fight over getting right for fiber optics to be run as well as new power transmission lines.  (like the underground 1MV DC systems)

Owning a railroad he could just provide a power & Data transmission system without needing any ones permission.

He could also convert the RR to electric power improving operating costs, although this is unlikely. There are 1000's of old diesel locomotive available cheap because of dead engines and the electrical generator and motors that drive the wheels are still good.
There would be an interesting business converting all those to run from external electrical power like a subway car does.

Also He would be able to put up Wind turbines along all of the routes and because it's a railroad they are not subject to local regulations!  There are many special laws from 100 years ago that give railroads all sorts of magical legal protections and capabilities.

Putting up wind turbines along tracks would make a lot of sense because you could build specialized rail cars that would almost automate the whole installation process.

But who know's what someone like Mr. Buffet  was really thinking. I am sure time will reveal his true plans.


From Shlomo:
He could also put lots of solar panels next to the railroad, especially in desert areas (which will be cheap to maintain). 

Plan for solar plant in Mojave scrapped - Courtesy of Senator Dianne Fienstein

Courtesy of Senator Dianne Fienstein:

"Plan for solar plant in Mojave scrapped":

From: friend Steve T.
This entire discussion is a moot point - I predict ALL major solar power developments will be stopped, probably using environmental issues as an excuse, but, regardless of the excuse, they'll come up with some reason why none will be built, and even if, by some
miracle, one actually does get constructed, our politicians will find a way to shut it down too . . .

Which, of course, will leave us still dependent on big oil and burning oil for power.

Funny how that works, huh?

Use green smoke as smoke screen but, in the end, always end up serving big oil.

So, Dianne, how much did big oil stuff in that numbered bank account of yours in the Bahamas to destroy our solar power plant and betray all Americans and sell us out to your big oil masters anyway?

None of these is going to happen.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Solar panel systems can strain water resources.

Here's an angle I bet no one even considered.

A friend of mine is on the right track with automatic washing of the panels, but maybe at night.

And to cool the panels something probable needs to be done from the underside.  Like heat sinks or water/fluid cooling in a sealed system.

It looks like evaporation is not going to scale unless we are using sea water or gray water.
It's a complete waste to produce clean drinking water only to use for non-drinking purposes.

Solar Stirs Water Wars in the West

Isaac Brekken for The New York Times An irrigation riser at Ponderosa Dairies farm in Amargosa Valley, Nev.
As I write in an article in Wednesday’s Times, a water war is breaking out in the desert Southwest over the dozens of large-scale solar power plants planned for the region.
Depending on the technology used, some solar farms can consume more than a billion gallons of water a year in regions that receive three or four inches of rain annually.
It’s a truism that all water politics are local and that’s proving to be the case as solar power becomes the latest fight in the West’s long history of internecine water wars. For solar developers that means dealing with an often-bewildering array of regulations, stakeholders and politics.
In Arizona, for instance, plans for big solar farms have revived old fears that the desert state’s scarce water resources will be exported to energy-hungry California in the form of electricity.
“That has been an issue in the past and it will be come a political issue in the future,” said Kristin K. Mayes, chairman of the Arizona Corporation Commission, the state’s utility regulator. “I don’t think it will be an obstacle to the development of solar energy, but we have to pay attention and deploy solar technologies that use appropriate amounts of water.”
Across the border in Nevada, water politics are even more Byzantine. Individuals and companies own water rights separate from their property. If farmers and ranchers in California worry about big solar projects draining local aquifers, their counterparts across the state line are often eager to sell or lease their water rights to companies like Solar Millennium.

The German solar developer wants to build a 500-megawatt solar power plant complex in the arid Amargosa Valley west of Las Vegas. Its preferred method of cooling the twin solar farms would consume 1.3 billion gallons of water a year, about 20 percent of the desert valley’s water. To obtain rights to that water the company will have to negotiate with scores of local alfalfa farmers and companies.
At a public hearing in Las Vegas in August, environmentalists voiced concern about the impact of the Solar Millennium project on the endangered pupfish, a tiny blue-gray fish that survives only in few aquamarine desert pools fed by Amargosa Valley’s aquifer.
Then a weather-beaten gentleman dressed in blue jeans rose to fret about his future if he could not sell his water rights to Solar Millennium. Jim Marsh was not a down-and-out local alfalfa farmer, however, but the proprietor of a Las Vegas auto dealership. He also owns a casino in the Amargosa Valley and the associated water rights.
The Longstreet Inn and Casino sits off a desolate stretch of Highway 373. On an August afternoon, as temperatures approached 100 degrees, the slot machines sat silent in an empty gaming room while sprinklers arrayed on the perimeter of the property shot jets of water into the surrounding desert scrub.
Under Nevada law, property owners must use their water at least one year out of every five. “I’m pumping water out into the desert to keep my water rights,” said Mr. Marsh. “It’s absolutely ridiculous.”
Bill DeWitt is what you might call a fair-weather alfalfa farmer. He’s a Los Angeles real estate investor who bought up water rights in the Amargosa Valley years ago in anticipation of cashing in on the long-delayed nuclear waste repository at nearby Yucca Mountain.
Now he is considering leasing water rights to Solar Millennium. “We have a significant block of water rights we’ve been using in agricultural — growing alfalfa and hay and other things,” said Mr. DeWitt. “If it pencils out better for making megawatts, maybe that’s the direction to go.”

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Politicians who claim to support green energy actually sabotage it

From a friends E-mail:

every time we try to get off oil, the very politicians who claim to support green energy actually sabotage it:

California Solar Energy plant destroyed by Senator Feinstein:

(Prediction: ALL future solar power plants in California will initially be supported by politicians, and then destroyed by them)

Kennedy kills wind power back in 2006:

There are plenty of other examples (for instance, find out what happened to the first generation ethanol plants . . . and who bought them after they were driven bankrupt by the government? The oil companies!) but just like the example I just gave in the parentheses, nearly ALL our politicians give lip service to green power development, but when it finally gets down to it, they ALWAYS sell out to the oil companies.

And, gee, I wonder who puts those millions of dollars in those secret bank accounts of theirs in the Bahamas?

It wouldn't be the oil companies, would it?


Our politicians don't really want us off oil.

We can put a man on the moon, and we could EASILY get off oil if we wanted to - see Brazil and their no oil, only ethanol solution (and to modify a car to run on both ethanol and gas only costs $100 at the factory) - and the fact that we aren't proves the point.


We are being lied to.
We are being betrayed.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

CO2 Widgets Has a cool CO2 widget you can add to your blog or web site.

Go to:

Widget Installation
1. Copy the HTML code below.
2. Paste it into the source code at your website or blog.
<!-- Start of Current CO2 Widget-->
<p><a href=""><img src="" alt="Current CO2 level in the atmosphere" width="92" height="92" border="0" /></a></p>
<!-- End of Current CO2 Widget-->

Unfortunately their instructions are lacking somewhat.
In ( in your dashboard go to layout, then "add a gadget" then picture. I just added directly.

Fair Use Statement

I just want to take a moment here to point out something.

Fair Use Statement

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of issues of environmental and humanitarian significance. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ultracapacitor Bus Recharges At Each Stop

From Slashdot:

Ultracapacitor Bus Recharges At Each Stop

"A US company and its Chinese partner are piloting a bus powered by ultracapacitors in Washington DC. Ultracapacitors lack the capacity of regular batteries but are considerably cheaper and can be recharge completely in under a minute. Sinautec Automobile Technologies, based in Arlington, VA, and its Chinese partner, Shanghai Aowei Technology Development Company, have spent the past three years demonstrating the approach with 17 municipal buses on the outskirts of Shanghai. The executive director of Sinautec touts the energy efficiency of this approach: 'Even if you use the dirtiest coal plant on the planet [to charge an ultracapacitor], it generates a third of the carbon dioxide of diesel.'"


The ultracapacitors manufactured by Shanghai Aowei Technology Development Co., Ltd. They are made of activated carbon and have an energy density of six watt-hours per kilogram. (For comparison, a high-performance lithium-ion battery can achieve 200 watt-hours per kilogram.)

Maximum Speed:

30 MPH
Power Source:

5.9 KWH Ultracapacitors
Electric Usage:

1.5 KWH per Mile
Recharging Time:

5-10 Minutes*
Maximum Range

3.5 Miles with full air conditioning
5.5 Miles without air conditioning
Bus Weight

12.5 Tons

4 Feet / Second
Maximum Slope:

12 Degrees
Voltage & Current:

600-720V, 200A
Air Conditioning:

15 KW Air Conditioning

major advance in organic plastic solar cells

FROM Facebook: Josie Roman -   I've been talking about this research for a while since it has been going on for several years. Now we have some serious results. This is a major advance in organic plastic solar cells.

"Gains in speed, quality and current over conventional production techniques hold promise for both research and commercial production. Professor Guillermo Bazan and a team of postgraduate researchers at UC Santa Barbara's Center for Polymers and Organic Solids (CPOS) today announced a major advance in the synthesis of organic polymers for plastic solar cells. Bazan's team: reduced reaction time by 99%, from 48 hours to 30 minutes, and increased average molecular weight of the polymers by a factor of more than 3.

The reduced reaction time effectively cuts production time for the organic polymers by nearly 50%, since reaction time and purification time are approximately equal in the production process, in both laboratory and commercial environments.

The higher molecular weight of the polymers, reflecting the creation of longer chains of the polymers, has a major benefit in increasing current density in plastic solar cells by as much as a factor of more than four. Over polymer batches with varying average molecular weights, produced using varying combinations of the elements of the new methodology, the increase in current density was found to be approximately proportional to the increase in average molecular weight."

Nature Chemistry offers a unique mix of news and reviews alongside top-quality research papers. Published monthly, in print and online, the journal reflects the entire spectrum of chemistry, pure and applied.

Dense Plasma Focus - Clean small scale Nuclear Fusion Energy

Dense Plasma Focus technology is the next best thing to what cold fusion had promised.  Best of all it's real and doesn't use any questionable physics.

Safe, small, low cost, low maintenance and efficient.  It looks like it will be small enough that it could be ran from inside a rail car or truck.

  • Fuel: uses a different fuel, hydrogen and boron rather than the conventional Deuterium and Tritium. 

  • Reactor:  much smaller, inexpensive, reactor in contrast to conventional approaches to fusion like the tokamak

  • Generator: generates electricity directly. The tokamak is designed to generate heat which then has to be converted to electricity using expensive turbines and generator.

Plasma is by it's nature unstable. The current approaches try to make a stable bubble using massive superconducting magnets. The DOD is spending billions with no end in sight to trying to achieve this, and buy there own admission they are still several multi-billion dollar reactors away from reaching unity (where they generate more power then it takes to start).
These tokamak reactors take almost unimaginable amounts of power to fire up. 

Instead Dense plasma focus take advantage of plasmas instability. It uses a high power capacitor bank discharges to compress plasma in to a Plasmoid that when is collapses upon itself pinches the plasma to create a very small intense pocket that is almost 1 Billion Degrees and under a lot of pressure.
So they end up with something that looks like a soda can sized spark plug, who's shape and design are specifically to compress the plasma and create a burst of electricity, Ions and X-Rays.

See this  Excellent Video Lecture 1 hr 4 minutes long.

"The Focus Fusion Society reports that the scientists and engineers at Lawrenceville Plasma Physics have finally built an operational Dense Plasma Focus device. While still at less than half power, they were able to achieve a pinch on their device. The small company that Eric Lerner started recently gathered enough funding to start a two-year study on the validity of his theory regarding fusion-inducing plasmoids. If the theory holds, the device will produce more electricity than it consumes. In contrast to the billions of dollars spent on Tokamak fusion (think ITER), LPP is conducting their research on a budget around a million dollars. Yet, if it works, it will provide nuclear fusion with much simpler equipment and much less cost. Eric Lerner and Focus Fusion have been discussed on Slashdot before."

Method and apparatus for producing x-rays, ion beams and nuclear fusion energy
US Pat. 7482607 - Filed Feb 28, 2006 - Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, Inc.


Monitor and control your electricity

Here are a few consumer level products for AC 110V power systems:

Efergy’s - Wireless Electricity Monitors - plug load meters

Watts up? - web-enabled electricity controller - plug load meters , at Fry's

TED - The Energy Detective - Montors entire home

Kill A Watt - P3 International Corp. - Monitoring Power Strip

Wattson - DIY KYOTO - This is just a little too cute. For the UK 220v systems.

Conzerv - MeterCenter - Montors entire home, also industrial meters.

Measurlogic Inc.  - Socket Energy Meters - Makes many industrial meters.

Some of these are "plug load" meters, this measure the amount of electricity used by whatever is plugged into them.

And products for DC systems:

DOC Wattson

Producing hydrogen from aluminum & water

I am just posting stuff from old E-mails that may be interesting for some people.
Sorry this is not getting my full scrutiny.
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.

Beverage Can (aluminum) Hydrogen

The super battery called Aluminum - The unseen super-battery of the future.
ALUMINUM DATA - (Something to think about??????)
1 gram of Al = 0.0370 moles
Each mole Al yields 3 moles of electrons.
0.0370 moles x 3 x 96500 C/mole = 10700 Coulombs
An Amp is a Coulomb per second, so one Amp flow would last 10700s.
10700 amp-s / 3600 s/hr =~ 3 Amp-Hours per gram of aluminum.
At 14g per beer can, that comes to about 42 Amp-Hrs per can!!!
At 2 volts, that's about 300 kJ per can! And you thought only the beer kicked butt !!! : )
A 20 lb. slab of aluminum has enough energy to power an electric car for over 500 miles.
Aluminum is one of the most abundant metals on the surface of the earth. Aluminum is not expensive because it is rare. It is expensive because its takes so much electrical power to deoxidize it.
All this electrical power is now caught in a solid form as Aluminum metal. (Aluminum is a powerful battery)
When aluminum is dissolved most of the electrical power that was used to create it can be easily recaptured. The next time you pick up a roll of aluminum foil you will realize that you are actually holding a lot of potential horse power in the palm of your hands.

Aluminum is produced by corporations that buy electricity at well under a penny per KWH making aluminum the largest untapped source of potential cheap power.
(At least for the short run, the Aluminum energy frenzy will drive the price of aluminum up as all of the old aluminum reserves are stripped of their electric energy potential while being dissolved away in electrolytic cells thus turning it back into Bauxite)
When you buy aluminum you are mainly paying for the electricity that made it.
Electricity that was bought at bottom of the barrel wholesale pricing.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The U.S. military’s battle to wean itself off oil

The Pentagon is the largest consumer of petroleum in the United States.

Renewable energy is not an environmental consideration, it is a tactical necessity. It's a matter of life and death, of victory or defeat. Too many troops are dying in fuel convoys, and the relentless gasoline demands of the diesel generators are partly to blame.

In the summer of 2006, Marine Corps Major General Richard Zilmer sent the Pentagon an unusual “Priority 1” request for emergency battlefield supplies.
“a self-sustainable energy solution,” including “solar panels and wind turbines.” U.S. forces “will remain unnecessarily exposed” and will “continue to accrue preventable ... serious and grave casualties.”

After the DOD spent $95 million on insulating foam for base camps in Iraq, the agency earned that back in energy savings in just 60 days. The security benefits are perhaps more impressive: DOD data show that if all U.S. military base-camp tents in Iraq were spray-foamed, the number of fuel convoy trucks needed would be reduced by 13 per day.

Read The U.S. military’s battle to wean itself off oil

excerpted from Amanda Little’s book

Power Trip: From Oil Wells to Solar Cells---Our Ride to the Renewable Future
by Amanda Grisc Little
ISBN13: 9780061353253
ISBN10: 0061353256

Friday, October 9, 2009

Smaller And More Efficient Nuclear Battery Created

I can just see how green this is when people start tossing these in to landfills.


Batteries can power anything from small sensors to large systems. While scientists are finding ways to make them smaller but even more powerful, problems can arise when these batteries are much larger and heavier than the devices themselves. University of Missouri researchers are developing a nuclear energy source that is smaller, lighter and more efficient.

“To provide enough power, we need certain methods with high energy density,” said Jae Kwon, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at MU. “The radioisotope battery can provide power density that is six orders of magnitude higher than chemical batteries.”

Kwon and his research team have been working on building a small nuclear battery, currently the size and thickness of a penny, intended to power various micro/nanoelectromechanical systems (M/NEMS). Although nuclear batteries can pose concerns, Kwon said they are safe.

“People hear the word ‘nuclear’ and think of something very dangerous,” he said. “However, nuclear power sources have already been safely powering a variety of devices, such as pace-makers, space satellites and underwater systems.”

His innovation is not only in the battery’s size, but also in its semiconductor. Kwon’s battery uses a liquid semiconductor rather than a solid semiconductor.

“The critical part of using a radioactive battery is that when you harvest the energy, part of the radiation energy can damage the lattice structure of the solid semiconductor,” Kwon said. “By using a liquid semiconductor, we believe we can minimize that problem.”

Kwon has been collaborating with J. David Robertson, chemistry professor and associate director of the MU Research Reactor, and is working to build and test the battery at the facility. In the future, they hope to increase the battery’s power, shrink its size and try with various other materials. Kwon said that the battery could be thinner than the thickness of human hair. They’ve also applied for a provisional patent.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Alternative Energy Powers Up

Thomson Reuters IP Solutions just sent me an E-Mail to a report that looking interesting.

"Alternative Energy Powers Up"

Nations around the world are racing to secure energy independence. Billions of dollars in public and private investments are fueling a surge in the research and development of alternative energy technologies. Patent activity in this sector offers insight into the pace of innovation and reveals which areas are receiving greater attention.

Here is the link:

Solar cells using tiny spheres of silicon

Focusing Light on Silicon Beads
Placing tiny spheres of silicon in reflective trays could be the key to cheap, efficient solar cells.

Spherical solar cells were originally proposed by Texas Instruments about 30 years ago, says Branz. But while they had the potential to reduce the amount of silicon used, they brought with them a host of new problems. Their curved surfaces, for example, can cause more light to be reflected, which reduces their efficiency. What's more, only half of the sphere ends up actually being exposed to light. Significant gaps also tend to form between the spheres when arranged in arrays, which can further reduce the efficiency of the solar cell.

Process for producing crystalline silicon spheres - Patent 4637855
Method of isolating shorted silicon spheres - US Patent 5192400
Method of making doped silicon spheres - US Patent 5278097

Solar Energy: Popcorn-ball Design Doubles Efficiency Of Dye-sensitized Solar Cells
porous spheres are able to manipulate light and more than double the efficiency of converting solar energy to electricity.

Spheral Solar Will Start Production In 2004  Where did these guys go?

Officials of Sphere Renewable Energy Corp. based in California announced plans to develop a wholly-owned subsidiary, Buckeye Silicon (BeSi) in Toledo at UT June 23.

Video Sphere Renewable Energy Corp forms Buckeye Silicon joins Toledo solar business
Video Buckeye Silicon
Very odd that I can not find a web site for either company. 
Contacts listed: Jim Calhoun, 419-893-9600 & Mark Erickson, 714-497-9499

Companies doing this.

Clean Venture 21 (CV21),  Kyoto, Japan.

Sphere Renewable Energy Corp. (SREC),  California
Buckeye Silicon (BeSi),  Toledo, OH

Spheral Solar Power (now gone?) - A division of ATS Automation Tooling Systems ,  Ontario, Canada

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Why solar doesn't need to be cheap or high tech

But that is just a way to bootstrap the solar-cell industry.
Now that we are understanding the technology, it's costs are falling.
We are finding simpler cheaper chemistry and better production techniques.

It is viable. Or almost at this point.
It's possible to build solar cells on cheap plastics using printing techniques and chemicals that are no more expensive then paint.

Titanium Dioxide TiO2 and organic dyes are about as cheap as it gets.
There are also conductive plastics now.

LCD's and Solar panels need clear conductors, the older silicon ones didn't use clear conductors, and as a result were not very efficient.

But the flexible printable kind need it,

Below is a block of notes I have on transparent conductors.
ITO is expensive because it requires vacuum deposition.

Zinc Oxide is about as cheap as it get's
Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide are both sold as powders in bulk for food and paints.
Although not particularly efficient, they very low cost,

Clear conductors

1.) Indium tin oxide (ITO)
2.) pedot - conductive plastic
3.) aluminum doped zinc oxide
4.) stannous chloride - re: Jeri Ellsworth

On Tue, Oct 6, 2009 at 10:34 PM, av wrote:
and another key think about solar.
solar-cell tech was production-ized for the military
solar-cell production  was never meant for civilian use

Military need solar cells to power spy satellites. that's the key.
so world-over - Military built plants without any tho to cost of manufacturing or of 'commercial viability'
they didn't need commercial viability,  they didn't need to be cheap,  any cost is fine. because there are very few alternatives to electricity in space.

but then arose a problem  - what to do with the plants excess cell output  ?
the solution in the 1960's was to sell the surplus to the civilians
but no civilian could buy the damn things at cost of mfg. it was too high.
so the govts started the Subsidies on Solar cells,  in 1960s.

That's the origin of this whole mess.
people wrongly started to think that solar is viable.,   its not. 
as soon as the govt-subsidies stop, it stops being viable,.
people don't get it.


Monday, October 5, 2009

Dow to sell new solar rooftop shingle


Dow Chemical Co said it would begin selling a new rooftop shingle next year that converts sunlight into electricity. The solar shingles can be integrated into rooftops with standard asphalt shingles, Dow said, and will be introduced in 2010 before a wider roll-out in 2011.
"We're looking at this one product that could generate $5 billion in revenue by 2015 and $10 billion by 2020", Jane Palmieri, managing director - Dow Solar Solutions
The shingle will use thin-film cells of copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS), a photovoltaic material that typically is more efficient at turning sunlight into electricity than traditional polysilicon cells.

Dow is using CIGS cells that operate at higher than 10 percent efficiency, below the efficiencies for the top polysilicon cells, but would cost 10 to 15 percent less on a per watt basis.

Dow Solar Solutions expects an enthusiastic response from roofing contractors for the new shingles, since they require no specialized skills or knowledge of solar systems to install.

The new product is the latest advance in "Building Integrated Photovoltaic" (BIPV) systems, in which power-generating systems are built directly into the traditional materials used to construct buildings.  BIPV systems are currently limited mostly to roofing tiles, which operate at lower efficiencies than solar panels and have so far been too expensive to gain wide acceptance.

Dow's shingle will be about 30 to 40 percent cheaper than current BIPV systems.The shingles can be installed in about 10 hours, compared with 22 to 30 hours for traditional solar panels, reducing the installation costs that make up more than 50 percent of total system prices.

The product will be rolled out in North America through partnerships with home builders such as Lennar Corp and Pulte Homes Inc before marketing is expanded, Palmieri said.

Dow received $20 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to help develop its BIPV products. Dow also produces fluids used in concentrated solar systems, in which sunlight is used to generate heat that produces steam to power a turbine. In addition, it supplies materials used to help manufacture photovoltaic panels and increase their efficiency.

New 'green' geopolymer concrete

NOTE:  Fly ash is a byproduct of coal-fired power plants. So I am not too sure how Green this technology really is. This could just be another Red Herring like clean coal. It could be cheaper then traditional concrete, I will be investigating this further.

New 'green' geopolymer concrete delivers win-win for industry and the planet
Concrete is the most prevalent building material on the planet, and though the world would be pretty flat without it (not many tall buildings and structures), it does come at a price – around 5-8 percent of all human-generated atmospheric CO2 comes from the concrete industry. A culprit is Portland cement, the binding agent in concrete. It’s the most widely produced man-made material on earth. Production of Portland cement is currently exceeding 2.6 billion tons per year worldwide and growing at 5 percent annually. To halt these alarming pollution figures, innovative research on geopolymer concrete, along with ways of using a waste byproduct from coal-fired powerplants, is being conducted by Dr Erez Allouche, assistant professor of civil engineering at Louisiana Tech University and associate director of the Trenchless Technology Center.
A greener alternative, inorganic polymer concrete (geopolymer) fits into an emerging class of cementitious materials that utilize ‘fly ash’, one of the most abundant industrial by-products on earth, as a substitute for Portland cement.
Geopolymer concrete has a number of benefits. The first is it has the potential to substantially curb CO2 emissions. It can also produce a more durable infrastructure capable of lasting hundreds of years, instead of tens. And by utilizing the fly ash, it can conserve hundreds of thousands of acres currently used for disposal of coal combustion products, and protect our water ways from fly ash ‘contamination’, too.
In comparison to ordinary Portland cement (OPC), geopolymer concrete (GPC) has better resistance to corrosion and fire (up to 2400°F), high compressive and tensile strengths, a rapid strength gain, and lower shrinkage.
Researchers believe the geopolymer concrete's greatest appeal could like in its life cycle greenhouse gas reduction potential; as much as 90 percent when compared with OPC.
This technology, along with other important research being conducted to meet future energy needs, will be highlighted next month at Louisiana Tech Energy Systems Conference at the Technology Transfer Center in Shreveport.

Fly Ash based Geopolymer Concrete : 2 new reports from Curtin 
The geopolymer group at Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Australia (Prof. V. Rangan) has released 2 new reports on Fly Ash Based Geopolymer Concrete. They may be downloaded from our Library.
The first report: Report GC 2 is dealing with the long term properties. It has been included in the Technical Paper #17 in the Library, in addition to the previous report GC 1.
The second : Report GC 3 describes the properties of Beams and Columns. It is named Technical Paper #18 in the Library.

Friday, October 2, 2009


Arduino Strobe Algae Bioreactor

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

carbon sequestration

I think carbon sequestration is something that we will need to do if we don't want to see all of our coastal cities under water.
( Wiki - carbon sequestration )

The problem is all of the stored hydrocarbon we burned in the past it's going to take almost as much energy to put back.

This week 9/30/09 opens the South African Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) conference.

CCS technology can help SA reduce emissions
"We cannot neglect any technology that will assist us to address the matters of energy security and climate change" - Republic of South Africa Minister of Energy, Elizabeth Dipuo Peters.
Why is the US not leading this?
Storage must be at depths below 800 m, as the CO2 becomes a super-critical liquid and occupies less space. It is not trapped in a cavernous space, but within porous rock, like a sponge. It is trapped underground by the cap rock, as well as by the capillary action of the ‘sponge' storage rock; and, in the case of deep saline aquifers, it is trapped by dissolving in the water; and, finally it is trapped through a process of calcification as the gas becomes part of the rock - the reaction takes time, but at this stage storage is permanent.

Good stuff.

A Better Bug for Biofuels

From: Technology Review

 Scientists are optimizing a lipid-producing microbe to make biofuels.

Glow bug: Scientists are engineering Rhodococcus bacteria to boost production of lipids (glowing white balls), which can be converted into biodiesel.  --->

While most attempts to engineer biofuel-producing microbes have focused on well-known organisms such as yeasts and E. coli, scientists also hope to co-opt the unique metabolic functions of some of the microbial world's less-studied creatures. Anthony Sinskey and his team at MIT have been cataloguing the genomic secrets of Rhodococcus bacteria, soil-dwelling microbes known to eat a variety of toxic compounds. The goal is to make a biodiesel-producing organism that can use a variety of sources as fuel. "We have done a lot of the basic chemistry and biology," says Sinskey. "Now we need to figure out how to maximize yields."

The strain of bacteria that Sinskey is working on, Rhodococcus opacus, is related to the type that causes tuberculosis, but it has two particularly appealing qualities. The bacteria have a flexible appetite, with the ability to eat a number of sugars and toxic compounds--in fact, the microbes were originally isolated from contaminated soil, where they were breaking down petroleum waste products. In addition, R. opacus are one of just a few types of bacteria that naturally produce a type of lipid called tryacylglycerols, which can be chemically converted into biodiesel. "Its life is focused around lipid metabolism, eating weird lipids and making more of them," says Jason Holder, a postdoctoral researcher in Sinskey's lab. "The trick is to engineer them to make it more efficiently, using waste streams of carbon."

The research is part of a larger effort to develop biofuels that, unlike ethanol made from corn or sugarcane, do not rely on food sources or agricultural land. Some companies, such as Synthetic Genomics, Amyris, LS9, and Joule Biotechnologies, are using synthetic biology techniques to engineer bacteria to more efficiently produce desirable metabolic products that can be used for biofuels.

Sinskey's team has recently sequenced R. opacus's genome and mapped its 9,000 genes into various metabolic pathways. Understanding these pathways allows scientists to boost or inhibit specific reactions, which can in turn increase the microbe's efficiency at creating a particular fuel or end product. The researchers have also developed a microarray for Rhodococcus--a genomics tool that allows scientists to quickly assess patterns of gene expression--and are using it to study these metabolicnetworks. "It will allow us to predict other bacteria that might do the same thing," says Sinskey, "and it will help us identify genes important in the assembly process." They plan to publish the genome soon.

The researchers have already created a strain of Rhodococcus that can eat a mix of two types of sugars, glucose and xylose. Once scientists have found a way to break down cellulosic biomass into simpler sugars, the ability to use more than one will simplify the production process. "They are not like wimpy E. coli that can't use different sugars simultaneously," says Sinskey. "These bacteria gobble them up." The researchers have also engineered strains that can feed on glycerol, which is a waste product in the production of biodiesel.

Sinskey and his team hope to develop better ways of isolating the lipids from bacteria at a commercial scale, perhaps via additional genetic engineering. For example, altering production of a specific protein encourages the lipids to aggregate into balls, called lipid bodies, which makes the molecules easier to recover. "Ideally, we want to develop a way to make the lipid body pop out of the cell," says Sinskey.

It's not yet clear how long it will take to create a process that is efficient enough for commercial production. "I don't think I'm far behind lots of companies that have lots of publicity in this area," says Sinskey. "I think in two to three years I will have a robust process."

Sinskey previously developed a way to make polymers from bacteria, founding a bioindustrial company called Metabolix in the early 1990s. A $300 million plant that will produce the company's biodegradable plastic is slated to begin operations later this year in December, as part of a joint venture with agricultural giant ADM.