Science Ahoy!

a legacy of our discomgoogolation

Posts Tagged ‘energy

Something’s Fishy

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Electricity from coal? yes.  Wind? yes. Sun? yes.  Atoms? yes.

Fish?

Applying modern engineering design tools to one of the basic units of life, they [researchers at Yale University and the National Institute of Standards and Technology] argue that artificial cells could be built that not only replicate the electrical behavior of electric eel cells but in fact improve on them. Artificial versions of the eel’s electricity generating cells could be developed as a power source for medical implants and other tiny devices, they say.

It seems electric eels have special cells called electrocytes that can generate electric potentials of up to 600 volts. The article goes on to say that

LaVan and partner Jian Xu developed a complex numerical model to represent the conversion of ion concentrations to electrical impulses and tested it against previously published data on electrocytes and nerve cells to verify its accuracy. Then they considered how to optimize the system to maximize power output by changing the overall mix of channel types.

Written by Elgie Shepard

October 4, 2008 at 11:18 am

When Pigs Fly

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Or at least, pig excreta can fly.  Your next jet perhaps ?

After a close examination of crude oil made from pig manure, chemists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are certain about a number of things. Most obviously, “This stuff smells worse than manure,” says NIST chemist Tom Bruno. []

Makes a lot of sense.  Not the smell of course, but the fact that you could get biofuel from animal excreta.  Wonder why pigs though? The only rationale I can come up with is that farms have a lot of pigs and old-McDonald is always in a quandary about what to do with the, um, by-products.

But I wonder if it is a new thing .  I believe in some parts of the world, excreta have been used as a source of energy.  Quoting Steve of Anaerobic Digestion News

In China, Kenya and Tanzania institutions mix human and animal excreta, giving off good grade methane, while some institutions in China make biogas from only human excreta.

Odour notwithstanding, this beats getting biofuel from plant sources, which directly leads to deforestation.  We are still way behind in producing biofuel from dedicated plants like switch grass, and even if we DO, we will only be using up land with probably agricultural potential to produce the grass.  Unless of course, algae biodiesel delivers the promise shown.

Wonder what the economic benefits of developing such technology are.  I suppose considering the impending doom of dwindling fossil fuel the wind (pun unintended) will only favour such developments.

One positive outcome of the biofuel development will be that every time we answer nature’s call, we can all proudly claim that we are fuelling our cars – “Excuse me.  I really need to fuel my car”.

Written by Elgie Shepard

September 29, 2008 at 5:27 pm

Posted in Fuel, Science

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