Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Oh yeah!?

I'm not really the type to pipe up and get into an argument when people say things like "there's just not enough sunlight for solar to replace coal" or "I don't by organic because it's fertilized with manure". My instincts tell me that these statements are wrong, but I'll lose the argument every time because I don't have all the facts at my finger tips. I can do research later and refute everything, but it's like coming up with the perfect retort for that bully long after he's gone. The first example came up recently, and I let it go, but I figured this blog gives me a chance to set the record straight (to no one in particular).

Last year, Scientific American published an in-depth article explaining just how we could power the entire country on solar. Granted it would be a huge investment, but it would work. It involves building huge collectors in the southwest and building a new transmission network to get the power where it's needed. One of the problems was how to make solar energy available at night, most storage techniques are untested, expensive, lossy, or all of the above. They propose storing heat in salt domes or something.

Two recent developments will alleviate most of these problems. First, researchers at MIT figured out an efficient way to use solar energy to directly separate water into hydrogen and oxygen. Traditional electrolysis zaps water with a current to pull the molecules apart. This takes far more energy than can be recouped by burning the hydrogen. The new method is much more efficient. Second, Australian researchers figured out how to make fuel cells without platinum. That should reduce the cost of pulling the energy back out of the hydrogen.

Storing energy as hydrogen may also help the transmission issue. I don't know the numbers, but it could be more efficient to build a hydrogen infrastructure rather than transmitting electricity directly.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I'm on board


This would be very good for the town. The area has been suburbanized
over the last few decades and this could be a push back in the right

Thursday, August 7, 2008

CBS News: The Decline Of Suburbia?


This is not news to a lot of people, but the combined effects of
expensive gas, a weak economy, and increased environmental awareness
have started to put the squeeze on suburbs.

This doesn't mean that everyone is going to move into big cities, but
it does mean that future developments will look more like towns than
bizarre orchards of five bedroom ranches.

Much of the country developed backwards. Cities arose in isolation and
then people started flowing out to the burbs recently. Much of the
east coast, though, developed more slowly with many towns, a few of
which later swelled into major metropoli. The other towns remained and
were affected by suburbanization, but retained some character and

With luck, the current forces will reshape population distributions
into something more sustainable.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Farm Work

We went down to our CSA this morning to fulfill the work obligations for our share. Every member owes at least seven hours of work a season, and you can cut your cost in half by working eight hours a week. This is a feature that the CSAs in California lacked. There was no real connection to the farm for the subscribers, just a box that showed up every week.

It was pouring this morning, so we were the only folks out who weren't permanent staff. We were mentally prepared to spend a couple hours in the rain weeding or something, but there was plenty to do in the barn. We spent three hours clipping the dried leaves off of over 300 pounds of garlic. We didn't get wet, but we got a few blisters.

Friday, August 1, 2008

More on recycling

Following up on the last post, it seems that Engines of our Ingenuity recently asked why some plastics are recycled and some aren't. They look at the problem with an engineering slant. The transcript also has a nice table of the types of plastics and their properties.