Other Ramblings, uh News

Nov• 29•2011

I have been meaning for some time to ramble on about topics I know nothing about and, as I am pressed for time to do a really focused health post at the moment, I thought this was as good a time as any to start.  Hey it works for 90% of journalists, talk show hosts and media personalities so back off, okay just back off!  I am also considering rudeness, overt condescension, belligerence and rampant egotism as a marketing ploy.  People make careers out of this in TV and Radio these days, its all the rage, yea, you heard me nitwits, shheeez.   For some reason I seem to be channeling one of the puppets from Mystery Science Theater 3000, anyways the shows starting. 

So the first thing that got my attention recently was this article about the long awaited Chevy Volt with its batteries bursting into flames.  Isn’t that odd.  Tesla Motors has made a number of cars with lithium ion batteries and hasn’t had a problem.  GM briefly had a battery (not lithium ion) powered car a decade ago and had no problems.  The battery issue hasn’t been a show stopper with hybrids.  The car is named after Allesandro Volta, the inventor of the battery.  Why is the number one U.S. car maker having such a problem with finding a reasonable battery technology.

To cut to the chase GM doesn’t want the Volt to succeed and the “energy problem” has been solved repeatedly in the past, in small and large ways and possibly even in astonishing ways.  I am entirely outside my area of expertise here, however I won’t let that stop me.  And yes, of course the magnificent one is right, I can’t believe I have to put up with so many nitwits questioning my excellence, let alone certitude -you know it kinda grows on you- at least I’m not calling for WW III.  As a somewhat related aside anyone ever notice that if you put a little different spin on it, The New York Times motto of “All the News That’s Fit to Print” sounds suspiciously like, in the words of The Who, “You Only See What We Show You”.

Alright, enough nonsense, on to example one.  I recall following with great interest some years back Brian Appel and his Changing World Technologies.  This company was looking to commercialize a form of thermal depolymerization technology.  Regarding this technology, in a nut shell what has been found, was that oil took millions of years to form because it was waiting for the proper conditions to occur.  If one replicated the necessary temperatures and pressures oil could form in a matter of hours from almost any organic feedstock.  Agricultural waste, old tires, municipal waste it doesn’t matter.  Even hazardous medical waste could be treated this way, destroying any pathogens while yielding oil to boot.  Other valuable elements would also result as side products of the process.  A pilot plant was producing oil from different feed stocks and it was estimated when scaled up would produce oil at below market prices.  A commercial plant was built in Carthage, Missouri to process the waste from a nearby Butterball turkey plant.  Somewhere around this time I saw that ex CIA director James Woolsey had come on board as a corporate advisor for Changing World Technologies.   At the time I recall thinking, “Oh, lucky, lucky you, see what high level political support you have”.

Well once the Carthage plant was up and running there began to be complaints issued against it that it smelled bad.  This led to a number of fines.  Scrubbers were put on the outlet pipes but apparently this didn’t solve the problem, there were more complaints, people in town saying they were ill from the smell, this led to more fines, decreased output, increased cost of production and threats from state authorities that they would shut down the plant.  More changes were made and I recall though I can’t find it now, an article with Mr. Appel in the middle of his plant saying he couldn’t smell anything, while some complaints were coming on days the plant was closed.  Because of the complaints the governor of Missouri ordered the plant closed. To make a long story short, the company eventually went bankrupt, though they have recently re-opened, however the contract with butterball Turkey was rescinded and they are now using used fry oil as a feedstock. Two people in Carthage have also apparently sued the company for their stink.

This is all very odd.  We have municipal sewage treatment plants in every county, I can’t imagine decaying turkey waste from Butterball itself is a treat to be around.  More to the point, both Union Carbide (Bhopal disaster) and British Petroleum (Gulf oil spill) are ongoing concerns.  From memory, I believe Mr. Appel estimated that something like 20- 40% of domestic U.S. oil consumption could be supplied by applying this technology to various waste streams, with the added benefit of helping to keep the environment clean.  While I personally consider CO2 a red herring, it might also be worth mentioning that this approach would be essentially carbon neutral.

As far as I can tell this technology was never invalidated, and at this very early stage was either cost effective or at least very close to economically competitive.  Instead of being developed, after Bhopal, the Gulf Oil Spill, Cherynobyl, Fukishima, etc, etc. the approach is ignored.  The only thing standing between thermal depolymerization and widespread adoption as far as I can find is that it supposedly smells bad.  Oh, lucky, lucky you Mr. Appel, you have a former head of the CIA as a corporate advisor.

I have come across so many positive, often simple, small incremental advances I wouldn’t know where to begin discussing them.  I would just say that I owned twenty years ago a car that got 35-40 mpg and these were available decades earlier.  Isn’t it odd that there is no improvement.  There seems to be a policy cap in the U.S. at about 35-40 mpg with a limited number of 50-55 mpg hybrids.  Things are about ten mpg better in Europe, however, I think without any real innovation at all one could market a 75 mpg car that is inexpensive and consumers would want to purchase.  You might say that sounds overly ambitious, well here are the specs on the 2011 diesel Mercedes Benz  C250 CDI,  201 horsepower, 0->62 in 7.1 seconds, top speed 149 mph, fuel economy, 58.9 miles per gallon.   Yes 59 mpg, somehow I suppose if I was looking for fuel economy and you really pressed me I suppose I could make do with just 125 horses.  Of course this Mercedes isn’t a hybrid, just a diesel, an approach which is inherently more fuel efficient, in fact I’ve never seen a diesel/hybrid, isn’t that odd.  How about a 110 horsepower Volkswagen diesel/hybrid that gets 80 or 90 MPG, nah … that would never sell.   To be honest, I even wrote Volkswagen and asked them to do this and they were kind enough to get back to me and thank me for annoying them.

Enough with the gear head stuff, let’s switch gears again and talk about some more esoteric stuff.  Some time back I did a couple posts making the case that chickens might in fact be alchemists.  The question that this really boils down to, and one I am not really in a position to evaluate, though that won’t stop me, is whether there are in fact, low energy nuclear reactions, better known as cold fusion.  While I’ll likely take some heat for it, I suspect, under very certain and specific conditions, it is valid.  In any event there is an Italian scientist who claims he has a functioning cold fusion system that can generate megawatts of power for pennies on the dollar and produces no radioactivity or pollution.  Ahhh, you probably don’t want to hear about that, and this post is getting sort of long.  Tell you what, I’ll try and finish it up tomorrow and until then leave you with …

Steve Wiest and the sounds of “Cold Fusion” (Amazing what you find on the web)

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