Weekend reflections

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.

8 thoughts on “Weekend reflections

  1. Some exciting science.

    Researchers develop biodegradable fuel cell battery fueled by sugar
    While soft drinks can add to your waistline, they also might add power to portable electronics. Researchers at Saint Louis University in Missouri said they have developed a fuel cell battery that runs on virtually any sugar source — from soft drinks to maple syrup, or tree sap — and has the potential to operate three to four times longer on a single charge than conventional lithium ion batteries.
    ” This study shows that renewable fuels can be directly employed in batteries at room temperature to lead to more energy-efficient battery technology than metal-based approaches,” said study leader Shelley Minteer, Ph.D., an electrochemist at Saint Louis University, in a written statement.
    Using sugar for fuel is not a new concept: Sugar in the form of glucose supplies the energy needs of all living things. While nature has figured out how to harness this energy efficiently, scientists only recently have learned how to unleash the energy-dense power of sugar to produce electricity, Minteer said.
    According to the release, a few other researchers also have developed fuel cell batteries that run on sugar, but Minteer claims that her version is the longest-lasting and most powerful of its type to date. As proof of concept, she has used a small prototype of the battery (about the size of a postage stamp) to successfully run a handheld calculator. If the battery continues to show promise during further testing and refinement, it could be ready for commercialization in three to five years, she estimates.
    Like other fuel cells, the sugar battery contains enzymes that convert fuel — in this case, sugar — into electricity, leaving behind water as a main byproduct. But unlike other fuel cells, all of the materials used to build the sugar battery are biodegradable.
    So far, Minteer has run the batteries on glucose, flat sodas, sweetened drink mixes and tree sap, with promising results. She also tested carbonated beverages, but carbonation appears to weaken the fuel cell. The best fuel source tested so far is ordinary table sugar (sucrose) dissolved in water, she said.
    One of the first applications Minteer envisions for the sugar fuel cell is using it as a portable cell phone recharger, similar to the quick rechargers already on the market that allow users to instantly charge their cell phones while “on the go.” Ideally, these rechargers would contain special cartridges that are pre-filled with a sugar solution. These cartridges then could be replaced when they’re used up. She said she hopes that the sugar battery can be used as a stand-alone battery replacement in a wide range of portable electronic devices.
    Future work includes modifying the battery’s performance for varying environmental conditions, including high temperatures, and extending the life of the battery.

  2. Here’s a fairly concise summary of the major contemporary media panics on climate change http://www.businessandmedia.org/specialreports/2006/fireandice/fireandice.asp
    However the media are happy to report they’re certain we’re warming now because of the obvious facts summarised fairly well here
    Still the heretics remain here
    and here
    Trust us, say the quantity control advocates. We might have been wrong about Marx, but we’re absolutely right about this, this time round.

  3. Oh , observa, not the Ice Age again. You and I were both around at the time and therefore know perfectly well that you are talking nonsense.

    For those who weren’t, New Scientist has prepared a handy list of standard delusionist claims about global warming. The “predicting global cooling” stuff is #6. Global warming on Mars is on the list too.

  4. Following on from Prof. Quiggin’s post “A Bit Late for May Day” (May 3rd, 2007) which included a graph of the rapidly climbing profit share of Australia’s GDP, the US Centre on Budget and Policy Priorities has an interesting paper on the declining wages share of national income in the US. Declining median income in the US is reported on the same site in another paper.

    A quote from the latter paper: Median income for non-elderly households (those headed by someone under 65) fell again in 2005, declining by $275, or 0.5 percent. Median income for non-elderly households declined for the fifth consecutive year and was $2,000 (or 3.7 percent) lower in 2005 than in the recession year of 2001.

  5. [re-send]
    The Sunday Age today devoted its entire Letters
    to GM foods. I wonder what is the intention of relegating an important topic to the Comics, or Sunday-brunch-with-skinny-latte section. You can bet The Age will not let GM surface during the week.

    Just to keep it clean, this is what I sent to The Age a week ago (unpublished letter):

    The issue relevant to GM foods isn’t whether or not they are controlled by mammoth corporations (‘Healthy or harmful: the big debate’, 13/5). Instead, we should first consider the questions of what factors are driving the changes, and how much diversity we want in our agriculture.

    We value more variety in our gardens, but seem unconcerned that vast tracts of prime agricultural land may be given over to industrial production of a few types of crops. We seem unable to restrict our raging thirst for petrol, so industry responds by offering biofuels like ethanol and oils from plants. We seem to think it’s our right to use high quality drinking water to flush lavatories, water our roses and pipe into factories, yet irrigated farms are being forced out of existence.

    The trend to modify foods has a long history, but it’s an irony that since we fail to convince our young women to eat wisely, we must pump our bread with folate, a nutrient found in green leafy vegetables. The same can be said about many natural (whole) foods, and the lobbying pressure from companies to add fractions of foods, and other chemicals, to super-refined packaged products.

    Will we sit back and watch our arable land produce, not good food, but vegetation designed to feed the factories that keep our cars on the road? Are we happy to arrive at a destination where we have converted our market gardens to the production of cotton, for its edible oils, and import our broccoli from Asia? In terms of self-reliance, this prospect screams of uncontrolled risk.

    Underlying any argument about food and diet is factual data about what people are eating. But this information exists only in patches here and
    there, and it is badly out of date. Our governments must not legislate, or license, in relation to food until they bring back regular surveys of our national eating habits and preferences. Then the arguments can be informed. We must not let our legislators make policy on the back of ignorance.

    In The Australian of May 19, from an article
    by Clara Pirani

    However Linda Tapsell, director of the University of Wollongong’s National Centre of Excellence in Functional Foods described the article as “alarmist.â€?

    An interesting comment from an academic, not exactly impartial. Some wiser heads should look into the NCEFF, and decide what it has been set up to perform, even though there is no financial information available at the site, other than that it is funded by “industry”. It’s pretty clear from the website that NCEFF regards the case for folate fortification as one of the triumphs for
    ‘functional foods’, whatever they are.

    Note one of the NCEFF’s major partners is Victoria’s Department of Primary Industry, and The Age is pleased to report today that the Victorian Treasurer
    may till soil for GM crops
    [Sorry if this is still broken up. How about a Preview panel?]

  6. “Oh , observa, not the Ice Age again.”
    No John, it was more of a summary of where we’ve been and a question as to why did the scientific community (or perhaps the media reporting of it) get the climate record and its interpretation so badly wrong. Was our science or science reporting that bad 30 years ago?

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