Monday, May 24, 2010

American Inepitude, Russian Initiative.

Last week I went on a long walk followed by a 30 mile bike ride with Tom Blees, author of Prescription for the Planet, a must-read for anyone. He's a fisherman-turned-nuclear-power advocate; you can imagine his life story being an interesting read in and of itself. In what turned out to be a 5 hour conversation, he explained, in so many words, that the United States will not be the leader in next-generation clean energy. According to Mr. Blees, all the solar panels and wind turbines in the world will never amount to the potential of Integral Fast Reactors. No, for this, we have to turn to the Russians for leadership. Blees has been in close contact with a physicist named Roald Sagdeev (I believe that's his name), who seems to be spearheading the Russian effort to adopt next-gen nuclear power. Blees himself may be a speaker at an important meeting to be attended by Gorbachev. It seems that the Russians know that their fossil fuel infrastructure has a limited shelf life, and they're ready to make the gradual transition to a majority nuclear infrastructure. They sell natural gas to Western Europe, as well as to several other Slavic nations (powerful leveraging within trade disputes and such). However, natural gas probably has a shelf life of only a couple of decades; Russia plans on adopting IFR plants along the natural gas pipeline to essentially improve efficiency. Once its natural gas runs out or is no longer viable as an energy source, Russia then goes completely nuclear (in the peaceful sense, of course). The result is that Russia has made tens of billions of dollars based on selling cheap electricity to its richer neighbors, who may toil away in a quixotic quest to harness the power of the sun, while Russia itself has a jumpstart on the world with the more efficient and more plentiful nuclear technology.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

I don't tend to be political here, but this is too great to ignore.

Seize BP Petition button

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Top Winner of MIT Clean Energy Prize

The Clean Energy Prize is significant in that it provides capital resources and mentoring to help clean energy entrepreneurs from universities from across the country to jump start businesses. This is its 3rd year, and it has raised $65 million dollars, which has been used to launch 12 businesses so far (unsurprisingly, many of them are based in MA).

A team from Stanford University, C3Nano Inc., placed first in the MIT Clean Energy Prize for the device's ability to increase the efficiency of solar photovoltaic panels. The device is a nano carbon-based transparent electrode that enables improved efficiency by allowing 12% more light to penetrate the panel. The electrode is also lighter in weight, more flexible, and less expensive than electrodes made out of conventional materials.

Prominent judges selected C3Nano out of a roster of 60 teams representing 35 universities because of its potential to enhance existing photovoltaic systems. Production of photovoltaics now doubles every two years; photovoltaics have become the fastest growing energy technology. These transparent electrodes may also be used in the $4 billion electronic display and thin film market, which may heighten transparency and flexibility at one-tenth the cost of current electrode materials.

This marked reduction in cost has caught the attention of Tom May, Chairman, CEO, and President of NSTAR, a prominent photovoltaics company that co-sponsored the prize. Says May, "Solar energy technologies diversify energy supplies and offset greenhouse gas emissions, but their costs have so far been a barrier to widespread installation in New England. The technology developed by this team is potentially transformative in making solar energy a viable option to consumers throughout the region and has the added benefit of other significant applications."

Monday, May 10, 2010

A cure for bee stings?

In the current issue of Chemical & Engineering News, a small article titled "Plastic Antibodies Target Peptide" explains a new method of removing bee toxins from blood. Molecularly imprinted polymeric (MIP) nanoparticles can act as "plastic antibodies" to neutralize toxins in live animals. Researchers from UC Irvine developed the MIP nanoparticles to target the peptide melitten, a component of bee venom that tears cells open such that their cell-entrails spill out. Given enough, melitten may lead to kidney failure and death.

The nanoparticles are created by polymerizing acrylamide monomers (a monomer is a molecule that has the potential to bind other molecules of the same species to form a polymer). You don't need to know about acrylamide, but in case your curiosity got the best of you, wikipedia has a good entry.

The authors began the study by injecting a lethal dose of melitten into mice. They then immediately injected the melitten-targeting MIP nanoparticles into a selected group of mice, which a control group did not receive. The MIPn mice showed a significantly higher survival rate than the control group.

Note that the MIP nanoparticles had already shown an affinity and selectivity toward melitten in vitro that is comparable to those of natural antibodies in older studies. The mice study here is the first animal study involving the MIP nanoparticles. According to Steven C. Zimmerman from UI Urbana-Champaign, this is an "excellent demonstration" of synthetic antibodies to "selectively bind peptides and related targets in the complex environment within the bloodstream."

The antibodies are also said to show minimal toxicity. The measurements were conducted via florescence-imaging of dye-labeled nanoparticles and melitten. The nanoparticles and melitten were shown to accumulate in the same cells in the liver, suggesting that the nanoparticles sequester the toxin and that the complex is then cleared from the body by the liver.

Needless to say, nanoparticles could be synthesized for a variety of targets; this may mean that the sky is the limit within this new field of research.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Had to Start Somewhere

According to the website, electronic and photonic IT plus renewable energy have reached a new advanced stage of development. Cost-effective measures have already been implemented, but significant challenges remain. With each new advancement comes a new set of problems. One such case in point: the nearly atomic dimensions of cutting-edge electronic devices have induced bottleneck effects upon the circuitry the connects these devices. As smart researchers tend to do, they try to innovate their around or through the problem. Here they introduce exotic new materials into microelectronics manufacturing at an accelerated rate and alternative technologies to CMOS architectures.

Perhaps more importantly, we need to wean ourselves (would "cold turkey" be a little more apt?) off fossil fuels. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is an obscene reminder of that. Future entries will attempt to summarize a paper that discusses hydrogen storage.