Posts Tagged ‘public funding’

Algae Fuels Hopes for Life Without Big Oil!

26/08/2010 1 comment
Let’s cover off what you what you might already know…. Algae are a rather simple life-form that come in well over 65,000 different varieties (with possibly 100’s of thousands more to be identified still!), and they remain on the bleeding edge of Renewable Energy research, and represent a Holy Grail for many of the Disciples of BioFuels since they can also convert light and CO2 into oils and sugars like nothing else on Earth! The trouble with this ‘soon to bloom’ solution, is that most of the large PetroChemical Giants are also already well up to speed in their efforts to squeeze oil out of algae, and they are even starting to be awarded Patents on both processes, and even certain breeds (or mutations) of Algae in order to keep someone else from getting a competetive edge in this newly developing industry.
Of course, this is a familiar story about how progress gets held back by powerful interests that seek to monopolize new ideas, and effectively kill growth prospects for everyone else…But in the case of algae, there might actually be enough biodiversity to go around for everyone, and we might all soon be singing the praises of this smelly, slimy deterant for swimmers, as we thumb our noses at the oil giants who are still trying to get the most from their well-heads.
That is of course, if there’s enough desire for cooperation between Bankers, Researchers, and the independent Industrialists who can move these ideas forward , rather than holding all their cards too close to their chest… Surely we don’t need another reason to wonder what companies like BP, Shell, and Exxon-Mobile have hidden in their sleeves, when it comes to assimilating good energy ideas, and then sitting on them until the oil runs dry!

DIY BioDiesel ?

24/08/2010 2 comments

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Now that clean-diesel technology, and low-sulfur fuel formulations are widely available, Diesel power seems to be enjoying a surge in popular interest in NorthAmerica. One of the main attractions is the versatility that this engine design has for using alternative bio-fuel sources, which are reviving a century old vision of BioFuels that can lead us away from our reliance on fossil fuels…But there’s only one biofuel that won’t displace food crops, and offers other positive ecological side effects.

Bio-Diesel might certainly not be the final solution, but at least its a good low-carbon bet to hedge on while awaiting the developments that will enable electric cars to overcome their expensive, heavy, and toxic battery technologies, and of course find new energy sources to satisfy their raw and enormous thirst for more coal-fired electricity. While we await these cleaner primary sources of electricity to come online, the resulting interest in BioFuel continues to spawn a huge grass-roots interest in Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Diesel. The question arises though, is the hype and promise of BioDiesel turning into a bigger “product” than the actual end-product itself!?!

During this interim phase between the “World as we know it, “, and the “World we wish it to be”, we’re starting to hear alot more about the DIY methods of making BioFuels which all promise to provide an organically sourced energy for transportation that ‘consumes’ as much greenhouse gas in it’s growth phase as it releases during combustion. It’s also a The trouble is that alot of these sales programs and consumer messages have the production value of late night informercials or Get-Rich-Quick schemes – where the purported “know-how” is the product being sold, rather than the actual end result. Even the more well packaged and produced offerings seem heavy on the sauce, and pretty light on actual substance.

So how do we tell the SnakeOil Salesmen from the ones who actually have a solid plan that improves things beyond their own bottom line? Take for example this promo piece (above) that so easily glosses over the details, but which we’re all so much more prone to accepting since it doesn’t end with a logo of an Oil Giant…

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GRID2.0: Power Struggles and Open Markets

28/04/2010 Leave a comment
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GRID 2.0 could be an chance revolutionize Society by catalyzing two critical resources…
Energy and Information!

People have been hearing more Mainstream Media buzz around Smart Grid or GRID2.0 initiatives. Some have even considered the finer points of the debates that have sprung out from the power struggles that are going on behind the scenes – mostly arising from the proposed methods and standards that would be applied to unify the current patchwork of disparate electrical transmission systems that we call “The Grid”. This need to get competing interests to actually cooperate on common initiatives is only one of the biggest challenges to overcome in leapfrogging over simple upgrades, and actually re-building our electrical distribution systems to meet the emerging needs of the 21st Century.

Some people will simply presume that these initiatives are just another example of the Corporate world wishing to cut it’s costs through new efficiencies, by updating equipment or infrastructure at the expense of Customers and Taxpayers. While this may well be true, the biggest opportunities (and risks to corporate hegemony) actually revolve around the emerging protocols and standards that threaten to democratize monopolistic hierarchies, open up delivery systems to smaller suppliers, and take full advantage of the enormous opportunities to fully optimize (and even automate) the basic economic principals of Supply and Demand with lightening fast methods based on remote sensing and network communications.
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GRID2.0: The Trouble with Electricity

22/04/2010 1 comment

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How could such a pervasive part of modern life still be so easily misunderstood?

Electricity is the invisible force at the very center of almost all the enabling technologies of our Modern world, and has filled this role for quite awhile now, so it might come as a surprise to many that it actually doesn’t operate anywhere near as well as it could, or should.  In fact, this incredibly powerful and pervasive amenity has actually been under increasing pressure and burden as a result of its poorly aging design concepts that are based in distribution principals set down well over a century ago, and which are now are in dire need of upgrading.

By looking at some of the ‘Smart Grid’ or Grid 2.0 concepts that have been getting renewed attention of late, we see all sorts of progressive ideas to better deliver a product that already travels to the Customer at the speed of light, but that is currently still often getting managed and brokered via analogue links and mechanical switches, along distribution systems that were never really meant to accept power, rather than distribute it…and that’s just where the shortcomings begin.

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GRID2.0 The Social Challenges of Energy

20/04/2010 1 comment

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Nothing serves to unite people and incite cooperation among ourselves quite like the assuring the basic necessities of Life. Among these basics, only food, water, and shelter rate higher than Energy on our list of survival needs, and since our industrialized world makes Energy a pre-requisite for these anyhow, perhaps it should take top spot by default…Unless we were to somehow revert back to an animal powered Agrarian Society that subsisted on local resources. Things being as they currently are though, out of all our currently available sources of heat, light, and power, none is more ubiquitous than the electrical energy grid that has clearly become a pre-requisite for Life as we know it.

In it’s longstanding role as an enabler for the technologies that modern civilization is based upon, the history of electricity also serves as a direct reflection of how Technology, Business, and even Politics have all interconnected over time to shape our world into what it is today. Therefore, it’s not at all surprising that the future of civilization is directly dependent on how well electricity will be ‘generated’ (with Renewable and Green sources coming online), ‘distributed’ (via an electrical grid that is long overdue for a major upgrade), and ‘consumed’ (by more ecologically aware and participative Consumers). In addressing the complex distribution challenges, radically new business models, and progressive technical opportunities that are currently being faced by our outdated electrical energy grids, we are also and in fact confronting the bigger social issues and technological opportunities that face our Society in general, and which will most certainly define the future of Modern Civilization. So what are the greater opportunities that can be realized at a time when Energy production, Distribution, and Consumption are all on the cusp of such radical change?

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Has PR trumped Science at MIT ?

15/01/2010 8 comments

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Suspected anomalies discovered in article published at MIT News :

” Major Discovery from MIT is
primed to unleash a Solar Revolution! “

The ongoing, yet destructively repressed and polarized, debates between so called Climate Skeptics (and their ilk) VS. the popular proponents of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) may have cooled slightly in the post-Copenhagen lull. But questions around the scope of Scientific Method employed in determining AGW, are only now beginning to rise to the forefront of Public Consciousness.

The primary question has been to wonder if it’s indeed possible for ‘pure science’ (at least at the educational research level) to be bent or distorted in order to serve pre-ordained objectives.

So can science be bent around the points of peerage that are always subject to new review (according to said Method), to instead selectively support current states of research. In effect whatever specific agendas, that might tap into otherwise unavailable funding, or even simply to act as a public relations tool –  in service of much larger visibility campaigns?

If we can possibly leave aside (just for now) the temporarily cooled question of Climate Change, we could look for signs of all of the above in a surprisingly exuberant article published on the MIT News site in July 2008 instead of wondering if science is above promoting itself for the sake of funding or notoriety.

Even though it’s exultant title wildly proclaims that a “Major Discovery from MIT is primed to unleash a Solar Revolution”! the hard science and empirical data or comparative results behind the article are thinly presented (at least from the Layman’s POV), and there still doesn’t seem to be much obvious evidence of wider public discourse or a proper ‘peer review’ process around this “major discovery” either.


Perhaps this is just the style employed for wider press releases via “MIT News”, however one would at least expect to see evidence of  published papers/results, or at least links to some shared or foundation research. Perhaps MIT is operating under the principals of private enterprise, and it wouldn’t want to jeopardize plans to commercialize it’s discovery by giving away any un-patented trade secrets.

That last possibility would indicate that we’ve already seriously diverged out of the field of publicly funded research, and into corporately (privately?)  held intellectual property. Perhaps someone could clarify the business model that supports MIT, or other such institutions to dispel any such naivete that could be evidenced here.

In any case, let’s try to leave commercial interests aside, and get back to some hard Science.

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