So, um, how about producing diesel fuel from E. coli bacteria?

A strain of bacteria has been created that can produce fuel…Researchers genetically modified E. coli bacteria to convert sugar into an oil that is almost identical to conventional diesel.

If the process could be scaled up, this synthetic fuel could be a viable alternative to the fossil fuel, the team said…

Professor John Love, a synthetic biologist from the University of Exeter, said: “Rather than making a replacement fuel like some biofuels, we have made a substitute fossil fuel.

“The idea is that car manufacturers, consumers and fuel retailers wouldn’t even notice the difference – it would just become another part of the fuel production chain.”

…Most forms of biodiesel and bioethanol that are currently used are not fully compatible with modern engines. Fractions of the substances (between 5-10%) need to be blended with petroleum before they can be used in most engines…However, the fuel produced by the modified E. coli bacteria is different.

Prof Love explained: “What we’ve done is produced fuels that are exactly the chain length required for the modern engine and exactly the composition that is required.

“They are bio-fossil-fuels if you like.”

Using synthetic biology, the team altered the bacteria’s cell mechanisms so that…sugar was converted to synthetic fuel molecules…By altering the bacteria’s genes, they were able to transform the bugs into fuel-producing factories. However, the E. coli did not make much of the alkane fuel.

Professor Love said it would take about 100 litres of bacteria to produce a single teaspoon of the fuel.

“Our challenge is to increase the yield before we can go into any form of industrial production,” he said…”We’ve got a timeframe of about three to five years to do that and see if it is worth going ahead with it…”

It’s not a magic bullet – but it is another tool in the toolbox.”

Modern-day politicians love to believe in magic bullets. The Walt Disney theory of history.

But, as long as we’re running our motor vehicles with internal combustion engines it’s worth contriving fuel sources which are regenerative, reproducible without depending on extractive industries. The ultimate goal for me would be powering damned near everything by electricity – and coming up with more methods of producing that electricity without befouling our atmosphere and our lives.

Long term, that’s really not a difficult task. The politics are tougher than the science and economics.

Fuel-rod cooling halted by rats at crippled nuclear plant

nuclear rats

Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant halted cooling of a spent fuel pool at the site on Monday to remove two dead rats, the third time cooling equipment has gone offline in five weeks because of rodents.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power said it halted cooling of the No. 2 unit pool, which stores spent uranium fuel rods at the Fukushima Daiichi site, for a few hours to remove the rats and install a net to stop further such intrusions.

Last month, Tepco lost power to cool fuel rods for 29 hours, an outage it later blamed on a rat that had shorted a temporary switchboard.

Two weeks later, workers attempting to install a net tripped the system again…

Monday’s incident follows a string of mishaps including four leaks of contaminated water from underground storage pits.

The problems at the plant, 240 km north of Tokyo, attracted a rebuke from the government and the nuclear regulator, reviving public debate over whether Tepco was up to the task of a decommissioning project expected to last decades…

Tepco has been waging a constant battle to filter and store groundwater that continues to flood the basements of the reactor buildings at a rate of 400 tonnes a day.

The IAEA said that Tepco had achieved the stable cooling of the reactors and spent fuel pools, but cautioned that it needed to improve systems to treat the toxic water and find reliable ways to monitor and store it on site.

Think about this: there are young people going into engineering safety studies at university who will have a guaranteed lifetime career – just working on winding down this single crappy nuclear power plant.

There isn’t anyone with engineering smarts who doesn’t realize the long-term cost-benefit possibilities of nuclear power generating electricity. But, the sum of corporate greed sucking down government subsidies + every potential sub contractor lining up to feed from the same cash trough + essential cost increases in construction and maintenance added in by cowardly bureaucrats = completely negative results.

OTOH, costs continue to decline for all the nature-based alternatives, e.g. solar, wind, tidal-generated electrical power.

But, don’t let science and good sense get in the way of politicians and extractive-industry corporations joined at the hip. A malignant mutation seeking power and profits.

David Mamet and his peers choosing to self-publish

When the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and author David Mamet released his last book, “The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture,” with the Sentinel publishing house in 2011, it sold well enough to make the New York Times best-seller list.

This year, when Mr. Mamet set out to publish his next one, a novella and two short stories about war, he decided to take a very different path: he will self-publish.

Mr. Mamet is taking advantage of a new service being offered by his literary agency, ICM Partners, as a way to assume more control over the way his book is promoted.

“Basically I am doing this because I am a curmudgeon,” Mr. Mamet said in a telephone interview, “and because publishing is like Hollywood — nobody ever does the marketing they promise.”

As digital disruption continues to reshape the publishing market, self-publishing — including distribution digitally or as print on demand — has become more and more popular, and more feasible, with an increasing array of options for anyone with an idea and a keyboard. Most of the attention so far has focused on unknown and unsigned authors who storm onto the best-seller lists through their own ingenuity…

Then there is the money. While self-published authors get no advance, they typically receive 70 percent of sales. A standard contract with a traditional house gives an author an advance, and only pays royalties — the standard is 25 percent of digital sales and 7 to 12 percent of the list price for bound books — after the advance is earned back in sales…

Once a small backwater of vanity presses for authors who could not get contracts with mainstream houses, self-publishing now accounts for more than 235,000 books annually, according to Bowker, a book research firm. Big houses like Penguin and Harlequin have opened their own self-publishing divisions because they see it as a profit center of the future.

Although a vast majority of self-published books will never find much of an audience, a surprising number have become best sellers, especially in genres like romance and science fiction. Self-published titles made up roughly one-quarter of the top-selling books on Amazon last year…

RTFA for beaucoup details. Fascinating turn of policy and process. Something I expected long ago – though, again, I guess my brain was ahead of the reality curve.

Testing company errors kept students out of advanced program

Almost 2,700 New York students excluded from a gifted and talented program due to test scoring errors will get another chance to apply, school officials said.

The city’s Education Department said…the company that created and scored the admission tests has apologized and department officials were notifying parents that students originally blocked from the talented and gifted programs can apply…

Thirteen percent of the students in kindergarten through third grade who took the tests — 4,735 students — were affected, Education Department spokeswoman Erin Hughes said.

Of that total, 2,698 students were newly declared eligible for district-wide programs, scoring at or above the 90th percentile.

Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the errors made by the testing company, Pearson, were “unacceptable.”

Pearson has an established record in this field and we depend on its professionalism and deep capacity to deliver for the public,” Walcott said in a statement. “But in this case, they let our children and families down. I have told the company’s officials in no uncertain terms that I expect this will never happen again.”

The only acceptable part of this fiasco is that someone caught the screwup in time for students to be retested. Cripes, imagine how they felt. No doubt in my mind they had a personal idea of how well they did on the test – only to be shot down.