World’s first graphene battery — real soon now

China has a love affair with Graphene. Some companies work on utra-thin flexible displays and others on batteries. Dongxu Optoelectronic Technology unveiled today in Beijing in a big show the G-King graphene battery. This is the world’s first graphene battery

The demonstrated graphene battery has a capacity of 4,800mAh, which is a typical capacity of laptop battery. The company showed the G-King’s super-fast charging time. It only takes 13 to 15 minutes compared to several hours a conventional Lithium-Ion battery needs. That’s 10 to 20 times faster.

Dongxu Optoelectronic Technology says that the G-King graphene battery supports 3,500 charge and discharge cycles. This is 7 times higher than Li-Ion batteries.

These new graphene batteries could change the future of electric cars, which are held back by today’s battery technology. The report out of China does not reveal how close the G-King battery is to mass production. It should be close, considering the stage show the company pulled off.

Watch this space.

How much of the world’s arable land is used to grow food?

food vs fuel&feed
Crops grown for food (green) versus for animal feed and fuel (purple)

Just 55 percent of the world’s crop calories are actually eaten directly by people. Another 36 percent is used for animal feed. And the remaining 9 percent goes toward biofuels and other industrial uses…

The proportions are even more striking in the United States, where just 27 percent of crop calories are consumed directly — wheat, say, or fruits and vegetables grown in California. By contrast, more than 67 percent of crops — particularly all the soy grown in the Midwest — goes to animal feed. And a portion of the rest goes to ethanol and other biofuels.

Some of that animal feed eventually becomes food, obviously — but it’s a much, much more indirect process. It takes about 100 calories of grain to produce just 12 calories of chicken or 3 calories worth of beef, for instance.

The map itself comes from Jonathan Foley’s fascinating, visually rich exploration in National Geographic of how we can possibly feed everyone as the world’s population grows from 7 billion today to 9 billion by mid-century…

There are lots of possible strategies here. Farmers could increase agricultural productivity by boosting crop yields — either through new farming techniques or through improved crop genetics. But even if the rapid rate of improvement in crop yields over the 20th century continued, that still wouldn’t produce enough food for everyone…

One implication of that is that, as countries like China and India grow and consume more milk and meat, the pressure on global farmland will grow. But, alternatively, if the world shifted even a small portion of its diet away from resource-intensive meats or grew fewer biofuels, we could wring more food calories out of existing farmland.

There are many more strategies – which almost always fall under the category of tweaks. Poisonally, I’d rather see the production of flavorful vegetable-based protein continue to move forward, become practical and affordable. Yes, flavorful means “tastes like meat, tastes like chicken, tastes like fish”.

I think philosophical discussions about the life and death of animals that evolved along omnivore humans won’t change public opinion anymore in the next couple of centuries than was achieved in the last couple. Make veggie-based stuff that consumes fewer calories of potential energy and tastes like the stuff we grew up consuming, furry, finned or feathered – and costs less – and you have a winner.

Fortunately, there are a number of folks working on that. That’s the side I’m on.

Autoblog’s Technology of the Year is the BMW i8

No one’s pretending this is a car for everyone – even if you can afford one. But, it’s proof of concept that a production vehicle can have dynamic levels of performance in combination with better than average fuel consumption.

i8 small
Click to enlarge

The winner of Autoblog’s 2014 Technology of the Year award was given this year for not just one technology, but for how a suite of technologies worked together to make one impressive vehicle.

The BMW i8 was named the winner Wednesday night at the Belasco Theater in downtown Los Angeles, just outside the Los Angeles Auto Show. Autoblog’s editorial staff agreed that the i8, which drew crowds of attention during our testing days, represents a future of driving that we can’t wait to see happen…

Ultimately, we picked the car that excited us the most. The BMW i8 has a throaty exhaust note when accelerating. It’s got carbon fiber, and a plug-in hybrid system that uses a small 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine and an electric motor. It has through-the-road all-wheel drive, and in Europe it’ll come with laser beams for headlights.

All that, and it’s a massive eye catcher. People stop and stare when they see this car, for good reason. It’s simply gorgeous. For a more in-depth look at the Car and Driver test, click here.

An engine governor holds top speed down to 155mph. 0-60 times are under 4 seconds. Yet, through the C&D testing cycle and track testing they averaged 24mpg. With an electric-only range of 22 miles, this critter can match the mileage of a Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid IMHO.

Of course, the Ford ain’t $136K.

Genetically-engineered E. coli poops out propane


Propane is an appealing fuel, easily stored and already used worldwide, but it’s extracted from the finite supply of fossil fuels – or is it? Researchers at Imperial College London and the University of Turku have engineered E. coli bacteria that create engine-ready propane out of fatty acids, and in the future, maybe even sunlight…

With the premise of producing a fuel that’s more sustainable in a biological host and easier to bring to market, the research team engineered a pathway in E. coli that interrupts the conversion of fatty acids into cell membranes and instead couples naturally unlinked enzymatic processes to manufacture propane…

“Although this research is at a very early stage, our proof of concept study provides a method for renewable production of a fuel that previously was only accessible from fossil reserves,” said Dr Patrik Jones, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London. “Although we have only produced tiny amounts so far, the fuel we have produced is ready to be used in an engine straight away. This opens up possibilities for future sustainable production of renewable fuels that at first could complement, and thereafter replace fossil fuels like diesel, petrol, natural gas and jet fuel.”

Manufacturing useable quantities of propane is the goal for future experiments, along with recreating the process in photosynthetic organisms, so that propane could truly be manufactured with the power of sunlight.

Genetic manipulation continues to forge ahead in the realm of molecular biologists. While I share the humor of fellow sci-fi fans, I doubt the fear of synthetic overlords is justifiable – given the requisite conservatism of the craft.

Though, poisonally, I ain’t holding my breath until this process is productive enough to be commercially viable.

How to manufacture a lightweight infinite pipeline

A University of Arizona professor has invented a theoretically infinite pipe that promises to bring down the costs of laying pipelines while reducing environmental damage. Developed by Mo Ehsani, Professor Emeritus of Civil Engineering at the University of Arizona, the new pipe, called InfinitiPipe, is of a lightweight plastic aerospace honeycomb under layers of resin-saturated carbon fiber fabric put together by a new fabricating process that allows pipes to be built in indefinite lengths on site.

Because they’re out of sight, we sometimes forget how much pipe lies buried under our feet. Spreading throughout and between towns and cities there are thousands, if not millions of miles of pipeline carrying fuel, water, sewage, cables and all manner of other things that make up the veins and arteries of modern civilization. The problem is that any large pipe intended to have any strength, such as those made out steel, concrete or heavy plastic, can only be made in very short lengths. This is partly due to the weight of some materials, but mainly because they’re transported on trucks.

This means that a pipeline, no matter how long, is made up of a series of short sections with hundreds or thousands of joints – each one a potential leak. It also means that the pipes often have to be manufactured at distant locations and then shipped and hauled to construction sites over great distances and at great cost…

Since the InfinitiPipe is made of lightweight materials, transportation costs are much cheaper than for concrete or steel. This makes on site manufacturing an economical proposition. Ehsani envisions a manufacturing unit installed inside of a truck where the pipe would be fabricated and the truck moving forward as the pipeline is fed out.

Ehsani’s design not only promise qualitative cost reduction in the industrialized world – it could enable locally-built projects throughout the world. Building materials need only be delivered periodically to portions of the pipeline route. Local tradesman can be trained to run the quipment and provide necessary labor along artery. Safety and soundness is better assured by the technology.

Austrian algae biofuel-pilot plant to be built in Brazil

The state of Pernambuco in Brazil’s northeast is going to become home to the country’s first algal biomass plant, thanks to an agreement between See Algae Technology (SAT), an Austrian developer of equipment for the commercial production of algae, and JB, one of Brazil’s leading ethanol producers. The plant will produce algal biomass from natural and genetically modified strains of algae.

So far, the cost of producing algae has been the biggest obstacle to bringing algae-based fuel to the market, but SAT has introduced a technology that has brought the price down to about that of ethanol – $0.40 – $0.50 per liter. This is possible because production has been transferred from open air ponds to reactors of up to five meters in height, protecting algae from environmental interference…

The new plant will make the most of algae’s potential. One of the products to come out of it will be feedstock for animals, providing an alternative to soybeans. The process also yields algal lipids that can be used to make biodiesel and biochemicals. Algae are also a source of omega-3. As overfishing has become a serious environmental concern, algae are a more environmentally-friendly source of this nutrient, which is commonly sold as a supplement.

Pilot plant operation; but, you can figure that cost will diminish greatly when they ramp up to serious production.

Dutch pig farmers fighting for factory farms for porkers

Creil, the Netherlands — Modest farms, 90 acres or less, dot the region here, most of them raising grains and vegetables, some the occasional sheep or cow.

In the midst of this idyllic scene a few years back there appeared what residents now call “the pink invasion,” three huge hog barns each with 10,000 or more pigs in the fields that skirt the dike that protects the region from the Ijsselmeer, once known as the Zuiderzee.

“Some people don’t like the idea,” said Dick van Leeuwen, 65, who walks his dog Thor along the roads leading to the largest of the barns. Local people feared that the pig farms would stink, while bringing an unwanted increase in truck traffic, he said, delivering feed for the thousands of pigs or hauling away manure or grown hogs for slaughter. But their complaints fell mostly on deaf ears.

The Netherlands, a country of almost 17 million people, is home to a pig population of 14 million. Despite its status as one of the smaller countries in the European Union — about half the size of the state of Maine — the Netherlands has long been Europe’s leading exporter of pork and pork products, though that ranking has been contested in recent years by wurst-loving Germany.

Like pork producers everywhere, Dutch farmers are fighting rising costs by resorting to ever bigger herds and barns, a trend that is reinforced by the petite size of the Netherlands…As the big barns become more common, the government has begun to respond to public complaints about industrial farming and cruelty to animals. Officials are now discussing ways to curb the size of barns like those in tiny Creil, with its 1,600 people in trim brick homes, much to the chagrin of the new generation of farmers who see industrial-scale husbandry as their only means to compete…

Critics of the pork industry argue that enormous pig barns damage the environment because of the immense amounts of manure they produce, threaten people’s heath because of the antibiotics used liberally to avoid sickness among the animals and disregard the welfare of the animals by confining them to barns…

Pig farmers like Mr. Vowinkel insist that they can compete only if they keep costs and the price of their pork down. “Some disappear, others get bigger, to lower production prices,” he said. A fellow farmer, Sietse van der Meer, agreed. “You grow bigger, or you stop,” he said.

Politicians feel the pressure of the environmentalists and animal rights groups. In December, Parliament will begin discussing a possible restriction on the size of farms and a ban on antibiotics, two steps the farming region of Noord-Brabant, in the south, has already taken on its own.

RTFA. The arguments of the Pig Farmers Association seem specious to me. They argue that the diminishing number of pig farmers is proof of their inability to compete because of regulation. They sound like Wall Street Republicans. But, the enormous expansion of the size of farms, number of pigs produced at lower prices is as likely to be the cause for small farmers being forced out of business.

They’ll never be able to compete with pork produced in nations with an excess of arable land – from China to Brazil – and their natural market is the citizens of the Netherlands and Europe. The rest – especially reliance on antibiotics – is the same sort of propaganda we get from members of every greed-driven guild in the world.