Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Friday, July 3, 2009

Monday, June 29, 2009

Create your own Biodome at home!

Recipe: (makes clean air for 1 person)
4 shoulder-high Areca palms - wipe clean weekly, place in living room
6 - 8 waist-high Mother-in-Law's Tongue plants - place in bedroom (converts CO2 into oyxgen at night)
2-3 money plants to remove formaldehydes and other volatile chemicals

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Structural Changes of Organic Food Industry

Abstract. Significant structural changes have accompanied the phase-in of a national organic standard in the United States over the last decade. The organic processing sector was particularly amenable to change due to its location downstream from production, where concentrations of capital encounter fewer biological barriers, and currently benefit from greater economies of scale. Consolidation of this emerging industry in the US and neighboring Canada is characterized visually using information graphics. These graphics provide a broad overview of the current industry structure by depicting the processes of horizontal integration and concentric diversification. Horizontal integration has occurred through acquisitions and strategic alliances, although these transactions are often hidden from consumers through ‘stealth’ ownership. Concentric diversification has occurred through the introduction of organic versions of mainstream brands, and the introduction of private label organics. These trends are expected to continue, and strongly support the conventionalization thesis as it applies to off-farm segments of the organic food industry.

Above, is a network animation depicting; acquisitions by major food processors, introductions of organic brands by major food processors, and acquisitions and mergers amongst independent organic food processors.

This is all from:
Howard, Philip H. 2009. Consolidation in the North American Organic Food Processing Sector, 1997 to 2007. International Journal of Sociology of Food and Agriculture 16(1), 13-30. [online]

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Algae: still the most reasonable biofuel

It's been awhile since I put much effort into keeping up on biofuels. 4 years ago I got really excited about diesel engines that run off vegetable oil. As usual, I was about 90 years late in learning about it, but nonetheless I thought it was sooo cool. Without thinking about the logistics of being a renter without a garage, I went ahead and bought a really badass diesel truck. 1976 International Harvester Scout Traveler Turbo Diesel. I planned to convert it to run on vegetable oil, using a conversion kit from greasecar, but it never happened. I never came up with a garage or the spare $1,000 or so dollars to do the conversion.

In the years since, I'd grown completely dismayed by the bastardization of biofuel research and politics. Ethanol became the 'feel-good-save-American-farms' solution. But it turns out that ethanol isn't even close to being a 'sustainable' solution, and the people who claim it is are completely misonformed or liars. Ethanol is 20 to 30 percent less efficient than gasoline. It takes 450 pounds of corn to produce enough ethanol to fill one SUV tank. It takes more than one gallon of fossil fuel — oil and natural gas — to produce one gallon of ethanol. And it takes 1,700 gallons of water to produce one gallon of ethanol.

In the meanwhile, vegetable oil is being thrown away like toxic waste, when it could be fueling all those diesel trucks criss-crossing the country everyday. And sure, there isn't enough McDonald's french fry oil to fuel all diesel vehicles. The legitimacy of veggie diesels doesn't die there, because there's a much better, super renewable source of vegetable oil. ALGAE! Before I get into that, a Rudolf Diesel history lesson is in order.

Diesel - vegetable oil history (taken from wikipedia and frybrid)
Rudolf Diesel was granted patent #608845 for an "internal combustion engine" later known as the Diesel engine. The engine stood as an example of Diesel's vision of an engine fueled by vegetable oil. In 1912 he stated: "The diesel engine can be fed with vegetable oils and would help considerably in the development of agriculture of the countries which use it" and that "The use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today. But such oils may become in course of time as important as petroleum and the coal tar products of the present time." Henry Ford shared a similar vision to that of Diesel and believed plant-based fuels to be the future of transportation. Ford planned to use ethanol as the primary fuel for his Model T, however, the less expensive gasoline emerged as the dominant fuel.

1913 Rudolf Diesel shipped on the "SS Dresden", a cross-channel ferry, for a short trip to attend the opening of a new Carels factory in Ipswich. (Carels was a Belgian Diesel licensee.) However, Diesel never arrived in England and his body was found a couple of days later by a coast guard boat. It has been alleged that he was murdered by German agents opening the way for the German submarine fleet to be powered by his engine. Others believed that the French might have been responsible. Their submarines were already powered by diesel engines. They may have been trying to keep the engines out of both the British and German hands. Still others believe he was murdered by agents of the burgeoning petroleum industry whose business would have been adversely affected by the widespread use of vegetable oil powered engines. Diesel's family, however, believes that he was thrown off the ship so that his ideas could be stolen.

So, what brought me back to the biofuels world today?
I found a year and a half-old Shell press release, where they discussed plans to build a facility to grow algae as a biofuel. I think it's pretty exciting, but I'm always skeptical of monstrously profitable companies with a long history of evil-doing. On the other hand, it's a sign that oil produced from algae is finally being taken seriously. I had read about it a couple years ago. Here's a video that sums it up better than I can.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

EO Wilson

From Big Think
Edward Osborne Wilson is an American biologist (Myrmecology, a branch of entomology), researcher (sociobiology, biodiversity), theorist (consilience, biophilia), and naturalist (conservationism).Wilson is known for his career as a scientist, his advocacy for environmentalism, and his secular humanist ideas concerned with religious and ethical matters. A Harvard professor for four decades, he has written twenty books, won two Pulitzer prizes, and discovered hundreds of new species. Considered to be one of the world's greatest living scientists, Dr. Wilson is often called "the father of biodiversity," (a word that he coined). He is currently the Pellegrino University Research Professor in Entomology for the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. He is a Humanist Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism.

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Monday, December 8, 2008


NC State University