Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Thank Government

Green Machine

Thank Government It’s Wednesday

Today my column gives a tongue in cheek thanks to the governments of the G8 countries as well as those of India, China and Korea. Yes, these eleven countries met in Japan to discuss the greening of their economies that account for two thirds of global oil consumption. For the very first time we did not hear a communiqué that sprouted the hope of hydrogen or bio-fuels, but rather stated the path forward is via conservation. Hallelujah, this is precisely what I have said for the past decade much to the dismay of the UC Berkeley gangrenous crowd who are all aboard the five hundred million dollar British Petroleum gravy train of bio-fuels.

The good news is that the ministers of energy of the world’s leading economies will now form an International Partnership for Energy Efficiency Cooperation (IPEEC) that will meet and share best practices and technologies for minimizing energy use while keeping healthy economic growth. There is no doubt in my mind that Japan should chair this partnership as Japan is a shining example of thermodynamic efficiency while the good old USA is the laggard in the group. Sadly our energy secretary, Dr. Sam Bodman, should have been the star of the show given he has a ScD in Chemical Engineering and also taught this subject at MIT early on his career. Sam was a reluctant participant in the new drive for conservation. He would have preferred the old method of greenwashing over the subject and pretending photosynthesis or the lightest element would rush to the rescue of the faltering big three. Sam finally got it that we have an energy supply problem and the solution is right there in his conservative roots. Yes the words conservative and conservation are related.

Let’s not let the liberals off the hook either. Their nonsensical energy policies will also lead us down the yellow brick road. Enough of pointing blame at politicians, it is we who have to change our lifestyles to lower energy consumption. The first changes we need to make are changing deep rooted habits. Driving less, walking more, taking the bus or ferry, turning down the heat, combining clothes washing loads, hanging the clothes out to dry, and running full dishwasher loads are simple ways to save energy in the short term. It is very interesting that a new dish washer uses one sixth the amount of water compared with hand washing the dishes. As most of the water is warm, washing dishes by hand also uses more energy. Hanging washing out to dry though is a great green idea, and we could partially irrigate our green lawns with the water dripping of the clothes and linens.

My suggestion is that neighbors offer each other a ride on the weekend to jointly do their grocery shopping. Also join a carpool or take public transportation. Longer term we need to buy smaller more efficient vehicles and retool our houses with more efficient insulation, windows, appliances, furnaces, water heaters, and government forbid air conditioners to cope with global warming.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Thank Gyrations

Thank Gyrations It's Thursday

Yes today we use Gyrations as our G word, because it has been fifty years since the introduction of the "Hula Hoop". Wham O the company that manufactured the Hula Hoop and sold it for an introductory price of $1.98 back in 1956 sold over 100 million of these devices to one in every two Americans gyrating at that time.

Elvis Presley was also doing his gyrations fifty years ago and in 1956 hehas several hits including: Heartbreak Hotel; I want you, I need you, I loveyou; Don't be cruel/Hounddog; and Love me tender. Given we discuss thermodynamics in this blog I will set out to analyze how many calories are burned using the Hula Hoop as an exercise device. There is an official web site for hooping. Pray that you don't cough at the sametime and then suffer from hooping cough (of course I know it is spelled whooping cough). A ten minute exercise with a 3 pound hula hoop consumes 100 calories.

The flimsy plastic hula hoops of the 1950s only weighed three ounces but still required a good deal of gyration so I estimate a 10 minute hulahooping effort back in '56 burned half as much energy as the modern 3 pound hoop, and equaled 50 calories 50 calories equals 200 BTUs. The heat of combustion of polyethylene approximates 20,000 BTUs per pound, therefore the 3 ounce hoop if used as a fireplace fuel will provide 3,750 BTUs or almost 19 times as much of theenergy used in the ten minute whooping exercise. If a person hooped 190 minutes a day they would burn off energy that is equal to combusting the plastic in the hoop. Pretty good stuff considering plastic has the same fuel value per unit mass as does gasoline.

In researching this episode I found a very interesting site that will calculate the amount of calories one burns by providing your mass and minutes of exercise. The calculator then spits outs calories burned for over 100 different exercises.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Thank Grains It's Thursday

Green Thursday - Thank Grains It's Thursday

This week's column is brought to you courtesy on corn kernels. Those normally wonderful and tasty sweet kernels of corn that we chew off of the cobb are now being used by some supposed green folks as a heating fuel. Some enterprising folks in the Midwest and Northeast are selling stoves that burn dried corn kernels. These stoves are fitted with hoppers in which the kernels are stored and then fed into the stove via an auger. The flow characteristics of the dried kernels allow this "pellet like" fuel to easily stoke the fire in the stove. The dried corn kernels have a heating value in excess of 7,000 BTUs per pound, a value that is similar to hardwood.

Corn kernels have the following composition: 8% protein, 3% oil, 62% starch and 27% water. You have all see the "Nutrition Facts" on food labels. Using the chemical composition of corn listed above, a bushel of corn that weighs 56 pounds has some 80,000 food Calories. If we assume for the moment we could get all of our 2,000 Calories a day from just eating corn, a bushel of corn would feed an adult for forty days.

Heating a house with corn instead of wood, natural gas, or propane is a crime against humanity and animals. These folks who think they are green are robbing some starving person of protein, lipids and carbohydrates. If they want to heat their homes with biomass they should burn wood in their stoves. Wood has cellulose and lignin that are not digestible by humans, but also have a heat of combustion of approximately 7,000 BTUs per pound. The folks who use corn kernels in their stoves enjoy the ease of filling the hopper with corn rather than splitting logs. As punishment for their crimes against humanity, their sentence should be to split logs all day long.

Moving from the starving to the obese, most of us could shed ten pounds of fat. The reason why shedding fat is good for your health is that your heart has to pump your blood through an extra mile of blood vessels for each pound of fat cells in your body. Losing ten pounds of weight implies your heart has to pump through ten miles less of blood vessels. Ten pounds of fat is approximately one and a half gallons of fat, therefore reducing your weight by ten pounds equals an decreased heart consumption of seven miles per gallon (ten miles divided by one and a half gallons). The ten pounds of fat if liposuctioned from your body if converted into biodiesel would propel a 2008 Jetta Turbodiesel almost sixty miles. My suggestion is we should all loose ten pound weight by undergoing liposuction and help the truly green Jetta TDI owners travel sixty miles without the use of fossil fuel and relieve our hearts from the added effort of pumping our blood an extra ten miles.

Each week I now write a blog titled the "Gangrene Award" at that is kind of like the "Green Darwin Award" for the dumbest green technology. This week the corn kernel stove is the hands down winner of the award. We are indeed fortunate that Tiburon is not surrounded by cornfields so we are not tempted to mimic these folks who think CORN stands for "Citizens Organizing Reduced Nutrition".

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Thank Gasoline

TGIT - Thank Gasoline It's Thursday Green Thursday

This week’s blog is brought to you courtesy of that amazing liquid we call gasoline. The average motorist uses two gallons of gasoline a day. This does not sound like a huge amount, however when multiplied by the over two hundred million vehicles in the USA, it is a vast volume of fuel. Gasoline is a mixture of compounds containing carbon and hydrogen atoms (hydrocarbons). This mixture typically has two hydrogen atoms for each carbon atom. Natural gas is composed primarily of methane and has four hydrogen atoms for each carbon atom.

If one did quick but incorrect math, one may believe that using natural gas instead of gasoline as a transportation fuel would halve your carbon footprint. Doing the math correctly by applying the atomic weights of carbon and hydrogen, and the heats of combustion of methane and gasoline, natural gas as a transportation fuel instead of gasoline will lower your carbon footprint by just over twenty percent. The problem is that natural gas is much more difficult to store onboard a vehicle, therefore only a very few vehicles have been converted to run on compressed or liquefied natural gas.

Each gallon of gasoline has 115,000 British Thermal Units (BTUs) of heating value. A BTU is the amount of energy needed to increase the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. When you take a five minute shower with the water flowing at two gallons per minute at 100 degrees Fahrenheit, you have consumed 3,336 BTUs if the cold water entering your water heater had a temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Your water heater is 80% efficient, therefore one gallon of gasoline, if used to fuel a water heater, could provide the energy for almost all the showers you take in a month. We have flow restrictors in our showers to conserve hot water but we are barking up the wrong tree when it comes to saving energy in large measure. We should have flow restrictors in our automobiles.

We do have a way of restricting the flow of gasoline in our automobiles. We should be a little more light-footed on our gas pedal. Think of your gas pedal as the flow restrictor for your engine. Those of us who accelerate quickly and brake abruptly are taking long scalding hot showers. You will get far better mileage if you accelerate slowly and if you time your arrival at the traffic lights on Tiburon Boulevard such that you coast to the traffic light without braking. By doing this, you are essentially mimicking the operation of a hybrid vehicle and you will enjoy as much as 20% better fuel efficiency. Also keep your tires fully inflated and keep your trunk empty to avoid schlepping around additional unneeded mass that simply consumes fuel as you accelerate or climb hills.

There is much debate on whether you should fill your tank at night or at midday and whether you are cheated out of some gasoline because of the higher daytime temperature. My view on this is that gasoline is 2% more dense at 50 degrees than it is at 80 degrees so why not fill up early in the morning and gain part of this added mass and also minimize the escape of gasoline vapors from your tank. Certainly in summer months if you choose a gas station that is close to the San Francisco Bay the ground temperature, and hence the gasoline temperature, will be a lot lower than at a gas station in Sonoma. In the summer you will get more pounds of gasoline filling up in Tiburon than in Sonoma if you buy the same number of gallons. In the winter filling up early in the morning in Sonoma would help you gain more pounds of gasoline when purchasing a fixed volume of gallons. Gas stations also typically change their prices at midday. This proves that the early bird does catch the worm if the bird knows where the worm is hiding.