Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bob Dylan Turns 70

This week old Robert Allen Zimmerman the Jewish kid from Hibbing Minnesota turned 70. Bob is quite the songwriter and his becoming a septuagenarian reminds me of my own aging as a quinquagenarian. The Green Machine should favor Bob’s song “blowin in the wind” from a renewable energy perspective but this is not my favorite Dylan song. My favorite by far is “all along the watchtower”.

The lyrics are:

There must be some way out of here
Said the joker to the thief
There's too much confusion
I can't get no relief

Businessmen, they drink my wine
Plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line
Know what any of it is worth

No reason to get excited
The thief, he kindly spoke
There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke

But you and I, we've been through that
And this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now
The hour is getting late

All along the watchtower
Princes kept the view
While all the women came and went
Barefoot servants, too

Outside in the distance
A wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching
The wind began to howl

Bob must have studied the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament while preparing for his Bar mitzvah in Northern Minnesota as his lyrics echo Isaiah chapter 21, verses 5-9:

Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink: arise ye princes, and prepare the shield.

For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.

And he saw a chariot with a couple of horsemen, a chariot of asses, and a chariot of camels; and he hearkened diligently with much heed.

And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen.

And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground.

Now what does a Watchtower have to do with Greenexplored? Lots!! In writing blogs about thermodynamics I have sought the path of knowledge over self interest. The VCs drink the wine and the gangrenous hucksters dig the earth. Hard to tell who is joker and who is a thief? Of course there is too much confusion with the department of entropy in charge. The average gringo thinks life is but a joke and you can fuel all the people all of the time. The hour is certainly getting late so let’s not talk falsely now. The photos of Joplin Missouri sure show that the wind has begun to howl. Babylon is fallen and we went there for the weapons of mass combustion. Now we are tripping over ourselves to get to Tripoli.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sugar’s Eco Footprint

The past couple of weeks have had me preoccupied with sugar. Green sugar and gangrene sugar have been covered. Now I will discuss sugar facts and the enormous burden this sweet nectar places on the planet. We all know that sugar is a health hazard and high fructose corn syrup is even a greater health hazard but did we know that sugar consumes enormous quantities of water for its cultivation on an enormous amount of land?

Some sugar facts

As a fraction of total mass sugar cane has less fraction of sugar (sucrose) in its stalk than beet sugar has in its bulb – about 13.5% versus 16.5%

Sugar cane stalks contain approximately 73.5% water, beet sugar bulbs contain approximately 75% water

Sugar cane stalks when crushed are called bagasse and this is the fibrous material in the stalk. The bagasse accounts for approximately 13% of the mass of the stalk. The bagasse is 98% fiber and only 2% protein. With this low protein content bagasse is a poor animal feed.

Beet pulp is the fiber that remains when sugar beet bulbs are crushed. The pulp amounts to approximately 8.5% of the mass of the beet. The beet pulp is 90% fiber and about 10% protein. As beet pulp has a good fraction of protein it can be used as an animal feed.

Beet sugar accounts for about 30% of world table sugar production and cane sugar the remaining 70%.

In 2010 approximately 150 million metric tons of dry table sugar was produced worldwide

In 2008 the US harvested just over 1 million acres of sugar beets at an average harvest of 26 tons per acre, with a yield of 16.5% sucrose this equals 4.3 tons of sucrose per acre per year

In 2008 the US harvested just over 900,000 acres of cane sugar at an average harvest of 33 tons per acre, with a yield of 13.5% sucrose this equals 4.4 tons of sucrose per acre per year

It takes an acre of land to yield about 4.4 short tons (4 metric tons) of sucrose whether derived from beets or cane

In the California Imperial Valley and acre of sugar beet needs 6 acre feet of pumped water per year, therefore each metric ton of sugar produced in the Imperial Valley need 1.5 acre feet of water. An acre foot of water is 325,851 gallons. Each pound of sugar therefore requires 245 gallons of water just for the cultivation. The purification and of table sugar is also water intensive.

A two liter bottle of regular cola has 0.53 pounds of sugar, therefore it takes 130 gallons of irrigation water simply to produce the sugar for a single 2 liter bottle of regularly sweetened soda. The sugar beets needed for this one soda bottle require about 4 square feet of land.

If you buy a similar sized soda that is zero calorie that is sweetened with Sweet.zeroTM you are saving your body harm and certainly helping the planet.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Gangrene Sugar

This week I blog about gangrene sugar. In particular I will discuss two super virulent gangrenous companies. These companies are Solazyme and Amyris. John Doerr is on the board of Amyris located in Emeryville California. It is an off shoot of the work performed in the labs of Professor Jay Kiesling at the University of California in Bezerkley. Old John Doerr is the Kleiner Perkins chief who has both Al Gore and Colin Powell involved in his green-tech junk science companies such as the Bloom Box. John Doerr is one powerful dude, remember he was the host to the President a few months ago.

Young Professor Kiesling founded Amyris and then proceeded to give away on a royalty free basis his first invention for a wonder anti-malarial drug. Actually the free give away was not a free give away as the Gates Foundation gave Kiesling’s lab at Bezerkeley and his company Amyris millions of bucks to continue their research into genetically engineered yeasts and bacteria that yield unsaturated hydrocarbons ( isoprenoids) from table sugar via fermentation. Some of the unsaturated hydrocarbons that are yielded in Amyris processes are isoprene and farnesene. Isoprene can be used to produce thermoplastic elastomers or synthetic rubber. Farnesene can be used to produce intermediaries for cosmetics, or it can be incorporated into PET (the plastic in soda bottles) or it can react with hydrogen to form farnesane that is a synthetic diesel fuel.

This all sounds great and Amyris’ stock is trading with a market capitalization of over a billion dollars. It has a who’s who on its board including Art Levinson the one time CEO of Genentech. Art is perhaps the brightest biotech guy I have ever met. Let us go back to making farnesene out of sucrose. Sucrose is C12H22O11, and farnesene is C15H24. In fermenting the sucrose the oxygen in the sucrose is liberated as CO2, therefore approximately half of the carbon in the sugar winds up in the farnesene, while the rest of the carbon is in the CO2 that is yielded by the fermentation. The carbon content of sugar is approximately 42%, hence approximately 21% of the mass of the sugar becomes the mass of the carbon in the farnesene. The fraction of carbon in the farnesene is approximately 88%. By performing tedious math one can calculate that one pound of sugar will approximately yield 0.238 pounds of farnesene. The economic value of sucrose solution even in Brazil has to be worth 20 cents per pound of dissolved sugar. Therefore the cost of the sugar in farnesene production equates to 84 cents per pound of farnsene produced. Farnesene has to be reacted with hydrogen to convert it to farnesane that can be used as a diesel fuel substitute. This hydrogenation adds costs to the process and for argument sake let’s say the cost of raw materials to make farnesane is one dollar per pound. Add labor and other operating costs as well as capital recovery on the shiny stainless steel fermenters and other equipment and we are in the range of $1.50 to $2.00 per pound of farnesane they produce.
If farnesane has a similar specific gravity compared with diesel, we are now talking about a full cost of between $10 and $14 a gallon. Three years ago prior to Amyris’ IPO their CEO one Mr. John Melo promised the US government 200 million gallons of his diesel at a cost of $2 a gallon to be delivered in 2010. 2010 has come and gone, and they have not yielded much diesel. Diesel is selling for just less than $5 a gallon here in the Bay Area. To be a green machine, I will pay $10 a gallon to Amyris instead of paying $5 to BP for diesel. The extra $5 will remove 20 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. Wow this is a tax of $500 per ton of CO2. Wait a moment Total the French Exxon is an investor in Amyris so why would I be dumb and pay more for Amyris’ diesel?

Solazyme is even more ridiculous claiming to make bunches of diesel directly from sugar in the dark using algae. They are located in South San Francisco and have attracted Ian Clark the present CEO of Genentech to their board. I wish that Ian and Art would have asked the green machine for advice in joining the boards of companies that are destined to fail in making real quantities of bio fuels. The two companies may make specialty chemicals and pharmaceuticals with their bio fermenters as all that shiny stainless steel should be used for this purpose.

I apologize for the gross photo of a diabetic patient suffering with gangrene of the toes.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Royal Wedding

Over a billion people watched their TVs to see Prince William and Princess Kate marry. The wedding was wonderful and gave us all a brief respite from the wars going on in the Arab lands. It is hard to place the carbon foot print on the wedding but it was pretty high given the jets and limousines needed to bring in the rich and famous guests. The 300 million or so TVs that were on for a couple of hours consumed about one hundred million kilowatt hours of electricity. Generating electricity emits approximately 1.25 pounds of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour. Therefore the carbon dioxide emitted around the world to watch the fanfare on TV equaled approximately 125 million pounds or about 60,000 tons. This equals the emissions of 10,000 cars driven for a year. No doubt that the carbon emissions were worth the joy of witnessing a fairy tale wedding. For me the most enjoyable part of the wedding was to watch Kate being driven in a 1950s vintage Rolls Royce from her hotel to the Abbey. Wow what a beautiful car! The second most enjoyable part of the wedding was to see the newly-weds driving in the 1970s vintage Aston Martin convertible after the wedding ceremony. These vintage cars are brilliant even though they are such fuel hogs.

Gasoline prices for mid-grade for my 1999 C280 spiked to $4.45 per gallon at my local service station and it looks like we may hit $5 a gallon in mid-summer. I know the folks who read my blog in the UK, South Africa, and New Zealand think this price of gasoline is a bargain. So do I. I am all for the US government adding another $1 a gallon as a tax. This only equals a tax of $100 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions. Giving Bright Source, Bloom, Solyndra, Tesla, and all the other pig companies at the Federal trough the equivalent of $1,000 per ton of CO2 saved makes this level of gasoline tax a bargain for the tax payers. Now that the President has released his long form birth certificate and has proved he was born in Hawaii and not hatched in Kenya, he should start to attack the Federal deficit. I believe a gasoline tax of $1 per gallon will bring in about $100 billion a year.

The Donald keeps on saying he is going to run for president. I don’t think he was an invited guest to the wedding so for at least a day or two he was upstaged on the airwaves. His two pet enemies are China and OPEC. His wife designs and sells jewelry on QVC. Of course if one goes to the QVC website and investigates where the jewelry is manufactured, it states “Made in China”. I am sure if one investigates where the oil for the jet fuel for his plane was extracted it will state “Extracted in an OPEC country”. He is just the living embodiment of the hypocritical junk we live with each day. The real Royals at least provide real entertainment with fairy tale weddings. Had they used some horse drawn carriages they may have been able to cut down by a minuscule fraction the carbon footprint of the joyous event. Given that we emitted so much carbon simply watching the telly, I am actually glad that Kate got to the church in time in that marvelous Rolls Royce.