Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Biorenewable Resources and Technology

This week for me was the end of my first class as a graduate student. I took an independent study course in mechanical engineering and my goal was to learn a software package that specializes in modeling chemical and mechanical processes. My graduate research focus is on the economics of biomass-to-biofuels processes. This summer class for me was really an introduction into the work that I will be doing for my master's degree. Specifically, I created a model or simulation where the end product will be a "green" diesel fuel. Instead of calling it biodiesel, which is formed through vegetable oils and animal fats, "green" diesel is formed through the thermal conversion of biomass (plants such as the one in the picture). Biomass is heated and gasified (turning it into hydrogen and carbon monoxide) and then converted to diesel and other products like propane and octane (gasoline).

As I research the area of biorenewable resources, I am beginning learn that there is so much potential. There is a lot of work to be done and it will take years, but if you pay attention to the news, you will see lots of progress. I came across one paper in my research that mentioned that not only will biorenewables potentially be able to curb the United State's dependence on nonrenewable energy, but it has the potential to bring energy to developing countries and regions around the world. Some communities that are self-sufficient and live without electricity could live with electricity and still be self-sufficient by using biomass as a source for their energy. I know, I know, what about the biomass as the source of people's food? Doesn't using biomass take away possible food? It can, but one can use food and crop residues. Even the ash/char that is produced from gasification can be formed into fertilizer to put back on the fields. If used wisely we can balance the usage of plants and biomass to reduce the carbon emission from coal and petroleum. Hopefully as you pass by the next field of corn, swath of switchgrass, forest of trees, or even the next organic waste in your trash, you can begin to think of the potential it has.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Samson versus Goliath? What?

A few weeks ago I heard that Wal-mart decided to market and sell some action figures based on Bible characters. I decided to check it out online. Apparently, someone thinks that the Bible can be learned better if you can have mock battles between Goliath and Samson. (I am pretty sure that they didn't even live in the same time period, but whatever.) So without further ado, we have over in the left corner, wearing red, hailing from Zorah, strongest man in History, 300-pounds-all-muscle, jaw-bone-swinging, "I-eat-philistines-for-breakfast" Samson the Nazirite and in the right corner, wearing silver, hailing from Philistia, tallest man and hairiest chest in the world, "I-make-everyone-cry-when-they-look-at-me-even-Chuck-Norris" Goliath. Let's get ready to rumble!

Is a toy like this even worth buying? Or is it better for a kid to be playing with Bible characters instead of Superman or Batman? I am not really sure. From scripture we believe that the writings of Judges and Samuel are not just stories, but are true events. They contain real people and through them we learn about God. Can we make them out to be "superhero"-like? A few years ago I remember a friend of mine who hadn't been a Christian for a long time and she read the story of Samson for the first time. She was actually appalled at the gruesomeness that Samson was a part of. She wondered why he would be selected to be a judge of Israel since he treated philistines so vengefully. Anyway, as she figured out and we also figure out as we grow older, that the Bible contains a lot of gruesome events and heartless treatment of people, we should probably take those passages seriously and not try and make them marketable. There is no easy answer. If you have an opinion or a comment of some sort please don't be afraid to comment.

From the picture I kinda feel like buying one and putting on my desk at work whereby it would provide a good conversation starter. You can find them online at www.one2believe.com. I guess I will end by saying that I'm glad that the photo at least depicts Samson beating Goliath. Go Samson! Hopefully Goliath doesn't find out Samson's weakness.