Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Gasoline & Ethanol

I read the headline Bush Eases Environmental Rules on Gasoline. Is this a good or a bad thing? Supposedly part of the reason for the recent increase in gasoline prices has to do with refiners converting from a process that uses one set of additives to a different process that uses another set of additives (including ethanol) to help reduce air pollution in the summer. So perhaps easing the rules about including ethanol will help lower gasoline prices. Of course, since I commute on a bicycle, the price of gasoline isn't a big worry for me.

But what about the environmental impact? Where I live the air quality is fine, so I'm more concerned with global carbon dioxide emissions. A recent meta study done here at berkeley found that using ethanol in gasoline significantly reduced the ammount of petrolium required to produce that gallon of gasoline. This is very significant as previous studies had suggested the opposite. But this conclusion was only true when they carefully considered how the "waste" products of ethanol production are used to displace other products that would otherwise require petrolium to produce. (This raises the concern that if ethanol were used on a large scale, would there still be useful applications for the byproducts? Or would it eventually revert to no net change in petrolium usage?) So this study concludes that including ethanol in gasoline is useful in the sense of reducing petrolium consumption, minimizing dependance on foreign oil, etc.. However, that same metra-study was unable to determine whether the effective change in the ammount of carbon being released into the atmosphere when petrolium was replaced by ethanol in gasoline was positive or negative. (They did estimate that it's likely a 10-30% effect.) So even switching all our cars to using E85 (85% ethanol, 15% normal gasoline), won't solve the problem of green house gases. (The authors suggest growing biofuels form plants other than corn that could result in less carbon emissions, but that is even farther in the future than large scale usage of corn ethanol.)

My conclusion... It's not clear whether easing these "environmental rules" will result in an increased or decreased prices of gasoline. And it's not clear whether easing thse environmental rules will result in an increased or decreased level of carbon emissions.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Armenian Genocide

I'm not doing well as a world citizen... I didn't realize that today was the rememberence day for the Armenian genocide, until it came up at the staff meeting at work that the engineers that we're working with in Armenia have the day off.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Mu may have changed over the lifetime of the universe

According to an articne in New Scientist based on a paper in Physical Review Letters, a group is claiming evidence that mu (the ratio of the mass of the proton to the mass of the electron) may have changed over time. Obviously, this would be a significant thing, and this result hasn't been confirmed yet, so it's very early.

Do the astrophysicists around these parts happen to know anything about this or the group that is making the claim?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Going Nuclear

Patrick Moore's editorial in the Washington Post that Going Nuclear should be a key part of the environmentalist platform.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Nine Million Bicycles

Anyone seen this?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Howe & Ser

It seems that they're the guys to ask when you need a cannon to be moved.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Good day to be blue

First, the corrupt politician from TX-22 resigns. Then the Massachusetts legislature passes a plan to provide health insurance to all. That makes two steps in the right direction....left!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Light Reading

If you have some leisure time, Geoffrey Chaucer has asked for his Tales to be proclaimed in April, the month being particularly fitting. On his blog he also has some touching reminiscences about the Pearl Poet.

If your time is more limited, I recommend Daniel Nussbaum's Oedipus, King (of the Road). It's a quick read.

And you can always marvel at the awesomeness of this picture of Bagger 288.