- This month’s technology focus is on recent advancements in biofuel production. A new source of biofuel might be an invasive species, elephant grass, which grows on marginal lands so it does not compete for land that crops need. Often thought of as a weed, elephant grass is drought-tolerant and is an efficient filterer of nutrients and other contaminants with its robust root system. A team of Virginia Tech researchers may have unlocked the secret of producing hydrogen gas from any plant at a very low cost. By combining a heat-tolerant enzyme extracted from microorganisms with a slur of plant material, they are able to liberate large amounts of hydrogen gas from xylose, the most abundant plant sugar.
Brown University researchers have triggered enzymes in Streptomyces which can breakdown lignin, a large constituent of wood and grass biomass. John Love of the University of Exeter has engineered an E. coli strain that can produce diesel from fatty acids – E. coli are hardy organisms that live in our intestinal tracts. MIT researchers have boosted isobutanol production in yeast by ~260% – this heavy alcohol might be an alternative to gasoline. A start up, OriginOil, uses electromagnetic pulses to kill harmful bacteria and other microorganisms which can infect algae colonies a mere hours before harvest, feeding on valuable oils and thus reducing crop quality. Algae are a common source of bio-synthesized gasoline. In related research, scientists at the University of California Davis have found several antioxidants that can boost the growth of algae by up to 85%.
Finally, in a two-step process, researchers at UC Berkeley create a biofuel powerful enough for jet fuel. First, they ferment plant sugars with the bacteria Clostridium acetobutylicum and then run the byproduct through chemical catalysis to increase the amount of carbon, thus making it a more powerful fuel source.
- Do you know what city in America is the most religious? How about the least religious? Well, data from Gallup-Healthways shows that 4 of the 5 most religious cities are in the South while the top 5 least religious cities are in New England, the Rockies and the West Coast. Richard Florida of The Atlantic Cites and Charlotta Mellander of Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI) correlated religiosity with a variety of demographic trends and the results may, or may not, surprise you. You can read the authors’ conclusions here.
- Are you a fan of disc golf? If so and you Google, “GIS and disc golf” you might find this piece by Douglas Swift of Dickerson College. He merged his love of the sport with a GIS class and designed a great map of a local course. Using a handheld GPS unit and some creative symbology in ArcGIS, Douglas came up with this eye-catching map – nice work!
- From the Front Range of the Rockies we head east and north to explore the online GIS capabilities of Connecticut’s largest city, Bridgeport. The city maintains a robust online web map with a variety of layers including parcels, aerial imagery and contours. The online map allows you to export your current view as a JPEG with labels you can add on your own. The one downfall is that the GIS data appears to be view only as I could not find any place to download the actual shapefiles and rasters that power the tool. You can access the city’s GIS website here.
Brock Adam McCarty