Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Time lapse movie of fungal growth

This time lapse video of fungal growth shows a variety of fungi growing in culture with new age background music.  If you observe closely around the 3:30 mark of this nearly 5 minute video the culture mites start frolicking around the buffet table.

Thanks to R. Burton for sending this video.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Keeping pesky asteroids out of our backyard

Leonard David writes about the NASA's Near Earth Objects or NEO Shield project which is focused on ways to prevent space objects from colliding with the earth. 

NASA categorizes the objects for impact risk and also lists the space missions to nearby comets and asteroids. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Using a volcano to produce steam generated electricity

USA Today reports on a proposal to pour water into hot areas of a domant volcano in Oregon to generate steam for electricity.  The project is funded in part by the US Dept. of Energy.  According to the US Geological survey,  EGS (Enhanced Geothermal Systems ) have the potential to produce 1/2 of the United States Electrical power.   There are concerns that this process may generate localized earthquakes.

From my perspective it would appear that an enclosed piping system may be more expensive but a safer alternative to pouring water on the volcano.  It also would allow the recycling of the water in a closed loop system.


Capturing and using carbon dioxide instead of sequestering

Instead of sequestering carbon dioxide Vorsana Inc. has proposed using centrifugal gas seperationg to capture the carbon dioxide from coal fired plants.  Renewable energy sources will be used to crack carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide and oxygen.  The carbon monoxide would be used to produce syn fuels.  This would eliminate some of the logistical problems of piping and sequestering carbon dioxide in underground caverns.

Other options include capturing the carbon dioxide and using it for algal biofuel production as noted in an earlier blog locating the facility next to either an ethanol plant or a coal fire power plant.

Brian G. Williams proposes using thermal cracking as part of methanol production using carbon dioxide and hydrogen produces by electolysis of water. 



University of Minnesota plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50%

The University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus has issued a report detailing efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 50% of 2008 levels by the year 2021.  The plan is expected to reduce annual University operating costs by $20 million through reduced utility bills and maintenance costs. 80% of the greenhouse gas emissions come from two sources the electricity use and on campus steam production.

Initial strategies include decommissioning buildings and consolodating spaces, improving the operational efficiencies of computers, recomissioning buildings, reducing laboratory ventilation rates and reducing coal usage at our steam plants by 85%.  Plans for a 14 MW combined heat and power plant are in the future. 

A plan for systemwide sustainability is included as an appendix.  Highlights include a focus on purchasing local foods at the Wednesday Farmer's Market and highlighting sustainability work done on the coordinate campuses of Duluth, Crookston, Morris. 


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A New York Times article reports on faster methods of temporarily slowing the rise in earth's temperature as noted in the journal Science.  The researchers focus on fourteen ways of reducing the production of soot or black carbon and the release of methane.  Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas and soot production has health as well as environmental consequences.

Source: D. Shindell et al. Science 335, 183–189 (2012)

Soot control involves using better controls on diesel powered engines and using more efficient cooking stoves.  In the long term a combination of methane, soot and carbon dioxide control were predicted to be the most successful at reducing a global temperature rise.

The Science article is not available online.  I wll read it and update the post with more information later. 

Reducing smoke by starting fires from the top

An article by Ron Meador in MinnPost suggests a method of starting fires that reduces the amount of smoke produced.  Larger pieces of wood are placed at the bottom with smaller pieces of wood placed at the top.  On top of the fire, a section of twisted newspaper is set on fire.  As the fire burns the small pieces of wood below the paper start on fire.  The flame at the top improves the efficiency of the burn.
Photos of the technique are provided by J.G. at the Woodheat.org website.

I have tried the traditional method of starting wood fires by putting the paper at the bottom and stacking wood up above it.  My success has been varied and there is a significant amount of smoke produced as the fire is started.  I have access to a particle counter and will check out the success this summer and report on it.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

CNN report: Are schools making children sick?

CNN has a video report on a school where parents are concerned that it is making their children sick.  One child had headaches which resolved after she left the New York school PS 51 in the Bronx.

Trichloroethylene was found at elevated levels in the school which was formerly a car repair shop and a factory.  The notification of the chemical was delayed.  Results were available from January and February tests in 2011 but were not disclosed to parents until six months later according the the New York Daily News.

This is link to the pdf provided by the NY City Department of Health on the school closure. The school construction authority provided additional information.


Results are in micrograms per cubic meter. 

CAL OSHA is considering revising down its 8 hour PEL for occupational exposure to Trichloroethylene from the current 5ppm or 26.85 mg/M3.   Data showed headaches in workers at slightly above 1ppm.   To convert  ppm to millligrams per cubic meter of trichloroethylene: 1 ppm = 5.37 mg/m3.  Reference:US EPA

The CAL OSHA occupational limit is approximately 500 times higher than the level found in the school.  This limit would apply to the teachers but not the children.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Using abandoned mines to store wind power

Researchers at the U of Minnesota Duluth Natural Resources Research Institute have found that abandoned iron mine pits in northern Minnesota could be used for water powered pump storage of off peak electrical power produced by wind turbines.  The power can then be generated when needed during peak times during hot summer days.

Wind power is used to operate pumps bringing the water from lower man made pools of water to pools of water on the upper level part of the abandoned open pit mine.   The water is sent back down to the lower pool during the day and used to run electrical generators to put power back on the grid.

A full report and executive summary for Pumped Hydro Energy Storage (PHES) is available here.

Open pit mine - photo UMD-NRRI 
Photo from : http://www1.umn.edu/news/news-releases/2011/UR_CONTENT_366951.html

Update:  Germany is pumping water up to mountain reservoirs to store renewable energy.  Unfortunately the process is only 67% efficient. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Electricity produced by wave generators

Two articles on wave generators were recently published.  Australia is working on a small scale wave generator set up on the ocean floor.  The wave generator moves with the fluidity of sea kelp.  It converts hydraulic pressure into electricity.

The Los Angeles Times reports on a proposal to put wave powered turbines by Green Wave Energy Corp near Newport Beach. The source of power could be more reliable than wind energy.  This will not be a commercial operation for a long time due to several factors.

  1. Venture capitalists are wary of spending money on an unproven technology
  2. Environmentalists are concerned about the effect of electromagnetic fields on sea creatures.
  3. Surfers are concerned about safety.  
  4. Governmental regulations, permits and other red tape.
  5. High capital cost compared to other methods of generating power.

They will attempt to install this system off the Caribbean island of St. Martin and on the coast of Guinea.


For more information on wave energy,  please visit the OCS Alternative Energy and Alternate Use Programmatic EIS Information Center

Monday, January 9, 2012

AIHA publishes update Facts About Mold 12/16/2011

The December 16, 2011 update AIHA Mold fact sheet was produced by: the Biosafety and Environmental Microbiology committee and the Indoor Environmental Quality committee.  The fact sheet recognizes that it is difficult to make the occupational health decisions based on incomplete information. 

Highlights:  Three factors contribute to mold growth.  They are moisture or relative humidity, varying surface temperatures and poor ventilation. Cold surfaces in poorly ventilated humid environments provide locations for fungal growth. 

The document offers guidance for both the consumer and the professional. It suggests when it is appropriate to sample a building (if mold is suspected but not visible) and when it may not be needed.  It also provides guidance on interpreting samples.  

Aspergillus fumigatus growing in culture - Photo:  N. Carlson

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How to Defend Earth from Asteroids

Phil Plait offers an interesting Ted talk on asteroids and how to defend the earth from them.   Keeping them from destroying the planet is essential for sustainable development.   He talked about NASA hitting a comet to alter the path of the object.  A similar strategy can be done to prevent it from getting it into the keyhole that will allow it crash into the earth.


Fungal line drawing quiz

I developed a line drawing quiz at Quizlet.com to help students with fungal identification.  In the flash card mode, use the full screen setting to get a better look at the line drawings.

Line drawings of Alternaria spp. - N. Carlson

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Mold and marijuana grow houses

Poorly designed in home marijuana operations will turn a formerly beautiful house into a self composting structure ready for demolition.  Caoimhin P. Connell, an industrial hygienist and rural county patrol deputy, has compiled his thoughts (11 MB pdf) on the health effect risks to law enforcement personnel when they raid a building growing marijuana.  He downplays the risk of toxic mold and suggests officers concern themselves more with individuals carrying firearms.  He notes that a small number of individuals may have an allergic reaction. 

The 3M N-95 respirator with exhalation valve - Photo 3M

In my experience, it would be prudent to at least wear an N-95 respirator while inspecting these properties.  The 3M model with an exhalation valve is more comfortable than those without.  It is also important to be fitted for the respirator and make sure the person has the cardiovascular capacity to wear a negative pressure respirator.   Wearing a respirator would be prudent for asthmatics, people with mold allergies or individuals with compromised immune systems (either through illness or drug therapy).  The respirator also serves as a device to prevent accidental hand to mouth contact.   Proper hand hygiene is also important as ingestion of toxins is a more well studied route of exposure.  For example: after handling items in these houses, it would be prudent to wash hands prior to eating even if wearing gloves.

Marijuana grow house - photo: Energy Homes