Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sustainable marine aquaculture in Midwest

Nebraska farmers have turned to marine fish aqua culture to diversify their business.  Margarey A. Beck from the Associated Press describes the efforts of Cardinal Farms in Dakota City Nebraska to produce Asian sea bass (barramundi) in large indoor fish tanks. 

This trend also includes urban aqua culture in a combined tillapia lettuce production facility in downtown Minneapolis.

As the world's consumption of fish increases, it makes sense to produce fish protein locally.  In addition to the problem of overfishing, commercial fishing is second only to logging as one of the most dangerous occupations in the US.

Indoor Tilapia Aquaponics - 3 min.

Iowa Aquaponics Fish and Lettus - 3min.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Optimizing sustainable nitrogen fertilizer production

A previous blog post on ammonia production and use compared ammonia production plant areas to ammonia use areas.  The maps above list the average wind speed and the amount of ammonia used for fertilizer in areas of the United States.  Potential wind powered production and fertilizer uses overlap in the upper Midwest.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota West Central Research and Outreach Center are collaborating with a multidisciplinary group to optimize the sustainable production of ammonia fertilizer.  Minnesota farmers currently pay $400 million dollars annually to import ammonia fertilizer.  The current wind to hydrogen to ammonia pilot plant uses existing technology which is about 10% efficient.  Researchers are exploring the use of a magnesium chloride additive in the process to dramatically improve the efficiency of ammonia production.

Researchers envision modest sized production plants located in the state in areas with available wind or solar power and adequate supplies of ground water.  For further information please read the article Harnessing the Wind to Create Sustainable Fertilizer by Kevin Coss.


Wind Fertilizer production - U of MN - 3 minutes

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Copenhagen Bicycle Wheel

Boston Globe - Copenhagen Wheel

The Copenhagen Bicycle Wheel may make commuting by bicycle a much more attractive option thanks to a rear wheel power assist controlled by a smart phone app. Researchers at MIT developed the bike with funding provided from Copenhagen.  The research focused on retrofitting existing bikes to make them easier to use on extended commutes. The item is available for pre-order at a cost of $800.

May 2014 - review of prototype 16 min.

September 2014 - Networking capabilities - 2 min.

Friday, October 3, 2014

MSP Airport to build 3 MW solar array

Airport solar plan - MSP via Pioneer Press
According to Stephan Mortemayer from The Metropolitan Airport Commission will be installing at 3 Megawatt Solar array on top of two parking ramps at the airport.  Upon completion of the project in October of 2015, the solar arrays will provide up to 20% of the electrical power for the airport.  It will also be Minnesota's largest solar array. 

Designers have positioned the panels to prevent the glare from affecting pilots at the airport.  The project will also switch the ramp lighting to LED and provide electric car charging stations. 

On a related note, the MN DOT is accepting up to five proposals for 1 megawatt plus sized solar arrays along highway right of ways.  Applications are due November 3, 2014. 

2008 Oregon Highway - via Solar Power Rocks

The MN DOT's project is similar to Oregon's Solar Highways project.  The photo above shows a 124 kilowatt solar system built in 2008.  The state has since completed at 1.25 Megawatt Baldock solar array in January of 2012 at the French Prairie Rest Area.

Oregon's Solar Highway - 2008 10 min.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

GoodGuide and Skin Deep -- Rate products for sustainability and toxicity

Daniel Goleman mentions as a website that allow consumer product ratings on the Health, Environment and Society (companies social practices).  Items can be checked out individually or by class of chemicals such as laundry detergents.  The highest rated products are listed first.

Skin Deep is another website that helps users choose the safest cosmetics to use. The items are rated on potential toxicity.  The rating system is transparent but a bit complex.   You can also search for specific chemical components.  This is helpful for a person looking at specific ingredients in a product.

David O'Rourk - GoodGuide - 8 min.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Legionella in Potting Soil Mix Linked to Australian Mother's Death.

An Australian mother taking medication for arthritis died from Legionella likely the  Legionella longbeachae strain on January 14, 2014.  Her exposure to the Legionella bacteria was linked to potting soil mix.  She refused early medical treatment thinking the symptoms she had were linked to side effects from her arthritis medication.  The Legionella diagnosis came to late and she died when her lungs ceased to function.  Her father granted an interview with Angella Cutterback from WANews.

This case is prompting a discussion regarding proper warning labels with potting soil mix. People are suggesting that the labels have explicit directions to wear a respirator while working with the potting soil.  Some potting soils do have warnings "avoid inhaling the mix."  The deaths are not infrequent as a cluster of deaths was reported in 2005 noted in the caption below the photo.

 Death from potting soil mix - Carol Nadar AuNews 2005 - Photo Estelle Grunberg
Using a respirator would be especially important for elderly individuals or those with suppressed immune systems.  The immune system can be suppressed through illness, age or medication.  Many anti-arthritic medications suppress the immune system to reduce the inflammatory response of the body.

The most comfortable disposable respirator has an exhalation valve and two straps.  The exhalation valve reduces moisture buildup inside the mask making it more comfortable to wear.  The respirators make it harder to breath so some individuals may not have the cardiovascular fitness to wear one.

3M - N-95 respirator with exhalation valve.

Legionnaires' disease - 14 minutes

Friday, September 5, 2014

Castle made by concrete 3D printer

Andrey Rudenko- Breitbart article
A local Shorewood, Minnesota architect/engineering, Andrey Rudenko, has developed a process of 3D printing with concrete.  This 7 foot high castle took 3 months to build.  According to the Mpls Star Tribune, he had originally planned to construct it in less then a week but had issues with weather and equipment. 

Optimizing the equipment for high viscosity and low flow has been a challenge but he has worked through the difficulties.  He is planning on constructing a real house using this technique.  He envisions that this process would reduce the time and cost associated with home construction.  Using metal reinforced concrete with foam insulation would work well for energy efficiency as well as sound attenuation.  He is looking to construct his home in a warmer climate in a state that allows this technique in their building codes.

Chinese researchers have also been experimenting with a similar process. 

3D printer Castle - Minnesota -2min.

China 3D printer for houses in less than a day - 12 min.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Weed blaster or propelled aggressive grit management - PAGman

Over the past few years organic and sustainable farm researchers have attempted to control weeds using high velocity grit to hinder the growth of weeds in crop fields in particular field corn.  Corncob bits appear to be one of the most effective grit materials. 

USDA Researcher, Frank Forcella at Morris, MN  MN Star Tribune have been attempting to combine the corncob bits with cornmeal and other organic fertilizers to develop an organic weed and feed combination.  His research on corn row crops is availabe as a pdf at ( Weed Technology 2012 26:161-164 ). 

According to Mr. Forcella, using the initial prototypes, the current cost of application is 5 times the cost of chemical herbicides.  Cost of application is expected to fall as the machinery becomes mass produced and the technology improves.  Sam Wortman at the University of Illinois has focused on the horticultural applications for weed control in tomatoes and broccoli.
I am impressed with this technology.  Further research needs to be done regarding the most sustainable grit and the appropriate organic fertilizer mix.  This also has some positive implications for improving the quality of ground water and control of chemically resistant weeds.  I can also see the application for home gardening using a cone around the nozzle to protect adjacent plants.  The ergonomics of weed removal would be greatly improved.

Ror information on the USDA grant see Development and Demonstration of a New Method of Physical Weed Control with researchers Frank Forcella and Sharon Clay, SDSU.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Controlling Particle production in China

Optical depth of particles - Wikipedia

The Chinese government has been taking action to address problems with smog in the country.  As the pollution from this country has a global effect this is good news.

University of Minnesota researchers David Pui and others are attempting to assist China with their $277 billion dollar investment to reduce the production of PM 2.5 particles. The Airborne Pollution Prevention Control Plan makes a significant investment from 2013 -2017 towards reining in pollution. 

One of the major roadblocks to there success is the inability of the government to shut down inefficient older steel production facilities.  Local interests with respect to employment and business conflict with the broader goals of efficient production.  An increase in production at coal fired power plants, cement plants and the increase in the number of motor vehicles in Beijing are other major contributors to the production of PM 2.5 particles.

Singapore Haze

PM 2.5 micron sized particles are small enough to deposit in the lungs and cause respiratory health problems in individuals.  Campfires and burning wood for heating also contribute to PM 2.5 particle production in less developed countries.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Tesla to team with Panasonic on Giant Battery Factory

Telsa automotive has formed a partnership with Panasonic to build the next generation battery factory to produce batteries for the model 3 electric car aimed at middle class consumers with a price point around $35,000.  The location of the 5 billion dollar SW USA Gigafactory has yet to be determined.  The goal of the factory is to reduce the cost of next generation rechargeable batteries by 30%.  The location is important as both wind and solar energy will be used to power the plant.

11 minute electric car update 8/1/2014

Waste Carbon Dioxide as a Resource

A Motley Fool Article in USA Today suggests that the use of waste carbon dioxide as a resource could add over 1 Trillion dollars to the US economy.

Captured carbon dioxide could be used for chemical production or to add in algae biofuel production. The US department of energy lists 12 innovative concepts for using waste carbon dioxide.  This includes construction materials, natural gas production, fertilizer production and others.

Methanol Production - click on image to enlarge

Solar/Biofuel production -79 minutes

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Combining wind turbines and pumped water storage hydro power

A July 2014 Minnpost article describes how an elevated levee at Luddington, Michigan allows a power company to convert wind power into stored hydropower.  This is an example of Pumped-storage hydroelecticity.

Below is a diagram of how the energy storage system works for the Luddington, Michigan plant.  It was originally constructed in 1973 and used non wind energy sources to run the pumps.
A wind farm located near the Luddington power plant now provides a significant amount of the energy needed to run the pumps. The plant is 70% efficient.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

School funding Minneapolis

Aspergillus versicolor compound reverses NDM-1 antibiotic resistance

Ann Lukits from the Wall Street Journal reports (New Weapon in Fight against Superbugs) on a compound from an Aspergillus versicolor found in Canadian soil that turns off an antibiotic resistant gene NDM-1 in bacteria.

NDM-1 gene information Sunnybrook - 3min.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Environmental Reporter - Posts on Environmental Sampling

MN Forest teaming with airborne allergens
EMLab P&K has many informative articles on sampling for bioaerosols, particulates and allergens available at the Environmental Reporter.  A recent article deals with a spike in mucormycosis following natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes and a tsunamis.

KXAN News -Texas report on elevated mold counts two days after a rainstorm.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Green Line Light Rail Construction Video

The following video contains a series of photos taken during the construction of the Green Line Light rail on Washington Avenue by the University of Minnesota Campus.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Rodac Plate Interpretation

 Rodac plate

 Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

Video on use of contact agar sample.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Two Xcel energy residential programs for improving energy efficiency

Xcel Energy operates in Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, Wisconsin and Texas.

Home Energy Squad: Optimize your home energy use with a visit from the Home Energy Squad.  For $70 they will install door flashing for two doors, optimize the hot water heater.  Install aerators on the bathroom and kitchen sink.  Install energy efficient shower heads and install compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. (value of $200) 

I think all except the last one seem like a good idea.  The light quality from the CFL bulbs is not as good as the incandescent bulbs. I have installed the CFL bulbs in the basement and garage of my home as the quality of light in those locations is not as important. They do not work as well for reading.

For an additional fee the Home Energy squad will use LED instead of the compact fluorescent bulbs.   LED bulbs save money over the long run but have a higher upfront capital cost. 

Savers Switch: 15% off summer cooling.  Xcel installs a device to intermittently shut off the AC unit for approx. 20 minutes at a time during peak energy usage during the summer.  It does not shut off the fan in the house as air continues to circulate.  Typical hours of operation 2pm to 7pm.  I'm giving this a try this summer and will offer a critique in the fall.  I also plan to log the temperatures and %RH for some of the time.

MN CERT joins home energy squad - 7 min.
Xcel's savers switch in Minnesota

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Peres - Meat Spoilage Detector

Peres provides a blue tooth compatible detector for meat freshness.  The Lithuanian based start up is seeking funding to convert prototypes into working products.  The target price is $100.  USA today has posted a video and further information about the rotten meat detector.

Similar devices with detection for different chemicals could be used for finding microbial VOC's or modulating ventilation systems in smart labs.

Peres - Fresh meat detector - 3 min. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

National Center for Healthy Housing -APHA May 2014

The National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) in cooperation with the American Public Health Association has issued a pdf of the National Healthy Housing Standard dated May, 2014.

The 65 page standard covers structural safety issues along with safety, thermal comfort and chemical agents.

Section II covers the annotated standards for the same sections.   The document is text heavy but well referenced.

Exterior remediation for water damage - N. Carlson

Home Safe Home with Rebecca Morley from NCHH - 7min.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Mucormycosis liked to five pediatric patient deaths

Rebecca Catalanello from reports on April 16, 2014 that the CDC linked contaminated linens from TLC services in New Orleans to the outbreak of Mucormycosis that resulted in five pediatric patient deaths at New Orleans Children Hospital.  The deaths occurred over an 11 month period ending in July of 2009.

This is a link to further information about Mucor spp.  one of the possible organisms causing mucormycosis.

Mucor spp. 400x photomicrograph - N. Carlson

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Geronimo Energy will build 20 large solar arrays around Minnesota

According to the Start Tribune, Minnesota Public Utilities Commission authorized the construction of 20 large solar arrays around the state of Minnesota.  In addition at least one natural gas power generator will also be built.

The installed solar capacity in Minnesota is expected to increase from 6.2 Megawatts in 2013 to over 16 megawatts in 2015.  According to the August, 2014 Star Tribune article Excel Energy has restarted its Minnesota solar rewards program.  The new Solar*Rewards program offers an incentive based on the kWh production from the PV system, as recorded by the production meter. The incentive is paid annually at $0.08 (8 cents) per kWh produced over 10 years.

The solar arrays will be installed by Geronimo Energy based in Edina, Minnesota.

Currently the largest solar array in the state is in Slayton, Minnesota. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Foldscope Microscope Innovation

Stanford University Graduate students under the direction of Manu Prakash helped develop a foldable microscope for use in disease diagnostic work in third world countries.  The material cost for the microscope is 50 cents US. 

Update: I have provided some images taken with the foldscope microscope attached to a cellphone camera.

Different microscopes can be designed for different disease identification.  The scopes work using a standard microscope slide.   In addition to third world applications this could also be used for field identification of fungal organisms during mold investigations.  I would like to determine if the optic quality is good enough to do quick read of an Air-o-Cell cassette slide.

The microscope folds together like origami.

They are field testing 10,000 of theses microscopes around the world. You can sign up here to be part of the foldscope field test. 

This pdf document on the foldscope microscope provides the technical information.

Manu Prakash Ted talk - Foldscope Applications - 9 minutes

Friday, March 14, 2014

Pondering a solar power installation in Minnesota.

2.0 Megawatt Solar Array west of Slayton, MN

I am considering installing a solar panel in my backyard.  It won't be as large as the 7.5 football field array in Slayton, MN.  This is a link to the Fickr slide show of the Solar array in Slayton, MN

Doing the calculations a square foot of  standard efficiency solar PV yields between 10 and 13 Watts/hr in the proper location

The cost for installation in the US is roughly $5 per watt.  I'm looking at about a 1kW installation with an upfront cost of about $5k.  Minnesota has some tax credits available. So the final out of pocket cost would be less.

Feel free to relay your experience with a PV solar installation in the comment section below.  I'd be interested in your experiences.

MN Solar Resources

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Biological Control of Zebra Mussels

MN Dept. of Agriculture has released guidelines for using Psuedomonas fluorescens strain CL145A to control zebra and quagga mussels as part of a one year trial permit.

The irradiated bacterial strain under the product name Zequanox appears to have no effect on native mussels and fish populations in concentrations at 100 ppm at the application point and 1ppm downstream.

Company video on Zequanox - less than 2 min.

Zebra Mussels background information - 5 minutes

Friday, February 28, 2014

EPA - Design for environment Product labeling chemical list DfE - Webinar

EPA has been updating its safer chemical ingredient list for manufactures attempting to  reduce the toxicity and  environmental impact of the chemicals used in products.   A key to the symbols for each chemical is found at the bottom of the list.

Clive Davies from the EPA will be presenting a webinar on the DfE program on March 18, 2014 1 to 2 PM CDT. 

Roland Cliff - 22 min.  Chemical Engineering Ecology

Thursday, February 20, 2014

3D printer ventilation and hazard assessment

The U of MN College of Design has a DigiFabLab 3D printing lab that opened on October 14, 2011.

Consumer Grade 3-D printers produce ultrafine nano particles.  According to a July 25, 2013 article by Nicole Bogart, Global News the hazards posed by the ultrafine particles are similar to those posed by cooking, scented candles and possibly cigarette smoke.

Michael Molitch-Hou 3D Printing industry July 29, 2013 reports on a French study that notes an increase in the number of ultrafine particles during the operation of multiple 3D printers in one room.  The particle generation is similar to that noted during cooking.  The toxicity of the particles is not known.  The authors recommend local exhaust ventilation.  A chart of the ultrafine particle production is listed below. (click to enlarge)

Sentry Air Systems provides a good background into the toxicity of 3-D printing. (ABS or PLA)

The primary chemicals used in ABS 3-D printing are Acrylonitrile, Butadiene and Styrene.  These chemicals have relatively low exposure limits ranging from 1 to 50 ppm averaged over 8  hours and 10 ppm for a 15 minute short term exposure limit for Acrylonitrile.

For information on PLA (Poly Lactic Acid) - Wikipedia  -  The material is good for containing materials at room temperature.  It will melt if used for hot beverages. 

Nano particle production ( - 2013) :  Illinois Institute of Technology researchers

PLA - lower temperature   20 billion nanoparticles per minute
ABS - higher temperature  200 billion nanoparticles per minute.

From this information it would be prudent to use local exhaust ventilation for 3D printers using ABS and HEPA filtration for PLA.