November/December 2010

Automation by the Numbers


NASCAR will move from unleaded fuel to an ethanol blend in all three of its national series beginning next season. The switch to Sunoco Green E15 was announced by NASCAR Chairman Brian France, who touted the switch as yet another step by the auto racing series toward environment friendly practices. "This is the most visible thing that we can do to let our partners and our fans know that NASCAR is taking a slow, steady march as an industry," France said. The E15 blend is a mixture of 15 % ethanol and 85 % gasoline. It is a clean-burning, high-octane motor fuel, and the ethanol portion is produced from renewable resources that Sunoco will get from the Midwest. The E15 fuel will be blended at Sunoco's facility in Marcus Hook, Pa. The new fuel will be pumped directly from tankers at the track, rather than from onsite underground storage tanks.


At the current pace of research and development, global oil will run out 90 years before replacement technologies are ready, said a University of California, Davis, study based on stock market expectations. The forecast was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. It is based on the theory that long-term investors are good predictors of whether and when new energy technologies will become commonplace.

"Our results suggest it will take a long time before renewable replacement fuels can be self-sustaining, at least from a market perspective," said study author Debbie Niemeier, a UC Davis professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Two key elements of the new theory are market capitalizations (based on stock share prices) and dividends of publicly owned oil companies and alternative-energy companies.


The U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory and Brookhaven National Laboratory researchers have created transparent films that can absorb light and generate electricity over large areas, which could be used to design transparent solar panels, according to DailyTech. These transparent films are semiconducting polymers "spiked" with fullerenes, which are round, cage-like molecules that consist of 60 carbon atoms. Researchers created a flow of water droplets across a layer of polymer-fullerene solution. When the water evaporated, the materials then self-assembled into micron-sized hexagonal-shaped cells. The film ends up looking like a honeycomb, and researchers were able to develop reproducible films that spanned several square millimeters of area. The films are transparent because the edges of the hexagons contain polymer chains that are packed together tightly while the center of these hexagons have thin and loosely packed polymer chains. The closely packed edges are capable of absorbing light and generating electricity.

10 trillion

The world's largest particle smasher-the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland-has seen the highest temperatures ever produced by a science experiment, thanks to a flurry of "mini big bangs." The LHC started smashing lead ions head-on last month, instead of the usual proton-proton collisions. This produced what are referred to as mini big bangs-dense fireballs that have temperatures of about 10 trillion°C. The fireball is known as a quark-gluon plasma. The formation of the plasma is a key prediction of the extremely successful theory of quantum chromodynamics. Thanks to a 287 TeV beam, the LHC's lead ions are colliding with energies about 13.5 times greater than what has been achieved at Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) in Upton, N.Y. The resultant plasma fireballs will allow physicists at CERN using the 10,000-tonne ALICE (A Large Heavy Ion Experiment) detector to study the universe as it was about a millionth of a second after the big bang.