3 Bizarre Energy Technologies That Are Also Awesome (SOA Post 200!)

3 Sep

Today is a big day, my dear readers.  You’ve been with me through trials and tribulations aplenty over the last year and a bit: together we’ve taken on just about every major cultural institution that warrants my considerable attention, and I love you all dearly for it.  Which is why I’m proud to inform you that today marks State of Affairs’ 200th official post.  You may now commence celebration.

In honour of this momentous day, I’ve decided to follow a trend I’ve quite enjoyed over my time as captain of the good ship SoA by tackling not one, not two, but three interesting stories for your enjoyment and consideration.  Buckle up.

Actually, I wish this guy hadn't bothered.

Those of you living in Toronto (and based on my analytics that’s most of you) will agree with me when I say we’ve spent the summer holidaying in the sixth circle of Hell.  Starting as early as March this fine city has seen record-breaking heat waves that have turned even the most well-aired domiciles into tombs reminiscent of Dante’s vision, preventing yours truly from sleeping for weeks at a time and fueling my inevitable descent into total madness.

Pictured: Alex James after 70 hours with no sleep.

True to form, water cooler chat at the Compound has revolved around the looming threat of global warming (which will likely be totally forgotten as soon as we transition into Freezing Ass Cold Canadian Winter in a month or so).  Between the God awful heat and the non-stop chatter about BP’s colossal blunder in the Gulf, I’ve been thinking a lot about the environment of late, which led me to that purveyor of all things weird and wonderful, Digg dot com.  And thanks to the good people at the Aggregate To End All Aggregates, I’ve happened upon three fascinating – if unorthodox – stories about people the world over who are trying to Make A Difference in the ongoing fight against climate change.  I can’t overstate unorthodox, though, as you’ll see.

Chewing For Change

I spent some time in Merry Olde England recently, as followers of the blog might remember, and one of the big differences I saw between the towns I visited across the pond and the city I call home was cleanliness.  Seems not much has changed since the Dickensian era, at least in some areas, because the air quality was drastically different – if by “different” I mean “like being in a sauna full of coal” which I do.  And while the quaint urban flavour and pastoral country scenes were exactly what Hugh Grant movies have led me to expect, there was more than a little rubbish on the cobblestones – most of which took the form of chewing gum, which apart from cigarettes and cans of Fosters, seems to be the highest-selling oral fixation in that part of the world.

Thanks for the years of oppression you dicks. Have a Fosters.

Anybody who’s ever walked down a street in any city ever will immediately recognize those oval-shaped black marks all over the sidewalks as discarded sticks of Wrigley’s or whatever, casually spat out by airheaded cheerleaders, big-talking guidos and anybody else who makes that horrifying smack-smack noise like cows chowing down on cud.  While I’m as guilty as anyone for indulging in mint-flavoured jaw exercise, I do what I can to limit my Excel-shaped footprint wherever I go by discarding my used mouth-cleaner in the proper receptacle or just by swallowing it (incidentally I’ve been doing that for years and have yet to have a “gum tree” take root in my intestines. You lied to me Mom.)

I always assumed it would look like this.

But human ingenuity knows no bounds, and one bright young Brit looked at the spotted streets and saw an opportunity to effect positive change, both fiscally and environmentally.  Designer Anna Bullus, clearly not a Trident fan herself, did some research and discovered the British government spends an annual rate of a hundred and fifty million pounds a year just to clean up people’s fortified spit.  Sounds like a lot of money until you consider that in Oxford alone people are hawking up to three hundred thousand of the sticky little things all over the street every day.  Makes you wonder how they haven’t all come down with temporomandibular joint dysfunction, though it would go a long way toward explaining an accent that disdains consonants.

Innit.

Anyway, the intrepid Miss Bullus found her way into a laboratory with a bag full of gooey wads to see if she couldn’t find some alternate use for the stuff, besides blowing bubbles and repairing glaring design errors in jetpacks.  I don’t know what kind of designer you have to be to be granted access to a high-level science lab, but I’m guessing it’s not of the fashion variety.  It turns out that most chewing gum contains an extractable polymer, which she has named the Bullus Recycled Gum Polymer (hey, you’d name weird stuff after yourself too if it was going to make you a million bucks) that shares a remarkable number of properties in common with rubber.

NOW CHEW IT. CHEEEW IIIT.

While it’s probably not news to anybody who has ever chewed gum, this is actually a really big deal: Bullus contends that most things we make out of rubber now could be made out of BRGP if she has enough of it to work with, and judging by the fact that Oxford is apparently paved with the stuff, I’d say she’s onto something.  But for a high profile designer with a polymer named after her, rooting through the trash looking for chewed-up Hubba Bubba is a bit below her position in life.  So what to do?

The answer sounds like it came straight from the brain trust at IKEA.  Bullus has started making gum disposal receptacles, called Gumdrops (this woman should quit her day job and bill herself as an Obvious Name Consultant) that are now scattered around Orpington College.  When they’re full, a team of highly trained Gum Retrieval Ninjas is dispatched to round up the Gumdrops and bring them back to Bullus’ secret lair where they’re treated to her blend of unique spices to produce more BRGP.  Okay, I might have stretched a bit on the last point, but the fact remains – this is recycling in perhaps the purest sense I’ve ever seen.

Behold the future. It is pink.

Bullus claims the Gumdrops (great idea, but total eyesores – they look like giant disembodied bodily orifices) will save millions of dollars in cleanup work, provided citizens don’t use them the way they use every other collection receptacle (i.e. as a dumping ground for every kind of waste imaginable), and further, she contends that BRGP can be used to make – among other things – boots.  Gum boots.  I see what you did there.

Get it? Another Name Win for Anna Bullus.

Frankly I think Bullus is going to have less trouble getting the citizens of Oxford to spit their used gum into her pink monstrosities and more convincing people to buy shoes undoubtedly steeped in the mouth-juice of millions.  But there’s no denying this is a truly unique idea, by gum.

See?  I can do it too.  Try it at home.

Not to be outdone, America has its own contribution to make to the “if it comes out of us, we can probably do something with it” camp.

Holy Shit, It’s Electricity

Now I’m not going to go on record saying Americans as a general rule are full of shit.  That would be unfair and petty, and regular readers know I’m always balanced and neutral in everything I write.  But when a culture’s primary subsistence is a combination of McDonalds, abominably bad beer and stadium hot dogs, suffice to say they sure produce an awful lot of it.  Hell, the Hudson River practically flows with the stuff, if George Carlin is to be believed, and in my books he is.

"We swam in RAW SHIT."

So when I read that researchers at Oregon State University have concocted a method to generate electricity by treating sewage with a particular type of bacteria, it made all kinds of sense.  America’s primary export to the rest of the world usually boils down to excrement of one kind or another, so it follows that some enterprising individual would find a way to literally power the world with it.  Now if only they could take it one step farther and use Rush Limbaugh’s hot air to power wind generators, or replace nuclear payloads with Britney Spears albums (though I suspect that’s forbidden by the Geneva Convention).

Pictured: war crime about to happen.

Here’s the gloss, according to head researcher Hong Liu (who will henceforth be known as Doctor Poopy): when sewage is introduced to a household device populated with the obliquely-named Shewanella oneidensis bacteria, the bacteria goes to work breaking down the organic matter present in the refuse – presumably those kernels of corn that show up every time regardless whether or not you’ve even seen a cob in months.  Apparently this process produces protons and electrons, which can be harnessed by the device’s electrodes to actually create a working current.

"Watch it! This is ELECTRIC POO!"

As it stands right now, the ratio of poo-to-power is pretty skewed: the article didn’t say just how much waste was involved in the process, but the result was enough energy to power a small fan or a light bulb – not all that far removed from the “light a match” conversion familiar to frat boys the world over.  But the study continues, and researchers are hoping to upgrade the electrodes with gold nanoplating (I have no idea what that is) to further improve the efficiency of Dr. Poopy’s Amazing Electro-Crap Device.  That’s not what they’re calling it, unless they hired Anna Bullus to come up with the name, but when you consider the fact they’re realizing the “champagne from shit” metaphor with remarkable literal implications, it’s really not that far removed from reality.

This is the good shit.

The most promising future for this technology seems to be directed at third-world nations, where untreated sewage is regularly dumped into the same river people use to wash their clothes, entertain their children and quench their thirst.  A device like the AECD would drastically reduce the need for traditional treatment facilities, whose price tag is a little beyond what can be footed by a community of farmers living in mud huts drinking water tainted with the remains of All You Can Eat Chili Night.

Doesn't look so appealing now, does it?

The timeline for rolling out AECDs the world over is three to five years, at which point Dr. Poopy will go down in history as the man who ushered in the era in which we quite literally have energy coming out of our asses.

Jesus.  Two hundred posts and what do I give you?  The world’s most drawn-out poo joke.  And yet you keep coming back.  I don’t know whether that says something about me, or you.  Or both.

(What the creepy bird said)

But if you really want innovation on any front, from automotive technology to tentacle porn, there’s only one place you can go.

Is There Anything The Japanese Can’t Do?

I’m going to start this section with a disclaimer: I don’t know if this is legit.  Yes, my years of experience as the Prince of the Internet have given me incredible analytical and research capabilities, but I’ve so far been unable to turn up anything about the guy I’m about to talk about – same goes for his company.  And frankly if a Japanese company doesn’t have a web presence it probably doesn’t exist, so take this with a grain of salt.

As a matter of fact, take it *all* with a grain of salt.

That said, if this is for real, it represents one of the most astounding technological leaps forward of this generation, and I can say with absolutely no irony or cynicism that I’m genuinely excited.

Remember “Back to the Future II” when Doc Brown tricks out the Delorean with hover wheels and a big rocket engine?  He proceeds to load a bunch of random shit into a coffee maker strapped to the trunk that ostensibly powers the flying disaster through the magical power of nuclear fusion (a big deal in the 80s) and flies off to fuck up some future history.  When I was growing up, 2015 seemed pretty far away, but even as a lad I knew it wasn’t far enough away to warrant advancements like nuclear flying cars, not to mention self-drying jackets and hover boards.   Okay, the Gap has yet to release a coat-cum-hairdryer and I’m still waiting on that hover board, but apparently I was wrong about the Mr. Fusion thing, at least in principle.

Moves at the speed of PLOT!

A mysterious Japanese company called Blest, headed by the equally mysterious Akinori Ito, claims to have developed a revolutionary machine that reverts everyday plastic material to its primary constituent element – namely, oil.  It’s equal parts complicated and simple, but since this post has already hit the five-page mark I’m going to forgo a lengthy explanation and just give you the video highlights.

See what I mean about the Mr. Fusion connection?  Dump a bunch of shit in, turn a switch, and presto: instant energy.  And if his ratios are correct – one kilogram of plastic anything equals one liter of oil – the implications are mind-blowing.

Now, this is where I put on my cynic’s hat, because something about this just doesn’t smell right to me.  If I understand the science correctly (which I probably don’t, but we’ll go on the assumption that I do) all Ito is doing is melting plastic and collecting the undoubtedly-noxious gas byproduct, dumping it in some water, and magically you have a tube of yellowy liquid that can apparently be further treated to make gasoline, kerosene and diesel fuels – all with one little box that looks a bit like a Dalek’s retarded cousin.

EXTERMINA - I mean, want some oil?

I don’t know an awful lot about petroleum products, but I do know that “oil refinery” refers to an enormous plant designed to do the very thing Mr. Ito is suggesting his little box of miracles can do in the comfort of your own home.  It strikes me the process is a little more complicated and involved than he’s trying to convince me it is, to say nothing of the fact that if you could just boil plastic and get instant oil, wouldn’t somebody have figured that out a long time ago?

I submit this man would have.

And even if it all works exactly the way he says it does, I would suspect the major oil conglomerates of the world wouldn’t really take kindly to this kind of advance being introduced to the market.  Could you imagine what it would do to oil prices if people could power their cars using a mountain of Coke bottles and beheaded Barbie dolls instead of queuing up to pay through the nose at their local Shell station?  I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist, but I can’t help but think Mr. Ito and his Magic Oil Box wouldn’t be long for this world if it were really that simple and accessible.

Especially when you piss off big business.

Regardless, the little tiny optimist in me (who I usually keep silent with a strict diet of walking around with my eyes open) really hopes this is on the level.  While I’m not a big supporter of oil as a power source – as we’ve said before I’m more of a Mr. Fusion fan – Mr. Ito’s fabulous invention would go a long way toward curbing CO2 emissions and making better use of a limited resource than we currently do.

Of course, the pessimist in me (who thrives on the same diet that keeps Mr. Optimist silent) says with our luck Mr. Ito’s invention will somehow be directly responsible for waking Godzilla and laying waste to Japanese culture.  Because as long as we’re dealing with science fiction oil converters, we might as well go all out.

Great. Godzilla. AGAIN. Thanks a lot, Akinori Ito.

What Did We Learn?

As much as I rag on and on about my pessimistic nature, if I leave the joking aside I really do want to live to see a better world.  And if that world is made better by everybody wearing shoes made out of chewing gum, powering their Xboxes with Taco Bell runoff, and filling up their cars with what used to be action figures and sex toys, then so be it.  But I won’t bang on any further, dear readers, because you’ve just digested no fewer than twenty-six hundred of my words, and that’s a lot to ask of anyone.

Then again, you’ve done it many, many times before.

How many times?

TWO HUNDRED TIMES.

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