The Daily Gusketeer

Baja Trek's daily blog.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New "Artificial Leaf": Next Step In a New Energy Source

One of the most exciting new sources of energy that scientists are developing is based on nature's own process of photosynthesis. All plants store energy by using the sun's rays to change certain molecules into other forms. This is (very loosely speaking) like splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen: when oxygen and hydrogen are put back together, they release energy. The problem is, most methods of splitting water are expensive and slow.

But Scientists all over the place have been working on catalysts that can split water using sunlight for a while now, but until recently, they've all been using expensive elements like platinum. Now, MIT claims that they've created a paper-thing solar cell that uses a cheap catalyst to split water. The genius of this setup is:
  • It is cheap and efficient
  • The catalyst is stable and lasts far longer than earlier attempts
  • It can be used in any type of water, and would produce clean drinking water once the hydrogen and oxygen are put back together
In other words, this kind of energy source could be used anywhere in the world, by anybody. Any time I've read about it, the topic of using it in third-world scenarios always comes up, but it can also be scaled up for wider use.

The team haven't released their findings in a peer-reviewed journal yet, so the full story is still unknown. And there's still one major problem: no-one has yet built a safe, cheap hydrogen fuel cell to make use of all that hydrogen. But it's still an exciting step forwards!

If you want to get more pumped about what this technology could do for the world, check out this video featuring Dan Nocera, one of the lead researchers on this project at MIT.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bill Gates on the Future of Energy

TED Talks always give you something to think about, but today we wanted to share this one featuring Bill Gates discussing his work on new energy sources.
"And so, we need energy miracles. Now, when I use the term miracle, I don't mean something that's impossible. The microprocessor is a miracle. The personal computer is a miracle. The internet and its services are a miracle. So, the people here have participated in the creation of many miracles. Usually, we don't have a deadline, where you have to get the miracle by a certain date. Usually, you just kind of stand by, and some come along, some don't. This is a case where we actually have to drive full speed and get a miracle in a pretty tight timeline."
We at Baja Trek tend to feel that the most urgent problem is to reduce energy usage rather than find new energy sources, but realistically, we'll need to do both. So it was exciting when he spoke about the work being done to use the dangerous and, at the moment, useless waste materials put out by nuclear power plants to create even more power. The machine that would accomplish this is called a traveling-wave reactor, and it sounds pretty swell.

We're particularly excited about this idea after having watched Into Eternity, a fascinating, sad, bizarre, Kubrick-esque documentary about a Finnish project to bury spent nuclear waste miles below ground and keep it there for the 100,000 years it takes for such materials to become non-radioactive. Watch the trailer below!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Government by the People!

Most of the time, we try not to get too political, but you'll have to bear with this exception cause it's something we really care about!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Baja adventurer and burro near end of journey

Baja adventurer and burro near end of journey

Reposted from the San Diego Union - Tribune

Friday, March 4, 2011 at 5:23 p.m.

Burro explorer

Burro explorer

Burro explorer

- Graham Mackintosh

El Cajon's Mike Youghusband, his burro, Don-Kay, and stray dog, Solo, take a break during their long trek of the Baja Peninsula. Photo by Graham Mackintosh.

El Cajon’s Mike Younghusband is nearing the end of his incredible walk of the Baja Peninsula with his burro named Don-Kay.

Younghusband, 61 and a former El Cajon police officer, has walked over 1,000 miles and has less than 50 miles remaining to reach Cabo San Lucas, his final destination. He left Hernan Ibanez Bracamontes’ Rancho Ojai in Tecate on Oct. 1 with Don-Kay, a 4-year-old burro he purchased from Bracamontes, and his two pet dogs, Rusty and Max. But the road proved to be too dangerous for his pets and he sent them home with legendary Baja traveler Graham Mackintosh.

“I can hardly believe I passed the 1,000-mile mark,” Younghusband said in a recent e-mail prior to reaching Todos Santos. “I’m still healthy and excited to get there.”

Younghusband plans to check in at the police station in Cabo to document his arrival in Cabo San Lucas. Mackintosh said he hopes to join his friend at Cabo. Mackintosh said some of Younghusband’s family members are going to take a cruise to Cabo San Lucas and plan to be there when the adventurer arrives in mid-March.

Part-way through his trip, Younghusband picked up a stray dog he called Solo, a female dog who has stayed with him and Don-Kay through some tough going.

“I have a lot of stories that will blow you away and can’t wait to share them,” he said. “They had a parade for me when I got to Lopez Mateos, talk about humbling.”

Mackintosh has stayed in touch with Younghusband throughout his journey. He has visited him on a couple of occasions when he was in Baja doing lectures or delivering books that chronicled his own adventures on the Peninsula and its islands. Mackintosh followed his progress from Younghusband’s daily reports via his SPOT device. Also, the members of have been instrumental in Younghusband’s safe journey to this point. At one stage members of the Website’s forum page helped rescue Younghusband, Don-Kay and Solo from death’s door when they ran out of water. At other times, BajaNomad members met up with Younghusband and shared food and drink with him.

Mackintosh isn’t surprised his friend stuck out his hike to the end.

“I was pretty convinced it was do or die for him,” Mackintosh said. “He spent a lot of time and money and made a big commitment to this. He met so many great people on, many wonderful people who helped him and continue to help him.”

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mexico Moves Towards New Energy Sources

Although Mexico has been one of the top three exporters of oil to the United States for some time, its output peaked a few years back and oil production in this country has been in a steady decline since then. Fortunately, this situation seems to have kick-started programs to investigate new sources of energy. Check out this post from the blog, Top Ten Highlights of Cleantech in Mexico. Number 10 sounded like a particularly promising one:
10) Solar Mexico. Solar Mexico is a private initiative that works with the Mexican Foundation for Rural Development and is sustained through private donations from Mexico, the United States, and others. The mission is to supply renewable sources of energy to poor, rural families and improve their quality of life in ways that are socially and environmentally beneficial, this includes items such as solar ovens, battery-less flashlights, and solar water distillers.