December 27, 2008

Sasol making 1.1 million barrel per day Coal to Liquid Operation in Indonesia by 2015, Competitive prices with Oilsands and Deep Water Oil

South Africa's Sasol Synfuels has a US$10 billion project to build 1.1 million barrels per day of oil equivalent with a massive coal to liquid operation in Indonesia.

Until recently coal to liquid cost $1 billion for 10,000 barrels per day of oil equivalent. So the Sasol operation is eleven times more cost effective at $1 billion for 110,000 barrels of CTL liquid per day

If the price of ten billion dollars for 1.1 million barrels of oil equivalent per day could be hit by 2015, then such a project would be competitive with the pricing and timescale of oilsand projects and deep water oil. It would also be competitive with the scale of those other large oil projects.

The environmental impact of CTL is discussed at gristmill. Look at the discussion to see some less biased assessment. 1.08 times the CO2 of diesel.

Lighter Cars and Electrification will Reduce Oil Demand

Toyota and others are working on 600kg cars instead of 1000kg. Cheaper titanium, more carbon fiber and other materials.

Steel accounts for about three-quarters of the average car weight in Japan of around 1,350 kg (2,976 lbs). Using carbon fiber to replace steel in key parts could cut vehicle weight by up to 40%, to slightly above an average 800 kg (1,800 lbs). This could improve fuel efficiency and reduce carbon dioxide by approximately 30% per car.

China's BYD has started selling its plugin hybrid electric car in
China for US$21,000.

EEStor's ultracapacitor patent details. They are supposed to be having commercial rollout in 2009.

A lot of better battery and ultracapacitor tech...sufficient for many
planned needs for storage it is a matter of
cost and scaling up for sufficient industrial impact.

December 26, 2008

DNA/biotech/synthetic biology & nanotechnology to Watch in 2009 and Beyond

The technological and other developments to watch was expanded to four parts:
1. Computers, robots, electronics and communication
2. Energy and transportation
3. DNA/biotech/synthetic biology, nanotechnology - this section
4. Medicine, life extension, space, manufacturing and anything else that was not covered

1. DNA nanotechnology

There was a lot of activity with DNA nanotechnology in 2008 with new synthetic bases and a lot of usage of DNA for structures and the precise placement of structures. Some of the big 2008 developments follow. 2009 will see more breakthroughs in this highly active area.

All DNA fabricator constructed walking DNA.

Living cells have become factories for synthetic DNA.

An important thing to track is the progress toward George Church's vision of lowering DNA synthesis costs by about one billion times to a few dollars per kilogram.

George Church notes two key requirements for implementation:

1. Engineering of [more efficient] nucleotide synthesis: We are collaborating with Philippe Marliere on optimizing metabolic pathways to the synthesis of the four dNTPs in vivo.
2. DNA secretion: This is a natural process in some bacteria, could be enhanced to prevent (potentially toxic) levels of DNA in vivo.

DNA synthesis and DNA sequencing

The George Church goes beyond the rapid progress towards targets like $100 to sequence the entire human genome.

2. Synthetic biology
Bio-diesel from synthetic biology is going commercial scale in 2009 and 2010

A pilot plant is expected to go into operation in early 2009 and commercial production could commence in 2010, according to Amyris.

Amyris renewable diesel contains many of the properties of petroleum diesel, Amyris can blend the fuel at high levels -- up to 50 percent -- compared with 10-20 percent for conventional biodiesel and ethanol.

3. Synthetic life

Jack Szostak, harvard medicine, and Craig Ventner are working on different projects to develop synthetic life. 2009, could be when one or both of them are successful.

4. Moriarty/Freitas/Merkle diamondod nanotech

Diamond mechanosynthesis experiments were finally funded in 2008. Look for signs of progress (validation of the computational chemistry work and proof that this process would work) at the end of 2009 and into 2010.

Tihamer Toth-Fejel, a senior research engineer at General Dynamics Advanced Intelligence Systems, speculated in an article at the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology blog:

if Freitas, Merkle, and Moriarty succeed next year, all heck will break loose. Not immediately, of course, but diamond is a very useful engineering material. If we could use it to make cars and buildings, we would. Everything depends on availability and cost — and both depend on technology.

Four years from now, the Zyvex-led DARPA Tip-Based Nanofabrication project expects to be able to put down about ten million atoms per hour in atomically perfect nanostructures, though only in silicon (additional elements will undoubtedly follow; probably taking six months each). At a standard Moore’s Law exponential growth rate (doubling time of 18 months), this Patterned Atomic Layer Epitaxy (Zyvex’s approach) will only get us up to 23,058,430,092,136,939,520,000,000 atoms per hour by 2100 — a few hundred pounds worth.

Does atomically precise tip-based nanofabrication follow Moore’s Law? If we take Eigler’s 35 xenon-atom IBM emblem in 1990 as the start, then that gives us a doubling time of just over 12 months, and that adds up. By 2012, we’ll be doing about ten times better than Moore’s law. And that is without the big kick.

What happens when we use probe-based nanofabrication to build more probes? A massive acceleration in progress - a big kick for nanotechnology

It’s starting to happen now (see “Thermal Actuated Multi-Probes Cantilever Array for Scanning Probe Parallel Nano Writing System” by Watanabe, Isono, et al). Chad Mirkin, who also has another piece of the DARPA Tip-Based Nanofabrication project, has already used 55,000 dip pen nanolithography tips to make 1,600 100 nm dots in under 30 minutes. (Mirkin is using standard microphotolithography MEMS to make the dots; this is the most conservative approach to productive nanosystems. The others include Structural DNA — Rothemund, Nanorex, et. al — and Schafmeister’s Bis proteins, plus a few more not as promising.)

What happens when productive nanosystems get built, and are used to build better productive nanosystems? The exponential increase in atomically precise manufacturing capability will make Moore’s law look like it’s standing still.

5. Zyvex atomically precise manufacturing

Zyvex's atomically precise manufacturing effort has gotten $30+ million in funding and should have interesting results over the next three years.

6. UK ideas factory projects through 2010
- programmable assembly of oligomers
- Another proposed project from the UK Ideas factory to create reconfigurable computer controlled actuators with sub-nanometer to sub-angstrom precision.

7. Stem Cells

A breakthrough in stem cells for blood production occurred in 2008. We need to watch in 2009 and onwards whether this process can be scaled and reach its potential for solving civilizations blood supply issues.

Can the AFIRM and other regenerative medicine projects achieve success using stem cells and other regenerative medicine to create or regenerate all other cell types.

8. Gene therapy

Gene therapy appears to be on the verge of fulfilling its promise of curing diseases for many people and helping to enhance performance. There are many gene therapy treatments now in the third phase of clinical trial approval.

December 25, 2008

Space Elevator Tethers

The Space elevator blog discusses the needed tether strength based on work by Ben Shelef, CEO of the Spaceward Foundation:

A tether which has a tensile strength of 30 GPa-cc/g would be strong enough to create a useful Space Elevator provided the Climber power system can generate at least 1.5 kWatt/kg. If the tensile strength of the tether is only 25 GPa-cc/g, the power system needs to generate at least 3.5 kWatt/kg.

Space Elevator tethers must have extra strength for safety margin and enough strength to do three things

1. add replacement material to handle tether degradation
2. add material to increase the tether’s carrying capacity
3. hold a spare seed ribbon.

The stronger the power system is, the weaker the tether can be and a weaker the power system needs a stronger tether.

The faster your climbers climb then they can get high enough so that gravity weakens so you can launch another significant Climber.

- at 2,624 kilometers in height, a climber is one half of its ground weight
- at 6,400 kilometers in height, a climber is one quarter of its ground weight

The latest tether work is discussed at the 2008 Euro Spaceward Conference

The abstracts from the second day of the 2008 Euro Spaceward Conference are here

Outlook on tethers from the 2008 Euro Spaceward Conference

December 24, 2008

Augmented Intelligence versus Democratization of the Capacity to Tackle the Big Problems

A large increase in the capability of computers to augment our intelligence and productivity is coming but the societal impact will be dwarfed by the increasing democratization of the capability of many more people to have meaningful opportunities to tackle the big problems.

Intelligence and Productivity Enhancement with Computers

1. Besides the basic connection, there is getting the computer and power situation so you can always have the connection on and active. This is more than just having an iphone with you all the time and available to be turned on. There is work on a wearable super-workstation (12 gflops) with headmounted display. First few units will be available in 2009n. They are just assembling and refining some mostly off the shelf pieces.

2. Then there is communication speed to the overall net.

In item 2,3,4 on my review of computers, robotics and communication, I talk about expected wireless speed rollouts as well as expected capabilities of advanced smart phones based on actual goals stated by the mobile phone companies.

42mbps next year (starting in Asia), 100-250mbps soon and on to 1gbps.
Plus local 5 meters or less 5 gbps

3. The interface and software capabilities will probably contineue to lag hardware and communication speed.

4. Darpa has funded synthetic telepathy - send a text message by thinking about it. Let the computer here your inner voice.

There has also been advances with robotic arms and directly hooking up brains to control them.

There is also japanese work where you look at letters and the machines see the letters. Possibly leading to being able to interpret what you see and dream.

There are cheap brain computer interfaces being sold as add-ons for computer games. emotiv (in the company).

Stuff in item 4 is cool but I am not sure how much they really help productivity.

Hearing my inner voice versus voice recognition of my spoken voice versus traditional texting? There is not that much difference in terms of numbers of useful messages that are sent.

I think a bigger factor are falling costs and increasing capabilities of robots, rapid prototyping/manufacturing, lab on a chips and web X.0 and the rising number of angel investors/VCs and independently affluent.

It is increasing affordable for more people and small groups to meaningfully innovate and build major high tech businesses that can advance science and technology.

Note: recent financial situation could slow the trends slightly.

prior article had projected future wealth with current trends indicating about 15,000 billionaires in 2027. This will continue the trend of more flexible funding of new ideas.

In 20 years, expect about 70 million millionaires worldwide. About 20 million in the US. There will be 6000 to 26000 billionaires in 20 years (10% or 17% growth rate). (30-40 years on an inflation adjusted basis).

In China you see this with an upper and lower middle class arising in waves. There is a still smaller wave of really affluent (rich) people.

Mass affluence and the spreading of knowledge of large scale business plans and understanding of what it takes to successfully scale a business is a shift to many people being able to do what they want and create and build and drive large projects.

What in the past would take the backing of a king or queen or later some key wealthy families like the Medici becomes the Elon Musks, Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Craig Ventner, Vinod Khosla, Bigelow, etc... of today.

Or the backer of the Carnary Foundation, Don Listwin, with $30-100 million making a solid run at creating widespread and effective early detection of all cancers by 2015. An achievement that would be on par and probably in some ways superior to the effort of Bill Gates to try to eradicate Malaria.

Over 100,000 people/households with $30 million in assets not including primary residence
About 1 million with $5-30 million in assets.
About 10 million millionaires (1-5 million)

This is like the beginning of the shift from hunter gathers to farmers.
The shift from workers/day jobbers to investor builders.
Suddenly the time and resources and understanding are available to build and convert ideas to effective action. People do not have to keep hunting for work and spending most their days on the day job hunt, they can grow and try to create a scalable new thing/service/technology.

I think the shortage has not been in lacking the intelligence to come up with good ideas it has been the lack of the ability to convert ideas into solutions to more major problems and challenges.

Having competition of many good and well funded ideas to solve each of the problems and challenges of society will enable a great shift to more problems being defeated and the truly best solutions arising from the crucible of real competition to solve things. This would be ultimately be heading towards a solution singularity, where problems get solved nearly as soon as they are identified.

December 23, 2008

General Fusion Video and Pictures

Here is a video showing what General Fusion is doing.

As previously described: if you can get within ten to hundred times the cost of regular power, you would still have huge uses for nuclear fusion. You could revolutionize space travel even if it costs more for nuclear fusion than it does for regular power. You can also combine fusion with fission to make fission clean burning. There are actually several fusion/fission hybrid reactor proposals, but mostly design work.

General Fusion, IEC Bussard Fusion, Tri-alpha energy are all start ups that are shooting for pure fusion that is more economical than current power generation. If they succeed space travel is revolutionized as part of the energy success. If they get close energy would still be revolutionized with fusion/fission, but with redesign to maximize neutrons for the fission blanket.

Popular Science has step by step diagrams of how the sonic waves driven by pistons hitting a metal sphere would drive fusion.

Shockwave already on the way in

As I noted before: M Simon over at IECfusion Tech has come around to thinking it could work, although it will be very tough.

Later version will have 200 big pistons.

General Fusion has $7 million of a $10 million second round raised.

Previous update: General fusion had completed proof of concept experiments and performed full scale computer simulations.

First article by this site on General Fusion's and magnetized target approach

December 21, 2008

George Church s Roadmap to Cheap DNA Production and DNA Nanotechnology

Eric Drexler at Metamodern points out a two page roadmap to low cost DNA production by one of the top people in the field of DNA synthesis, George Church. George lays out a roadmap synthesize DNA material for dollars per kilogram of DNA. This price is about a billion times cheaper than current costs for synthesizing DNA.

George Church notes two key requirements for implementation:

1. Engineering of [more efficient] nucleotide synthesis: We are collaborating with Philippe Marliere on optimizing metabolic pathways to the synthesis of the four dNTPs in vivo.
2. DNA secretion: This is a natural process in some bacteria, could be enhanced to prevent (potentially toxic) levels of DNA in vivo.

DNA be used as electronics.

IBM trying to use DNA to place carbon nanotube grids.

DNA has been used to assemble and glue a 3d structure with millions of 15 nm gold particles.

It is interesting to see how advanced and cheap DNA nanotechnology capabilities could be leveraged to help bring down the cost of the ten million tons of Hall weather machine spheres for earth weather or to help achieve nanofactories.

$10/kg for each kilogram of the 10 million tons of J Storrs Hall weather machine spheres would be $100 billion.

The roughly 40,000 trillion tons of material to capture all of the sun's energy (4 X 10**16 tons) is a less than one of the larger asteroids.

Ceres is about 10**18 tons of material.

Hygiea is carbonaceous (a lot of carbon) and weighs 8 X 10**16 tons.