The Glucose Economy

hacking-bacteria-fuel-ecoli-670In the long search to find alternatives to fossil fuels and industrial processes that produce tons of waste, several ideas have been forward. These include alternative energy – ranging from solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal – additive manufacturing, and cleaner burning fuels. All of these ideas have begun to bear some serious fruit in recent years thanks to ongoing research and development. But looking to the long term, it is clear that a complete overhaul of our industrial economy is needed.

That’s where more ambitious ideas come to the fore, ideas like nanotechnology, biotechnology, and what’s known as the “Glucose Economy”. Coined by Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning Chinese-American physicist who also had the honor of serving as the 12th Secretary of Energy under Barack Obama, this concept calls for the development of an economic model that would replace oil with high-glucose alternative fuels.

110302_steven_chu_ap_328Chu conceived of the idea while working as a professor of physics and molecular and cellular biology at the University of California, Berkeley. In short, the plan calls for fast-growing crops to be planted in the tropics – where sunlight is abundant – converted into glucose (of which cellulose, which makes up much of the dry weight of a plant, is a polymer). The resulting glucose and cellulose would then be shipped around much as oil is today, for eventual conversion into biofuels and bioplastics.

As expected, this would render the current system of converting oil into gasoline and plastics – a process which produces immense amounts of carbon dioxide through processing and burning – obsolete. By comparison, glucose fuels would burn clean and produce very little in the way of chemical by-products, and bioplastics would be far more resilient and eco-friendly than regular plastics, and not just because they won’t cause a terrible disposal and waste problem (see Garbage Island).

David-Benjamin-and-the-future-of-architecture-01Another benefit of the this new model is the economic development it will bring to the tropical regions of the world. As far as production is concerned, those regions that stand to benefit the most are Sub-Saharan Africa, Central and South America, and South-East Asia. These regions are already seeing significant economic growth, and a shift like this would ensure their continued growth and development (not to mention improved quality of life) for many generations  to come.

But above and beyond all that is the revolutionary potential that exists for design and manufacturing, with architects relying on specially-designed software to create multi-material objects fashioned in part from biomass. This unique combination of biological processes, computer-assisted design (CAD), and human intelligence is looking to trigger a revolution in manufacturing and construction, with everyday materials to buildings created from eco-friendly, structurally sound, biomaterials.

bio-buildingOne such architect is David Benjamin, a computational architect and principal of the New York-based practice The Living. Together with his collaborators, Benjamin is conducting experiments with plant cells, the latest of which is the production of xylem cells – long hollow tubes plants use to transport water. These are computer modeled and grown in a Cambridge University lab and studied to create materials that combine the desired properties of different types of bacteria.

In addition, they are working with sheets of calcium and cellulose, seeking to create structures that will be strong, flexible, and filigreed. And beyond The Living Thing, there are also initiatives like the Living Foundries Program, a Department of Defense initiative that is hoping to hasten the developmental process and create an emergent bio-industry that would create “on-demand” production.

1394231762-re-making-manufacturing-united-statesNot only would this shave decades off the development process, but also hundreds of millions of dollars. What’s more, Benjamin claims it could take only 8 to 10 years to see this type of biotechnology enter commercial production. Naturally, there are those who oppose the development of a “glucose economy” as advocated by Chu. Beyond the proponents of fossil fuel energy, there are also those advocate nationally self-sufficient resources bases, rather than foreign dependence.

To these critics, the aim of a future economy should be energy independence. In their view, the glucose economy is flawed in that it merely shifts energy dependence of nations like the US from the Middle East and OPEC to the tropics, which could create a whole new slew of geopolitical problems. However, one cannot deny that as alternatives go, Chu’s proposal is far preferable to the current post-peak oil model of frakking, tar sands, natural gas, and coal.

bio-building1And it also offers some new and exciting possibilities for the future, where building processes like additive manufacturing (which is already making inroads into the construction industry with anti-gravity 3D printing, and the KamerMaker House) would be supplemented by using “biohacked” bacteria to grow structures. These structures would in turn be composed of resilient materials such as cellulose and organic minerals, or possibly carbon nanotubes that are assembled by organic processes.

And the amount of money, waste, energy and lives saved would be immense, as construction is currently one of the most dangerous and inefficient industries on the planet. In terms of on the job accidents, it causes some 10,000 deaths and 400,000 injuries a year in the US alone. And in terms of resource allocation and money, construction is labor intensive, produces tons of waste, and is almost always over budget.

hacking-bacteria-bio-light-670Compared to all that, a system the utilizes environmentally-friendly molecules and materials, enhances growing operations, fostered greater development and economic cooperation, and leads to a safer, cheaper, less wasteful construction industry seems immensely preferable. And it does offer a solution of what to do about two major industries that are ailing and in desperate need of modernization.

Boy, it feels like a long time since i’ve done a conceptual post, and the topics do appear to be getting more and more serious. Can anyone recall when I used to do posts about Cool Ships and Cool Guns? Yeah, me too, vaguely. Somehow, stuff like that seems like a far cry from the Internet of Things, Interstellar Travel, O’Neill Cylinders, Space Elevators, and timelines of the future. I guess this little blog of mine has been growing up in recent years, huh?

Stay tuned for more conceptual posts, hopefully something a little lighter and fluffier next time 😉

Sources: inhabitat.com, aspenideas.org, tampabay.com

Cool Guns (vol.3)

ARASKANA HLR-12x:
Finally, I’ve found it! After much searching and digging, I finally found my way to the lasergun from the Akira movie. And I got to say, between anime, live action, and the gaming world, this weapon is about the most realistic take on a lasergun I’ve yet to see. Used initially by military forces in Neo-Tokyo to stop Tetsuo (unsuccessfully, I might add), the protagonist Kaneda would later use one as his personal weapon.

Powered by a portable battery pack, this weapon would fire a lancing beam of focused energy at its targets. In addition to being able to cut through metal and concrete, it was also capable of hewing off limbs. And it did too! Seriously, that scene where the army opens fire on the mob, ick and whoa in equal parts!

EM-1 Railgun:
Even thought I didn’t think the movie was that hot, these guns did inspired to learn more about coilguns, gauss rifles and EM technology. Known as the EM-1, this weapon was a prototype railgun that was featured in the movie Eraser. Basically, it was this advanced technology that set up the plot, and provided Arny with an excuse to do some Terminator-style double firing!

Running on the concept of a coilgun, the EM-1 would use a super-charged magnetic tube to accelerate a caseless slug to hypersonic velocities. This gave it incredible punch as well as range, and could eviscerate man, machine and solid matter with ease. An x-ray scope was also attached to let the gunner see through solid objects, which was handy considering that this weapon was designed to punch through obstacles and kill whatever was on the other side.

Guitar Case Rocket Launcher:
Here’s a movie I never expect to take anything from. Desperado, the Mexican western-style shoot-em-up directed by Robert Rodriquez, featured a lot of cool guns. But in the end, I’d have to say the coolest were the ones sported by his band members, which came embedded in their guitar cases. Where one man relied on cases that had built-in automatic weapons, the other fired rockets out the front!

I’ve looked it up and can’t find any info on how they rigged this case to do this. Probably just a launch tube and some fire crackers. But it was still pretty cool, and not entirely ludicrous either. Assuming you don’t mind ruining a few guitar cases, this weapon would probably make a great conversation piece and its owner a hit at parties!

Joshua:
Ah, my favorite of the bunch! Known as Joshua, this BFG is named in honor of the Hebrew warrior who led the Israelites to victory over the Caananites, in brutal, genocidal fashion! It’s essentially a massive long slide, chambered for the mighty .454 Casull round which is used primarily for hunting wild game. BIG wild game!

In Alucard’s case, the gun was also fitted with silver-tipped bullets for hunting vampires and demons. So in addition to packing a massive punch, it could also turn the undead into ash with a single blast. And of course, Alucard’s super-human strength gave him the ability to endure the weapon’s massive kickback!
Jackal:
What do you know, it’s two for one day! Here we have Alucard’s second gun of choice, known as the Jackal. Officially, it’s known as the ARMS 13mm (.51 cal.) Anti-freak pistol, and in many ways represented a step-up from the earlier Joshua. Also produced by Walter, the Hellsing organization’s own gunsmith, this weapon was made in response to Alucard’s request for something “bigger”.

And that’s precisely what he got! In addition to having less kickback than its predecessor and firing spent casing to the left (so as not to obscure Alucard’s view of the target), this gun also fired 13mm (.51 cal) bullets and came in a sleek, black gunmetal design. In addition, it also had the words “Jesus Christ is in heaven” scrawled on the side, no doubt a comical reference to the man Alucard intended to use it on!

Leonhearts Gunblade:
Is it a gun, it is a blade? Well… yes. The property of Squall Leonheart, from Final Fantasy VIII, this weapon is basically a stainless steel broadsword with an inset .44 magnum revolver. Firing this gun off in the midst of a sword fight not only has the potential to punch a big hole in the enemy, it also produces a wild vibration in the blade that makes it cut even better.

Much like Cloud’s Blade from FF VII, it is heavily oversize, though not as much. Though even the designer claimed that it had an “odd appearance” in hindsight, and the configuration makes it look a little unwieldy, you can’t deny that its pretty damn cool!

Prosthetic Leg Gun:
Now here’s a novel take on both movie guns and prosthetics! Taken from the movie Planet Terror, is essentially a Bushmaster Carbine with the addition of an M203A1 grenade launcher.

This gun made its appearance when the character Wray gives Cherry Darling (played by Rose McGowan) the assault rifle grenade launcher combination as a replacement for her prosthetic leg. She put it to good use, alternately kicking and blowing bad guys away with it!

Pauza P50:

The Robocop franchise was nothing if not good at popularizing cool guns! And this one was no exception. Known as the P50, this .50 cal semi-automatic sniper rifle was featured repeatedly throughout the film. Intended as a shout out to the “Cobra Assault Rifle” from the first movie, this weapon had the same things going for it, namely explosive, punchy firepower!

It’s first appearance was during the robbery of the gun store at the beginning. It later appeared in the hands of some of Cain’s thugs who used it to blow Robocop’s hand off during his initial confrontation with the crime boss. It was then used by those same thugs later on Robocain himself. Robocop then confiscated it and used it against Robocain during their final confrontation. With one clean hit, he managed to destroy Cain’s autocannon’s with this baby. Always great when accuracy and firepower come together!

The Samaritan:
Named in honor of the fact that it puts monsters out of their misery, Hellboy named this one “The Samaritan”. Although the caliber is not listed, the bullets appear to be at least one inch (25mm or 1.00 cal) in diameter, glass tipped, and filled with holy water.

In addition, the construction of the gun is heavily consistent with the name. The metal is forged from a combination of Irish church bells, cold iron from crucifixes, blessed silver, and other mystic metals. The handle wood of the grips is believed to be that of the cross of which Jesus Christ was crucified on. Holy religiosity Batman!

It weighs ten pounds, making it double effective as an impact hammer. And of course, the size of the gun also gives it a kickback which would be capable of breaking a regular man’s hand off. Hence, nobody but Hellboy even takes it out for an evening of monster killing!

Wow, a third installment! Did NOT see that one coming. And I’m really trying to get off this guns and robots kick, I swear! I’ll be back tomorrow with something else… maybe!