Rocket City Rednecks

I discovered this show by reading one of Travis Talyor’s non-fiction books, A New American Space Plan.   While this post is about the TV show, pick up this book as well.  It’s a well laid out case of why American should be serious about getting into space again and how to do it.

Also take the time to watch the show, Rocket City Rednecks, either by streaming or on optical disk.   This show is about five self-identified Rednecks from Huntsville, AL, two of which are actual rocket scientists from NASA who actually build working gear.  Really cool gear that works.  OK, it works most of the time, but even when they fail, they learn from their mistakes so then can do it better the next time.  That is really one of the important lessons.  It’s OK to fail, as long as you learn from it.   Most of the gear is built in Travis’ father’s garage.   Charles Travis is a retired NASA machinist who worked on the Apollo program, and one of the five Rednecks who star in the show.

I’ve watched about a third of the first season so far, and they have built some really nifty gear so far.  These include a still in order to build a moonshine fueled rocket, the actual rocket, a balloon based observation platform, a working submarine, a radio telescope array using 18″ satellite dishes, under vehicle armor capable of withstanding an IED blast (they drove the pickup truck away afterwards), and a working “Iron Man” suit, that had armor capable of  stopping 9mm handgun rounds, lifting over 100 pounds with a single arm and fired rockets!

Just to add to the overall coolness of this, most of their projects are done over a single weekend with a budget of about $1000.  Keep in mind that three of these Rednecks are current or former NASA employees.  The two active ones have eight advanced degrees in science between them (Travis has five post-graduate degrees.  For those of you who know me, yes, that is one more than Amy currently has).  Rog (Rednect #4) doesn’t have any advanced degrees, but he does have a genius level IQ, and Michael (Travis’ nephew) is mechanically inclined and studying to be a machinist.   Still, if you know basic work working, basic welding, how to solder two wire together, and some basic programming, you and your friends could try some of this stuff.

Which is kinda the whole idea of the show.  To get kids off the XBox and out there building go carts, rockets, radio sets and other cool gear.

This is the kind of show my dad would have loved.  He was 22 year veteran of the Army Corps of Engineers, and would have been out teaching kids how to to build the things the Rednecks are building.

Advertisements

Ford Fusion Hybrid

Ford has had a hybrid SUV, but it never has done very well sales wise for a variety of reasons.

They are trying again, but this time they seem to have done a bit better.  Their hybrid version of their popular Fusion seden has been tested against other hybrids twice and so far has come out on top.  

US Today and Car and Driver magazine both gave it top marks against domestic & foreign hybrids, including the Pirus.

US Today got to where the rubber meets the road, “OK, let’s just get it out there: The 2010 Ford Fusion hybrid is the best gasoline-electric hybrid yet. What makes it best is a top-drawer blend of an already very good midsize sedan with the industry’s smoothest, best-integrated gas-electric power system. It’s so well-done that you have to look to the $107,000Lexus LS 600h hybrid to come close.”  Bottom line, it just drives better than the Pirus.  Car and Driver says it’s “fun to drive.”

Kudos to Ford!

Biofuel from Coffee grounds

Amazing stuff coffee. In addtion to it’s other amazing properties, including being good for the roses, the grounds can be used to produce biofuel.

The estimates are the coffee ground biodiesel industry could generate as much as $8,000,000 in profits annually using waste from Starbucks stores here in the United States  alone.  Ok, probably less given falling crude oil prices, but I’m still a big fan of any domestic fuel souces. 

To add to the overall awesomeness of coffee, at the end of the biodiesel extraction and conversion process, the leftover grounds can be turned into fuel pellets for wood stoves and boilers.

Not only does coffee keep you moving, it can keep your car moving and heats your home!

Green Crude

Sapphire Energy, a San Diego based startup, has a process they claim can produce 91octane gasoline from “algae microorganisms, salt water, carbon dioxide and the power of the sun.”

The interesting twist to their technology is that method doesn’t use a plant that people typically use for food (like corn, sugarcane or sugar beats).  So not only doesn’t this solution use food products, it doesn’t require actual farm land (i.e. land used to grow food) to produce the fuel. 

Sapphire claims that they can set up a production facility in the desert.  The steady sunlight is an important factor in their production, and the salt water can be shipped in.

Their stated goal is to product 10,000 barrels a day, which in the national economy isn’t that much.  It is however, 10,000 barrels a day that isn’t pumped out of the ground, and will be produced domestically.

Hydrocarbon biofuels

The MIT Tech Review has a story about a new process for turning plant sugars into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.

Another interesting aspect of this story that the byproducts of the process can be used to create other industrial chemicals and plastics.  This further reduces independence on fossil based oil products.

The process under development will “employ chemical reactions instead of microbial fermentation. They use catalysts at high temperatures to convert glucose into hydrocarbon biofuels. The process works thousands of times faster than microbes do because of the higher temperatures, so it requires smaller, cheaper reactors, Dumesic says. The catalysts and reformer systems that they use are similar to those used in oil refineries, which would also make the process simpler.”

Simple is good.

Home brewed fuel

This is a post I made back in June on another one of my blogs.

The Times of London has a story on a California based company that is working on bio-tech produced oil, that should be “carbon negative” to produce. 

These slightly modified industrial yeast cells take in biomass, such as wheat straw or wood chips, and “excrete a substance that is almost pump-ready.”

There are still issues on how this can scale up to industrial levels, but even a lot of small plants can produce fuel to allow a city to run its municipal vehicles (police cars, fire trucks, and other emergency vehicles) without worrying about the rising market price of foreign oil breaking their budget.

Just bringing a few of these plants online should cause the market price to respond in a downward manner. The start of construction of the plants would probably have that effect.

The fact that uses modified yeast lead me to thinking about home brewing. If this process can be made as simple as brewing beer, then home brewing gas can’t be far away. Say that you could brew 20 galleons of gas in your basement a month. That’s a tank of gas. So, imagine if 20 or 30 million car owners bought one less tank of gas a week. Call it 25 million, 20 galleons a pop, so that’s 500 million galleons of gas a month that isn’t be imported or pumped from an area that environmentalists don’t want oil drilling. At the current average pump price of $4.09 a galleon, that over $2 Billion that isn’t going to “Big Oil” or Middle East dictators.