Energy Bits 1980

The use of shredded paper as an oil blotter, fast-growing popular trees as a crop to produce butanol, and cheese whey to produce alcohol fuel are among the energy news bits covered in this article.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
March/April 1980
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Milbrew, Inc. of Juneau, Wisconsin found a way to turn cheese whey into alcohol fuel.   
PHOTO: FOTOLIA/GABI MOISA


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STRANGE ENERGIES: Using electrodes attached to various surfaces of the human body, UCLA's Dr. Valerie Hunt has recorded spurts of radiation that are beyond the frequencies known to medical science. At the same time, "aura reader" Rosalyn Bruyere — who was isolated from the equipment booth — noted every change in energy levels that the machine recorded.

BIG OIL BLOTTERS: Waste paper, put through a shredder until it's reduced to a fine powder, is reported to be several times more effective than anything else yet devised to remove oil spills. The fiberized paper also gets more efficient each time it's squeezed out and reused, and — after a number of such applications — the "petroleum pulp" can be reprocessed into artificial fireplace logs.

MIGRANT POLLUTION: Some 32 industrial nations have pledged to make every effort to curb the export of air pollutants. However, environmental experts believe the "dirty air" problem will get worse in the coming decade ... as energy shortages increase the use of coal power. (Currently, four million tons of acid rain-causing sulfur dioxide blows into Canada from the U.S. every year.)

CAULK FOR CANCER: It's believed that 10% of all reported cases of lung cancer are caused by "indoor radon" ... which is produced when naturally occurring uranium — in soil, concrete, and brick — decays. Researchers are worried that homeowners who insulate too efficiently may increase their exposure to indoor radon . .. as well as to formaldehyde fumes from foam insulation, plus nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide from pilot lights on stoves, water heaters, etc.

SABOTAGE INFO FOR SALE: A number of government documents, all of which are available to the public, were written to help nuclear plant operators test their security barriers. However, a former NRC safeguard inspector says that a saboteur — using the information contained in the official papers — could break into such an installation, destroy vital equipment, and cause a radioactive release "in as little as 10 minutes."

FOR PEAT'S SAKE! The Soviet Union installed its first peat-fueled electric power station in 1914, and now has 76 peat fuel units. That country also has 228 million of the world's estimated 409 million acres of peat, but the U.S. ranks second with 52 million acres . .. the energy equivalent of 240 billion barrels of oil.

THE 1979 DOUBLESPEAK AWARD from the National Council of Teachers of English went to the nuclear industry, whose Three Mile Island officials created the terms "energetic disassembly" for explosion ... "rapid oxidation" for fire . .. "event" or "normal aberration" for a reactor accident .. . and "infiltration" or "plutonium has taken up residence" for plutonium contamination.

A GOLDEN IDEA! Berkeley professor Otto Smith has proposed that San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge Authority, which spends about $5,000 a month for electricity, mount 51 gigantic "bicycle-wheel" wind turbines to take advantage of the breezes that sweep across the span. Eleven wheels would make the bridge energy self-sufficient, and the other 40 could bring in as much as $160,000 in annual revenues ... at current power rates.

TROJAN TROUBLES: Oregon's Trojan Nuclear Power Plant, the largest in the United States, has long suffered from serious safety problems .. . which are nearly driving Portland General Electric into bankruptcy with shutdowns and curtailed operations. To top that off, 14 employees — all but three of them plant security guards — were arrested for possession and sale of marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, and LSD.

A POPLAR CONCEPT: The University of Pennsylvania's Dr. E. Kendall Pye has developed a fermentation process to convert a new variety of fast-growing poplar tree (it regenerates itself from a stump) into ethanol. The technique can also use such tree crops to produce butanol-lignin, which can be used as a diesel or heating fuel.

LIGHT, POWER, FOOD, & FISH COMPANY: Some farsighted power companies are investigating the possibility of utilizing the water that cools turbines to heat huge vegetable greenhouses. The warm liquid could also be used to stimulate the growth of catfish and trout in utility-owned fish farms. 

SOLAR ACTIVISTS are requested to call others to promote the sun-energy cause during legislative emergencies .... Nobel Prize-winning chemist, Dr. Melvin Calvin, says PLANTS COULD SUPPLY 10% OF OUR PETROLEUM REQUIREMENTS in five years, and notes that more than 1,000 shrubs and trees are potential producers of oil .... After spending $485 million to build two new reactors, Virginia Electric &: Power Company is looking into ways to CONVERT THE UNFINISHED BABCOCK AND WILCOX GENERATORS TO COAL .... Despite the $320 million spent annually to advertise electricity, U.S. voltage consumption increases dropped from the usual 3-7% to A SCANT 0.6% JUMP IN 1979 .... Last year, our tab for imported oil was $65 billion, or — even with the price of gold at $500 an ounce — equivalent to the value of MOST OF THE BULLION IN FORT KNOX .... A RELATIVELY LOW-COST NICKEL-ZINC BATTERY with a very high energy density is undergoing life tests by NASA, and the results look extremely promising . ... Milbrew, Inc. of Juneau, Wisconsin OBTAINS ALCOHOL FUEL FROM CHEESE WHEY, formerly a waste product. (Some 90 pounds of whey are produced for every 100 pounds of cheese.)
 


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