Alcohol fuels have a long lineage. For example they have been cropping up as substitutes for, or additives to, gasoline motor fuels throughout the history of the automobile. Some senior readers may remember the ‘gasohol’ mixture that was a publicised blend some time last century. In those days Brazil, a big sugar producer, decided to espouse ethanol (an alcohol by-product of sugar cane farming) as a national speciality. The home market of course had a duty to use it but an export market was dreamt of, as were applications beyond wheeled transport.

Contemporary transports of biofuel enthusiasm reach out beyond sugar cane to corn and other produce but Brazil naturally stays loyal to its native crops. You may share my interest and surprise, therefore, at certain news from the selfsame country, the one that gives its initial to the acronymic name of the bloc used on our contents page for an MPS family member.

For Brazil itself was recently reported to be importing ethanol in ‘soaring’ quantities from the USA, where its producers derive it from corn. Apparently Brazilian demand just climbed above Brazilian output. Perhaps the new cellulosic technology I mentioned last month will restore the situation.

Down with global warming

A UK newspaper, the London Evening Standard, has reported a refreshing advance in ‘carbon footprint’ reduction. Thames Water, a British utility, is supplying the capital city’s bars and restaurants with ‘top quality’ carbonated drinking water from taps or faucets, to the delight of customers who prefer the fizz but have hitherto had no choice beyond the bottled stuff. The effervescent water now on offer is not only cheaper but, we are told, is a product ’emitting 300 times less CO2 to process than the bottled alternative’.

To the best of my knowledge, however, there is not yet available, in London or elsewhere, such a predictable outcome of modern power system r&d as a pocket-size CCS pick-up device for exhaled carbon dioxide (backpack apparatus might be deemed too inconvenient for even conscientious British breathers). Perhaps marketward progress is also being hampered by tricky sequestration technology.

Oh, Mother!

A sparring partner of mine has rebuked me for indulging in ‘superstitious anthropomorphism’ by referring in June’s issue to Mother Nature’s seismic self-assertiveness in Japan. Anthropomorphic imagery can, I admit, lead one astray, even when used conventionally for dramatic effect. Should I say sorry?

A UK national newspaper, The Guardian, has carried a report that I suggest is relevant here. Published a few weeks after the dreadful seismo-tsunamic event, the report was headlined ‘Mother Earth earns human rights under new Bolivian law’. Bolivia, the writer told us, intended to ‘establish’ new rights for nature. These included the rights to life, existence, continuance in vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; rights to pure water and clean air and not to be polluted; and the right not to have cellular structures modified or genetically altered.

As further reported in the Guardian writer’s account, Bolivia’s vice-president proclaimed, of the forthcoming legislation, that it would make world history: ‘Earth is the mother of all’.

In my submission Mother Nature looks after herself. Speaking anthropomorphically, for dramatic effect, I still say she’s boss. Natural (ie scientific) ‘laws’ overrule legislators’ enactments.

I rest my case. Without apology.

Muse for a moment

Alessandro Volta and André-Marie Ampère are in our history books for their contributions to electrical science and engineering. Their names have been well memorialised in the measuring units – volts and amps (or amperes) – as I need hardly say. But now they have won new glory. They have inspired the branding of two electric automobiles by General Motors of the USA. Both cars are to basically the same technical design.

One, the Chevrolet Volt, is apparently taking pride of place in the home market, where Chevrolet is a well-known marque. The other is seemingly to be delegated to oversea subsidiaries of GM and called the Ampera. Trying to guess a rationale for this tagging is likely to be more thrilling than seeking an official answer. Give it a go.