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Could a hyperactive hamster power your house?
Mick O'Hare (ed), Daily Mail
All the answers to the world's most pointless questions...
They're those baffling questions that pop into the brain when you've nothing better to think about, and only the appliance of a large helping of science can answer. Now a new book by the experts at New Scientist magazine solves some of the most intriguing queries sent in by readers...
... Q: Could hamsters be the answer to the energy crisis? How many hamsters running on wheels would it take to provide enough power for a house?
A: Let's assume a hamster weighing 50 grams can run up a 30-degree slope at two metres per second. This corresponds to a power output of half a watt. If it delivers the same power when running on a hamster wheel, you would need 120 hamsters working flat out to keep a 60-watt bulb lit.
But the average hamster probably doesn't spend more than 5 per cent of its life running on its wheel, so already we would need a rotating brigade of 2,400 hamsters just to light our bulb.
It gets worse. The average UK household needs a constant power consumption of about 2.5 kilowatts, some 2,500 watts. Each house would need 100,000 hamsters to keep it powered. Multiply this by the number of households in the UK and we would have an environmental and economic disaster. Lucky we don't rely on hamsters, then
• Do Polar Bears Get Lonely? edited by Mick O'Hare is published by Profile Books at £7.99.
(30 October 2008)
Found by the indefatigable Leanan of The Oil Drum (DrumBeat Nov 25). -BA
Problems Plague U.S. Flex-Fuel Fleet
Kimberly Kindy and Dan Keating, Washington Post
Most Government-Bought Vehicles Still Use Standard Gas
The federal government has invested billions of dollars over the past 16 years, building a fleet of 112,000 alternative-fuel vehicles to serve as a model for a national movement away from fossil fuels.
But the costly effort to put more workers into vehicles powered by ethanol and other fuel alternatives has been fraught with problems, many of them caused by buying vehicles before fuel stations were in place to support them, a Washington Post analysis of federal records shows.
"I call it the 'Field of Dreams' plan. If you buy them, they will come," said Wayne Corey, vehicle operations manager with the U.S. Postal Service. "It hasn't happened."
(23 November 2008)
Commentary from Greenbang: Federal flex fuel fleet fiasco.
Fuel from food? The feast is over
Arthur Max, Associated Press via Seattle Times
In future years we may look back at the Great Mexican Tortilla Crisis of 2006 as the time when ethanol lost its vroom.
Right or wrong, that was when blame firmly settled on biofuels for the surge in food prices. The diversion of American corn from flour to fuel put the flat corn bread out of reach for Mexico's poorest.
Two years later, the search is on for ways to keep corn on the table rather than in the gas tank. Moving away from food crops, the biofuel of the future may come from the tall grass growing wild by the roadside, from grain stalks left behind by the harvest, and from garbage dumps and dinner table scraps.
(23 November 2008)
Solar towers will harness sunshine of southern Spain
Alok Jha, Guardian
In the desert of southern Spain, 20 miles outside Seville, more than 1,000 mirrors are being carefully positioned. Each is about half the size of a tennis court, so the adjustments will take time. But when they are complete in a few weeks, it will mark a major moment in the quest for renewable energy.
The mirrors are part of the world's biggest solar tower plant, a technology that reflects sunlight to superheat water at a central tower. Once this €80m (£67m) plant is inaugurated in January, it will generate 20MW of electricity, enough to power 11,000 Spanish homes.
Concentrated solar power (CSP) technology, as it is known, is seen by many as a simpler, cheaper and more efficient way to harness the sun's energy than other methods such as photovoltaic (PV) panels. But CSP only works in places with clear skies and strong sunshine.
(24 November 2008)