Friday, March 14, 2008

Not A Total Loss

Well, it would appear that my alma mater can't play basketball, but we can do some other pretty cool stuff.

I got an email from the university recently that had a very cool article about a process that NC State has developed that makes it possible to turn any fat into any type of fuel. You read that right. You can turn lard into jet fuel.

Sound like alchemy? Maybe, but I am interested!

Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a fuel refining process that could revolutionize America's energy industry. But not everything will change. You'll still fill up your car with gasoline, use propane for your barbecue grill and reach your favorite vacation spot in an airliner powered by jet fuel.

The revolution will happen at the molecular level. Simply put, NC State researchers have developed a process that enables them to take virtually any fat source and chemically alter it so that it looks, acts and burns just like petroleum-based fuel.

"The process is flexible enough that we can make any fuel we want," says Dr. Bill Roberts, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. "By changing the catalyst, temperature and pressure over time, we can make gasoline, diesel, heating oil, and even jet fuel."

It's not magic, Roberts says, it's chemistry.

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That's what I want to see - my university sticking it to the man.

Of course this won't solve global warming... because it really isn't a problem. Global warming is a hoax perpetrated on us to line the pockets of a few unscrupulous folks. (But that is a rant for another post.) Unfortunately, it also won't solve the air quality issues that we have from petroleum-based propulsion. Perhaps the university can tackle that one next. I am just glad to see someone coming up with an alternative fuel source to the oil companies.

Another new development from my alma mater is the creation of fabrics that actually kill viruses.

Michielsen, a chemist by trade and an associate professor of textiles technology in the College of Textiles at North Carolina State University, was working at DuPont in the mid-1990s when he developed a better way to grease the skids for carpet fibers spinning through machinery at 350 mph. Manufacturers typically soaked the fibers with lubricants that they later washed off. But that meant flushing about 500 million pounds of lubricants into the nation's water system every year. Michielsen found that he could chemically bond a five-nanometer layer of lubricant to the fibers so they could glide through the spinning machinery and wouldn't need a wash later.

DuPont never adopted the technology – Michielsen says the nanocoating attracts other grease, so carpets dull quickly – but he began experimenting to see how other surface properties of fibers could be affected by nanocoatings.

"We could use a number of physical properties of fiber surfaces both to address a commercial problem and learn more about the underlying science," he says, ticking off a list that includes friction, surface tension, adhesion, and electrostatic charge.

The biggest success to date has come by adding anti-microbial agents developed at Emory University to his coating. The combination was initially expected to defeat odors in carpets and clothing, but tests show the light-activated agents work better against viruses than bacteria.

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This stuff is cool. I kind of wish I hadn't been a Liberal Arts major now! Stuff like this would have been really interesting to develop.

So, while you other schools are out there developing your hoops skills, my university is excelling at things that really matter. I don't care about basketball anyway! So there!


Wade Huntsinger said...

You know where we are is about 10 minutes from Clemson. I always like NC STATE, mainly cause of their Agriculture program years ago, and football. It's good to have both I guess.

Jonathan said...

I knew there was something about you I liked!