Thursday, August 19, 2010

Concerning ARPA-E

In the New York Times, Matthew L. Wald wrote:

A lot of problems could be solved with a renewable replacement for oil-based gasoline and diesel in the fuel tank -- either a new liquid fuel or a much better battery.

Yet, success in this field is so hard to reliably predict that research has been limited, and even venture capitalists tread lightly. Now the federal government is plunging in, in what the energy secretary, Steven Chu, calls the hunt for miracles.

The work is part of the mission of the new Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy [ARPA-E], which is intended to finance high-risk, high-reward projects. It can be compared to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the Pentagon, which spread seed money for projects and incubated a variety of useful technologies, including the Internet.

The goal of this agency, whose budget is $400 million for two years, is to realize profound results -- such as tens of millions of motor vehicles that would run 300 miles a day on electricity from clean sources or on liquid fuels from trees and garbage.

Of biofuels:

Take Michael Raab, whose start-up, Agrivida, in Medford, Mass., is tinkering with the genes of grass and sorghum to develop plants that make the enzymes internally and digest their own cellulose on cue, leaving behind a murky brown concoction of sugars that can be converted into gasoline, diesel or jet fuel.

Deep inside their cells, his plants produce a smooth, nonreactive molecule, but when the plant is exposed to heat and a change in acidity, the molecule breaks open, like a beer bottle smashed against the bar. The jagged edges are enzymes. They rip apart cell walls and leave fragments that are useful sugars.

**For those who cannot read the quote in the picture, it is from Martin Luther King in 1967 and includes the words:

"tomorrow is today"


"there is such a thing as being too late"

Specifically, the speech is Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence given on April 4, 1967, and the full paragraph is

We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The "tide in the affairs of men" does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out deperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on..." We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.


"He has not deeply perceived that serious truth which runs through all human life, that there is such a thing as being too late." Harry Emerson Fosdick, Procrastination, 1925.

“Procrastination is the thief of time.” - Edward Young (1683-1765)

from the Economist: In Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech, he coined the phrase "the fierce urgency of now" to express the imperative of refusing to wait for equal rights. [ We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. ]

From a Speech by Secretary Chu, June 12, 2009:

One of the cruelest ironies about climate change is that the ones who will be hurt the most by are the most innocent: the worlds poorest and those yet to be born. A quote taken from Martin Luther King when he spoke of ending the war in Vietnam in 1967 seems so fitting for today's climate crisis:

"This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man ..We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late."


In 1909, Fritz Haber demonstrated the catalytic synthesis of ammonia from air and hydrogen, a path unsuccessfully pursued by two distinguished chemists and future Nobel Prize winners, Walther Nerst and Wilhelm Ostwald. For this achievement, Haber was awarded the 1918 Noble Prize for Chemistry. The production of fertilizer was considered so important that the industrialization of ammonia synthesis was recognized by a second Nobel Prize to Carl Bosch in 1931.


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