Monday, September 20, 2010

Cellulosic Starch. - biotechnology challenge.

Cellulosic Starch would be the one technology that would go further to feeding the next three billion people than any other biotechnology. There is as far as I know no work being done on it.
The key is to take the same cellulose breaking enzymes that turn straw into sugar for ethanol production and use them to make food grade glucose most of which would then be made into starch with another enzyme.
We can grow grass, straw and jungle leaves from the high Arctic to the deserts and on to the equator. We can grow much more cellulose than grain in the same field. Planting and harvest is closer together and the crop of grass can be perennial.
The cellular processes that turn glucose into starch is not yet fully understood. We need to identify the key cellular processes in edible plants, publicise the need so private, commercial or charitable funding can be found.
A team needs to be created.
The final desirable product would be a machine sized for a first world farm or third world village that can do the following steps.
  • Pre test the plant matter for toxic contamination. This may include a slow conveyor that allows the plant matter to be visually checked for obvious contamination dirt, plants and animal material. 
  • Mill and break down the cellulose into glucose or sucrose in sterile water through the action of the enzyme.
  • Sterilise or filter out the enzyme. 
  • Filter-out any non digested cellulose, lignite, plant oils and other extraneous non sugars.
  • Possibly, concentrate the sugars recycling the water. 
  • Synthesise edible starch from the sugars. Perhaps using a naked enzyme or an engineered glucose feeding starch cell culture. 
  • Remove the enzyme or plant hormones that make that work. 
  • Dry and package in a storable form. 
  • Test for contaminants, spoiling or other problems. This should be concurrent with each step. 
  • Regenerate waters filters, testing gear, etc.
  • Produce more bulk enzyme and plant hormone or plant starch cell cultures. 
We should ensure that the taste is not influenced much by the taste of the feed stock. A bland flavourless starch is best. Some of the glucose can be retained for sweetening. Some can be used with other value added cell cultures to produce proteins such as gluten, lysine, Guanine, etc. These would need to be carefully labelled since some people can't eat gluten.

If we can make such a technology then we can harvest grasses and other fast growing plants and turn that into starch. Then using a mix of the raw plant material and the starch we can feed livestock for protein: eggs, milk and meat.
Because hay and straw can be stored for months and years; areas with short growing season and long droughts can feed many more people.

Ideally the technology should be cheap enough to sell in the third world. Financing arrangements would be needed for both the research phase, the third world deployment phase and the follow up maintenance phases.

While the starch will compete with normal starch crops it will augment their availability not replace them. As world population grows those industrial applications for bulk starch will switch from food grade starch to cellulosic starch freeing up more edible starch. Food grade cellulosic starch would fend off famine in the developing world. There are ethics questions to be asked and they should be asked early but I can't see how a categorical no would make sense.
It wont solve all humanities problems but it will feed many people.

Up Date: Someone's cracked it.
Brilliant. Percival Zhang and his team managed to do it in a single step enzymatic process.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Game changers in war. The technology of free market defence.

Minute man 2020. Game changers.
Robert Murphy has looked at free market defence.
It can be argued that a free market system guided by the profit and loss system would make use of a slightly different set of weapons.
Some weapons that a libertarian society might prefer can be predicted. Nuclear weapons are out; cheap weapons that save lives even enemy lives are in. Weapons that minimise property damage make better sense than bombs.
Here's 25 links and some notes. Note this technology is not in the Bob's book its the logical choice of a private defence entity. 

Infantry - Armour, ballistic shields for the light infantry. Some solutions are simple.
One company is designing a ballistic apron but will soldiers wear it if they look like a butcher? This ones for factory workers but its the same technology.
For the elite specialists.
The biggest factor will be at the building design level. If a society takes on the challenge of defending its self rather than leaving it to the government they will build different kinds of buildings. A common feature of Israeli housing developments since the katyusha rocket attacks of the second Lebanon war (2006) has been to build bunkers in housing complexes.   

Gear and supply's too heavy? Try a pair of robot legs.
or 4 robot legs. Big dog.
or errr just watch this after the one above. I couldn't resist neither could the researchers.

Intel is essential, particularly in urban warfare. Thrown cameras help. The Israelis are way a head on this stuff. Micro drones may supersede these. A soldier could carry several of either.

Or send in this little fellow. One version has a gun.

Want to fight at lower risk.
Corner shot. Now being used yet still new. This will save many civilians who get caught up in a fight and get hit because an exposed fighter can't risk a second glance.

In an ambush context this will take them down without killing them.

For the heavy hit.
Sniper bus rounds. A grenade launcher with the range of a sniper rifle.

If all else fails send this guy in. Its only CGI but all the hardware exists except power supply.

Armoured corps – Tanks are useful for retaking territory the enemy has taken and for defending open farmland, desert and plains. Fixed defences are sitting ducks in the GPS age.
The future light tank will be armed with sensor drones to check for mines and ambush ahead. It will fire smaller calibre but more versatile rounds. It may deploy ground robots as it main weapon system rather than a turret or APC infantry. It will be expensive but we will only need a few not thousands. Air-mobility will still matter. The enemy will try to cut units off.
However a free market society may not want to telegraph its punches or attract the ire of foes by deploying a tank. It may use something like the Rhino Runner. With digital ink advertising and a little cheap camouflage this could drive past you and you would not know it was an armoured vehicle.
Yet this could carry dozens of troops, robots, or an entire swarm drone command centre and drones. A truck version would look like a civilian truck.

Robotic cars are also off the drawing board and may be 3 to 6 years away. In an emergency these robot taxi's could be sent in to rescue people where a driver may fear to go. They can deliver supplies or could be sent in to create an automated traffic jam around the enemies convoy.
or this Wikipedia page, Its a little out of date.

Militia air-force and intelligence. -
Coffee cup sized flying Swarm robots. These gather intelligence and can hunt down foes. Their down playing the attack function in the video. It can be lethal or non lethal. A swarm of 30 could take down a squad of infantry in seconds. This scares even governments because at $200 a robot, half the population of a free city or enclave could own one. By 2020 the sophisticated communications technology to control these at long range will be in civilian hands. New power systems means they will be silent unlike the whining toys of today.
One prototype.

If you need more hiting power.

Getting gear where its needed.

Have a coast line or sea stead to protect? 10 of these can cover 50 miles of coast for the cost of a patrol boat. Add some micro drones and they can inspect vessels.

Robotic submersibles loitering on the coast provides underwater coverage. Set them up with a sea bed charging station or battery swap system for long endurance. Neptune Canada is a seabed sensor network with a robot sub based on the sea bed. Its for oceanographic studies but the technology could be adapted to "own the sea".

Most of the strife of naval war is about getting cargo and fuel in and out through blockades. Cargo-submarines has always been a good answer but for some reason never used by the good guys.
What they can't see they can't stop. Ports need camouflaged sub pens.

All of these systems are an order of magnitude cheaper than the alternatives. They are all force multipliers and reduce casualties and soldier training requirements. You don't have to be fit to control a drone from your lounge, office or bomb shelter. Because of communications and intelligence limitations they favour defensive operations. Yet in combination some can deliver a strategic strike capability (non nuclear) where needed.