Headlines at 21st Century Tech for July 19, 2013

A range of headlines from different fields caught my eye this week. I hope you find them an interesting read.


  • Researchers Discovering Junk DNA Ain’t Junk;
  • Toilet Power Plants – Pee Power in Your Future;
  • The Skylon Spaceplane Air Breathing Rocket Engine Gets UK Government Funding;
  • New Study Says 1 Celsius Degree Equals 2.3 Meters in Rising Sea Levels;
  • China Plans to Quadruple Installed Solar Power by 2015.


Junk DNA Isn’t

When scientists sequenced the entire human genome a decade ago a good portion of the DNA was described as non-coding. That is the DNA was believed to play no known role in influencing how we humans turned out. That meant 98.5% of our DNA served no useful purpose in the opinion of those in the know at the time. Well, surprise! Those scientists got it wrong. At the time one, John Mattick, of the Garvan Institute, a biomedical research arm of the University of Queensland in Sydney, Australia, bet a cask of red wine with some of his colleagues that at least 20% of human DNA served a purpose.

Well new research from the same group of geneticists is now showing that even Mattick was low balling functional DNA. We now believe that as much as 30% of our DNA plays a role in our health and longevity. I suspect that number will continue to rise as we learn more about the interrelationship among DNA, RNA and proteins.


Useful DNA


What We Put Into Toilets May Soon Power Fuel Cells

The Bristol Robotics Laboratory in the UK is charging mobile phones using urine according to an article entitled Waste to Real Energy: the first MFC powered mobile phone, published in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Journal of Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics. The urine feeds a cascade of microbial fuel cells which then generate enough energy to recharge a cellphone.

Dr. Ioannis Ieropoulos, of the University of West England Bristol states, “So far the microbial fuel power stack that we have developed generates enough power to enable SMS messaging, web browsing and to make a brief phone call. Making a call on a mobile phone takes up the most energy but we will get to the place where we can charge a battery for longer periods.”


Pee Powered Phones


An Air Breathing Rocket Engine Gets the Green Light and Cash from UK Government

I have written about Skylon, the spaceplane and its Sabre engine technology in the past. Designed by Reaction Engines Ltd., a UK company, its dual capability makes it an interesting player in the evolution of Earth to low-Earth-orbit technology. Last fall Reaction announced they had perfected a heat exchanger for the Sabre engine, a critical part in ensuring the spaceplane could take the extreme temperatures associated with flying in both jet and rocket mode.

Still four years away from getting off the ground the technology now has UK Space Agency funding of 60 million Euros and European Space Agency backing to finish construction and testing of the Sabre engine before Skylon makes its first flight.




Potsdam Institute Study Quantifies Rising Sea Levels Based on Atmospheric Warming

The CO2 we emit today will impact sea levels in the coming centuries and now we have an idea of the rise we will see based on a newly published study appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study combines measurements of Earth’s climate history and computer models to determine long-term sea-level values. Over the 20th century average sea levels rose 20 centimeters (approximately 8 inches) and projections through to the end of the current century forecast a less than 2 meter increase (6.5 feet).

Data studied included sediments from the ocean bottom and measurements of raised shorelines from around the world. Five million years of Earth’s history was used to create ice models reflecting changes in the polar regions caused by rising atmospheric temperatures. The conclusions, a global mean temperature rise of 4 Celsius (7.2 Fahrenheit) will receive about half of the contribution of new water from Antarctic continental ice melt. Greenland melting will contribute another 25%.  Sea ice melt will add 20%. Mountain glaciers a mere 5%. The higher levels will persist on a geological time scale, that is, thousands of years.

The image below is of a cabinet meeting held recently by the Government of the Maldive Islands. In the forecast described above those islands will for the most part disappear.




China Announces Aggressive Targets for Installed Solar Power by 2015

China intends to have 35 Gigawatts of installed solar capacity to go along with 100 Gigawatts of grid-connected wind energy by 2015 making the country the largest user of renewable energy on the globe. The government has encouraged the development of the photovoltaic panel industry to the point that prices continue to drop, this year alone by 20%. Now all that manufacturing capacity has not just a foreign but a domestic market as well. With solar capacity increasing by 14% this year alone power generated from photovoltaics will equal the output of 8 nuclear power plants.

China is being just as aggressive with wind power as they are with solar. In 2012 wind generated 2% more power than Chinese nuclear capacity even though nuclear has been growing at a rate of 10% annually since 2007. By 2015 grid-connected wind power plants will reach installed capacity of 100 Gigawatts. And by 2020 China forecasts wind to generate up to 200 Gigawatts.

For a country seen as hooked on coal the push to renewables is China’s best way to lower its carbon footprint and make a contribution to address global warming.




A Postscript

This past week the blog revisited cold fusion, or low-energy nuclear reaction, and witnessed probably the most lively commentary ever received. That’s what I am looking for with all my postings and I hope if you read something here that motivates you to ask a question or comment, you will do so. Once again, thanks for dropping by.

— Len Rosen


Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...


  • Axil

    Half those cold fusion posts that you are so excited about of came from Many Yugo, a provocateur and slanderer most probably paid to pollute the internet by fossil fuel interests.

    • lenrosen4

      I think you are more than equally represented. It is amazing to me how two sides can express such anger when this is a discussion about a technology that, if viable, can alter our energy picture.