Effects of the economic stimulus on battery manufacturing, sweet potatoes in space

Saturday, February 21, 2009

This is apparently what a sweet potato flower looks like.

Two quick articles that are worth noting:

This one from Technology Review says that now there is a chance for a market for advanced batteries to develop in the United States since the stimulus package has been approved and signed:

Now, with the push to rely more on renewable energy and less on fossil fuels, a market for advanced batteries is starting to develop in the United States. This, combined with incentive for manufacturers in the United States, could allow an advanced battery industry to develop in this country. But many experts say that serious obstacles remain to getting the industry off the ground. Investors are reluctant to provide capital for battery plants because the markets are still relatively small. And the markets are still small in part because batteries are expensive, which is itself partly because they're currently made in low volumes.

The stimulus bill could help address both problems. It sets aside $2 billion in grants for manufacturing advanced batteries, plus tax credits to cover 30 percent of the cost of a plant (up to $2.4 billion in total credits). This is in addition to $7.5 billion in loans authorized in a previous bill for manufacturing advanced technology for vehicles, which includes batteries. Employees for these factories could be trained as part of $500 million in funding for retraining workers for green jobs. There is also $16.8 billion going to energy efficiency and renewable energy, which will likely include money for battery research to bring down costs and improve performance.

The second one is from a blog here about some tests conducted on sweet potatoes which have shown them to be quite adept at growing in microgravity, which is far better than an idea proposed before, eating silkworms.

Ever since long-term space missions have been proposed for the future, scientists have been at a loss for a viable food source during the missions. In the past silkworms have been introduced as the “perfect solution”, but in reality quite a few vegetables would work well. Researchers have determined that sweet potatoes would be another idea candidate, since their roots are able to regenerate in microgravity, and sweet potatoes in general are a very hardy crop.

Tests have been conducted before to determine whether seeds will grow in microgravity, but this was the first time cuttings from plants were used to grow a certain crop. Using cuttings instead of seeds increases the chances that the plant will develop normally and will allow for faster development. The study was conducted over a 5 day period during a space mission on Columbia.

At first I thought the word silkworm must have been a nickname for some plant with a similar appearance, but checking out the link, it appears it's talking about actual silkworms. No, astronauts aren't going to eat that, especially if sweet potatoes are available.

In Star Trek the characters always drank synthehol, which some liked but a lot of other characters despised for its lack of bite or just the concept of a drink that tasted like it had alcohol but didn't, and would sometimes sneak on real drinks every once in a while for special occasions. I wonder if something similar won't happen with us with astronauts getting really sick of sweet potatoes and whatever else is grown up there and sneaking on some "real" food every once in a while to relieve the boredom.


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