May 11, 2004
Earthworms and Earthquakes
Don Boudreaux ( yes, yes, I know I link to him a lot. That's because it's a great blog at Cafe Hayek. ) compares and contrasts the differences between the modest incremental changes brought by market economies and the paradigm shifts that we all want to see but so rarely do. Those modest changes are compared to the activity of earthworms as they overturn the soil, as noted by Darwin ( what was, in his youth, "The Stony Field", was in his old age smooth pasture, the activities of the worms over the years burying the stones ) and the paradigm shifts to earthquakes.
Just to use this as a peg upon which to hang today's gratuitous scandium reference we have two examples in the day job, The Low Hanging Fruit Company ( motto " Scandium, It's Rocks!").
Adding scandium to aluminium alloys provides a number of benefits and you'll have seen the bike frames and baseball bats made out of this stuff ( yes, we have or do supply all of those manufacturers ) .
If you add it to the alloy that makes wings for aeroplanes, there is one little benefit. As it does not oxidise, you do not need to paint or lacquer the wing surface, thus saving 1 - 2 % of the total weight of the plane. Yes, this is aerospace, so it takes a decade to get a new alloy into the market but that 1 - 2 % fuel saving on every single flight is coming to you from both major manufacturers in the next few years. Think of this as one of those earthworm moments.
There's also another benefit, one that seems to be driven by a groups of British scientists. When you weld steel, the weld is stronger than the surrounding plate : you expect the actual piece of steel to bend or break before the weld. With aluminium, the weld is the weak spot. However, if you add scandium to both the weld wire and the plate, hey presto, the weld is stronger than the surrounding alloy. This opens up the possibility that in a decade's time we will stop using rivets in aircraft : we'll simply weld them together. That in itself would save a massive 10 % of the weight of an aircraft. Think of that as the earthquake.
The extra cost on a 160 tonne Jumbo would be around $700,000 at today's prices for scandium. Right, $ 700,000 extra on a $ 100,000,000 dollar bird, and we save 10 % of the fuel on every single flight.
Time for a little blegging : I'm looking for $ 5 million to build a new scandium extraction plant : the tip jar's over on the right somewhere.
May 06, 2004
Dean Esmay gets worried about CD Rot. No children, they are not indestructible, nor will they last forever. The problem comes when the protective layer is breached and the aluminium ( which actually stores the information ) oxidises. There is a solution, taken from my work at the day job, The Low Hanging Fruit Company Limited ( Motto "Scandium, washes whiter ! ")
One of the uses for aluminium scandium is in the next generation of aircraft wings. As it does not oxidise on contact with the atmosphere, unlike the traditional Al Mg alloys, it does not have to be lacquered or painted. This saves weight , about 1- 2 % of the total aircraft weight , thus reducing fuel costs. Using the same alloy in CDs would mean that even if the protective layer were breached the data would not get corrupted, as there would be no oxidation.
Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen as the costs of scandium would add about $ 1 per pound ( including my outrageous profit margin of course ) to the cost of the metal, some 2- 3 cents per CD, and thus would place these long lasting CDs at a premium. Not enough people are aware of CD rot to make it possible to recoup that extra cost. However, if amongst my four readers there happens to be someone who manufactures CD blanks in millions and billions, drop me a line and I'll charge you a huge fee for the details.
April 26, 2004
Over at FuturePundit some comments on the latest step change in solar cell performance. Randall points out that new materials should be able to move efficiencies from the current 30 % or so to 60 %.It's precisely these sorts of technological advances that are going to make Kyoto and similar greenie hysteria outdated : yes, technology really will save us.
I'm actually even more optimistic than Randall as a result of the day job, the work that my company ( motto, " Scandium, yes please !" ) does with exotic metals.
Look at this. That's talking about making LED's from scandium nitride. This in itself, the rise of LED based lighting systems, is going to have a big effect on the environment : my calculations indicate that the roll out of this technology will reduce US electricity consumption by 15 % or so.
Yet I would go even further. And this is supposition on my part, not backed up by anything so formal as experimental evidence.
If you make an LED out of gallium arsenide, it emits in the red. If you make a solar cell out of the same gallium arsenide, it absorbs most of the red falling on it, and pretty much ignores the rest of the spectrum. If you make your LED out of gallium nitride, you get blue light, and a similar solar cell absorbs blue. Add in indium and this is what the Lawrence Livermore people are working on.
So the scandium nitride researchers have found that an LED made of it will emit the full spectrum, very close to sunlight (that's not all that suprising as scandium is used in light bulbs to do precisely that ) . Does the other side of the observation also hold ? If you make a solar cell out of scandium nitride, does it absorb the full spectrum of sunlight ?
I've been in contact with the researchers and they have no answer as yet ( and yes I will, of course, provide free scandium oxide to someone who wants to try it out ) and are in fact looking for someone to sponsor more research, something we are not large enough to support.
But wouldn't that be cool ? A solar cell that actually absorbs the full spectrum of light falling on it.
Then the problem would be scandium supply, but anyone with a spare $ 5 million can drop it in the tip jar above and I can sort that out. Lesser amounts will go to the beer fund.
April 19, 2004
Gratuitous Scandium Reference.
Kim du Toit provides firearms advice to a wannabe backpacker through the US.
This provides me with an opportunity for today's gratuitous reference to scandium. As what I do in the day job at The Low Hanging Fruit Company ( motto : " Scandium, it's not just for the holidays " ) is all about scandium, I was pleased to see that he loaded up a picture of the Smith and Wesson 329 PD revolver.
In order to make this delightful machine, scandium oxide was gently harvested from the sandy shores of the northern Caspian Sea in Kazakhstan. Carefully separated from the output of a uranium processing plant, the material was purified and then left to mature for several years. Then, following the strict instructions of our buyers, it was flown in majesterial aloofness to Moscow, where it was carefully blended with high purity aluminium from Krasnoyarsk ( none better! ) in Siberia.
Following the blending it was super chilled and then flown on the world's leading metal transport airline, KLM, via Rotterdam, to Pittsburgh.
Where someone else made it into a gun.