Tech Tuesday

New Fuel Source Breakthrough

Researchers may have way to turn methane to liquid fuel, Windows on a Mac, and researching the 'urban grassland.'

Methane is an abundant gas - just ask any livestock producer. It's also a product of natural gas as well and contains a lot of energy. Trouble is, moving methane is tricky since it remains as a gas in most conditions. Now researchers at the University of Washington and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill may have taken an important step in converting methane from gas to a liquid. While the work is preliminary, it holds a lot of promise for another fuel source in an energy-dependent economy.

The researchers have moved closer to a way to convert methane to methanol or other liquid fuels for easier transport, especially from remote sites. Their findings will be published in the Oct. 23 edition of the journal Science.

What they found is that there may be metal catalysts - materials that interact with the methane but remain unchanged themselves - that can help convert the gas into methanol or some other liquid. The work should spur more advances in developing catalysts to turn methane into some liquid form. While the result of that work is a few years away, there's a lot of methane around - from livestock operations to landfills - that could become a new fuel source.

Windows 7 on a Mac. Windows fans who are a little scared to convert to a Macintosh may find they can move to the powerful computers but not leave their familiar operating system behind. Today, Windows 7 debuts and tech writers are talking about the potential to use the operating system on a Macintosh.

Macs are now powered by the same Intel processors that traditional Windows machines use and they can run the Microsoft operating system. In fact, even the most basic Mac laptop has better computing power to take advantage of some new features from Windows 7 that are not universally found on more "budget" computers sold as Windows machines.

For Mac addicts the idea of running Windows 7 on their machines versus the newest Snow Leopard may sound foreign. But for business users who want to take full advantage of the super graphics capabilities of the Mac, but overcome the "new operating" system fears for many, this may be an alternative.

Only hardware issue to consider if you think this is a good idea is getting a Microsoft-type mouse for the Mac. And you'll have to install Windows 7 yourself after you buy that Mac - which can take some time. We're not advocating this as a course of action, but it may be something to consider when looking at new computers.

Nitrogen and the 'Urban Grassland' There's a lot of talk that homeowners in this country put down more nitrogen than farmers and we should all worry about that issue when looking at nitrogen runoff and U.S. waterways. It's a valid point, but some new work by a team of researchers shows that a healthy 'urban grassland' - many would call it their lawns - can take and hold a lot of N. The work, which looked at both a turf area and a forest area to compare nitrogen losses found that in a normal year, that grass area would lose no more than 10% of nitrogen and in a wet year the losses would not be higher than 40%. These are still losses, but it appears a lot of N is retained in urban grasslands. Researchers say that's likely because those areas support rapidly growing vegetation and high stocks of soil organic matter.

The work does show that while losses are lower than many thought, a 40% loss in wet years if high N rates are used could be trouble for water quality. However, the work does suggest that those lush green lawns have a considerable capacity for N retention that should be considered in evaluations of land-use change and in the development of management plans for urban and suburban watersheds.

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