Tech Tuesday

Speed, Youth and Tillage?

We're covering a range of topics this week from veggie-oil speed demons to questions about the value of tillage.

The goal of this blog (and yes there is a goal) is to help keep you informed about a range of science and tech topics, and that opens the door to a wide range of issues and ideas. Here are three items that came into the e-mail in-box recently I thought you'd find interesting.

First up, is news that a Boise State University team of engineering students have built the world's fastest vegetable-oil-powered vehicle and they have the land-speed records to prove it. The Greenspeed team - which started on its own - have souped up a Chevy S-10 compact pickup with a diesel engine they power with vegetable oil. We're not talking biodiesel, we're talking off-the-shelf salad oil with no other modifications.

Over the weekend the team - running on a dry lake bed in the Mojave Desert called El Mirage - the team made two successful runs. The first broke through the old veggie-oil-powered vehicle record of 109 miles per hour - topping 139 mph. Of course, some readers may be surprised that there was already a veggie oil powered land speed record (as was I), but there's more. In a second run, the student team beat the first record hitting 155 mph.

The release touting this new record shows that the team's truck was valued at $125,000 and they did have a first attempt at that record on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Test runs with diesel fuel showed the truck could move fast, but troubles with timing pushed a veggie oil trial back to a second attempt at the flats. On their first run with the engine and the bio-oil, the engine busted.

Last weekend's record-setting runs took place at the a Southern California Timing Association event. Student engineering teams are a lot of fun to watch at work. The dedication, skill and passion they have for their ideas and the competition give you plenty of optimism for the future. You've seen that here with stories about my involvement with the ASABE Quarter-Scale Tractor Student Design Competition. These Greenspeed students show tons of passion as well, check out their website at

Source: Boise State University

Working on a Shoestring

A group of grad and post-doc students were considering new ways to review and measure a wide variety of research, and came up with an approach that's not only low-cost but is apparently globally popular. In just six years, the group - started by a researcher at Iowa State University - has grown to more than 100 collaborators around the globe, and apparently more are clamoring to be part of this program.

The Nutrient Network has collaborators at more than 70 sites on six continents and has published results in several professional journals. Their work is a cooperative look at global research and getting noticed by major journals - including a recent issue of the journal Science.

NutNet started as an idea during a coffee break at a California conference in 2005 as several young scientists expressed frustration at their inability to globally compare systems. This is becoming increasingly important for researchers. The group hoped to compare systems from different parts of the world by looking at results from previous studies from other research - called meta-analysis.

Trouble is, comparing research was a huge challenge because each used different methods and looked at different data. Instead, the group decided to collect the data themselves. Originally, the idea was to compare different ecological systems on the West Coast. The research was to be completed by scientists who volunteered their time, energy and expenses and all would use the same methods and take the same measurements at each site.

Word of mouth about the techniques used spread to Australia, New Zealand, Germany, China, England and other locations - and they keep adding more. Scientists are volunteering to be part of this massive effort. Thanks to the Internet and other tech tools, the original group of researchers were able to set the buy-in costs for each research at $200. The only requirements are that the scientists involved "play well with others" and "follow the protocol and share the data appropriately."

This new kind of collaborative research could have broad implications for a whole range of environmental work.

Source: Iowa State University

About that Tillage Decision

Tony Vyn wants you to think carefully about tillage before you put iron to soil. This Purdue Extension agronomist says farmers should take soil drainage, fertilizer and planting needs and economic thresholds into consideration before making tillage decisions. He's not saying "don't till" but instead wants growers to consider all the tillage options and their appropriate value - for example he notes that strip till and vertical tillage are new options that can protect the soil resource.

He adds, however, that no-till systems work well with soybeans and for corn in rotation with soybeans, which should be a consideration when looking at managing a farm's productivity. The challenge is corn following corn, where no-till systems have not achieved the success seen in other systems.

Vyn notes that the new tillage approaches can preserve surface residue while enabling successful establishment of corn. "However, we have not achieved success with no-till operations when corn follows corn on poorly drained soils. As with any tilling system, with farmers paying more than ever for seed, we want to make sure the final populations are not compromised and the yields are consistent."

Talk of tillage has increased as growing conditions and weather have challenged producers in recent years. Vyn notes that minimum and no-till systems can save more than $20 per acre in equipment maintenance, fuel and labor, but the complete savings are realized when soil productivity is considered. "Full tillage and subsequent soil loss can quickly lead to negative implications for your land's long-term productivity," he notes.

Source: Purdue University

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