Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Malaysia Launches US$100 Million Green Fund

Malaysia has partnered with Japan-based Asian Energy Investments Pte Ltd (AIE) in a US$100 million investment mega-fund to seed promising new ideas and innovators in Southeast Asia. The fund will accelerate national and regional development and manufacture of green energy products and business by small-to-mid-size technologies and enterprises.

The fund will be managed by Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT) represented by its wholly-owned subsidiary, MIGHT Technology Nurturing Sdn Bhd.

The fund management company will also be charged with helping revive Malaysian biodiesel plants idled by sharp increases in the price of crude palm oil, on which the plant depended for feedstock, investigating cheaper biodiesel feedstocks, including municipal waste and waste oil palm biomass.

Monday, September 23, 2013

U.S.A. Top 5 Fee-Hungry Airlines

Airfare Watchdog has published the airline fee chart for U.S.A. domestic airlines and US Airways topped the chart. Below are the top 5 fee-hungry airlines. I also included our own budget airline Air Asia and see how comparable are they. Air Asia's fees are in Ringgit Malaysia and the rest are in US$.

I guess we Malaysian are alone as American also facing the same issue of fee-hungry airlines.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

What Are The Meaning Of Those Dates On Food Products?

Food products selling in supermarkets always have tiny dates printed on them telling you about "sell by", "use by", or "best before" date. What do they mean? According to a study, named The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America, published by Natural Resources Defense Council, together with Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, those dates do not indicate the safety of your food, and generally speaking, they’re not regulated.

90% of Americans at least occasionally throw food away prematurely because they mistakenly interpret the date label to mean their food is unsafe; 25% do so every time. In the UK, they've estimated about 20% of food wasted in households is due to confusion over expiration dates.

The U.S.A. food dating system is not a system at all.  It’s a mess. For example, in most U.S.A. states, there are no laws requiring that orange juice needs to have a date stamped on it.  It is then up to the manufacturer to figure the whole thing out on their own, and there is a whole series of decisions they might go through, such as:

  • Should the product have a date displayed at all?  Their retail customers might demand this of them, otherwise it’s up to them.
  • Which words to use?  Will it be “use by” or “best before ”or even “sell by?” Up to them.
  • What does the date convey? Is it that the taste might change a little, or perhaps the color, or do they just want you to see it as a fresh product even if it will last quite a while longer?  There’s no definition, so in fact, a range of factors can feed into this decision.
  • How is the date calculated? They might use lab tests, do consumer taste tests, look at literature values, or just sales data.  Anything goes here.

You might think that there is similarity in the dates at least across orange juice brands, so that when you’re looking at two containers of orange juice, the dates are comparable, right?  Nope. Not the case.

The study pointed out that the main thing to understand is that foodborne illness comes from contamination, not spoilage.  Handling your food safely is more important than its age. So as consumers, the most important thing we can do is handle our food safely.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Solar Panels: A New Challenge For Firefighting

Since the launch of SEDA Malaysia on Dec. 2011, more and more rooftop solar arrays will be installed on Malaysia residential and commercial buildings. New challenges emerge for firefighters when a blaze erupts on these buildings.

U.S.A.'s fire departments are facing the exact problem. A massive fire erupted in early September this year at the Dietz & Watson meats and cheeses distribution center in South Jersey. The 7,000 photovoltaic panels installed on the roof of the center were blamed for the “complete destruction of the warehouse” as they prevented firefighters from opening up the roof to ventilate the structure while posing the threat of electrocution.

Risks posed by solar photovoltaic panels are:

(1) The panels can be activated by any light source so electric shock is always a possibility since the panels “can’t be shut off”.

(2) Another main hindrance is that the panels are covering large areas of roofs, firefighters are limited in where they can cut, causing the inability to ventilate the roof to release trapped flames, which would help to prevent the fire from spreading.

(3) The panels on the roof also limiting the firefighters where they can exit, as an alternative, which reduce the escape and survival chances.

(4) The panels also pose the risks of shock and trip hazards.

(5) Firefighters also need to consider the additional weight of the panels on the roof structure that may be weakened by the fire.

More information can be obtained from the report by San Jose fire engineer Matthew Paiss called Home Power.

Despite this highly-publicized incident where solar panels complicated firefighting efforts, this occurrence is actually rare. "There are hundreds of thousands of solar systems nationwide and only a handful have been linked to fires since 1996,” according to U.S.A. Solar Energy Industries Association Vice President of Communications Ken Johnson when talking to The Star-Ledger.

To address the increased risks associated with fighting structure fires on buildings with solar panels, the Fire Protection Research Foundation released a 2010 study that highlights appropriate training techniques to prepare for firefighting in the alternative energy era. With the proper training and preparation, these new hazards can be safely mitigated.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Do LED Bulbs Really Consume Less Energy Than CFLs?

LEDs are an emerging technology in illumination. More and more people are replacing compact fluorescents (CFLs) with LEDs thinking that they could save more energy. But are LED bulbs truly better than CFLs? If so, by how much? In order to answer these questions a full life-cycle analysis (LCA) is necessary.

The U.S.A. Department of Energy has done a very thorough analysis taking into account energy usage for manufacturing, transportation and in-use, how many bulbs are used over time for those that don't last as long, etc. Below chart shows the findings.

The unit of the energy consumption is in the unit of MJ per 20 million lumen-hours. The 20 million lumen-hours is derived from the lifespan of a 12.5 watts LED bulb multiply its light output, i.e. 25,000 hours x 800 lumens = 20,000,000 lumen-hours. In order to get this number we need 1 LED bulbs, 3 CFLs, 27 halogen bulbs and 22 incandescent bulbs.


CFLs and LEDs are about the same on a LCA basis right now. Both consumed about 3,900 MJ per 20 million lumen-hours, which is about 1/4 of incandescent lamp. The study also indicates that by 2015, if LED development meets the performance targets, its life-cycle energy is expected to decrease by ~ half. The next generation LEDs should beat CFLs then.

Is A Hoax - Colour Squares Do Not Denote Content Of Toothpastes

It has been widely circulating online about that the color squares appear on the tubes denote the content of the toothpastes. It is something like:

Green: natural;
: natural + medicine;
Red: natural + chemical composition;
Black : pure chemical.


The squares, called "eye marks", are marks used in the packaging process. They tell the packaging machines when to perform certain tasks such as detecting and aligning squeeze tubes, cutting or crimping tubes.

I guess the answer is not as interesting as the "color squares reveal the content of toothpastes" but it is just a simple fact. Hope that it clears out some of the online myth.


Friday, September 13, 2013

What Is The Difference Between Hotdog & Sausage?

This morning I was having breakfast in a "kopitiam" (a traditional coffee shop found in Southeast Asia) style western food restaurant and saw a breakfast set of "egg & hotdog" on the menu. It prompted to me that I have been wondering about the difference between "hotdog" and "sausage".

So browsing thru the internet and found below definition that are widely used.

The high quality traditional German sausages first came from Neu-Isenburg, a small town on the road from Frankfurt to Darmstadt. It is made of prime lean pork and a little salted bacon fat. It is then finely chopped into a smooth paste, put into pork casings and smoked.

Hot dogs
The stuff that we call hot dogs are made from very different ingredients and most probably came from America. These ingredients can be anything like pigs' and cows' hearts; and pigs' cheeks. Iced water is added at around 1/3 the weight of the meat and stuffed into narrow bullock runners (casing) and smoked.

It seems that the main differences are:
(1) Place of origin;
(2) Ingredients.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

2013 World's Livable Cities Ranking

The Economist Intelligence Unit's (EIU) has published a report on the liveability of 140 cities across the globe. The ranking puts cities in Australia, Canada, Austria, Finland and New Zealand as the ideal destinations, thanks to a widespread availability of goods and services, low personal risk, and an effective infrastructure. It does not take into account the cost of living as a factor in 'liveability.'

The ranking criteria are based on 30 factors across 5 categories:

(1) Stability (weight 25%).
(2) Healthcare (weight 20%).
(3) Culture and environment (weight 25%).
(4) Education (weight 10%).
(5) Infrastructure (weight 20%).

Below table shows the top and bottom 10 livable cities in the report.

Kuala Lumpur, capital city of my country Malaysia, is ranked 78th this year, which is not much changing from the last 2 years (78th in 2011 & 77th in 2012).

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

New Material Makes Possible For Commercializing Waste Heat Recovery System

Lead-containing telluride has been the main material in thermoelectric system for waste-heat recovery. Despite its strong thermoelectric properties, lead telluride can't be used commercially due to health risks associated with lead.

That has sparked the rush for a similar, but safer compound.

Physicists at the University of Houston’s (UH's) physics department and the Texas Center for Superconductivity are working on an innovation that could boost vehicle mileage by 5% and power plant and industrial processing performance as much as 10%, using new non-toxic material - tin telluride.

Telluride has been studied for years, said Zhifeng Ren, M.D. Anderson Chair professor of physics at UH. Without lead, there is a much better chance for the system to be commercialized.

The research shows the potential for building a device that can capture waste heat – from vehicle tailpipes, industrial smokestacks, power plants and other sources – and convert it to electricity to boost productivity.

In order to improve the thermoelectric property, the team added indium into tin telluride to increase its conducting properties.

In one example, the device could capture heat from a car’s tailpipe and convert it to power the car’s electronics, improving the car’s mileage by about 5%, Ren said. “Even 1%, every day, would be huge,” he said, considering how much crude oil is consumed worldwide.

In 2012, U.S.A and China consumed 18.6 million barrels and 10.3 million barrels of crude oil, respectively, everyday. In ExxonMobil annual energy forecast for the next 30 years, the global energy demand will increase 35% by 2040.

The surge in demand makes even a small gain in efficiency valuable, Ren said, although he also said the process could be made more efficient in the future.


Monday, September 9, 2013

FreshPaper - A Piece Of Paper To Keep Produce Fresh For 2X To 4X Longer

FreshPaper was developed by Kavita Shukla who happened upon the active ingredients after accidentally drinking some tap water while visiting her grandmother in India. Her grandma gave her a home remedy - a mixture of spices, which kept her from getting sick.

Kavita discovered a new application of her grandmother's generations-old home remedy - a remarkably effective way to keep food fresh. She was awarded a patent for FreshPaper at the age of 17. Today FreshPaper is available in stores across U.S.A. and used by farmers and families in over 35 countries.

FreshPaper could play an important role in keeping the world population fed as estimated that up to 50% of the global food supply is wasted even farmers harvest enough food to feed the planet. With 2X to 4X of freshness, less food will be spoiled during transportation and in storage.

- 5" x 5" in size.
- Simply drop into a fridge drawer, fruit bowl, or any other container filled with produce.
​- Infused with organic spices that inhibit bacterial & fungal growth, as well as enzymes that cause over-ripening
- Distinctive maple-like scent that signals the paper is active.​​​
​- Biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable.
​- Last 2-3 weeks or until the paper's maple-like scent starts to fade.
- When stored in the original packaging, FreshPaper sheets last at least 18 months.​

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Turn Your Phone Into Microscope With This Tiny Lens

Thomas Larson from Seattle, U.S.A., has come up with a new tiny micro lens design that will turn your phone or tablet camera into microscope. The "Micro Phone Lens" only measures about 6mm in diameter and capable of 15X magnification, and up to 60X with digital zoom. It is suitable for most of the phones and resistant to scratch. The lens is self-adheres and can be washed with soap and water if dirty.
The ultra-compact design of the Micro Phone lens is made possible through patent pending platinum catalyzed silicone technology.

The Micro Phone Lens is currently in a crowdfunding phase on Kickstarter. With US$15 of pledge will get you a lens for your phone soon.


Friday, September 6, 2013

Fat Bacteria In Our Gut Is Making We Fat!

Bacteria inside our guts will determine our feature to be "obese" or "lean". Researchers in Washington University, U.S.A., have transmitted human's gut bacteria into mice and found that mice with bacteria from obese person are increasing weight.

Researchers started by finding four pairs of human twins, where one twin was obese and one was lean, and then implanted a sample of each of the twins’ gut bacteria into mice that were raised in sterile conditions. Even though all mice were fed the same exact diet, the mice populated by bacteria from the obese twin grew fatter than mice who got the microbes from the lean twin and their metabolism changed, too.

Another stage of the experiment led to an even more interesting result: Combined with a healthy diet, “lean” microbial communities can be transmissible.

Remarkably, when the obese and lean mice were later put in the same cage for 10 days, the obese mice began to show the same “leaner” metabolic profiles of their cagemates (through feces, mice exchange bacteria when they share a cage, but the researchers wanted to find out which bacteria would dominate). This transformation only happened when those mice were fed with healthy diet. Transformation didn't occur when fed with low fiber and high saturated fat diet.

The results emphasize that "lean" gut bacteria combining with healthy diet could help to control obesity. Today, more and more people are taking "good-bacteria" (probiotics) to improve their health. Will a "health-lean" bacteria be added to the line of probiotics one day? So far the study was only done with mice and the same interactions may not happen in humans--but the results offer hope.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Record Month For Australian Wind Farms (About 11% of Malaysian Monthly Consumption)

Australia's wind farms have a record month in August. The entire month of August 2013 wind farms alone had generated 1,024 GWh of electricity. So, how much electricity is this? Lets compare to Malaysia 2011 electricity consumption. In 2011, Malaysia had consumed 107,403 GWh of electricity. Averagely it was about 8,950 GWh per month. Therefore, Australia's wind farms August production is about 11.4% of what Malaysia consumed in a month. Too bad that we don't have a lot of wind potential in Malaysia. It would be good clean and renewable energy source.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Top 20 Countries With Utility-Scale Solar Development

The latest update of utility scale solar developments round the world shows that the US has just joined China as the second country to have installed more than 3GW of “big solar”, and will soon be joined by Germany. Below chart shows the top 20 countries with number of plants and installed capacity. The number under "Capacity" in the chart has unit of "MW".

My neighbor country Thailand is ranked #10 with 9 solar power plants of total 192MW of capacity. According to SEDA, Malaysia has about 40MW of installed solar capacity and about 115MW in progress.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Few Spray-On Solar Technlogies - Potential To Further Lower Down Solar Cost

Currently, solar technologies rely on cells made from silicon. The process of manufacturing is expensive and time consuming. More and more engineers and scientists are looking into the so call "spray-on" technology which resembles the process of inkjet printer. You simple "print" the solar cell out. This technology could make solar panel relatively inexpensive, easy-to-manufacture.

Below are few "spray-on" technologies:

(1) Researcher Jillian Buriak and her team at the University of Alberta have designed nanoparticles that absorb light and conduct electricity, using phosphorus and zinc. Both materials are more plentiful than scarce materials such as cadmium and are free from manufacturing restrictions imposed on lead-based nanoparticles. This new technology could be mass-manufactured using simple methods, such as roll-to-roll printing or spray-coating.

(2) Researchers at the Australian National University (ANU) are working in collaboration with solar company Spark Solar Australia and Finnish materials company BraggOne Oy investigating solar cells made from quantum dots. Quantum dots is a nanocrystal made of semiconductor materials that are small enough, in the size of ~ 0.000001 mm, which displays quantum mechanical properties. These quantum dots are mixed with a conducting polymer to make a plastic. Spray-on solar panels composed of this material can be manufactured to be lighter, stronger, cleaner and generally less expensive solar cells.

(3) Professor David Lidzey and his team from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and the University of Cambridge have created a method of spray-coating a polymer (layman term plastic) based photovoltaic active layer by an air based process – similar to spraying regular paint from a can – to develop a cheaper technique which can be mass produced.

(4) Mitsubishi Chemical Corp. has developed a solar spray-on technology based on carbon compounds. When dried and solidified, the material would behave like semiconductors and generate electricity when exposes to light. Currently, Mitsubishi has achieved a conversion rate of 10.1%, half of what you can get from si panel.

The major issues encountered by most of the "spray-on" technologies are lower cell efficiency, scale-up production, and long-term reliability. It will still be a while before it can be a mainstream technology.