I feel that most individuals, certainly most adults, wonder if anyone is out there.  Are there other planets with intelligent life and is that life humanoid or at least somewhat intelligent?  The first effort would be to define intelligent.  Don’t laugh but this does have some merit and has been considered by behavioral scientists for a significant length of time.  On Earth, human intelligence took nearly four (4) Billion years to develop. If living beings develop advanced technology, they can make their existence known to the Universe. A working definition of “intelligent” includes self-awareness, use of tools, and use of language. There are other defining traits, as follows:

  • Crude perceptive abilities: Like concept of a handshake (sending a message and acknowledging receipt of one sent by you)
  • Crude communication abilities: Some primitive language and vocabulary
  • Sentience: Should be able of original thought and motivation, some form of self -awareness
  • Retention: Ability to remember and recall information on will
  • Some form of mathematical ability like counting

Please feel free to apply your own definition to intelligence. You will probably come as close as anyone to a workable one.

TESS:

NASA is looking and one manner in which the search occurs is with the new satellite TESS.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is an Explorer-class planet finder.   TESS will pick up the search for exoplanets as the Kepler Space Telescope runs out of fuel.

Kepler, which has discovered more than 4,500 potential planets and confirmed exoplanets, launched in 2009. After mechanical failure in 2013, it entered a new phase of campaigns to survey other areas of the sky for exoplanets, called the K2 mission. This enabled researchers to discover even more exoplanets, understand the evolution of stars and gain insight about supernovae and black holes.

Soon, Kepler’s mission will end, and it will be abandoned in space, orbiting the sun, therefore:  never getting closer to Earth than the moon.

The spaceborne all-sky transit survey, TESS will identify planets ranging from Earth-sized to gas giants, orbiting a wide range of stellar types and orbital distances. The principal goal of the TESS mission is to detect small planets with bright host stars in the solar neighborhood, so that detailed characterizations of the planets and their atmospheres can be performed. TESS is only one satellite used to determine if there are any “goldy-locks” planets in our solar system. TESS will survey an area four hundred (400) times larger than Kepler observed. This includes two hundred thousand (200,000) of the brightest nearby stars. Over the course of two years, the four wide-field cameras on board will stare at different sectors of the sky for days at a time.

TESS will begin by looking at the Southern Hemisphere sky for the first year and move to the Northern Hemisphere in the second year. It can accomplish this lofty goal by dividing the sky into thirteen (13) sections and looking at each one for twenty-seven (27) days before moving on to the next.

The various missions launched to discover exoplanets may be seen below.

As mentioned earlier, TESS will monitor the brightness of more than two hundred thousand (200,000) stars during a two-year mission, searching for temporary drops in brightness caused by planetary transits. Transits occur when a planet’s orbit carries it directly in front of its parent star as viewed from Earth. TESS is expected to catalog more than fifteen hundred (1,500) transiting exoplanet candidates, including a sample of approximately five hundred (500) Earth-sized and ‘Super Earth’ planets, with radii less than twice that of the Earth. TESS will detect small rock-and-ice planets orbiting a diverse range of stellar types and covering a wide span of orbital periods, including rocky worlds in the habitable zones of their host stars.  This is a major undertaking and you might suspect so joint-ventures are an absolute must.  With that being the case, the major parterners in this endeavor may be seen as follows:

The project overview is given by the next pictorial.

In summary:

TESS will tile the sky with 26 observation sectors:

  • At least 27 days staring at each 24° × 96° sector
  • Brightest 200,000 stars at 1-minute cadence
  • Full frame images with 30-minute cadence
  • Map Southern hemisphere in first year
  • Map Northern hemisphere in second year
  • Sectors overlap at ecliptic poles for sensitivity to smaller and longer period planets in JWST Continuous Viewing Zone (CVZ)

TESS observes from unique High Earth Orbit (HEO):

  • Unobstructed view for continuous light curves
  • Two 13.7-day orbits per observation sector
  • Stable 2:1 resonance with Moon’s orbit
  • Thermally stable and low-radiation

The physical hardware looks as follows:

You can’t tell much about the individual components from the digital picture above but suffice it to say that TESS is a significant improvement relative to Kepler as far as technology.  The search continues and I do not know what will happen if we ever discover ET.  Imagine the areas of life that would affect?

 

 

AUTOMOTIVE FUTURE

January 25, 2018


Portions of this post are taken from Design News Daily Magazine, January publication.

The Detroit Auto Show has a weirdly duplicitous vibe these days. The biggest companies that attend make sure to talk about things that make them sound future-focused, almost benevolent. They talk openly about autonomy, electrification, and even embracing other forms of transportation. But they do this while doling out product announcements that are very much about meeting the current demands of consumers who, enjoying low gas prices, want trucks and crossover SUVs. With that said, it really is interesting to take a look at several “concept” cars.  Cars we just may be driving the future is not the near future.  Let’s take a look right now.

Guangzhou Automobile Co. (better known as GAC Motor) stole the show in Detroit, at least if we take their amazing claims at face value. The Chinese automaker rolled out the Enverge electric concept car, which is said to have a 373-mile all-electric range based on a 71-kWh battery. Incredibly, it is also reported to have a wireless recharge time of just 10 minutes for a 240-mile range. Enverge’s power numbers are equally impressive: 235 HP and 302 lb-ft of torque, with a 0-62 mph time of just 4.4 seconds. GAC, the sixth biggest automaker in China, told the Detroit audience that it would start selling cars in the US by Q4 2019. The question is whether its extraordinary performance numbers will hold up to EPA scrutiny.  If GAC can live up to and meet their specifications they may have the real deal here.  Very impressive.

As autonomous vehicle technology advances, automakers are already starting to examine the softer side of that market – that is, how will humans interact the machines? And what are some of the new applications for the technology? That’s where Ford’s pizza delivery car came in. The giant automaker started delivering Domino’s pizzas in Ann Arbor, MI, late last year with an autonomous car. In truth, the car had a driver at the wheel, sitting behind a window screen. But the actual delivery was automated: Customers were alerted by a text; a rear window rolled down; an automated voice told them what to do, and they grabbed the pie. Ford engineers were surprised to find that that the humans weren’t intimated by the technology. “In the testing we did, people interacted nicely with the car,” Ford autonomous car research engineer Wayne Williams told Design News. “They talked to it as if it were a robot. They waved when it drove away. Kids loved it. They’d come running up to it.” The message to Ford was clear – autonomous cars are about more than just personal transportation. Delivery services are a real possibility, too.

Most of today’s autonomous cars use unsightly, spinning Lidar buckets atop their roofs. At the auto show, Toyota talked about an alternative Lidar technology that’s sleek and elegant. You have to admit that for now, the autonomous cars look UGLY—really ugly.  Maybe Toyota has the answer.

In a grand rollout, Lexus introduced a concept car called the LF-1 Limitless. The LF-1 is what we’ve all come to expect from modern concept cars – a test bed for numerous power trains and autonomous vehicle technologies. It can be propelled by a fuel cell, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, all-electric or gasoline power train. And its automated driving system includes a “miniaturized supercomputer with links to navigation data, radar sensors, and cameras for a 360-degree view of your surroundings with predictive capabilities.” The sensing technologies are all part of a system known as “Chauffeur mode.” Lexus explained that the LF-1 is setting the stage for bigger things: By 2025, every new Lexus around the world will be available as a dedicated electrified model or will have an electrified option.

The Xmotion, which is said to combine Japanese aesthetics with SUV styling, includes seven digital screens. Three main displays join left- and right-side screens across the instrument panel. There’s also a “digital room mirror” in the ceiling and center console display. Moreover, the displays can be controlled by gestures and even eye motions, enabling drivers to focus on the task of driving. A Human Machine Interface also allows drivers to easily switch from Nissan’s ProPilot automated driving system to a manual mode.

Cadillac showed off its Super Cruise technology, which is said to be the only semi-autonomous driving system that actually monitors the driver’s attention level. If the driver is attentive, Super Cruise can do amazing things – tooling along for hours on a divided highway with no intersections, for example, while handling all the steering, acceleration and braking. GM describes it as an SAE Level 2 autonomous system. It’s important because it shows autonomous vehicle technology has left the lab and is making its debut on production vehicles. Super Cruise launched late in 2017 on the Cadillac CT6 (shown here).

In a continuing effort to understand the relationship between self-driving cars and humans, Ford Motor Co. and Virginia Tech displayed an autonomous test vehicle that communicates its intent to other drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Such communication is important, Ford engineers say, because “designing a way to replace the head nod or hand wave is fundamental to ensuring safe and efficient operation of self-driving vehicles.”

Infiniti rolled out the Q Inspiration luxury sedan concept, which combines its variable compression ratio engine with Nissan’s ProPilot semi-autonomous vehicle technology. Infiniti claims the engine combines “turbo charged gasoline power with the torque and efficiency of a hybrid or diesel.” Known as the VC-Turbo, the four-cylinder engine continually transforms itself, adjusting its compression ratio to optimize power and fuel efficiency. At the same time, the sedan features ProPilot Assist, which provides assisted steering, braking and acceleration during driving. You can see from the digital below, the photographers were there covering the Infinity.

The eye-catching Concept-i vehicle provided a more extreme view of the distant future, when vehicles will be equipped with artificial intelligence (AI). Meant to anticipate people’s needs and improve their quality of life, Concept-i is all about communicating with the driver and occupants. An AI agent named Yui uses light, sound, and even touch, instead of traditional screens, to communicate information. Colored lights in the footwells, for example, indicate whether the vehicle is an autonomous or manual drive; projectors in the rear deck project outside views onto the seat pillar to warn drivers about potential blind spots, and a next-generation heads-up display keeps the driver’s eyes and attention on the road. Moreover, the vehicle creates a feeling of warmth inside by emanating sweeping lines of light around it. Toyota engineers created the Concept-i features based on their belief that “mobility technology should be warm, welcoming, and above all, fun.”

CONCLUSIONS:  To be quite honest, I was not really blown away with this year’s offerings.  I LOVE the Infinity and the Toyota concept car shown above.  The American models did not capture my attention. Just a thought.


According to the “Electronic Design Magazine”, ‘Electronic waste is the fastest-growing form of waste. Electromechanical waste results from the Digital Revolution.  The Digital Revolution refers to the advancement of technology from analog electronic and mechanical devices to the digital technology available today. The era started to during the 1980s and is ongoing. The Digital Revolution also marks the beginning of the Information Era.

The Digital Revolution is sometimes also called the Third Industrial Revolution. The development and advancement of digital technologies started with one fundamental idea: The Internet. Here is a brief timeline of how the Digital Revolution progressed:

  • 1947-1979 – The transistor, which was introduced in 1947, paved the way for the development of advanced digital computers. The government, military and other organizations made use of computer systems during the 1950s and 1960s. This research eventually led to the creation of the World Wide Web.
  • 1980s – The computer became a familiar machine and by the end of the decade, being able to use one became a necessity for many jobs. The first cellphone was also introduced during this decade.
  • 1990s – By 1992, the World Wide Web had been introduced, and by 1996 the Internet became a normal part of most business operations. By the late 1990s, the Internet became a part of everyday life for almost half of the American population.
  • 2000s – By this decade, the Digital Revolution had begun to spread all over the developing world; mobile phones were commonly seen, the number of Internet users continued to grow, and the television started to transition from using analog to digital signals.
  • 2010 and beyond – By this decade, Internet makes up more than 25 percent of the world’s population. Mobile communication has also become very important, as nearly 70 percent of the world’s population owns a mobile phone. The connection between Internet websites and mobile gadgets has become a standard in communication. It is predicted that by 2015, the innovation of tablet computers will far surpass personal computers with the use of the Internet and the promise of cloud computing services. This will allow users to consume media and use business applications on their mobile devices, applications that would otherwise be too much for such devices to handle.

In the United States, E-waste represents approximately two percent (2%) of America’s trash in landfills, but seventy percent (70%) of the overall toxic waste.  American recycles about 679,000 tons of E-waste annually, and that figure does not include a large portion of electronics such as TV, DVD and VCR players, and related TV electronics. According to the EPA, E-waste is still the fastest growing municipal waste stream.  Not only is electromechanical waste a major environmental problem it contains valuable resources that could generate revenue and be used again.  Cell phones and other electronic items contain high amounts of precious metals, such as gold, and silver.  Americans dump phones containing more than sixty million ($60,000,000) dollars in gold and silver each year.

The United States and China generated the most e-waste last year – thirty-two (32%) percent of the world’s total. However, on a per capita basis, several countries famed for their environmental awareness and recycling records lead the way. Norway is on top of the world’s electronic waste mountain, generating 62.4 pounds per inhabitant.

Technology has made a significant difference in the ability to deal and handle E-waste products.  One country, Japan, is making a major effort to deal with the problem. Japan has approximately one hundred (100) major electronic waste facilities, as well as numerous smaller, local collection and operating facilities.  From those one hundred major plants, more than thirty (30) utilize the Kubota Vertical Shredder to reduce the overall size of the assemblies. Recycling technology company swissRTec has announced that one of its key products, the Kubota Vertical Shredder, is now available in the United States to take care of E-waste.

WHY IS E-WASTE RECYCLING IMPORTANT:

If we look at why recycling E-waste is important, we see the following:

  • Rich Source of Raw Materials Internationally, only ten to fifteen (10-15) percent of the gold in e-waste is successfully recovered while the rest is lost. Ironically, electronic waste contains deposits of precious metal estimated to be between forty and fifty (40 and 50) times richer than ores mined from the earth, according to the United Nations.
  • Solid Waste Management Because the explosion of growth in the electronics industry, combined with short product life cycle has led to a rapid escalation in the generation of solid waste.
  • Toxic Materials Because old electronic devices contain toxic substances such as lead, mercury, cadmium and chromium, proper processing is essential to ensure that these materials are not released into the environment. They may also contain other heavy metals and potentially toxic chemical flame retardants.
  • International Movement of Hazardous Waste The uncontrolled movement of e-waste to countries where cheap labor and primitive approaches to recycling have resulted in health risks to local residents exposed to the release of toxins continues to an issue of concern.

We are fortunate in Chattanooga to have an E-cycling “stations”.  ForeRunner does just that.  Here is a cut from their web site:

“… with more than 15 years in the computer \ e waste recycling field, Forerunner Computer Recycling has given Chattanooga companies a responsible option to dispose end of life cycle and surplus computer equipment. All Chattanooga based companies face the task of safely disposing of older equipment and their e waste. The EPA estimates that as many as 500 million computers \e- waste will soon become obsolete.

As Chattanooga businesses upgrade existing PCs, more computers and other e waste are finding their way into the waste stream. According to the EPA, over two million tons of electronics waste is discarded each year and goes to U.S. landfills.

Now you have a partner in the computer \ e waste recycling business who understands your need to safely dispose of your computer and electronic equipment in an environmentally responsible manner.

By promoting reuse – computer recycling and electronic recycling – Forerunner Computer Recycling extends the life of computer equipment and reduce e waste. Recycle your computers, recycle your electronics.”

CONCLUSIONS:

I definitely encourage you to look up the recycling E-waste facility in your city or county.  You will be doing our environment a great service in doing so.


The island of Puerto Rico has a remarkably long road ahead relative to rebuilding after Maria and Irma.

After Puerto Rico was pummeled by Hurricane Maria two weeks ago, a Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph winds, the island has been left in shambles. After suffering widespread power outages thanks to Irma, one million Puerto Ricans have been left without electricity. Sixty thousand (60,000) still had not gotten power when Maria brought a total, island-wide power outage and severe shortages in food, water, and other supplies.

As of today, October 2, 2017 there is still no power on the island except for a handful of generators powering high-priority buildings like select hospitals.   The island most likely will not return to full power for another six to nine months. This also means that there are close to zero working cell phone towers and no reception anywhere on the island.  Communication is the life-blood of any rebuilding and humanitarian effort and without landlines and cell phones, that effort will become incredibly long and frustrating. The following digital picture will indicate the great lack of communication.

Fuel for generators is running out (though authorities in Puerto Rico insist that it’s a distribution problem, not a shortage). Puerto Ricans are waiting in six-hour lines for fuel, while many stations have run completely dry.

In most of Puerto Rico there is no water – that means no showers, no flushable toilets, and no drinkable water that’s not out of a bottle. In some of the more remote parts of the island, rescue workers are just beginning to arrive.

To indicate just how dire the situation is:  “According to the US Department of Health and Public Services, a superfund site is “any land in the United States that has been contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by the EPA as a candidate for cleanup because it poses a risk to human health and/or the environment.” These sites are put on the National Priorities List (NPL), a list of the most dire cases of environmental contamination in the US and its territories. These are places where a person can’t even walk on the ground and breathe the air without seriously endangering their health.”  That is exactly where PR is at this time.

Puerto Rico’s fallout from Maria and Irma will result in a long, long road to recovery. Even though the island is home to 3.5 million US citizens, help has definitely been delayed compared to response in the US.    The island’s pre-existing poverty and environmentally dangerous Superfund Sites will make rebuilding a tricky and toxic business, costing in the billions of dollars.

We may get better idea at the devastation by looking at the digital satellite pictures below.

A much more dramatic depiction may be seen below.

CONCLUSIONS:

As recently as 2016, the island suffered a three-day, island-wide blackout as a result of a fire. A private energy consultant noted then that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority “appears to be running on fumes, and … desperately requires an infusion of capital — monetary, human and intellectual — to restore a functional utility.” Puerto Ricans in early 2016 were suffering power outages at rates four to five times higher than average U.S. customers, said the report from the Massachusetts-based Synapse Energy Economics.  What was a very sad situation even before Maria and Irma, is now a complete disaster.  As I mentioned above—a very long road of recovery for the island.

 

ARECIBO

September 27, 2017


Hurricane Maria, as you well know, has caused massive damage to the island of Puerto Rico.  At this writing, the entire island is without power and is struggling to exist without water, telephone communication, health and sanitation facilities.   The digital pictures below will give some indication as to the devastation.

Maria made landfall in the southeastern part of the U.S. territory Wednesday with winds reaching 155 miles per hour, knocking out electricity across the island. An amazingly strong wind devastated the storm flooded parts of downtown San Juan, downed trees and ripped the roofs from homes. Puerto Rico has little financial wherewithal to navigate a major catastrophe, given its decision in May to seek protection from creditors after a decade of economic decline, excessive borrowing and the loss of residents to the U.S. mainland.  Right now, PR is totally dependent upon the United States for recovery.

Imagine winds strong enough to damage and position an automobile in the fashion shown above.  I cannot even tell the make of this car but we must assume it weighs at least two thousand pounds and yet it is thrown in the air like a paper plane.

One huge issue is clearing roads so supplies for relief and medical attention can be delivered to the people.  This is a huge task.

One question I had—how about Arecibo?  Did the radio telescope survive and if so, what damages were sustained?  The digital below will show Arecibo Radio Telescope during “better times”.

Five decades ago, scientists sought a radio telescope that was close to the equator, according to Arecibo’s website. This location would allow the telescope to track planets passing overhead, while also probing the nature of the ionosphere — the layer of the atmosphere in which charged particles produce the northern lights.  The telescope is part of the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center. The National Science Foundation has a co-operative agreement with the three entities that operate it: SRI International, the Universities Space Research Association and UMET (Metropolitan University.) That radio telescope has provided an absolute wealth of information about our solar system and surrounding and bodies outside our solar system.

The Arecibo Observatory contains the second-largest radio telescope in the world, and that telescope has been out of service ever since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20. Maria hit the island as a Category 4 hurricane.

While Puerto Rico suffered catastrophic damage across the island, the Arecibo Observatory suffered “relatively minor damages,” Francisco Córdova, the director of the observatory, said in a Facebook post on Sunday (Sept. 24).

In the words of Mr. Cordova: “Still standing after #HurricaneMaria! We suffered some damages, but nothing that can’t be repaired or replaced! More updates to follow in the coming days as we complete our detailed inspections. We stand together with Puerto Rico as we recover from this storm.#PRStrong”.

Despite Córdova’s optimistic message, staff members and other residents of Puerto Rico are in a pretty bad situation. Power has yet to be restored to the island since the storm hit, and people are running out of fuel for generators. With roads still blocked by fallen trees and debris, transporting supplies to people in need is no simple task.

National Geographic’s Nadia Drake, who has been in contact with the observatory and has provided extensive updates via Twitter, reported that “some staff who have lost homes in town are moving on-site” to the facility, which weathered the storm pretty well overall. Drake also reported that the observatory “will likely be serving as a FEMA emergency center,” helping out members of the community who lost their homes in the storm.

The mission of Arecibo will continue but it may be a long time before the radio telescope is fully functional.  Let’s just hope the lives of the people manning the telescope can be put back in order quickly so important and continued work may again be accomplished.

VOLVO ANNOUNCEMENT

July 7, 2017


Certain portions of this post were taken from Mr. Chris Wiltz writing for Design News Daily.

I don’t know if you are familiar with the VOLVO line of automobiles but for years the brand has been known for safety and durability.  My wife drives a 2005 VOLVO S-40 with great satisfaction relative to reliability and cost of maintenance.  The S-40 has about 150,000 miles on the odometer and continues to run like a Singer Sewing Machine.   The “boxy, smoking diesel” VOLVO of years-gone-by has been replaced by a very sleek aerodynamic configuration representing significant improvements in design and styling.  You can take a look at the next two digitals to see where they are inside and out.

As you can see from the JPEG above, the styling is definitely twenty-first century with agreeable slip-stream considerations in mind.

The interior is state-of-the art with all the whistles and bells necessary to attract the most discerning buyer.

Volvo announced this past Tuesday that starting in 2019 it will only make fully electric or hybrid cars.  “This announcement marks the end of the solely combustion engine-powered car,” Håkan Samuelsson, Volvo’s president and chief executive, said in a statement.  The move is a significant bet by the carmaker indicating they feel the age of the internal-combustion engine is quickly coming to an end.  Right now, the Gothenburg, Sweden-based automaker is lone among the world’s major automakers to move so aggressively into electric or hybrid cars. Volvo sold around half a million cars last year, significantly less than the world’s largest car companies such as Toyota, Volkswagen, and GM, but far greater than the 76,000 sold by Tesla, the all-electric carmaker.

Every car it produces from 2019 forward will have an electric motor.   Håkan Samuelsson indicated there has been a clear increase in consumer demand as well as a “commitment towards reducing the carbon footprint thereby contributing to better air quality in our cities.”  The Swedish automaker will cease production of pure internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles and will not plan any new developments into diesel engines.

The company will begin producing three levels of electric vehicles (mild, Twin Engine, and fully electric) and has committed to commercializing one million Twin Engine or all-electric cars until 2025.   Between 2019 and 2021 Volvo plans to launch five fully electric cars, three of which will be Volvo models and two that will be high performance electric vehicles from Polestar, Volvo’s performance car division. Samuelsson said all of these electric vehicles will be new models and not necessarily new stylings of existing Volvo models.

Technical details on the vehicles were sparse during a press conference held by Volvo, but the company did offer information about its three electric vehicle tiers. The mild electric vehicles, which Volvo views as a stepping stone away from ICEs, will feature a forty-eight (48) volt system featuring a battery in conjunction with a complex system functioning as a starter, generator, and electric motor.   Twin Engine will be a plug-in hybrid system. During the press conference Henrik Green, Senior VP of R&D at Volvo, said the company will be striving to provide a “very competitive range” with these new vehicles, which will be available in medium range and long range – at least up to 500 kilometers (about 311 miles) on a single charge. Green said Volvo has not yet settled on a battery supplier, but said the company is looking at all available suppliers for the best option.  “When it comes to batteries of course it’s a highly competitive and important component in all the future pure battery electric vehicles,” he said. Samuelsson added that this should also be taken as an invitation for more companies to invest in battery research and development. “We need new players and competition in battery manufacturing,” Samuelsson said.

This new announcement represents a dramatic shift in point of view for Volvo. Back in 2014 Samuelsson said the company didn’t believe in all-electric vehicles and said that hybrids were the way forward. Why the change of heart? Samuelsson told the press conference audience that Volvo was initially skeptical about the cost level of batteries and the lack of infrastructure to for recharging electric cars. “Things have moved faster, costumer demand has increased, battery costs have come down and there is movement now in charging infrastructure,” he said.

Top of Form

VOLVO did not unveil any details on vehicle costs. However, earlier reports from the Geneva Motor Show in March quoted Lex Kerssemakers , CEO of Volvo Car USA, as saying that the company’s first all-electric vehicle would have a range of at least 250 miles and price point of between 35,000 and $40,000 when it is released in 2019.

I think this is a fascinating step on the part of VOLVO.  They are placing all of their money on environmental efforts to reduce emissions.  I think that is very commendable.  Hopefully their vision for the future improves their brand and does not harm their sales efforts.

ORDORIFOUS REALITY

January 14, 2017


My company is working on a project involved with capturing methane from the decomposition of organic material in landfill sites.  Research preparatory to accepting the job reviled very interesting facts.  Let’s take a look.

NUMBERS:

The U.S. has 3,091 active landfills and over 10,000 old municipal landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. However, in the “good old days,” every town (and many businesses and factories) had its own dump.  This is somewhat disturbing since these landfills were unregulated.  Upregulation without standards can create situations where effluent can creep into groundwater possibly polluting wells and other sources of potable water.  That has now changed for the better.  The two digital maps below will indicate location and concentration of approved landfill sites.  You certainly can notice the greatest concentration is from the Mississippi River east where population densities are greatest.  This is certainly to be expected.

landfill-map2

landfill-map

Municipal solid waste (MSW) – more commonly known as trash or garbage – consists of everyday items people use and then throw away, such as product packaging, grass clippings, furniture, clothing, bottles, food scraps and papers. In 2010, individuals in the United States generated about 250 million short tons (230 Mt) of trash.   In the United Stateslandfills are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the states’ environmental agencies. Municipal solid waste landfills (MSWLF) are required to be designed to protect the environment from contaminants that may be present in the solid waste stream

Some materials may be banned from disposal in municipal solid waste landfills including common household items such as paints, cleaners/chemicalsmotor oilbatteriespesticides, and electronics. These products, if mishandled, can be dangerous to health and the environment.  Safe management of solid waste through guidance, technical assistance, regulations, permitting, environmental monitoring, compliance evaluation and enforcement is the goal of the EPA and state environmental agencies.

A typical landfill site looks pretty much as follows:

landfill-storage

You are correct—a big, very big mess.

CODES AND REGULATIONS:

Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) part 258 addresses seven major aspects of MSWLFs, which include the following:

  • Location restrictions—ensure that landfills are built in suitable geological areas away from faults, wetlands, flood plains or other restricted areas.
  • Composite liners requirements—include a flexible membrane (i.e., geo-membrane) overlaying two feet of compacted clay soil lining the bottom and sides of the landfill. They are used to protect groundwater and the underlying soil from leachate releases.
  • Leachate collection and removal systems—sit on top of the composite liner and removes leachate from the landfill for treatment and disposal.
  • Operating practices—include compacting and covering waste frequently with several inches of soil. These practices help reduce odor, control litter, insects, and rodent, and protect public health.
  • Groundwater monitoring requirements—requires testing groundwater wells to determine whether waste materials have escaped from the landfill.
  • Closure and post-closure care requirements—include covering landfills and providing long-term care of closed landfills.
  • Corrective action provisions—control and clean up landfill releases and achieves groundwater protection standards.
  • Financial assurance—provides funding for environmental protection during and after landfill closure (i.e., closure and post-closure care).

TIME LINE FOR METHANE PRODUCTION FROM LANDFILL:

Collection of methane does not occur the first day garbage is dumped into a landfill.  The chart below will indicate the constituents and a typical timeline for production CH (4).

time-line

We are after the methane so as you can see, after two years, approximately, we have roughly twenty percent (20%) of the effluent available for reclama.

Typical characteristics and quantities from decomposition of an established landfill are as follows:

typical-characteristics-and-quantities

HOW WE DO IT:

The JPEG below will indicate a very rough schematic of a landfill site with wells “sunk” to receive mechane and basic piping necessary for the accumulation of mechane.  Well systems consist of a series of vertical LFG extraction wells (perforated or slotted collection pipes) that penetrate to near the bottom of the refuse or to near the depth of saturated waste. Well systems are often recommended for landfills or portions of landfills that exceed 12 m (40 ft.) in depth. The design of a well-system requires an estimate of the rate of LFG production and the radius of influence of the wells. A well- system, either active or passive, is useful for layered landfills where vertical LFG migration is impeded. Because of the variability of landfill refuse, design procedures are difficult to apply to LFG collection systems. Vertical LFG collection wells are typically installed once filling operations have been completed, and are commonly spaced at a frequency of one per acre and are constructed using an auger type drill rig. As a general rule, where LFG collection efficiency is important, it is generally advisable to develop a tighter grid of extraction points with smaller spacings operated at a lower vacuum. It has been found that a vacuum of 10 to 25 inches of water column (in wc) represents a reasonable balance between maximizing zones of influence and minimizing air intrusion into the site. Operating at higher vacuum levels tends to extend the zone of capture beyond the limits of the waste burial and increase the potential for atmospheric air intrusion that could create a landfill fire/explosion hazard. The radius of the capture zone for a vertical extraction well may range from around 50 feet to 200 feet and is strongly dependent on localized landfill conditions. LFG recovery rates from an individual extraction well may range from approximately 10 to 50 cubic feet per minute (cfm).

A depiction of a typical well is shown as follows:

well

Each well must meet EPA standards and have the ability to capture all affluent so contamination of ground water does not occur.  Well extraction piping and well placement patterns may look as follows:

well-extraction-piping

A cross-section of a typical site indicates multiple wells with the landfill area.  The digital below will give you some idea as to schematic piping and flow.

methane-collection

As you can see, after accumulation, the affluent must be cleaned to remove methane.  Constituents possible within the “mix” are as follows:

organic-contaminants

Some of these contaminants are cancer-causing so they must be dealt with prior to collection.

You will notice in our example above; the collected and scrubbed methane is used to fire generators used to produce electricity.  This electricity may be sold back to the grid or used for industry and/or homes.

Examples of LFG Energy Projects:

Projects can vary significantly depending on the size of the landfill, the energy end-user, and other factors. Currently operational projects include:

  • Apex (50 million tons of waste) Las Vegas, NV – CC Landfill Energy LLC is building a plant that will produce 11 megawatts (MW) of electricity for NV Energy, a utility that serves approximately 2.4 million customers.
  • Puente Hills (123 M tons) Whittier, CA – The largest LFG-to-electricity program currently in production, Puente Hills produces 50 megawatts, enough to power roughly 50,000 homes. Additionally, some of Puente Hills’ gas is used to fuel garbage trucks.
  • Rumpke Sanitary (36 M tons) Colerain Township, OH – This landfill site hosts the largest landfill-to-gas facility in the world, recovering approximately 15 million standard cubic feet of LFG per day, which is then distributed by Duke Energy Corporation.
  • Newton County Landfill Partnership (19 M tons) Brook, IN – More than 1.1 million standard cubic feet of gas is captured from Newton County Landfill per day. The energy is used by a nearby factory to make egg cartons.
  • Atlantic Waste (15 M tons) Waverly, VA – This site has in place a 20-mile pipeline to Honeywell’s Hopewell plant. The landfill provides 20 percent of the energy used at the plant.

CONCLUSIONS:

Methane extraction is not only possible but is being accomplished across the United States.  The very short list above indicates those states and cities in which technology is being applied to provide usable energy from old-fashioned garbage.

INTELLIGENT FLEET SOLUTIONS

October 16, 2016


Ever been on an Interstate?  Ever travel those highways WITHOUT seeing one of the “big rigs”?  I don’t think so. I have a commute every day on Interstate 75 and even at 0530 hours the heavy-duty truck traffic is significant.  As I travel that route, I pass two rest stops dedicated solely for drivers needing to take a break.  They are always full; lights on, engines running. (More about that later.)

Let’s take a very quick look at transportation in the United States to get calibrated as to the scope and breadth of the transportation industry. (NOTE: The following information comes from TruckInfo.net.)

  • How big is the trucking industry?
    The trucking companies, warehouses and private sector in the U.S. employs an estimated 8.9 million people employed in trucking-related jobs; nearly 3.5 million were truck drivers. Of this figure UPS employs 60,000 workers and 9% are owner operators.  LTL shippers account for around 13.6 percent of America’s trucking sector.
  • How many trucks operate in the U.S.?
    Estimates of 15.5 million trucks operate in the U.S.  Of this figure 2 million are tractor trailers.
  • How many truckers are there?
    It is an estimated over 3.5 million truck drivers in the U.S.  Of that one in nine are independent, a majority of which are owner operators. Canada has in excess of 250,000 truck drivers.
  • How many trucking companies are there in the U.S.?
    Estimates of 1.2 million companies in the U.S. Of that figure 97% operate 20 or fewer while 90% operate 6 or fewer trucks.
  • How many miles does the transportation industry transports good in a year?
    In 2006 the transportation industry logged 432.9 billion miles. Class 8 trucks accounted for 139.3 billion of those miles, up from 130.5 billion in 2005
  • What is the volume of goods transported by the trucking industry?
    The United States economy depends on trucks to deliver nearly 70 percent of all freight transported annually in the U.S., accounting for $671 billion worth of manufactured and retail goods transported by truck in the U.S. alone. Add $295 billion in truck trade with Canada and $195.6 billion in truck trade with Mexico.

As you can see, the transportation industry, moving products from point “A” to point “B” by truck, is HUGE—absolutely HUGE.    With this being the case, our country has established goals to improving gas mileage for passenger cars, light trucks and heavy-duty trucks.  These goals are dedicated to improving gas mileage but also goals to reduce emissions.  Let’s take a look.

Passenger Car and Light Truck Standards for 2017 and beyond

In 2012, NHTSA established final passenger car and light truck CAFE standards for model years 2017-2021, which the agency projects will require in model year 2021, on average, a combined fleet-wide fuel economy of 40.3-41.0 mpg. As part of the same rulemaking action, EPA issued GHG standards, which are harmonized with NHTSA’s fuel economy standards that are projected to require 163 grams/mile of carbon dioxide (CO2) in model year 2025.  EPA will reexamine the GHG standards for model years 2022-2025 and NHTSA will set new CAFE standards for those model years in the next couple of years, based on the best available information at that time.

The Big Rigs

On June 19, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced major increases for fuel efficiency of heavy-duty trucks. Part of President Obama’s comprehensive Climate Action Plan, Phase 2 of the Heavy-Duty National Program tightens emission standards for heavy-duty trucks and includes big rigs, delivery vehicles, dump trucks and buses.  The updated efficiency rule for trucks joins a growing list of fuel efficiency measures, including the President’s 2012 doubling of fuel efficiency standards for cars and light-duty trucks (CAFE standards), as well as expected aircraft rules, following the agency’s finding that aircraft emissions endanger human health.

While the miles per gallon (mpg) rating of cars and light duty trucks has increased over the last decade or so, the fuel efficiency of heavy-duty trucks has held at 5 mpg for over four decades. Conversely, the average passenger vehicle reached 24 mpg in 2010.  Under CAFE, cars and light duty trucks are set to reach 54.5 MPG by 2025. 

According to EPA, heavy-duty trucks are the fastest growing emissions segment of the U.S. transportation sector; they are currently responsible for twenty percent (20%) of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while comprising just four percent (4%) of on-road vehicles.  Heavy duty trucks power the consumer economy, carrying seventy percent (70%) of all U.S. freight – weighing in at 10 billion tons of everything from food to electronics, building materials, clothes and other consumer goods.

As you can see, the goals are not only reduction in fuel usage but improvements in emissions.  There are companies and programs dedicated to meeting these goals.  The reason for this post is to indicate that people and companies are working to provide answers; solving problems; providing value-added to our environment and even our way of life. One such company is Intelligent Fleet Solutions.

The big questions is, how do we meet these goals?  The burden is up to companies manufacturing the engines and design of the cabs and trailers.  Alternate fuels are one answer; i.e. using CNG (compressed natural gas), biofuels, hydrogen, etc. but maybe not the entire answer.

One manner in which these goals may be met is reducing engine idle while trucks are at rest.  The following chart will explain the dilemma and one target for reduction in petroleum consumption.

gas-usage-at-idle

This chart shows petroleum consumption of various vehicles at idle.  Notice: diesel engine consumption can use up to 1.00 gallon per hour when idling.  Question, can we lessen this consumption?

Companies designing and manufacturing devices to contribute to this effort are being introduced helping to drive us towards meeting really tough café goals.  One such company is Intelligent Fleet Solutions. Let’s take a look.

INTELLIGENT FLEET SOLUTIONS

What if the vehicle you drive could automatically alter its performance by doing the following?

  • Governing maximum speed in Class 8 vehicles
  • Optimizing acceleration
  • Providing for a more efficient cruise

If you look carefully at the following brochure you will see a device that provides all three.  The DERIVE program is downloaded into your vehicle’s ECM (Electronic Control Module) allowing control from generic to specific.  You are in control.  The program is contained in a hand-held pendent that “jacks” into the same receptacle used to reset your check engine light.  Heavy-duty trucks may have another port for this pendent but the same process is used.  The great part—the software is quick loading and low cost.  A driver or owner has a payback considerably less one year.  My friend Amy Dobrikova is an approved reseller for DERIVE technologies. Please contact her for further information at 765-617-8614.

derive

derive-2

CONCLUSIONS:  Intelligent Fleet Solutions performs a great service in helping to preserve non-renewable fossil fuels AND lessening or eliminating harmful effluent from our environment.  “Solutions” recognizes the fact that “all hands must be on deck” to solve emission problems and conserve remaining petroleum supplies.  This company embodies the fact that America is still THE country in which technology is applied to solve problems and insure specific goals are met.  Intelligent Fleet Solutions is a great contributor to that effort.  Check them out at intelligent-fleet.com


I think everyone is very proud of their home state and city.  Most in this “neck of the woods” would not live any other place than Chattanooga, Tennessee.  It hasn’t always been that way.  We were at one time one of the most polluted cities in the United States.    The copy from the Chattanooga Times will indicate the conditions we all lived with during the 1960s.

CHATTANOOGA city councilman Dave Crockett remembers when the dust and smoke in the air of this Tennessee city were so thick people turned on their car headlights at noon and businessmen brought an extra white shirt to work. That was in the 1960s when federal authorities said Chattanooga had the worst air pollution of any city in the United States.

In 1969, a U.S. survey of the countries air quality confirmed that Chattanooga was the worst city in the U.S. for particulate matter in the air. Before the Clean Air Act in 1970, in 1969, Chattanooga created its own legislation called the Air Pollution Control Ordinance. It controlled emissions of sulfur oxides, allowed open burning by permit only, placed regulations on odors and dust, outlawed visible auto emissions, capped sulfur content of fuel at four percent (4%,) and limited visible emissions from industry. Additionally, new pollution monitoring techniques were set in place to make sure these regulations were being followed.

That condition has long since been altered. As a result, the city has attracted a great number of business with many being foreign companies.  Clean air, welcoming environmental conditions, access to great transportation, willing workforce and affordable housing have made Chattanooga a very desirable place to live and work.

Much can be said for the entire state of Tennessee.  As you can see from the digital photograph below, twelve (12) countries have placed manufacturing locations within Tennessee borders and we are talking about multiple sites for those investments. These companies employ approximately 81,800 men and women.

investment2

In looking at the largest foreign-based companies in Tennessee, we see the following.

investment3

One facility just coming on line is the Wacker facility in Savanna, Tennessee. Wacker is by far, the most expensive facility at $2.5 billion.  The company has been extremely methodical in researching a proper site for their facility and training employees to work in that facility.  Many have made the trip to Germany for training.  It has been a great experience for the Chattanooga area.  A photograph of Wacker was given by the Sunday paper.  Very brief stats are given as follows:

Project Highlights:

  • US $2.5 billion plant investment–the largest single private manufacturing investment ever in     Tennessee
  • 650 new jobs
  • 20,000 metric ton capacity
  • 550-acre greenfield site
  • The plant will produce 20,000 tons of polysilicon annually at full capacity.
  • The plant was built with expansion in mind, noting the current facility is only using about 40 percent of its land. Wacker as a worldwide company produces a broad range of products.

 

When fully operational, the facility will employ right at 2,000 people.  An amazing addition to our East Tennessee area.

wacher2

You can get a much better feel for the size of the facility by looking at an aerial view.

wacker-3

One additional inducement for locating your facilities in Chattanooga, is Chattanooga downtown.  We are having a movement from the “burbs” to the downtown area simply due to the fact that there is a great deal to do in the downtown area.  Great places to eat, sights to see and one of the most vibrant outdoor communities in the United States.  Come on down for a visit.

US INFRASTRUCTURE REPORT

October 2, 2016


Information for this post came from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Every family, every community and every business needs infrastructure to thrive. Infrastructure encompasses your local water main and the Hoover Dam; the power lines connected to your house and the electrical grid spanning the U.S.; and the street in front of your home and the national highway system.

Once every four years, America’s civil engineers provide a comprehensive assessment of the nation’s major infrastructure categories in ASCE’s Report Card for America’s Infrastructure Report Card.  Using a simple A to F school report card format, the Report Card provides a comprehensive assessment of current infrastructure conditions and needs, both assigning grades and making recommendations for how to raise the grades. An Advisory Council of ASCE members assigns the grades according to the following eight criteria: capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience, and innovation. Since 1998, the grades have been near failing, averaging only Ds, due to delayed maintenance and underinvestment across most categories.  Now the 2013 Report Card grades are in, and America’s cumulative GPA for infrastructure rose slightly to a D+. The grades in 2013 ranged from a high of B- for solid waste to a low of D- for inland waterways and levees. Solid waste, drinking water, wastewater, roads, and bridges all saw incremental improvements, and rail jumped from a C- to a C+. No categories saw a decline in grade this year.

Let’s take a quick look at the grades for each of the categories ASCE has provided.  You will not be impressed.  Our U.S. Congress has done what they always do—put their reelection first and the country dead last.

overall-report-card

The table below provides the estimated cumulative investment needs by infrastructure category based on current trends extended to the year 2020 (dollars in $2010 billions). Categories that are not shaded rely on data from ASCE’s Failure to Act series.

funding-table

The grades in the 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure are a comprehensive assessment of current infrastructure conditions across America. It is important to note that these infrastructure conditions have impacts on our economy as well.

In 2011, ASCE commissioned a series of economic reports called Failure to Act to provide an objective analysis of the economic implications for the United States of current investment trends in key infrastructure sectors. These first-of-a-kind reports were prepared for ASCE by the Economic Development Research Group of Boston to answer this central question:

What is the value to America’s economy in the long term if we invest in our infrastructure today?

The results of the Failure to Act series focus on:

Together, these reports cover 9 of the 16 categories addressed by the Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.

Analyzing current investment trends for each infrastructure sector, the report conveys the economic impacts in terms of change in GDP, household income, employment, and exports in the years 2020 and 2040. In short, investing in infrastructure is an engine for long-term economic growth, increasing GDP, employment, household income, and exports. The reverse is also true – without investing, infrastructure can become a drag on the economy.

I would like to concentrate on just two of the categories ASCE has given us, Water and Environment and Transportation.  Obviously, every citizen of this country uses these government-provided services every day.  Our lives are directly affected by the viability of these two categories.

WATER AND ENVIRONMENT:

Dams: Dams again earned a grade of D. The average age of the 84,000 dams in the country is 52 years old. The nation’s dams are aging and the number of high-hazard dams is on the rise. Many of these dams were built as low-hazard dams protecting undeveloped agricultural land. However, with an increasing population and greater development below dams, the overall number of high-hazard dams continues to increase, to nearly 14,000 in 2012. The number of deficient dams is currently more than 4,000. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimates that it will require an investment of $21 billion to repair these aging, yet critical, high-hazard dams.

Drinking Water: The grade for drinking water improved slightly to a D. At the dawn of the 21st century, much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life. There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States. Assuming every pipe would need to be replaced, the cost over the coming decades could reach more than $1 trillion, according to the American Water Works Association (AWWA). The quality of drinking water in the United States remains universally high, however. Even though pipes and mains are frequently more than 100 years old and in need of replacement, outbreaks of disease attributable to drinking water are rare.

Hazardous Waste: There has been undeniable success in the cleanup of the nation’s hazardous waste and brownfields sites. However, annual funding for Superfund site cleanup is estimated to be as much as $500 million short of what is needed, and 1,280 sites remain on the National Priorities List with an unknown number of potential sites yet to be identified. More than 400,000 brownfields sites await cleanup and redevelopment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that one in four Americans lives within three miles of a hazardous waste site. The grade for hazardous waste remained unchanged at a D.

Levees: Levees again earned a near failing grade of D- in 2013. The nation’s estimated 100,000 miles of levees can be found in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Many of these levees were originally used to protect farmland, and now are increasingly protecting developed communities. The reliability of these levees is unknown in many cases, and the country has yet to establish a National Levee Safety Program. Public safety remains at risk from these aging structures, and the cost to repair or rehabilitate these levees is roughly estimated to be $100 billion by the National Committee on Levee Safety. However, the return on investment is clear – as levees helped in the prevention of more than $141 billion in flood damages in 2011.

Solid Waste: In 2010, Americans generated 250 million tons of trash. Of that, 85 million tons were recycled or composted. This represents a 34% recycling rate, more than double the 14.5% in 1980. Per capita generation rates of waste have been steady over the past 20 years and have even begun to show signs of decline in the past several years. The grade for solid waste improved in 2013, and it earned the highest grade of B-.

Wastewater: The grade for wastewater improved slightly to a D. Capital investment needs for the nation’s wastewater and stormwater systems are estimated to total $298 billion over the next 20 years. Pipes represent the largest capital need, comprising three quarters of total needs. Fixing and expanding the pipes will address sanitary sewer overflows, combined sewer overflows, and other pipe-related issues. In recent years, capital needs for the treatment plants comprise about 15%-20% of total needs, but will likely increase due to new regulatory requirements. Stormwater needs, while growing, are still small compared with sanitary pipes and treatment plants. Since 2007, the federal government has required cities to invest more than $15 billion in new pipes, plants, and equipment to eliminate combined sewer overflows.

TRANSPORTATION:

Aviation: Despite the effects of the recent recession, commercial flights were about 33 million higher in number in 2011 than in 2000, stretching the system’s ability to meet the needs of the nation’s economy. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates that the national cost of airport congestion and delays was almost $22 billion in 2012. If current federal funding levels are maintained, the FAA anticipates that the cost of congestion and delays to the economy will rise from $34 billion in 2020 to $63 billion by 2040. Aviation again earned a D.

Bridges: Over two hundred million trips are taken daily across deficient bridges in the nation’s 102 largest metropolitan regions. In total, one in nine of the nation’s bridges are rated as structurally deficient, while the average age of the nation’s 607,380 bridges is currently 42 years. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates that to eliminate the nation’s bridge backlog by 2028, we would need to invest $20.5 billion annually, while only $12.8 billion is being spent currently. The challenge for federal, state, and local governments is to increase bridge investments by $8 billion annually to address the identified $76 billion in needs for deficient bridges across the United States. However, with the overall number of structurally deficient bridges continuing to trend downward, the grade improved to C+.

Inland Waterways: Our nation’s inland waterways and rivers are the hidden backbone of our freight network – they carry the equivalent of about 51 million truck trips each year. In many cases, the inland waterways system has not been updated since the 1950s, and more than half of the locks are over 50 years old. Barges are stopped for hours each day with unscheduled delays, preventing goods from getting to market and driving up costs. There is an average of 52 service interruptions a day throughout the system. Projects to repair and replace aging locks and dredge channels take decades to approve and complete, exacerbating the problem further. Inland waterways received a D- grade once again as conditions remain poor and investment levels remain stagnant.

Ports: This new category for 2013 debuted with a grade of C. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that more than 95% (by volume) of overseas trade produced or consumed by the United States moves through our ports. To sustain and serve a growing economy and compete internationally, our nation’s ports need to be maintained, modernized, and expanded. While port authorities and their private sector partners have planned over $46 billion in capital improvements from now until 2016, federal funding has declined for navigable waterways and landside freight connections needed to move goods to and from the ports.

Rail: Railroads are experiencing a competitive resurgence as both an energy-efficient freight transportation option and a viable city-to-city passenger service. In 2012, Amtrak recorded its highest year of ridership with 31.2 million passengers, almost doubling ridership since 2000, with growth anticipated to continue. Both freight and passenger rail have been investing heavily in their tracks, bridges, and tunnels as well as adding new capacity for freight and passengers. In 2010 alone, freight railroads renewed the rails on more than 3,100 miles of railroad track, equivalent to going coast to coast. Since 2009, capital investment from both freight and passenger railroads has exceeded $75 billion, actually increasing investment during the recession when materials prices were lower and trains ran less frequently. With high ridership and greater investment in the system, the grade for rail saw the largest improvement, moving up to a C+ in 2013.

Roads: Targeted efforts to improve conditions and significant reductions in highway fatalities resulted in a slight improvement in the roads grade to a D this year. However, forty-two percent of America’s major urban highways remain congested, costing the economy an estimated $101 billion in wasted time and fuel annually. While the conditions have improved in the near term, and federal, state, and local capital investments increased to $91 billion annually, that level of investment is insufficient and still projected to result in a decline in conditions and performance in the long term. Currently, the Federal Highway Administration estimates that $170 billion in capital investment would be needed on an annual basis to significantly improve conditions and performance.

Transit: The grade for transit remained at a D as transit agencies struggled to balance increasing ridership with declining funding. America’s public transit infrastructure plays a vital role in our economy, connecting millions of people with jobs, medical facilities, schools, shopping, and recreation, and it is critical to the one-third of Americans who do not drive cars. Unlike many U.S. infrastructure systems, the transit system is not comprehensive, as 45% of American households lack any access to transit, and millions more have inadequate service levels. Americans who do have access have increased their ridership 9.1% in the past decade, and that trend is expected to continue. Although investment in transit has also increased, deficient and deteriorating transit systems cost the U.S. economy $90 billion in 2010, as many transit agencies are struggling to maintain aging and obsolete fleets and facilities amid an economic downturn that has reduced their funding, forcing service cuts and fare increases.

CONCLUSION:

I know my readers think I’m beating up on state and federal governments, but give me a break.  Do you ever wonder what these elected officials really do?  I want to show you the top ten (10) boondoggles the Fed has deemed necessary.  Here we go.

  • THE BRIDGE TO NOWHERE: A notorious 2005 earmark authorized $452 million to build two bridges in Alaska—including one that became known as the so-called Bridge to Nowhere, which would have connected the city of Ketchikan to Gravina Island, home to only a few dozen people.
  • The Woodstock Museum: In 2007, Congress authorized a $1 million earmark to build a museum dedicated to the 1969 Woodstock concert.
  • Duplication Nation– Every year the federal government wastes at least $200 billion in duplicative federal programs, agencies, offices and initiatives.
  • The Adult Baby– We were curious to learn, in 2011, of a subculture of adults who dress, eat and otherwise behave as babies. We were further shocked to discover that some, including a man named Stanley Thornton—who was featured in a television program—had funded his infantile lifestyle by relying on disability payments from the Social Security Administration.
  • Unemployment Payouts to Millionaires–It’s not just adult babies gaming the system. In 2011, we discovered that federal unemployment benefits are being sent to the wealthy—who bilk the system out of at least $30 million each year.
  • Shrimp on a Treadmill– In 2007, the National Science Foundation committed more than $500,000 to study the mobility of shrimp by conducting experiments that involved placing the crustaceans on treadmills. (You have to love this one!!!!!!!!)
  • The RoboSquirrelSpeaking of wasteful research, in 2012, we highlighted a $325,000 study on the interaction between rattlesnakes and squirrels that made use of a robotic squirrel. (Don’t even ask.)
  • The Pentagon’s “Did Jesus die for Klingons too?” symposium–In 2012, we issued a report titled

“Department of Everything” that showed how the Department of Defense could make cuts in “non-defense” spending – spending in DOD that has nothing to do with our national defense, which we’ve estimated totals almost $68 billion. In the report, we highlighted surprising spending on beef jerky and a smartphone add to gauge caffeine intake. Our eyebrows were also raised by a strategy planning workshop for which nearly $100,000 was allocated. One of the sessions at the symposium explored the relationship between Jesus and Klingons, the famous alien species in the Star Trek series.

  • The Turtle TunnelIn 2009, a “stimulus” project for a $3.4 million wildlife “eco-passage” was greenlighted in Florida to help turtles and other wildlife cross beneath a busy road. (Don’t get me wrong—I like turtles but $3.4 million.)
  • Handouts for Pro Athletes and Team OwnersIn 2013 we sponsored a bill to end the nonprofit tax exemption for for-profit sports leagues.

Meanwhile, our roads, bridges, dams, water, etc etc seems to continue to suffer.  You get the picture.

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