Reinert Interview: Artificial Photosynthesis

Today is the second post in this Monday series of subjects covered during my summer 2014 interview of Bill Reinert, recently retired energy engineer for Toyota who played a key role in the development of the Prius and then assumed the role of future transportation planning of alternative-fueled vehicles at Toyota. See his full bio here.

In my opinion, today’s portion of the interview was one of the most interesting of all, because I learned about a subject that is not at the forefront of today’s news – news which is so burdened all of the time with hyped stories about some latest promising new technology with government or other funding behind it. The possibility of producing hydrogen fuel through photosynthesis is certainly exciting. It is most helpful to have an expert energy engineer and technology futurist point us towards this subject which he views as significant in the research arena. Reinert’s description of the application for using the hydrogen which might be created through artificial photosynthesis is unique.

But, before reading today’s interview segment, we need to look at the description by Nate Lewis of “artificial photosynthesis”: …a research frontier involved with the development of an integrated system based on semiconductor nanowires that act as artificial photosynthetic pigments, which bridge a membrane and are coupled to catalysts that both reduce water to hydrogen and oxidize water to oxygen. As you can tell, this is no second grade science experiment and it relies upon the recent advances in nanotechnology.
—Kay M.

K.M.: What can you tell us about artificial photosynthesis?

Reinert: There’s a big consortium centered at CalTech under the principle investigator, Nate Lewis, to do artificial photosynthesis. This is one of the few alternative fuel areas that’s not getting a lot of federal money, but it’s getting a lot of private money, and this private money is (largely) coming from the oil companies. There’s a ton of money being thrown at it, and it looks like they’re making some progress.

It has nothing to do with producing hydrogen for fuel cell cars. It has everything to do with producing low carbon hydrogen to be used at the refinery level to reduce the carbon emissions of gasoline or diesel during the production process. Because when the hydrocrackers start up, they use tons of hydrogen. The hydrogen right now is produced by the steam methane reformation reaction which is pretty effective, but still releases a lot of carbon.

If they can actually start producing hydrogen from photosynthesis, then, they can start getting low carbon gasoline, and that’s what the whole play is all about.

So, of all the things, it seems the furthest away. Make machines act like plants, really? The fuel companies aren’t saying anything about it. Neither are they trying to be green. They’re just trying to comply with regulations and they think that this just might work.

May not be reprinted without permission.

To see last week’s interview subject of PEAK OIL click here.

Coming next week will be Reinert’s thoughts about “energy environmental sacrifice areas.”

For further information about artificial photosynthesis, I recommend:



3. This video:


White Vegetables in My White Garden

It’s been six years since we moved to Boulder from Lincoln, Nebraska. I had a white garden there, and had begun to miss it.

Because some dirt work needed to be done around a basement window this spring which had been the source of some leaking during heavy rains and the flood last fall, my husband added to the project by removing a rectangle of grass around that window well so that I could again have a white garden. The spot is very harsh here in this climate, receiving only afternoon sun.

For the new garden, I started white zinnias, shasta daisies, and phlox from seed. I also ordered some white blooming prairie plants from High Country Gardens. And, because I expected that in its first year, the garden would be sparse, I thought I’d put white vegetables on the one end. For this, I started some chives, white pumpkins, and white eggplants from seed. Needless to say, the pumpkins took over more than their share of the garden by early August but when I harvested them a couple weeks ago, I was not sorry.

Here, I must put in a plug for the source of my seeds, John Sheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds, because all of the seeds from them which I used to start this garden were true. They were white and they all turned out to be what they were supposed to be. I can’t say that for other seed starting experiences I’ve had in the past and it’s a lot of work to start seedlings and nurture them into garden plants. You don’t want to waste your time with poor seeds and who can you trust?

We’ve only had a light frost here so far, and my white garden is blooming very nicely on this mid-October date. It was well worth the effort. Yesterday, I planted white bulbs into it: crocus, daffodils, and tulips. I can hardly wait for next year and it hasn’t even frosted yet.

Here are a few photos for you.

Bee on a white coneflower.

Blanca eggplant started from seed.

Boer Ford flat pumpkins started from seed. Note black cat in background.

As you can see, we’re more than ready for Halloween at our house!

Which States Derive the Highest Percent of Gross Product from Agriculture? from Food Manufacturing?

A new study out of South Dakota crunches the numbers to tell us which U.S. states are at the top for agriculture production/food manufacturing as percent of gross state product:

1. North Dakota – 12.1 %
2. South Dakota – 11.9 %
3. Iowa 11.4 %
4. Nebraska – 11.3 %
5. Idaho – 9.0 %

The two Dakotas are the very top states for the agriculture production only category (as percent of gross state product):

1. North Dakota – 10.6 %
2. South Dakota – 10.5%

(Note that North Dakota produces over 90 percent of this nation’s canola and flax. It also produces barley, spring wheat, honey, peas, and sunflowers.)

Top states for food manufacturing only (as percent of gross state product):

1. North Carolina – 4.3 %
2. Iowa – 4.2 %
3. Kentucky – 3.7 %
4. Virginia – 3.7 %
5. Nebraska – 3.4 %

Note that the Dakotas rank lower in the food manufacturing sector because of labor costs, transportation costs, a limited workforce, and other factors.


It’s About Time that South Park Does a Spoof on Gluten-Free

I’ve never bought into the gluten-free craze, even though I live in Boulder, which embraced the movement from day one. Now, 99 percent of our grocery stores are devoted to gluten-free products. Well, maybe not quite that much, but it’s certainly in your face when you walk into the grocery store. Items such as shampoo for dogs are labeled gluten-free and customers are sure to choose the gluten-free dog shampoo over the dog shampoo that is not labeled gluten-free. This is sadly true, and I supposedly live in one of the smartest towns in the nation. Argh.

A few years ago, at my local Kroger’s grocer, I was picking out a flour to make bread. A very young couple was shopping for gluten-free flour-like products near me. So, mystified, I asked them why they’d gone gluten-free. They explained to me very enthusiastically that gluten coats your food in your bowels so you cannot obtain the nutrients in your food and now that they’d gone gluten-free they felt SO MUCH BETTER. (They looked really healthy to me.) I left the store with my bag of flour unconvinced.

In this episode, South Park rather impressively presents the USDA and our Secretary of Agriculture. I’m not sure why they make Vilsack look so good. He’s more handsome and thinner than in real life, and they have him wearing a white lab coat as if he’s a scientist, and not the tie wearing lawyer-politician which he really is.

The crude-humor (warning – DO NOT watch if you are sensitive to crudeness) based in Colorado clever and funny South Park has finally done an episode on gluten-free ebola. Everything they do is centered around bad taste.

Iowa’s Role in Feeding China. Feature from the DesMoines Register.

The DesMoines Register will begin its feature story on Sunday about Iowa’s role in feeding China now and in the future. They have a nice 2.5 minute video promoting the story that I enjoyed watching. I hope you do, too.

Link to map and statistics. Page includes links to each day of series.

Link to promotional video.

Link to Sunday article including video.

Link to “key players”.