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Monday, April 23, 2018

Brown flour

Brown flour just ain't what is is cracked up to be.  Let me quote a paragraph or two from The Third Plate by Dan Barber (incidentally, highly recommended)

"The roller mill appeared in the late 1800's just in time to expand the divide between the wheat field and the table.  It was a technological breakthrough that revolutionized the wheat industry just as the cotton gin had done for the cotton industry a century earlier.  Until its widespread use, people used stone mills.  Stone mills like the one we use at Blue Hill work like molars, crushing the kernels between two large stones.  They are effective, but slow and tedious, and they do little to separate the kernel into its component parts, a key development in the drive to industrialize flour.
 Image result for image a water powered flour mill

A few years ago, Klaas's wife, Mary-Howell showed me a picture of a wheat kernel in cross section.  It looked like an ultrasound image of a six-or seven week old human gestational sac, which isnt a bad comparison; a wheat kernel is a seed, after all.  The grain's embryo or 'germ' is surrounded by the starchy endosperm, - the stuff of refined white flour - which stores food for the germ.  Surrounding the endosperm is the seed coat or bran, which protects the germ until moisture and heat levels indicate it's time to germinate. 
 Image result for image wheat kernel

Whereas stone mills had crushed the tiny germ, releasing oils that would turn the flour rancid within days, roller mills separated the germ and the bran from the endosperm.  This new ability to isolate the endosperm allowed for the production of self-stable white flour, able to be stored and transported long distances.  Overnight, flour became a commodity. 
 Related image

It's hard to fathom that merely removing a temperamental little germ could revolutionize a staple grain, but that's just what happened.  The settling of the Great Plains and the advent of roller-mill technology meant that white flour was suddenly cheaper and more readily available.  Small wheat farms, including those in the former grain belt of New York, couldn't compete. Gristmills dotting the landscape became the stuff of folklore.  The homogenization of the US wheat industry had begun

The whiter flour became, the greater the demand.  To be fair, that's been the history of wheat for thousands of years.  But for all its efficiency, steel couldn't match the old-school grindstone in two key respects.  In fully removing the germ - that vital, living element of wheat - and the bran, the roller mill not only killed wheat but also sacrificed nearly all of its nutrition.  While the bran and the germ represent less than 20% of a wheat kernel's total weight, together they comprise 80% of it's fiber and other nutrients.  And studies show that the nutritional benefits of whole grains can be gained only when all the edible parts of the grain - bran, germ and endosperm - are consumed together*.  But that's exactly what was lost in the new milling process.

*this probably relates to the fact that you need to consume all the amino acids in protein at the same time.  The digestive system takes up amino acids as balanced proteins.  If there is an excess of one amino acid, the excess is rejected. Presumably there are different amino acids in the various components of the wheat seed and only by consuming the whole seed do you get the full nutrition.

There was another cost as well, just as devastating. Stone-milled flour retained a golden hue from the crushed germ's oil and was fragrant with bits of nutty bran.  The roller mills might have finally achieved a truly white flour, but the dead chalky powder no longer tasted of wheat - or really of anything at all.  We didn't just kill wheat,  We killed the flavor.

The Chinese Dilema

You may have wondered why there are so many Chinese in the world today.  The answer is surprisingly simple.  Many many years ago some Chinese genius worked out that in order to have sustainable soils, you have to return every bit of organic material you can to the soil.  This includes animal waste, human waste and all the inedible parts of your crops.  You can also supplement this with material from the sea since you are sending huge amounts of nutrients down your rivers from the land.  It has worked a treat and despite  mongol hoards, palace revolutions and wars, the Chinese have grown and prospered.'

It helped that they had rich deep loes soils gratis of the continental glaciers that ground rock into fine powder to be carried and deposited by the wind but so did America and they have gone through meters of this 'god given' bounty in a few centuries.

In the mean time other empires have prospered and declined as they mined their soils and the area they occupied had to wait for the slow process of building new soils from the bottom up before significant numbers of people could once more occupy the areas where empires once existed.

Back to the Chinese, they are now coming into the 'modern world' and it doesn't auger well for them.  On the nutrient front, they now have flush toilets and will be sending massive amounts of nutrients to sewage plants to be detoxified, denitrified and what is left, sent down to the sea.

It doesn't have to be this way.  For instance, in Seattle, they now have a sewage plant that is turning their 'feed stock' into valuable fertilizer, the sale of which covers half their running costs.  If this becomes the norm instead of the exception, perhaps us westerners can also have a sustainable future.

The Chinese are sinning against sustainability in another way now.  In their rush to industrialize. they are polluting their air to an extreme extent. It is so bad that they are negatively affecting their agriculture.  Never mind. there is light on the horizon.  At the same time they are working as hard as they can to replace coal energy with wind and solar energy and petrol vehicles with electrics.  With their command economy, they will most likely succeed and rather rapidly at that.

In the mean time the Chinese are buying up land all over the world to be able to feed their people.  If they adopt the western model of flushing nutrients down to the sea, they will have to buy up a lot more.

Monday, April 2, 2018

historical sea level

Time                         Level
 22000 years ago      Minus 120m
 15,000                                 -107
 10,000                                 -40
   9,000                                 -25
   8,000                                 -15
   7,000                                 -30cm


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Electrical demand balancing

Electricity generating companies are facing a couple of problems which can be solved by demand balancing but first, what is demand balancing.

At present, most generating companies monitor the use of electricity and as demand goes up, bring on more generators and as demand goes down, reduce the power output of generators and even shed them.  All generators have a certain range of output so as power demand increases, smaller variations in demand can be met by increasing the amount of power produced by a given generator but beyond a certain level, more generators must be brought on line Power companies have a dilemma in that they must have sufficient generating capacity to meet peak loads.  This is expensive.  To build new generation capacity when it will only be used occasionally is a nightmare to their accountants.

There are peak generation periods such as in the morning when everyone is getting ready to go to work or school and more so in the evening when everyone is home, the TV is running, mom is making dinner in the oven, it is winter and all the lights are on.  What the generating companies don't need is that at this peak load time you are also running the dish washer, cloths washer, cloths drier, water heater and so forth.  If these functions could be shifted to late at night when all the evening activity is over and the lights are out, then they could avoid having to build more 'plant' that will only be needed in peak hours.

This is where demand balancing comes on.  The power company has to find a way to induce us to use power whenever possible in trough hours so that we don't need this power in peak hours.  The inducement is simple.  The make power less expensive during trough demand.

They could simply make power less expensive for all uses as demand goes down but what is really the holy grail for them is to be able to switch on and off some of your electrical devices as needed to balance their base generation.

We need some hardware and soft ware to make this happen.  Here is an idea of how it will work.

You have special little units that you plug into your wall socket and then plug your device into the unit.  It 'talks' to your smart meter you have installed.  You can set the unit to come on at different prices for electricity and, of course, the power company, when they have a little excess power, will send a message down their lines that now power is at 24c, 23c, 22c and so forth as they need more demand to balance the base power they are producing.

You are unlikely to put one of these devices on your TV or stand up lamp.  If you do, the TV and/or the lamp will go off if the price for power goes above what you have selected. All these functions that are on demand.  ie that you can switch on and off as you want, you still pay the full power price of, let's say, 25c/kWh.  The only equipment you are likely to use these special plug in units for are your chothes and dish washer, any batteries you are charbing (such as your car or wall unit), your hot water cylinder and so forth.  On the front of the device will be a dial that you turn to the price you are willing to pay for the function in question.  But all devices are not equal.

With your car battery or hot water cylinder, the power can go off and on as the power company adjusts the price to use their base generation.  Your washing machine is something else.  Once the cycle starts, you want it to finish.  Otherwise you may have food baked on to your dishes or a wet mess in your clothes washer.  So we have another wee switch on the device which you can put in 'continue to the end' or intermitent.  Now we have one more problem.  For your dish washer, you will set the 'continue' function so once it starts it will finish.

A battery or water heater is something else again.  You may have set your car battery charging unit to, say 10c since past experience shows that you are likely to get some power at this price during the night but here we have a different problem. You want to be able to get to work in the morning.  so we need one more function in our wall plug device..

We have a timer on the device which you set so that full power comes on, say, an hour before you go to work.  If the battery is fully charged, it will not take any more power but if the battery is only partially charged, it will fill up your battery at the full cost.  Not to worry.  Even at the full day time rate, it costs about a third as much in fuel to drive a km than with fossil fuel.

Despite what you hear, power companies are more worried at present by the decrease in power demand.  People are putting in LED lights, factories are becoming more efficient and the power companies are seeing decreasing revenue.  The Electric car is a god send to them.  But they don't want to have to build generating plants that only work to take care of peak demand.  By shifting demand to off periods, they solve this problem and make existing generators much more revenue efficient.  For instance, when there is lot's of water, they can send more of the water through the generator rather than over the spill way.

This is also a great way to help solve the problem of intermitent generation of renewable energy.  Say that during the day, the generation of wind energy is unusually good.  They can lower the price for these special functions such as heating the water in your cylinder even during the day.  You get cheaper power, they sell the excess instead of wasting it and over all, less fossil fuel is used.  Win win all around.