Friday, July 31, 2009

Bicycle Safety

When I lived in Madison and was in grad school, I rode my bike to school almost everyday. I rode as fast as I could, because I was always in a hurry. Madison had bike lanes most of the way to school, and most importantly people expected there to be bicyclists all along the road.

One of the students in the next lab got hit by a car and did not recover. She was riding on the side of the road, and got hit by a car pulling out. She flew over the car, and was not wearing a helmet. This was a awful incident, and it did make wear a helmet all the time.

Since we moved to Michigan, I don't ride my bike much since there is so much traffic in Southgate. Back in Pleasant Prairie (Wisconsin), where we used to live, there was a long bike trail nearby. Here, I have never ridden my bike to work because I can't think of a good way to cross the busy roads.

There are many statistics on bicycle accidents. Bicycling is safe compared to many sports including football and basketball. link

Injuries per Million Hours

Football 1,900
Squash 1,300
Basketball 1,100
Soccer 600
Bicycling 50

Bicycling is more dangerous mode of travel than driving -- about twice as risky. This is controversial; some argue that the health benefits of bicycling on your heart or your weight, outweigh the higher accident rate per mile travelled. An excellent site on bike safety is

Fatalities Per Mile

Motor Vehicle Travel Bicycle Travel
42,000 killed 813 killed
2.56 trillion miles 21 billion miles
.016 fatalities per million miles .039 fatalities per million miles
Data from Traffic Safety Facts 1997
The Environmental Benefits of Cycling and Walking

Bicycling seems to be a safe form of exercise, but not as safe a mode of transportation.

I learned three things in preparing this post that I want to close with.

First like auto driving, bike riding at low speed is safer. There are fewer accidents at 5 mph and than at 10 mph --that makes sense.

Second, helmets improve safety like advertised.

Third and surprisingly, it seems that bike lanes are not necessarily safer. Biking on a separate bike trail is better.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tim Pincikowski

I am struck today by the passing of Tim Pincikowski - the suddenness of his death is terrible. He was such a good and decent man. It is a great tragedy.

It must have been a terrible accident, and I don't know how it could have happened. It seems this is a dangerous stretch of road.

His death is so needless. So terrible for his wife, son and especially small daughter.

It seems the van was following Tim, who was on his bike, and a car came from the opposing direction. The van drifted too close to the shoulder, and the accident occurred.

Here are the accounts from Ann

News Report on Ann
A bicyclist died after being struck by a vehicle at about 5 p.m. Tuesday on Maple Road, Pittsfield Township Department of Public Safety officials said.

Police said the bicyclist was Timothy Pincikowski, a 45-year-old from Saline. The crash occurred on Maple Road between Travis Pointe Road and Ellsworth Road.

Police did not release further details Wednesday morning on what caused the crash. No information on the driver of the vehicle was available.

|Photo by Melanie Maxwell|

Timothy Pincikowski liked the outdoors and had been biking heavily this summer to stay in shape, his wife said.

Every other weekday, he biked about 25 miles. On a weekend day, it wasn't unusual for him to bike more than 50 miles, said Lisa, his wife of 13 years.

But Timothy Pincikowski's bike ride Tuesday turned tragic when he was killed in a crash with a minivan on Maple Road in Pittsfield Township. Police are still working to determine what caused the crash.
"He's a wonderful man, wonderful husband, wonderful father. Loved by everybody," Lisa said.

Pincikowski, 45, of Saline, was riding his bicycle north on Maple Road south of Ellsworth Road when the rear end of it was struck by the front passenger side of a 2002 Dodge Caravan, which was traveling in the same direction, police said.

No citations have been issued at this point, said Gordy Schick, the township's deputy director of police services.

Pincikowski was rushed to University of Michigan Hospital, where he was pronounced dead a short time later, police said.

The driver of the van - a 20-year-old Clinton man - was not injured in the 5:07 p.m. incident, Schick said. There's no indication speed, wet roads or alcohol were factors, Schick said.

It's unclear whether Pincikowski was wearing a helmet or if the van's driver was wearing a seat belt, Schick said.

Tim Pincikowski worked as a project manager/chemist at BASF in Wyandotte, his wife said. The couple, who live in the Wildwood subdivision, moved to Saline from Racine, Wisc., about two years ago because of a job transfer.

Tim Pincikowski enjoyed spending time with his 18-year-old son, Michael, and 4-year-old daughter, Lauren.

He often took Lauren swimming, brought her to the park or out to watch 3-D movies.

Lisa Pincikowski said she'll miss their nights together.

"Tom and I loved our nights out, going out to dinner and a movie," she said.

Prime rib was one of his favorites, she said. Neighbors have been stopping by the home all day, bringing food.

"We've been very fortunate here," she said.

It's the sixth fatal accident in the township this year, police said.

The accident is the first fatal bicycle crash in Pittsfield since 2003, according to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.

Ed Vielmetti of contributed to this story.

Lee Higgins covers crime and courts for He can be reached at 734-623-2527 or


There will be a service on Saturday, August 8th, in Racine, Wisconsin at:

Maresh Meredith & Aklam Funeral Home
803 Main Street
Racine, WI 53403

Visitation from 3-5pm
Service at 5:00pm
Dinner at Infusino's afterwards

Tim will be cremated in Michigan, but there is no plan for a service in Michigan.



There is a bike ride in honor of Tim and to focus attention on bike safety.

August 18th, at 5 PM, from Pioneer High School to the site of the


Monday, July 27, 2009

Synthetic Genomics - the Sci-Fi and the Promise

Synthetic Genomics, an R&D think-tank, is opening a $600 million R&D Center with Exxon. This is shocking because Exxon has been hard-core in ignoring alternative energy. Synthetic Genomics has already lined up financing with BP. What has attracted biofuel opponent Exxon to an odd-ball technology like algae biofuel?

I, myself, have criticized algae energy as a fantasy. (This post has economics per acre of different biofuel crops.)

Synthetic Genomics' name comes from founder Craig Venter's science fiction idea of stitching together genes & other cellular structures to make "artificial organisms" as little biochemical factories, according to geneticist Paul Arnold. They have the patent on synthetic organism.

This reminds me of science fiction movies, like Blade Runner. Scary or not this technology could be pretty cool.

This is the same Craig Venter whose "shotgun" sequencing technology grabbed patents at the end of the human genome project.

Hard-boiled Exxon would never buy into Sci-Fi fantasy. The real JV is much more modest. It has a pretty straight forward six step plan. Synthetic Genomics will be developing an algae strain optimized for lipid (oil) production. They will separate the algae, and then make biodiesel from it.

Algae biofuel is not new. Wikipedia has an extensive entry, and this site has fifteen algae energy start-ups.

It seems that power hitters like Exxon, BP and Bill Gate through Sapphire Energy, and sinking money into this. There must be a clever technology that is making this economical. I could not find any Synthetic Genomics patents that would describe it. Maybe they are under another assignee.

(The guys in the photo of algae bioreactors are Kertz & Frater, who develop such equipment.)

See my follow-up posting on synthetic biology.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Kumato Brand Tomatoes from Syngenta/Mastronardi Produce

Kumato tomatoes have shown up in America. They are a black tomato; the box says brown tomato. Presumably the dark color is due to more flavorful and nutritious tannins and terpenes. Obviously they are not "black," seed developers and seed catalog writers exaggerate.

Many people like the flavor of these tomatoes, and I do too. They have an earthier flavor than most store-bought tomatoes. My DW likes the texture, especially the thin skin. Notice they have very few seeds. In my opinion the Kumato's texture is a bit mushy and pasty -- like a Roma tomato. I like my home-grown Black Cherry tomatoes better. I started them from seeds I bought from Pinetree Seeds. See the picture at the bottom.

In the US and Canada, Kumato tomatoes are distributed by Mastronardi Produce, which has the Sunset line of tomatoes. Mastronadri is growing these in huge greenhouses in Ontario. It is unclear if distribution is regional or national. A California company, Dulcinea, is also selling a black tomato that it calls "Rosso Bruno," and this may be the same tomato.

The Kumato seed is from the Swiss company Syngenta, a large, agricultural products business formed from the merger of AstraZeneca and Novatis in 2000. The Kumato fruit was available in the UK since 2004. says that it was developed by Damien Flores in Spain under contract to Syngenta, and they were looking for a seed that grew in salty soil. Blogger TomatoAddict suggests that it might not be a hybrid as Syngenta claims, and that seed-saving might work.

There is a story that the genetic ancestor of these tomatoes came from the Galapagos Islands, and indeed there are/were wild, dark orange tomatoes there. There have also been so-called black tomatoes in Ukraine for generations.

Syngentia is only releasing the seed to commerical growers as happened with the "Santa" "Grape Tomato" previously.

At right is my home-grown Black Cherry Tomato. I think they taste much better -- sweeter and tomato-ier, than the Kumato. As mentioned, my DW likes the texture of the Kumato, better than my cherry tomatoes though.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Running Shirts that Wick Water: Running Shirt Review

As you may recall from my iPod & running shoe posts, I run for exercise -- mostly at a gym on a treadmill, but outside on clear, cool Michigan mornings, when I can't bear to be inside.

Exercising in a gym is different from jogging on the road because there are people around and I have taken to wearing synthetic shirts that handle sweat better than cotton. That way I feel less sweaty and more human. Reebok calls this "Moisture Management."

The exercise shirts cost twice as much as a good cotton shirts, and I wondered what they were made from. The web sites say 100% polyester. It would be interesting to know what makes these shirts different from each other, because I know all polyesters are not created equal.

DuPont researched breathable, wicking fibers & fabrics in the 1970's and the early ones were aramid, which is really nylon, but made with aromatic amines. The most common breathing aramid is/was Nomex, which is used underneath siding on houses.

Later DuPont introduced breathing polyester fabric, and their trade name was CoolMax. Much of the athletic clothing was made of this. Today, Coolmax is owned by Invista, which itself is owned by Koch Industries. There are nine different lines of CoolMax, but most of the differentiation involves added features like UV protection and odor control. None of the product literature says much about the composition of the fiber. The fabrics appear to be structured to have channels for water to escape, and the polyester itself is not water-absorbant. The more recent patents talk about garment design rather than about fiber selection. (Invista makes similar claims for its Tactel fabric.)

Transpor makes fiber and fabric with wicking properties, and they claim competitors are synthetic yarns with "channels" to move moisture. Transpor has a licensee that makes apparel, but I have never worn any. Their shirts have two layers of fabric laminated together.

There is some hype about "nanotechnology" coming to athletic fabrics. This is interesting to me, because I spent a few years separating nanotechnology from nano-hype. "Nano" in this context are little particles of superabsorbant that make the shirt hold moisture better. This is probably good in a comfort shirt, but it is not what we need in a hot weather, running shirt.

The sites talk about what the fibers do rather than what they are. They say they are hydrophobic and pull water away, but they also say they use capillary action to wick water away. Some breathe. Some absorb.

In my view, absorbant fibers is not what you want. I get far too wet for a shirt to hold water like a sponge. Also a shirt that is too hydrophobic will keep the water in the inside of the shirt, like an inside-out raincoat.

I have shirts from several manufacturers:

My Favorite is the "Play Dry" from Reebok. This one breathes and dries fast. It also does not change color when wet. The price on the Reebok site is pretty good too. The price for this shirt on Amazon varies depending on the color you pick -- which I think is odd.

I have several Under Armour shirts. The style is called Draft 2.0. I like it, and it works well. Despite the above talk about the knit pattern and how it improved ventilation; this is a simple, uniform knit. Any channels must be very small. This is a good shirt and I would get more of these even though they are expensive. These are not durable enough for regular street wear because the fabric is weaker than cotton. Under Armour also has the best website -- Nike's is just as cool but it takes forever to load.

The Champion Double-Dry is an inexpensive shirt that is not as light-weight as the Under Armour shirt, so water does not evaporate as well. It is well-made and the fabric lets the water out better than the Nike, but not as well as the Reebok.

A service-able shirt is the Dry-Fit by Nike. It is a little too much of a liquid water barrier, and the water tends to stay under the shirt instead of wicking though. It reminds me a wearing a plastic shirt. Some of that may be the heaviness of the fabric. As mentioned above, the UnderArmour is not a tough shirt, and it is prone to holes & runs. The Nike is still better than the Russell below.

One website says that the Dry-Fit line has "honeycomb textured polyester," with Spandex and UV protection.

Last of the high-tech shirts is the Russell. Their tradename is "Dri-Power," but I don't know if this particular shirt is a "Dri-Power." but I do know this is the poorest of the bunch. It doesn't really wick water. More like a plastic bag. Notice how it has some fancy knit patterns. I think these are for style since it does not seem to help.

Finally is this "Prana" --oh wait -- "prAna" shirt. My DW got me one for Father's Day. This is a poly-cotton shirt, and its a fine shirt, but it is not a hi-tech exercise shirt. My DW pointed out how the advertising made this sound like an EXTREME SPORTS shirt -- well its not. It is a decent shirt for street wear. "prAna" has a line of woman's exercise clothes, and I think this influenced her purchase decision. I think this shirt is called a "Shale Tee."

In summary, the technology of exercise shirts seem to be in the fabric design rather than the fiber. Good shirts can be made from seemingly standard polyester. Reebok and Under Armour make my favorites.


Update on running shirts (May 2010)
There are two important factors in running shirts, and I did not realize this when I wrote this. The shirt needs to be fairly tight. It needs to touch your skin, and if it is too loose, then obviously it can't wick any sweat away. It does NOT need to be a compression shirt. I can't stand those.

Secondly, thinner fabrics are always better for wicking sweat than thicker ones. This means that a good shirt is going to be thinner and less substantial. As mentioned above the Under Armour shirt was quite thin, and not tough enough for street wear, but it is thin, and they are good shirts.


Update on running shirts August 2010

In response to a complementary shirt I received from Wicker's Shirts, I want to pass on my feedback.

Highpoints: this is a nicely made shirt from a good quality polyester -- at first I thought it was cotton. It is fairly heavy, and should be strong enough for hiking  -- unlike the UnderArmour, for example. Comfortable fabric.

Lowpoints: it is fairly heavy, so the water does not wick out as well as a lighter shirt.

Side note: They sent me the wrong size, and being too big, it did not wick sweat off as well as a snugger fit would have. If the shirt does not touch your skin, it can't wick the water way.

Bottom line: I'd like this shirt a lot better in a Medium instead of a Large. I'll probably wear it casually, but not for running.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Can You Believe that Fructose Causes Obesity?

I have been listening to my wife, daughter and coworkers bemoaning fructose in the diet, and how it is another agribusiness evil. Fructose is the sugar found in corn syrup, which is used to sweeten nearly every processed food. Fructose is the natural product from degrading starches.

I was skeptical about anti-fructose talk, because I thought that fructose was metabolized like other sugars. It seems that actually fructose is subtly different, and the difference can make ME fat.

It all started in July 2005 when Hella Jurgens and 15 coauthors wrote that a fructose based diet made mice 90% fatter than the same calories in regular mouse chow. Furthermore sucrose based soda and diet soda were not a problem.

This is interesting because sugar-based pop or Kool-aid was OK. Fructose-based pop was not.

The graph at right shows the weight of the 39 gram mice, and how they increased during the 65 day study. These were skinny mice, and they all gained weight, even the ones on water or diet soda. Anyway, the ones on fructose-water are the open squares with the highest weight gain.

Jurgens speculates on two reasons for this.

First is that fructose is primarily metabolized to fat unlike sucrose. Fructose is transported to the liver, and phosphorylated. It is converted to adipose fat at a greater rate than glucose, because the metabolism of glucose to fat is inhibited at high levels of energy; this mechanism does not work for fructose, and adipose fat formation is favored. It should be noted that the sucrose in sugar-sweetened foods is quickly converted to glucose, and acts like glucose in the body. The classical biochemistry of fructose is on Wikipedia; Jurgens argues that the regulation of fructose metabolism favors adipose fat formation compared to glucose.

Second, is that fructose does not stimulate insulin production, which directly effects energy level, the central nervous system, the activity of fat cells, and stimulates ghrelin production that decreases appetite.

It turns out that faster fat formation from fructose over glucose was seen as early as 1974 by Aoyama at Nagoya University. So even when I took biochemistry, it was old news that fructose was different than glucose.

Last year, EJ Parks and friends at U of Texas - Dallas showed that the fructose fattened people as well as rats & mice.

Body-builders, who want really lean bodies, are talking about cutting out fruit before competitions. Some think that this is just counter intuitive -- that fruit is too wholesome to be a junk food, and others -- disagree. The argument seems to be about whether a small amount of food would make you fat -- well it might make you a little fat.

I tend to think that starchy fruit like bananas or apples are not really that healthy. Strangely eating Jolly Rancher's might be better!

Although, my wife and daughter were right, I don't think this is an agribusiness conspiracy, though. Instead it is another screw-up of dieticians, like the low-fat, diet fad in the 1990s.

In summary, Kool-Aid made from sugar is healthier than apple juice, which has mostly fructose.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Carbon Capture Technology Demo in Hometown Kenosha Wisconsin

I was surprised to see in C&E News that WE Energies Pleasant Prairie Power Plant has carbon sequestration plant -- actually pilot plant. I drove past this plant every day for years, and brother Doug actually worked during college as a laborer building that plant.

I remember when they put up a new stack, WE Energies said they were putting in new anti-pollution devices, and the original design was one of the largest polluters in the area. I was surprised at how far away the chimney/stack was from the old boiler. This schematic shows the steps that the exhaust gases are going through, and why they need the space.

It turns out that a Swiss conglomerate Alstrom has put up a pilot plant treating 1% of the output and trapping the CO2. Alstrom is a big company, and does not publish a lot of its technology. I looked up their carbon capture patent, and it does not say much. It says we are going to put in a wheel shaped device to capture CO2 and use it on the cooled exhaust gases. They also have a schematic flowchart that seems so very generic. I am surprised they can describe a powerplant technology in six pages including 2 large pictures. At work we can take 3o pages to describe a new paint resin. The schematic below is from a magazine article, and it is better, but still to vague to see what is really happening.

This technology uses ammonia to capture the carbon dioxide at low temperature -- recall that carbon dioxide is a weak acid, and ammonia is a fairly strong base. Alstrom claims they can capture 90%. The trick is to capture at a low temperature, and try to regenerate the ammonia by releasing the carbon dioxide at a higher temperature. Billions are coming from the US ($6 billion) and foreign economic stimulus bills to work on this problem.

A key problem is what to do with the carbon dioxide, and this is unsolved. People talk about injecting far underground, or putting at the bottom of the sea. I think that Alstrom is proposing to sell this carbon dioxide on the merchant gas market. There are uses for carbon dioxide, but not in the huge amounts needed.

There are two PR videos on the plant on youtube. Basic tour. CO2 tour Interesting, but not great.

The picture at right is the actual plant. Obviously it is pretty small for a plant this size -- almost a toy.

Why is this interesting? Here is a linkage between the biggest global issue and the concrete hometown issues. I am not sure that anything can be done for global warming, because the problem is too large. I don't know. We should research clever solutions to the problem.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Kuhnhenn on Obama's visit to Warren Michigan

I thought this article pulled together a lot of themes that I am interested in: the economy, national politics, and the local Detroit economic situation. This used Obama's visit to McComb Community College in Warren to link many trends together.

I particularly liked the parallelism of Bush's "Bring 'em on," with Obama's "Give it to me!"

Jim Kuhnhenn of AP put out this interesting analysis about politics and the economy.

WASHINGTON (AP) — With four simple words — "Give it to me!" — President Barack Obama took possession of the economy.

For months, the White House and Obama's economic team have laid the economic crisis at the feet of President George W. Bush. But there comes a point in a presidency when inheritance becomes ownership. Obama made that pivot Tuesday in Michigan, the state suffering the worst unemployment in the nation.
"I love these folks who helped get us in this mess and then suddenly say, 'Well, this is Obama's economy,'" the president said in a pointed deviation from his prepared text. "That's fine. Give it to me!"

It was a defiant moment, reminiscent of Bush's own "Bring 'em on!" taunt in 2003 to militants in Iraq.
Like Bush's brash challenge, Obama's could haunt him, too. It's a calculated risk that confronts his critics head-on and casts him as an activist, on-the-job president.
"My job is to solve problems, not to stand on the sidelines and harp and gripe," he said Tuesday, his sleeves rolled up, barely disguising his targets as congressional Republicans.

Still, most economists and Obama's own advisers foresee a slow economic recovery. The president himself conceded Tuesday that unemployment, already at a 26-year high, will likely "tick up for several months." Republicans see the economy as Obama's Achilles' heel come next year's elections, and they have found a political vulnerability in the continued rise in unemployment despite a $787 billion economic stimulus that Obama pushed through Congress in February.

In choosing Michigan to attach his name to the economy, Obama picked a state whose 14.1 percent unemployment rate could linger as evidence of policy failure. As home to the U.S. auto industry, it could also stand as a symbol of one of his first economic successes. Both General Motors and Chrysler have emerged in surprisingly swift fashion from bankruptcy protection proceedings that were imposed by the Obama administration.

"Remember, folks said there was no way they could do it?" Obama told his audience in hard-hit Warren, Mich. "They've gotten it done already, in record time, far faster than anybody thought possible."

After a week spent overseas, the feisty, confrontational approach aims to regain the agenda from his critics. In one bold step this week, the Obama administration singled out Sen. Jon Kyl, a member of the Senate

Obama and his advisers say the recession turned out to be worse than anticipated when they made that forecast in January. Still, 2 million jobs have been lost since Congress passed the stimulus package.

"I want the president's economic stimulus to work, but guess what? It's not happening right now," Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., said Tuesday, voicing a common GOP refrain. "I don't even think we have Wendy's jobs anymore. Where's the beef? Where's the jobs?"

Obama's unflinching embrace of his economic policies means he now is responsible for their consequences. If the free fall is now in check, as he claims, then the economy can no longer be Bush's legacy alone.

What's more, even amid indicators that show the economic plunge is slowing, unemployment in recent recessions has been slow to recover as quickly as the rest of the economy. And jobs are the clearest yardstick by which the public measures success. For Obama and his fellow Democrats, the danger lies in unemployment rates that remain high in time for next year's congressional elections, or in a slow recovery that peters out and leads back into a recession.

Obama has already taken ownership of the nation's foreign policy. In March, he announced a new approach in Afghanistan that included sending an additional 17,000 combat troops. Marines have just kicked off an offensive in Taliban strongholds in the south of the country. And two weeks ago, American troops in Iraq handed over security urban areas to Iraqi security forces, the first step toward meeting Obama's pledge to end an unpopular war.
When it comes to the economy, no one — certainly not his Republican critics — is going to keep him from taking it.

Jim Kuhnhenn covers economics and politics for The Associated Press.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Chemicals from the Farm

Despite the low oil prices, work continues on converting waste biomass and cheap cellulosic sources like Switchgrass into fuel sources, so called bio-oil. It is fairly easy to turn waste biomass into gas by baking at 1000C. This product called synthesis gas is rich in hydrogen. It takes work to turn this back into a liquid fuel, which might be more convenient.

By baking at 500C, a liquid results, but the conversion is less than complete, and that is a waste of resources and energy.

The problem is that the cellulose is mixed with lignin, and the lignin is hard to degrade. Plus the combined ligno-cellulose is not very soluble.

Conrad Zhang of PNNL (Pacific Northwest National Labs and KiOR) says that lignocellulose dissolves in an imidazolium ionic liquid, and that once soluble it decomposes at 100C using copper chloride and chromium chloride as catalysts. This is a big break through if the other materials can be recycled. KiOR is working the Brasilian company Petrobras to develop the technology.

Of great interest in the chemical industry is the creation of feedstocks pure enough to use for producing chemicals. It appears that 5-hydroxymethyl furfural maybe one such chemical. C&E News reports that Hanson of the Technical University of Denmarkk can make 5-hydroxymethyl furfural from fructose by treatment with simply microwaves.

Of course the production of furfural from biomass is not new. Quaker Oats was making furfural from oat hulls EIGHTY-SEVEN years ago!!

As readers of my other blog know, furfural is found in the extract from oak barrels like those used for wine and for whiskey. Furfuryl is supposed to have a burnt taste, and 5-hydroxymethyl furfuryl is carmel tasting.

The oxidation of 5-hydroxymethyl furfural yields furan dicarboxylic acid, which could be used to make polyesters or nylon/polyamides. This could be interesting, and one could run reactions on the double bonds too.

In summary, there are not any new plants running new processes to make bio-oil, but ionic liquids show promise. Happily research in bio-fuels and bio-chemicals have survived the onset of the recession, and perhaps because of stimulus funding they will continue for a few years. It is just a matter of time until the world moves toward sustainable feedstocks for fuel and for chemicals.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Beans and Why They are Indigestible: Beans and Flatulence i.e. Intestinal Gas

The other day, my stomach was acting up. At the time, I thought it was beans. Later, I suspected food from an over-priced restaurant.

Everyone know beans are hard to digest, and that anaerobic bacteria in the intestines degrade these into methane and carbohydrates that the bacteria ingest. Methane (CH4) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) as well are released to the atmosphere with a characteristic odor.

Beans have multiple gas-causing ingredients, but one that gets lots of attention is undigestible sugars. There are several of these such as alpha-galactosides, raffinose, stachyose and verbascose in the case of beans.

Products like Beano, designed to reduce gas production, break down the sugar before it can reach eager intestinal bacteria. Beano is alpha galactosidase, and no less than Benjamin Franklin in 1790 suggested taking medicine to ease digestion.

It has been found that the levels of flatulence-causing stachyose and raffinose were reduced by 92 and 80 per cent, respectively, by germinating the soybeans under in the presence of the food grade R. oligosporus fungus, according to findings published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Traditional soy foods like miso, tempeh and natto cause little gas because of the extended fermentation.

Others say that soaking the beans will help. There are two effects, one is that soaking (and discarding the liquid) will extract the soluable, but non-digestible sugars. In addition, bacteria and fungus may take root in the water, and begin to digest the sugars -- much like the fermentation techniques above. The enzymes may even remain in the pot to aid digestion.

The bean hull is an important problem source as well that is not degraded by the alpha-galactosidase.

Beans with relatively less fiberous skin will produce less gas. Beans lilke garbanzo beans or bean paste will induce gas less because they have thinner skins.