Sunday, February 28, 2010

Commercial Bioacrylic Plant Planned for 2013

OPX Biotechnologies announced progress on its bacteria based bioconversion of sugars to acrylic acid. It has engaged the engineering company Merrick to work on the plans.

The photo at right shows President Chas Eggert on the right. Chas is supposed to be a 32 year veteran of the chemical industry, but he looks pretty youthful here.

Based on their patent WO/2010/011874 which they acquired from the University of Colorado, they have microbes, probably e. coli, making 3-hydroxy propionic acid. This an isomer of lactic acid, 2-hydroxy propionic acid. Either isomer can be dehydrated by simple heating to make acrylic acid, but the yield is higher with the 3-hydroxy proprionic acid version. (Acrylic acid is propenoic acid.)

This patent addresses genetic modifications that prevent the 3-hydroxy propionic acid from killing the bacteria at high concentrations.  In the past, the problem has been separation of 3-hydroxy propional and other organic acids that have a similar boiling point.  The trick is not getting the bugs to make it, but the later separation. No word, at least publically on that.

Why is this important? Currently almost all plastics and paints are made form petroleum, as discussed in this Depth of Processing post. There are customers who would deliberately buy from a supplier that was renewable and carbon neutral. 

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Freiburg Germany

Day six of my German Adventure was a day off, and we went to Freiburg in southwest Germany near Switzerland and France.

The weather was as nice as you can expect in February, and the streets of the old city were filled with people milling around.

See my pictures on Picassa.

The main attraction in Freiburg is the Munster, or the large church in the center of the old city. It is a nice old church and large parts are from 1270. Large parts of the city were bombed out in the war, but were rebuilt in the original style.

We also climbed the hill overlooking the city where there was a walled castle. No castle left but there is a good view of the town.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

GM's Henderson Gets 400 Times More than Minimium Wage

News Item: GM hires ex-CEO Fritz Henderson as a consultant for $59000/month for 20 hours service.

I noticed Fritz makes $2954/hr.  I was getting all set to be outraged, because afterall GM is bankrupt and government controlled and all.

On the other hand, the consultants we hire at BASF got paid alot (back before the recession when we used to have them.) It was not unusual to pay $3000/day, which is only eight times less than Fritz is getting.

And, Fritz is getting less than current GM CEO Ed Whitacre is getting this year, $4326/hr, although Ed's base salary is only $725/hr.  You might say that CEO's always get paid a lot, and big time CEO's do, however the average salary for CEO's is much less, $107/hr according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). One sixth of Ed's base salary, and one 40th of Ed's salary in 2009.

Surprisingly the BLS also has pro athletes, who make $23/hr, which is a lot less than Tiger Woods got in 2008 at $38,000/hr. (He is expected to make $2400/hr in 2010.)  I suppose that there are a lot of struggling lady golfers and minor league baseball players bringing the average down.

Chemists are interesting to me for obvious reasons, and according to BLS, they make $33/hr vs $42 according the ACS, the American Chemical Society -- whose membership skews toward those with advanced degrees.  Seventy-seven times less than Fritz  Henderson.

Two more: teachers make more than chemists at $34/hr. Finally legislators make only $27/hr.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25; four hundred times less than Fritz Henderson makes.

Distracted Wall Streeters Watch Trash TV at Work

At 11:00 AM Tiger Woods went on TV to apologize for his many affairs, and Wall Street stock trading volume dipped. This means Wall Street traders were taking a break to watch it. When the news conference ended 15 minutes later, the traders suddenly decided to make up for their inaction and do something -- volume spiked.

Wall Street types like to justify their huge bonuses and unfathomable compensation by saying they work hard and work all the time. Here is evidence that many Wall Streeters spend their day watching pop culture spectacles.  There was no news value in the Woods press conference; everyone knew what he was going to say  -- I'm sorry, I'm sorry, mea maxima culpa.

If this were the President's press conference or a Federal Reserve statement, that would be justifiable. This gives us a window into the kind of culture they really have on Wall Street.

It would be interesting to know what kind of stocks the traders bought in their rush at 11:15, and whether those purchases worked out.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Fresh Blood -- More Mosquito News

Last August, I discussed what chemicals Mosquitoes smell when they are tracking people down.

A new study from John Carlson at Yale found mosquites sense primarily indole. Indole is a decomposition product of the amino acid triptophan, and may be the result of skin bacteria degrading the skin. Other chemicals detected 2,3 butanedione and 1-octen-3-ol, may similarly be bacteral degradation products.

There is an exception 2-ethyl phenol -- that is from urine.

If there were a way to keeps skin bacteria from living on your skin, one might avoid mosquito bites, but I don't think that is easy to do.

If urine you smell like urine, you have bigger problems than mosquitos.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


I watched the Superbowl on the DVR with about a fifteen minute delay. I was able to zip past the at least half the commercials. Afterward, I heard commentators talking about the misogyny of the commercials this year.

This site has an appendage of the controversial commercials. A single commercial might be just a silly ad executives idea, but eight commercials might be a trend.  I think commercial #3 from Dodge is a good example. I like how the man's promises go from reasonable to ridiculous. Chrysler does not have any decent products this year because of their severe austerity, so they are reduced to pop sociology.

Speaking of pop sociology, Peter Alilunas, as grad student at nearby University of Michigan wrote this essay on the genre of ads that seem to channel male resentment into commercial purchases. His article draws out this strange netherworld between irony and reality that these commercials come from.

The Docker's Men Wear Pants campaign commercial on the superbowl seems just stupid to me. Check out the Facebook page for the real sarcasm, especially "The Emasculating Truth" video.

The Dockers web ad, above, is more edgy, but it also has a link to shop for women's pants. [The original web ad has been taken down, and this is the current one. The link to the store has been broken, and they want you to chat about the ad on Facebook.]

I tend to think that there is a lot less here than mets the eye. For example, the Dove-for-Men commercial is trying to get men to use moisturizing soap, which does not sound like a return to primal manhood to me.  News stories said that Google searches for Docker's spiked after the Superbowl -- proving there is no such thing as bad publicity.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Michigan Economy Bottoms Out

Strange as it may seem the Michigan economy -- home of the nation's highest unemployment rate and the lowly US auto industry bottomed out eight months ago -- last July.

The Michigan economy is still weak, but has improved by 10% according to Comerica's Index for Michigan.  The rise in 2010 is due to increasing steel production and auto production.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Haitian Pregnant Women Eat Mud Cakes!

I'd like to believe it wasn't true, but mudcakes are a traditional food in Haiti. These aren't Mississippi Mud cakes which are made from chocolate and coffee -- these are made from central Haitian mud. The best mud is trucked in from the countryside for better flavor.


5 cups mud (yellow clay is best)
2 1/2 cups water
1 cup butter or lard (optional)
1/2  cup salt

Mix well and pack into a pan

Bake at 300 F until firm, but not brittle.

Traditionally pregnant women ate them, and they have lots of calcium. Mud cakes are also a natural anti-acid; plus they make your hunger pangs go away. Unfortunately they are probably constipating since the calcium binds proteins in your bowels together.

In normal times, mud cakes are food supplements, and one site called them cookies -- which does not seem as bad. Sadly, this is an indication of just how desperately poor Haiti is.

I have to say that eating mud is probably an ancient practice that dirt poor people have always done. It is sign of our prosperity that I have not eaten mud since third grade.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Could This be a Manufacturing Led Recovery?

Manufacturing increased last month by 3.3 points and surprised everyone. Most surprising is that EXPORTS are actually doing well. This might mean the foreign economy is doing better than the US economy, but I choose to believe that the low dollar is finally affecting the real economy. Imports are too expensive and it is easier to sell US stuff overseas.

Recoveries are almost always led by the housing sector as folks build new houses with low interest loans, but NOT this time.  This time the housing sector is sick, sick, sick, and I've been wondering what would happen. It looks like the world is buying what America is selling.

Below is the institute of Supply Management Index. This is not real data; it is a poll of the purchasing agents who belong to the society. Pretty optimistic stuff. 




New Orders65.964.8+1.1GrowingFaster7
Supplier Deliveries60.156.8+3.3SlowingFaster8
Customers' Inventories32.035.0-3.0Too LowFaster10
Backlog of Orders56.050.0+6.0GrowingFrom Unchanged1
Manufacturing SectorGrowingFaster6

Let's hope this is not too good to be true.