Race Car Flywheels Save Fuel


“FLYWHEEL; Using a flywheel system from Williams Hybrid Power. Audi’s R18 e-tron quattro car became the first hybrid vehicle to win the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans race.” Source of caption: print version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: http://www.williamshybridpower.com/#%2Ftechnology%2Fthe_flywheel

NASA costs are often justified by giving cases where innovations from space spillover into the consumer economy. But in the normal market economy, there are alternative sources of innovation that would spillover into the consumer economy, without taking taxpayer dollars. I wonder if anyone has ever studied how often race car innovations make their way into mainstream production cars?

(p. B4) European auto makers might turn to an unlikely source to reduce fuel consumption and pollution: gas-guzzling Formula One race cars.

Rotating mechanical devices called flywheels developed for these speed machines could make everyday cars more powerful and efficient.
. . .
Flywheels have been around since the Industrial Revolution, when they were widely used in steam engines. Mounted on a crankshaft, these spinning discs provide a steady flow of energy when the energy source isn’t constant, as is the case with piston-driven engines in cars.
Flywheels can range from about a meter in diameter to less than three centimeters, depending on the amount of energy required. The larger and heavier the flywheel is, the more inertial energy it delivers when spinning.
In miniature form, they show up in friction toy cars that are driven by a flywheel and speed up when the toy is rolled quickly across a surface. When the car is let go, it is the flywheel that speeds the car across the floor.
Until recently, flywheels–known in the auto industry as kinetic energy recovery systems, or KERS–have been too heavy or too bulky to use on road vehicles. But that is changing, thanks to new, lighter materials, high-tech engineering and power-management systems.

For the full story, see:
DAVID PEARSON. “NEXT IN TECH; An Unlikely Fuel Saver: Racing Cars; To Reduce Pollution, Auto Makers Experiment With Flywheels Developed for Formula One Motors.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., August 21, 2012): B4.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the article was updated August 22, 2012.)

Organic Farming Too Unproductive to End African Starvation

(p. 6) There is no shortage of writing — often from a locavore point of view — in support of more organic methods of farming, for both developed and developing countries. These opinions recognize that current farming methods bring serious environmental problems involving water supplies, fertilizer runoff and energy use. Yet organic farming typically involves smaller yields — 5 to 34 percent lower, as estimated in a recent study in the journal Nature, depending on the crop and the context. For all the virtues of organic approaches, it’s hard to see how global food problems can be solved by starting with a cut in yields. Claims in this area are often based on wishful thinking rather than a hard-nosed sense of what’s practical.

For the full story, see:
TYLER COWEN. “ECONOMIC VIEW; World Hunger: The Problem Left Behind.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness (Sun., September 16, 2012): 6.
(Note: the online version of the article is dated September 15, 2012.)

Entrepreneurs of Coffee, the Battlefield, and Missing Minerals


Source of book image: http://img.qbd.com.au/product/l/9780691143705.jpg

[p. 167] The book . . . contains a variety of entertaining stories and colorful facts about entrepreneurship that could potentially be used for teaching. [p. 168] Murray, for instance, explains that the word “entrepreneur” was borrowed from the French language in the late Middle Ages, a time when it was used to describe a battlefield commander (p. 88). Kuran describes how Middle Eastern coffee entrepreneurs originally faced harsh resistance from many clerics who believed that “coffee drinkers reap hell-fire” (pp. 71-72). Hudson traces early merchant activity and entrepreneurship all the way back to Sumerian cities in Mesopotamia in the third millennium BC (pp. 11-17). These cities, made rich by their fertile alluvial soil, still needed to acquire other important minerals, missing in their own ground, from the distant Iranian plateau or Anatolia. Since military conquest proved too expensive and because the Sumerian cities really needed these resources, they pioneered international import-export activities in their temples and palaces.

For the full review, see:
Bikard, Michael, and Scott Stern. “The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times.” Journal of Economic Literature 49, no. 1 (March 2011): 164-68.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the page numbers in square parentheses refer to the review; the page numbers in curved parentheses refer to the book under review.)

Book being reviewed:
Landes, David S., Joel Mokyr, and William J. Baumol, eds. Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010.

Personal Genomics Startups Struggle Under a “Circus” of Government Regulation

(p. 118) Government regulation of consumer genomics companies has been centerpiece (and the semblance of a circus) in their short history. Back in 2008, the states of California and New York sent “cease and desist” letters to the genome scan companies. State officials were concerned that the laboratories that generated the results were not certified as CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments) and that the tests were being performed without a physician’s order. All three companies developed work-around plans in California and remained operational but were unable to market the tests in New York.
In 2010, the regulation issues escalated to the federal level. In May it was announced that 7,500 Walgreens drugstores throughout the United States would soon sell Pathway Genomics’s saliva kit for disease susceptibility and pharmacogenomics. While the tests produced by all four companies had been widely available via the Internet for three years, the announcement of wide-scale availability in drugstores (which was cancelled by Walgreens within two days) appeared to “cross the line” and set off a cascade of investigations and hearings by the FDA, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and the Congressional House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The FDA’s Alberto Gutierrez said, “We don’t think physi-(p. 119)cians are going to be able to interpret the results,” and “genetic tests are medical devices and must be regulated.” The GAO undertook a “sting” operation with its staff posing as consumers who bought genetic tests and detailed significant inconsistencies, misleading test results, and deceptive marketing practices in its report.
All four personal genomics companies are struggling.

Topol, Eric. The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care. New York: Basic Books, 2012.

Edison Foresaw Phonograph Music Potential

EdisonWangemannGroupPhoto2012-11-11.jpg “EUROPEAN JOURNEY; Thomas Edison, seated center, sent Adelbert Theodor Edward Wangemann, standing behind him, to France in 1889. From there Wangemann traveled to Germany to record recitations and performances.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

Edison is often ridiculed for failing to foresee that playing music would be a major use for his phonograph invention. (Nye 1991, p. 142 approvingly references Hughes 1986, p. 201 on this point.) But if Edison failed to foresee, then why did he assign Wangemann to make the phonograph “a marketable device for listening to music”?

(p. D3) Tucked away for decades in a cabinet in Thomas Edison’s laboratory, just behind the cot in which the great inventor napped, a trove of wax cylinder phonograph records has been brought back to life after more than a century of silence.

The cylinders, from 1889 and 1890, include the only known recording of the voice of the powerful chancellor Otto von Bismarck. . . . Other records found in the collection hold musical treasures — lieder and rhapsodies performed by German and Hungarian singers and pianists at the apex of the Romantic era, including what is thought to be the first recording of a work by Chopin.
. . .
The lid of the box held an important clue. It had been scratched with the words “Wangemann. Edison.”
The first name refers to Adelbert Theodor Edward Wangemann, who joined the laboratory in 1888, assigned to transform Edison’s newly perfected wax cylinder phonograph into a marketable device for listening to music. Wangemann became expert in such strategies as positioning musicians around the recording horn in a way to maximize sound quality.
In June 1889, Edison sent Wangemann to Europe, initially to ensure that the phonograph at the Paris World’s Fair remained in working order. After Paris, Wangemann toured his native Germany, recording musical artists and often visiting the homes of prominent members of society who were fascinated with the talking machine.
Until now, the only available recording from Wangemann’s European trip has been a well-known and well-worn cylinder of Brahms playing an excerpt from his first Hungarian Dance. That recording is so damaged “that many listeners can scarcely discern the sound of a piano, which has in turn tarnished the reputations of both Wangemann and the Edison phonograph of the late 1880s,” Dr. Feaster said. “These newly unearthed examples vindicate both.”

For the full story, see:
RON COWEN. “Restored Edison Records Revive Giants of 19th-Century Germany.” The New York Times (Tues., January 31, 2012): D3.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the article is dated January 30, 2012.)

EdisonPhonograph2012-11-11.jpg “Adelbert Theodor Edward Wangemann used a phonograph to record the voice of Otto von Bismarck.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

The Economics of Intercollegiate Athletics

Here is more evidence that the role of athletics in higher education should be reconsidered. Another useful discussion occurs in the book by Christensen and Eyring. An earlier entry on this blog is also relevant.

(p. 230) The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics offers “College Sports 101: A Primer on Money, Athletics, and Higher Education in the 21st Century.” “In fact, the vast majority of athletics programs reap far less money from external sources than they need to function. Virtually all universities subsidize athletics departments through general fund allocations, student fees, and state appropriations, and the NCAA estimates in a given year that only 20 to 30 athletics programs actually generate enough external revenue to cover operating expenses. Institutional subsidies to athletics can exceed $11 million, according to data provided by the NCAA. With costs in athletics rising faster than in other areas of university operations, it is not clear how many institutions can continue to underwrite athletics at their current level . . . Rigorous studies of the subject, however, suggest that there is no significant institutional benefit to athletic success. . . . Indeed, donations to athletics departments may cannibalize contributions to academic programs. . . . There are two other myths to be dispelled. First, there is no correlation between spending more on athletics and winning more . . . Second, increased spending on coaches’ salaries has no significant relationship to success or increased revenue . . . October 2009, at 〈http://collegesports101.knightcommission.org〉.

Taylor, Timothy. “Recommendations for Further Reading.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 24, no. 2 (Spring 2010): 227-34.
(Note: ellipses in original.)

The Knight Commission report can be downloaded at:
Weiner, Jay. “College Sports 101: A Primer on Money, Athletics, and Higher Education in the 21st Century.” Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, 2009.

The Christensen and Eyring book is:
Christensen, Clayton M., and Henry J. Eyring. The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011.

The Case for More Climate Adaptations and Fewer Climate Mitigations


Source of book image: http://perseuspromos.com/images/covers/200/9780465019267.jpg

(p. 777) Climatopolis begins with the assumption that our future will bring some combination of higher temperatures, sea level rise, more intense natural disasters, and changes in precipitation and drought conditions. The forecast is considered inevitable because of humanity’s deep and (p. 778) growing dependence on energy from fossil fuels, the burning of which generates emissions that cause climate change. In a way that some readers are likely to find overly pessimistic, dismissive, or both, Kahn asserts that we are unlikely to invent a “magical” technology that allows us to live well without producing greenhouse gases. He is equally skeptical about whether geo-engineering will help stabilize the climate. So when it comes to facing a future that includes climate change, Kahn has concluded as soon as page 5 that “unlike a ship, we cannot turn away.”

Economics is, after all, the dismal science, but early pessimism in Climatopolis quickly gives way to an overall optimistic theme. It is first encountered, somewhat surprisingly, in a chapter titled “What We’ve Done When Our Cities Have Blown Up.” With examples that range from fires and floods to wars and terrorist attacks, Kahn makes the case that we humans are a surprisingly resilient species. Among the lessons he draws are that destruction often triggers economic booms, people learn from their mistakes, cities are shaped by the accumulation of small decisions by millions of self-interested people, and when conditions are bad in one location people migrate to where it is better.
Kahn gets traction out of the notion that people “vote with their feet,” and he describes how climate change will affect where people want to go. Rising temperatures will cause Sun Belt cities in the United States to suffer, for example, while northern cities such as Minneapolis and Detroit will become more attractive places to live.
. . .
Climatopolis . . . cautions against maladaptive policies, and the recommendation here will be familiar to economists: prices should be left undistorted to reflect real costs and risks. Kahn is critical of a policy in Los Angeles under which people who demand more water pay a lower marginal price, and thereby face exactly the wrong incentive for conservation as water becomes increasingly scarce. He also points to the problems of subsidized insurance or caps on premiums for residents in climate-vulnerable areas, as these policies only promote greater vulnerability. What is more, Kahn would like us to stop treating people who move into harm’s way as victims in need of a bailout when natural disasters strike. He writes that, “Ironically, to allow capitalism to help us adapt to climate change, the government must precommit to not protect ‘the victims’.”

For the full review, see:
Kotchen, Matthew J. “Review of Kahn’s Climatopolis.” Journal of Economic Literature 49, no. 3 (September 2011): 777-79.
(Note: ellipses added.)

Book under review:
Kahn, Matthew E. Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter Future. New York: Basic Books, 2010.