Big Ideas: For Arkansas 

Solve the energy crisis with wastewater and chicken feathers
By Jeff Short

Hydrogen, the universe's most abundant element, can do almost everything. It can run a variety of engines without emitting carbon dioxide. In fuel cells, it can generate clean electricity. And it can serve as a feedstock for fertilizer, plastics and chemical processes. 

Arkansas municipalities and farming communities should mine their wastewater for hydrogen. One efficient process, electrolysis, involves using electricity to generate hydrogen gas from the ammonia found in many wastewaters.

Storing hydrogen gas safely and efficiently can be a problem. The usual method is expensive, but as a recent University of Delaware study found, cheap and abundant chicken feathers contain a protein called keratin that can be treated to form tiny hollow tubes perfect for storing hydrogen gas.

With plenty of wastewaters and chicken feathers, Arkansas is a natural fit to develop — and apply — these technologies to lead the nation in the use of hydrogen as a sustainable energy resource.

Air Force Col. Jeff Short (Ret.) is a retired engineer for the U.S. Department of Energy and a former commissioner on the Governor's Commission on Global Warming.

Stop building prisons
By Wendell Griffen

Although the crime rate in Arkansas has fallen in each of the past three years and is well below the highs reached during the 1990s, during 2009 state spending on corrections reached an all-time high. According to a June 2010 issue brief from the Pew Center on the States titled "Arkansas: Improving Public Safety and Containing Corrections Costs," the prison population in Arkansas more than doubled over the past 20 years. 

Twenty years ago, corrections cost our state $45 million, less than 3 percent of all general fund dollars. Today the bill is $349 million per year, or 8 percent of the general fund. 

The Pew Center report states that the Arkansas prison population is expected to rise to more than 6,500 inmates (as much as 43 percent) over the next 10 years unless growth is contained.  Building and operating new prisons to accommodate that growth will cost approximately $1.1 billion between 2010 and 2020. Construction costs alone (an estimated $355 million) will exceed the general fund dollars currently spent annually on corrections.

A 10-year statewide moratorium on prison construction and expansion is a vital first step toward needed change. Judges and prosecutors should also decrease reliance on incarceration and increase probation and other mandatory supervision options for non-violent offenders. These measures are much less costly and more likely to reduce recidivism than our current affinity for incarceration. 

Circuit Judge-elect Wendell Griffen is pastor of New Millennium Church.



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