Author Archives for Megan Treacy

Tesla and Toyota Join Forces

Toyota and Tesla Motors are embarking on a joint electric-car-building project, the companies announced yesterday.  The two automakers will form a specialist team that will concentrate on developing electric vehicles, parts, production systems and coordinate engineering support.

To really seal the deal, Toyota is purchasing $50 million of Tesla’s common stock directly after the close of Tesla’s planned IPO.  This partnership is obviously a boon to both companies.  Tesla is still a start-up company, so a large investment from an established automaker like Toyota will help them immensely.

Toyota will get the benefit of Tesla’s electric car expertise and so-called “venture business spirit.” With a commitment to have an all-electric vehicle on the market by 2012, this partnership could help Toyota do so with a splash.

Tesla is also taking over the NUMMI factory in Fremont, CA to build its Model S and other future vehicles.  Up until last month, the NUMMI factory was used by Toyota to build its Corolla and Tacoma models.

via Tesla Motors

Unexpected Consequence: Increased CO2 Could Affect Nutritional Value of Crops

A new study published in the journal Science states that rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere aren’t just affecting climate, but could affect the nutrition contained in the world’s food crops too.  Scientists at the University of California, Davis found that increased CO2 could reduce the protein content of crop plants by as much as 20 percent.

This slash in nutritional value happens because higher concentrations of CO2 interfere with a plant’s ability to convert nitrates into proteins, which leads to a less protein-rich food.

The scientists tested two common forms of soil nitrogen (nitrate and ammonium) with wheat plants that were exposed to elevated CO2 and the plants had reduced abilities to produce proteins.  This suggests new fertilizers will have to be developed to counteract this response, and soon, as the researchers see this 20 percent decline happening in the coming decades.

via Yale e360


Forget Wave Power, Google and Others May Use Poo Power for Data Centers

Google has been tinkering with the idea of a floating, wave-powered data center for a while, but it looks like a better solution could come from a more basic power source:  manure.  Hewlett Packard has released a research paper that states that tech companies like themselves, Google and Microsoft could benefit from a partnership with dairy farmers, using the cattle waste for fuel.

The research paper says that the dairy farmers could rent out land and power to the tech companies with a return on investment in waste-to-fuel systems in two years, making it a great arrangement for the farmers too.  Farmers want to build biogas plants where manure is processed and the methane produced is used in place of natural gas or diesel, but the cost of equipment is often too expensive for them to finance on their own.  This is where the tech companies come in.

As companies move their larger and larger data centers into rural areas with plenty of land, teaming up with local farms seems to be a natural fit — farmers need a way to get rid of the vast amounts of waste and tech companies need an affordable, clean source of energy.

An average cow produces enough manure to power a 100-watt light bulb and 10,000 cows could potentially power a 1-MW data center, a small computing center.  But another possible link between the farms and companies is that the biogas systems require a lot of heat to make fuel and computing equipment in data centers produce a lot of waste heat, so a loop could be created where the biogas plant powers the data center and the waste heat from the data center helps power the biogas plant.

The paper sees California and Texas as being the testing grounds in the U.S. for this partnership, while China and India could also benefit from such an arrangement.

via NY Times



Affordable, High-Performance LED Bulbs Finally Hitting the Market

Major lighting companies are working tirelessly towards becoming the first to own the LED market.  The super-effiicient light source is the future of lighting, but so far, for most consumers the available LED bulbs have been too expensive and dimmer than the incandescent bulbs we’re used to.

But that seems to be changing.  In the next few months, 60-watt equivalent bulbs in the $30 – $40 price range will be hitting the shelves.  In comparison, just two years ago, a 60-watt equivalent cost $90 and a 100-watt dimmable bulb went for $360.

Osram Sylvania is releasing an LED bulb in August that emits 810 lumens (similar to a 60-watt incandescent) that only consumes 12 watts and should last 12 times longer than an incandescent bulb.  That bulb should cost around $40.  The company is also releasing a 75-watt equivalent next year.

Lighting Science will soon start selling a 770 lumen, 9 watt LED bulb at Home Depot with a price in the low $30 range.  Other lighting companies like GE, Panasonic, Lemnis Lighting and Philips are all scrambling to hit a similar lumen-per-price ratio.

Why is $30 for a 60-watt equivalent an important milestone?  Well, first-off, the 60-watt bulb is the best-selling incandescent, so bringing an equivalent consumer LED bulb into an affordable price range is key.  Secondly, industry experts say that once LEDs hit $20, utilities could give them away to customers because the energy saved would cover the cost of the bulbs and would allow them to postpone bringing on new power plants.  So, getting the cost of these bulbs into the $30 range means that a $20 bulb is right around the corner.

via Greentech Media


China’s Telecom Sector Credits Telecommuting with Huge Emissions Reductions

China’s telecom sector released a report this week claiming that it had slashed CO2 emissions by 48.5 million tons in 2008 by increasing telecommuting, a greater reliance on electronic data storage and more efficient logistics.  This savings is comparable to the amount of emissions Sweden’s entire economy is responsible for each year.

The report came from the WWF and China Mobile who had Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications carry out the study.  The report says the emissions savings came from all of the transportation, freight and paper and material production that was avoided by digitizing the sector.

The study also concluded that future increases in telecommuting could save up to 340 million tons of emissions in China by 2020.  Even better potential is seen in virtual meetings over air travel, which could save 623 million tons of emissions by 2030.

The report is slightly controversial because the growing energy demand of data centers is increasing emissions, but the report says that those increases are more than offset by the overall emissions savings.

via Guardian

Japanese Town Testing Solar-Powered EVs

Right now, electric cars may not emit greenhouse gases themselves, but the coal-fired power plants that provide the electricity that fuels those cars do.   That may be the ugly reality now, but ideally in the not too far future, EVs will juice up with clean, renewable energy.  One Japanese town is getting a jump on that beautiful future by serving as a testing ground for solar-powered electric vehicles.

Tsukuba City, Japan, which is near Tokyo, is playing host to a project brought together by various companies, including Mazda, Think Global, EnerDel and Itochu.  As part of this project, Mazda2 vehicles have been outfitted with electric drivetrains built by Think, using EnerDel lithium ion batteries.

These cars will solely fuel-up at rapid-charging stations powered by solar-powered stationary grid storage units.  The charging stations will use DC current to facilitate a quick charge.  The cars will be tested by the Tsukuba City community in a ZipCar-type set up.  The residents will have smart cards that grant them access to the cars and charging stations, track the charges and bill them for their use.

via CNET


Throw Out the Spare Tire, Replace It With an Electric Bike?

Volkswagen has debuted its first electric bike that conveniently folds down to a disc that fits in the spare tire compartment of a trunk.

Before you start writing your comment about how an electric bike is no replacement for a spare tire if you have a flat or blowout, let me say, that’s not really its purpose.  Volkswagen calls the bike a “mobility enhancer” and they imagine a scenario where you can park your car on the perimeter of town and then use the bike to ride in and make all of your in-town stops.

And because of the collapsed bike’s small size, you don’t have to throw out the spare tire to fit it in your car, but apparently, it’s an option.

The VW bik.e has a range of 12.5 miles, but if you need more range to complete your errands, the bike battery can be charged by a car’s DC current and a typical AC plug.  It has an official top speed of 12.5 mph, a speed that allows Germans to ride without a helmet, though it’s rumored that the prototype goes faster than that.

The word at the Auto China 2010 show, where the bik.e debuted, was that Volkswagen is committed to getting this bike out on the streets.  It may not be too long before we see this sleek, small bike in action.

via Autoblog Green

Sustainable Brick Made from Sand, Bacteria and Pee

It seems like pee, or more specifically urea, is becoming quite the sustainable ingredient.  Beyond being tapped as a good source of hydrogen, it’s powering batteries and is now being used to make sustainable bricks.

Architect Ginger Krieg Dosier has designed a way of “growing” bricks by combining sand, bacteria, calcium chloride and urea, all easy-to-come-by materials.  Traditional brick-making is very energy-intensive, producing more pollution than global air travel each year.  It also consumes a lot of resources:  400 trees are burned to make 25,000 bricks.

These Better Bricks are created through a chain of chemical reactions known as microbial-induced calcite precipitation.  Once all the ingredients are combined, the bacteria serves as a glue that binds the sand together, creating a brick that is as tough as a fired-clay brick or even marble and requires no baking to achieve that strength.

If Better Bricks replaced all traditionally-fired bricks, 800 million tons of CO2 emissions would be eliminated each year.

via Inhabitat

Super-Insulator Aerogel Could Also Clean Up Oil Spills

Aerogel, the amazing material that is 37 times better than fiberglass as insulation, could also be the perfect tool for cleaning up oil spills.  The downside is that Aerogel isn’t ready for the large-scale production necessary to help with the current oil disaster.

The material is incredibly low density – it’s mostly air – so it has the capacity to absorb a lot of oil.  The maker of Aerogel, AeroClay, is beginning testing on an Aerogel sponge that could be made to soak up either water or oil.  By modifying the polymers that keep the material from collapsing, scientists can program the sponge to absorb different liquids or particles.  Aerogel has been used by NASA in the past to capture comet dust.

In the case of an oil spill, the sponge could be used like a dish sponge to clean oil off birds or rocks, or, even better, be deployed to keep oil from ever reaching the shore.

Although we hope that a major oil spill like the one in the Gulf of Mexico never happens again, it’s good to know that technology is being developed to make us better prepared if it does.

via Treehugger



GM Looks to Hawaii for Affordable Hydrogen

GM has announced that is partnering with Hawaii utility The Gas Company to develop hydrogen fueling infrastructure on the island of Oahu.

The utility produces hydrogen along with synthetic natural gas.  Through this partnership, it will tap into its pipelines, separate the hydrogen from the natural gas and deliver it to fueling stations where it can be used by fuel cell cars.  GM says that because the hydrogen fuel will be delivered through existing infrastructure, it could be priced equally to or less than gasoline.

GM is essentially using Hawaii as a testing ground for ramping up its production and testing of fuel cell cars.  The company is working on a fuel cell system that could be ready for commercialization by 2015 and this pilot project will help pave the way for its launch.

This project is great for Hawaii too as the island state is an ideal location for fuel cell cars for a few reasons:  it has an abundant source of hydrogen fuel, it has a great need for a clean alternative to petroleum (it currently imports oil for 90 percent of its energy needs) and the state has made commitments to reduce petroleum use and to get 70 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.

via GM