Environmentally sound science, and technological breakthroughs

Green Science

These are articles about renewable energy, high efficiency, and general articles about environmentally sound science.

Another reason why electric cars are a waste of time...

California has blackouts and brownouts every time too many people run their air conditioning at the same time. Imagine the power outages that would happen every night at 6pm, if everybody drove a plug-in hybrid!

Chaos. Total nightmare.

I've been trolling some power plant engineer forums, who are little concerned about the emergence of electrical cars. America's electric grid cannot handle a world with electric cars! Especially out east, where one sneeze can take out the eastern seaboard. It will take billions of dollars over the next 20 years to get the grid ready for an all-electric car force. The power plant engineers think that the current grid can only support 10 million plug-in vehicles... and even that requires letting the power plants control when you get to plug in your car!

Some on the forum suggested diesel... but being power plant engineers, they threw out some stats about how electric motors are always more efficient than diesel... True, but that's not looking at the whole picture. I dug through some data from the EPA and the US Department of Energy (and then updated Wikipedia's diesel engine page). Here's what I found:

  • The drive motor on an electric car is about 85% efficient... but where does that electricity come from?
  • In the US, 75% of the electricity comes from coal. So how efficient is that power plant? UPDATE: Coal is only 50% according to a new study.
  • A combined-generator power plant runs at about 50% efficiency, meaning about half of the energy is lost as waste heat. Wind, solar, and hydro power plants can do better, almost 80%. However, some small and/or old plants are only 30% efficient.
  • Also, all power plants in America lose some power between the plant, and your home. This is called line loss, and can be anywhere between 3% and 10%.
  • Diesel engines have a theoretical efficiency of 75%
  • Current diesel engines are 45% efficient.
  • Future diesel engines could be 55% efficient by 2010.

Interesting... This all spells out bad news for electric cars. Best case scenario, an electric car is 65% efficient. Realisticly, you could expect 40%, but the worst case is 23%. In contrast, you could realistically expect 45% efficiency with diesel now, and 65% efficiency 20 years from now isn't so crazy. There is some "line loss" for diesel, meaning that it takes energy to get the diesel tankers to the filling stations... but I'd wager its under 5%.

To put it another way, in order for electric cars to be greener than biodiesel, we first need to upgrade our electric grid infrastructure, and also switch every power plant to solar!

Don't get me wrong, those are good ideas. Yes, we should go to solar. Yes we should upgrade the infrastructure. But that's a 20-year project folks! Stop wasting precious brain cells solving the electric car problem! It's solved enough, OK? Let the grid catch up, work on clean diesel for 10 years, then switch back.

UPDATE: Domenick pointed me to a DOE study on off-peak capacity, which contradicts some of what the power plant engineers said on the forum. This analysis claims off-peak capacity could fuel 73% of the fleet of US cars, truck, vans, etc., if they were plug-in hybrids (not pure electric). However, some parts of the West and Pacific Northwest -- where the market for electric cars is highest -- would not be able to handle the load due to reliance on hydropower. It also assumes that the grid would operate at near capacity 100% of the time -- something that has NEVER been done, and has risks:

Even though we analyzed today’s grid with today’s LDV fleet and driving behavior, we applied several assumptions about the operating procedures of the entire electricity infrastructure, in which the grid has never been operated.

Its a good first-pass at a feasibility study, but we need experimental data to verify the grid can handle the load... hopefully before California and Washington get hit with rolling blackouts in 2010.

Big Oil Going The Way Of Big Tobacco?

I love of energy... I always thought environmentalists got it wrong about energy. The problem isn't overconsumption, its unsustainability. So, go ahead and drive your Hummer, as long as it runs biodiesel from sources like algae or bacteria. If Big Oil was sharp, they would stop denying global warming, and embrace new carbon-negative oil technologies before the high tech venture capitalists steal all their business...

To add insult to injury, it seems that some prominent scientists want to put Big Oil on trial for global warming. At first, I believed that these kinds of trials would go exactly nowhere. Until I found out about one case backed by a dream team of trial lawyers: Steve Berman and Steve Susman.

The former was the lead lawyer representing 13 states against Big Tobacco in their historic defeat in the 1990s. The latter was the man who defended Big Tobacco. Now, they have teamed up and are taking on Big Oil, with pretty much the same strategy...

The Atlantic outlines the logic of the case quite well. There have been dozens of lawsuits against Big Tobacco, dating as far back as the 1950s. The plaintiffs were all the same -- people who got addicted to cigarettes, and got health problems, and were now suing the tobacco industry for selling an unsafe product. Early anti-tobacco lawsuits all ended the same way: the judge would declare that every consumer product has some danger, but its not the judge's responsibility to decided an acceptable level of safety.

Defining what is an "acceptable level of safety" is up to Congress... who are always on top of things...

This of course led Big Tobacco in the past -- just like Big Oil right now -- to funnel millions of dollars to "skeptical" scientists, and use them to pass off PR as genuine research... and use that to influence congress and the media into inaction. Not to mention the millions in campaign contributions, free trips, lobbyist jobs, etc. etc. etc.

Unfortunately, Big Tobacco finally realized the flaw in that plan:

  • When you pass of PR as genuine scientific research, it is a lie.
  • When you lie about consumer products you sell, it is fraud.
  • When you defraud consumers, class action lawsuits are not far behind.
  • When you get sued, you have to produce old memos, emails, and data relevant to the case... which are usually very incriminating

The Steves' plan is not to claim that oil is causing "too much harm." The plan is to prove that Big Oil used both licit and illicit means to downplay the actual harm of their product, whatever that harm may be. Essentially, when companies engage in fraud, they make it impossible for a consumer to make a reasonable choice about whether or not to use their product... and congress has a long list of laws against that...

Essentially, even if oil is 90% safe, if the Steves can prove that Big Oil claimed it was 95% safe, and that Big Oil downplayed evidence to the contrary, then Big Oil is guilty of both fraud, and conspiracy to commit fraud. That exact tactic brought down Big Tobacco, and it seems like it would be pretty easy to do the same to Big Oil...

I, for one, am curious to see how all this pans out...

Best Father's Day Graphic Ever

From Treehugger:

I just love the exasperated, one-eye-open gaze...

Genetically Modified Crops DECREASE Food Production

File this one under "whoops":

Genetic modification actually cuts the productivity of crops, an authoritative new study shows, undermining repeated claims that a switch to the controversial technology is needed to solve the growing world food crisis. The study – carried out over the past three years at the University of Kansas in the US grain belt – has found that GM soya produces about 10 per cent less food than its conventional equivalent, contradicting assertions by advocates of the technology that it increases yields.

Why the difference? Well, its simple... it takes a REALLY long time to genetically engineer plants. By the time you have one new viable generation of frankenstein foods, traditional breeding techniques could generate dozens of new varieties... in which case, the best traditional crop will almost always outperform the best genetically modified crop. If not now, then probably in a season or two.

I'm not as paranoid about the label "genetic engineering" as some folks -- probably because I did it once in a lab and it wasn't what people think -- but what always bugged me was the woefully unscientific methods that Monsanto used to promote modified crops.

At best, Roundup-Ready crops introduce a new dimension to the arms race between farmers and pests... and one that has much more collateral damage than others. As pests inevitably grow resistant to pesticide, then only the second generation of modified crops and will survive... what then happens to traditional farmers? Or organic farmers?

If they want to use superorganics techniques to grow drought-resistant, flood-resistant, or salt-resistant crops, they have my support... but pesticide-resistant crops make absolutely no sense in the long term. And now it appears that they can't even keep up with the food yields of traditional crops...

Back to the drawing board, I guess.

Its Official: Pollution and Genetic Modification are Sins!

The Vatican recently made it clear to their Catholic flock that they must beware new sins like pollution:

Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti... [said] "(Within bioethics) there are areas where we absolutely must denounce some violations of the fundamental rights of human nature through experiments and genetic manipulation whose outcome is difficult to predict and control..."

In recent months, Pope Benedict has made several strong appeals for the protection of the environment, saying issues such as climate change had become gravely important for the entire human race.

Not to be left out, the Baptists have also denounced global warming:

Several prominent leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention said Monday that Baptists have a moral responsibility to combat climate change -- a major shift within a denomination that just last year cast doubt on human responsibility for global warming. Forty-six influential members of the Southern Baptist Convention, including three of its past four presidents, criticized their denomination in a statement Monday for being "too timid" in confronting global warming. "Our cautious response to these issues in the face of mounting evidence may be seen by the world as uncaring, reckless and ill-informed," the statement says. "We can do better."

Several Evangelicals in the Midwest are voicing their concerns as well:

Mr. Wallis is writing bestsellers, and prominent evangelical pastors are calling for "creation care" on global warming and galvanizing church members to address Third World poverty and disease.

Interesting news... I wonder who will be more feverishly pro-earth... the religious zealots, or the hippies?

German Diesels Take The Green Lead Again!

I'm not a huge fan of hybrids, but I'm excited to hear about the new VW diesel hybrid that will get 70 MPG, and will be sold in Europe this year. Its in a Golf frame, but that's just the beginning. They have plans to put it into new Jetta and Audi A3 models, making quite a sporty economy car...

It also meets with all the strict emission standards for vehicles, making it clean enough for even California. Its stomps all over the Prius and the Civic Hybrid on both miles per gallon, and CO2 emission per mile.

I currently drive a 98 Cabrio... one of those convertible VWs. It turned ten this year, and has less than 50,000 miles on it. All that car pooling and cycling to Stellent sure kept the miles down... I'll have to get a new car one of these days, and a diesel hybrid Audi sure would be sweet...

Anybody wanna bet that they'll be available before I hit 60k miles?

New Geothermal Electricty Plant Near Seattle

Thanks in part to rising oil prices, and State mandates about renewable energy, Washington State will be opening a geothermal energy plant near the Cascade mountains.

I was unaware, but the Cascade mountains are part of the ring of fire, a group of hot spots around the Pacific rim that has a number of active volcanoes. Besides Iceland, the US uses more geothermal energy than anybody else in the world.

The process is simple: pump cool water down into the earth. Hot rocks warmed by magma turns the hot water into steam, and a turbine on top turns the steam into electricity. Its one of the cleanest and greenest forms of energy we have... rivaling even solar power. California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho and Oregon also have plenty of geothermal energy to tap... they just need some capital. Some more good news:

A recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology study found that the amount of geothermal power that could be recovered from deep drilling would represent almost 3,000 times the amount of energy currently consumed in the United States.


So the west has geothermal... the midwest has wind and biofuels... what about the east coast? Until solar catches up with coal (and some say it already has), the east is the odd man out...

Minnesota Project To Make Oil From Algae

As I've mentioned before, algae is probably the most overlooked solution to our energy problems... and now it appears that Excel Energy has given a grant to the University of Minnesota to research its potential.

Some people talk about ethanol made from corn as the energy solution... but that's a non-starter. Ethanol requires more energy to create that is released when its burned. Others talk about biodeisel made from corn or soybeans. That makes a lot more sense, but it's still land-intensive. Corn only produces 18 gallons of oil per acre, whereas soybeans can only do 48 gallons. If you're lucky enough to live in the tropics, you can extract 635 gallons of oil from an acre of palm trees... but the rest of us are out of luck.

In comparison, algae produces 5,000 gallons of oil per acre. Not only that, but algae feeds off of pollution! You can grow it on wastewater from a sewage treatment plant, or feed it air pollution from an industrial smokestack. It thrives in both conditions, and produces a remarkable amount of oil... you can then use this oil directly in a diesel engine, or refine it to make gasoline. I prefer the former...

Imagine that... recycling our garbage to make energy. It's the holy grail of closing-the-loop on recycling...

Solar Power By Nanosolar: Now Cheaper Than Coal!

According to the New York Times, a heavily funded startup named Nanosolar has come up with an innovative process of manufacturing solar cells... they are now cheap to make, easy to install, and very very sturdy. The projected cost is $2 per watt, whereas a coal fired plant is $2.10 per watt

A lot of Silicon Valley venture capitalists have been funding these guys... including the Google twins. I'm positive the boys at Dell and Intel are salivating as well... Everyone in the computer industry has jumped on the green energy bandwagon recently... which begs the question why do computer folks care so much about green power?

Because we have to.

I'm not talking about environmentalism or hippie sensibilities... the fact of the matter is that the entire computer and software business model has always been bigger, better, faster, more! We double the computing power every year and a half. Well suddenly, the power problem has caught up with us. Half of the Fortune 500 spend more on electricity for computers, than on computers! Data centers alone consume 1.5% of all power in the US... how many years in a row can we double that? Not to mention what will happen when India and China get as wired as Japan...

The only way to continue with our business model is to get into the energy industry. We need solar. We need fusion. There simply aren't enough fossil fuels on the planet to satiate our appetite for energy. At our current rate of increase, we'd burn through every drop within 20 years. If the politicians and energy companies are too slow or scared to do it, then the computer industry will be forced to pick up the slack. We got cash, we got ideas, and we aren't afraid of disruptive innovation.

Ideas like Nanosolar help in the short term, but it won't be enough. We need fusion, and we need it within the decade.

I hope the Google twins understand this as well...

Make Fuels Cells 10 Times More Effecient With Microbes

This is exciting...

The National Science Foundation is reporting on a innovative fuel cell that uses microbes. Bruce Logan and colleagues at Penn State University have improved on previous microbe-based fuel cells, and made a perfect little home for them so they can spit out hydrogen like crazy! Mix the following:

  • Water
  • Leftovers from a salad bar
  • A splash of vinegar
  • 0.2 Volts of electricity
  • Select microbes from the finest sewage

Shake vigorously, and BOOM! The magic bacteria eat the plants, and makes hydrogen as a byproduct!

No pun intended.

You can then use the hydrogen in a separate fuel cell, or burn it directly, to power an engine... Its 2 to 10 times more efficient than electrolysis, and vastly better than ethanol. In there experiment, they achieved 288% efficiency, when compared to the electricity they had to add to create hydrogen. By comparison, most electrolysis can only achieve 50%-70% efficiency.

Check the Penn State press release for more info...

Want 60 MPG And 600 Horsepower? Get a Hummer

Now this is just plain crazy...

Fast Company has a new article called Motorhead Messiah, all about some genius inventor who is making the Hummer one of the greenest cars available.

For $28k, he'll convert your standard H2 Hummer to biodiesel, and tweak the engine so its gets more power and better fuel efficiency. Detroit said such beasts were impossible to make, but Johnathan Goodwin did it... even more amazingly, 90% of the parts he uses are made by GM. That's right... Detroit has all the technology they need to make a hyper efficient Hummer... all they lack is imagination and will.

His latest toy is a hybrid Hummer: supercapacitors for energy storage, and a jet engine that runs on biodiesel.

And when it's time to fill the tank, he'll be able to just pull up to the back of a diner and dump in its excess french-fry grease--as he does with his many other Hummers. Oh, yeah, he adds, the horsepower will double--from 300 to 600.

"Conservatively," Goodwin muses, scratching his chin, "it'll get 60 miles to the gallon. With 2,000 foot-pounds of torque. You'll be able to smoke the tires. And it's going to be superefficient."

He laughs. "Think about it: a 5,000-pound vehicle that gets 60 miles to the gallon and does zero to 60 in five seconds!"


I'll bet that will cost you a squidge more than $28k...

He believes (like I do) that diesel and biodiesel are important baby steps towards better fuel economy. Hybrids are OK, but hyper efficient diesel engines will have greater market penetration. They can be used in more industries than just human transport -- trucking, construction, shipping, generators -- and they are (relatively) safe, clean, simple to build and maintain. Making better diesel engines helps the overall oil problem in more ways than hybrids...

Hopefully people will listen more more closely now that the "Motorhead Messiah" agrees...

Blog Action Day: The Environment

Today is Blog Action Day, a day where all bloggers are supposed to talk about one issue, to see what would happen. Say something innovative, and donate your blog's income that day to the cause. Hmmm... zero dollars up for grabs! First come, first served!

Anyway, I care deeply about green technology and the environment... I've also gotten into trouble with a few greens with my rather unothrodox views... so now it's time for another:

Energy conservationists have the problem completely backward. The goal is not to conserve; the goal is to waste.

Science, innovation, progress, everything in the world will require ever increasing amounts of energy. This isn't the viewpoint of an oil industry shill... this is basic physics:

  • New ideas, innovations, or social structures create order.
  • Order is the opposite of disorder, also known as entropy.
  • According to physics, we can never destroy entropy, but we can move it around.
  • Thus, to create order, we need energy to shift around the entropy. Example: you expend energy to keep you home clean, right?
  • Arguably, every better idea, innovation, or thought requires higher and higher levels of order.
  • Therefore, the path of innovation will always require greater and greater amounts of energy.

Now, nobody's done the hard math on this one to see exactly how much energy is required to invent a new muffin recipe... but is waste the true enemy? The glut of printing presses in the 15th century led to the reformation and the enlightenment. The glut of cheap fossil fuels enabled the rise the Industrial Revolution. The glut of cheap computer power has helped us create technological, medical, and social innovations the likes of which the world has never seen. Just like in nature: there's no such thing as waste. Eventually, something will adapt to consume a surplus, and create something new and (hopefully) wonderful.

Waste is not the enemy... unsustainability is!

As such, greens should visualize a future where the entire world consumes as much energy as the US. We should also assume that we live on a healthy planet. Then, we need to innovate to get ourselves to that vision. Ask yourself this: can we produce one thousand times the amount of energy we do today, and have a healthy planet? With current technology, hell no! Hydropower, geothermal, wind, biofuels, clean petroleum, all of these are stop-gap approaches that at best can keep us limping along for 50 years... With space mirrors we might get some life out of solar, but the real future is in fusion power.

As much as I love hackers, their kind of innovation won't bring us to the future. We need massive, multi-billion dollar initiatives over decades to bring nuclear fusion power to a reality.

Even then, fusion is not a sustainable resource. Much like oil and gas, there's a fixed amount on this planet: although deuterium is present in large quantities in the ocean, it is regenerated from cosmic sources at a fairly low rate. If everybody in the world consumed as much energy per capita as The State of Quatar -- that is, four times the per capita consumption of the US -- we may only have enough energy for several few thousand years... then we'll need space-based deuterium mining expeditions, antimatter, or Dyson Spheres to keep going.

I'll buy solar cells if properly priced... I'll drive a fuel efficient car... most of my electricity comes from windmills... but I never get smug that I'm saving the planet. I'm far too aware that without fusion power, our grandkids won't have a future.

Never forget that.

Prius Ranked Less Green Than Mini Cooper D

I was never much a fan of hybrids... having two engines instead of one just seemed to make things expensive and complicated... and it appears that others have validated my complaints. When total life-cycle environmental damage is tallied, the Prius ranks #12 in "overall greenness."

Although the Prius gets 50 miles to the gallon -- I verified this myself -- it's still less green than city roadsters like the Mini Cooper, Ford Ka, or the Fiat. This is because the creation and maintenance of a Prius causes much more environmental damage than most people realize... you need to drive a lot to offset that damage.

The top green cars are:

  1. Smart Roadster
  2. Smart Fortwo cabriolet
  3. Citroen C1 1.0i
  4. Peugeot 107 1.0
  5. Citroen C1 1.4 HDi
  6. Fiat Panda 1.2
  7. Ford Ka 1.3
  8. Toyota Yaris 1.0
  9. Fiat Panda 100hp
  10. Peugeot 206 1.4
  11. Mini Cooper D
  12. Toyota Prius 1.5

Three cheers for the Mini Cooper D! I wish it was available in the US... but our diesel emissions laws are a bit stricter. It gets 62 MPG with 110 HP, which is pretty dang good...

The researchers believe that the Prius will fall further in ranking next year, because clean diesel/gasoline technology is progressing rapidly... whereas hybrid technology has pretty much stagnated. Of course, I'm still waiting for supercapacitors to become available... then maybe I'd build my own green car.

Of course, I'd have to beg and plead Tom Chaffee to help me...

Green Auto Blog Roundup

So I'm in Seattle this week... and we decided to rent a Toyota Prius. I've been critical of hybrids in the past, but wanted to see for myself how much they lie about the fuel economy. Even if its not a big lie, I'm still not sold on switching from carbon-heavy petroleum to massive, toxic batteries...

I'll be updating this blog next week with the miles-per-gallon that we saw with the Prius... in the meantime, enjoy my take on a green-auto-link-a-palooza:

I know... being a serial contrarian dooms me to forever be the cynic...

Turn Old Tires Into Diesel Fuel?

UPDATE: Several commenters below claim that this technology never existed. Also, the man who invented it -- John Pereless -- took money from investors, and never gave them anything in return. I cannot speak to either claim... but I usually urge caution when it comes to products "too good to be true."

Global Resource Corporation has announced their latest invention: a giant microwave that can turn plastics back into oil!

Called the Hawk-10, it uses an array of finely tuned microwaves to precisely break the hydrogen bonds in the long hydrocarbon molecules of solid plastics. This breakdown yields simpler, smaller hydrocarbon chains, such as oil and natural gas.

In their tests, you could grind up one steel-belted tire to yield a gallon of diesel fuel, two pounds of natural gas, two pounds of steel, and a bit of carbon ash. It can easily strip insulation off of wires, leaving scrap metal behind. Its value in the automotive recycling field is obvious... its less obvious if it makes sense to do this for all recycled plastics.

No word yet on the toxicity of the byproducts, but its possible that with a bit of tuning they could alter the molecular structure of the plastics more carefully.

Sky Farm 3000!

This was an idea I discussed with Alec and Pete on occasion... the concept of vertical farms. In essence, by using hydroponics, artificial light, and sterilized wastewater, a city can grow all of its food needs in skyscrapers. They are less prone to droughts, heavy rainfall, pests, or weeds. Plus, being so close to the city, you get to take advantage of all of the existing infrastructure for distribution.

It Just Makes Sense©

Well, it appears that some wacky designers have proposed buildings in both New York City, and Toronto.

Its not as crazy as it sounds... many fruit and vegetable farms are grown in indoor greenhouses, and can grow much more food in the same amount of space. Sky farming would probably be less feasible for staples like wheat and potatoes... at least until sky farms get the subsidies that standard farms get!

Another nice side effect is that less land is needed for food production... which we can then turn into national parks.

Of course, this will only serve to increase the speed at which people are leaving small towns and moving to the city... but the world was always a dynamic place!

The Truth About Recycling

The Economist has a great article on the truth about recycling this month... I was always a fan of metal recycling and plastic, but was a lot more suspicious about paper and glass. It just never stuck me as an efficient enough process to justify a wide scale transportation process.

Apparently, the truth about recycling is that overall its worth the effort. I know that this may seem obvious, but for a long time there was a great deal of concern about whether it actually saved resources, or wasted energy on feel-good make-work projects. Why spend $3 a gallon on gas, toting around tons of dirty glass, when its so cheap to just make it from scratch? Especially in places where there is no market for recycled goods, what's the point in recycling?

Take England: they import a billion bottles of wine per year, but have no wine industry themselves. What could they possibly do with all that recycled green glass?

Despite glitches, overall recycling does much more good than harm. They based this on a highly rigorous lifecycle analysis by the Technical University of Denmark and the Danish Topic Centre on Waste. Some quotes:

Based on this study, WRAP calculated that Britain's recycling efforts reduce its carbon-dioxide emissions by 10m-15m tonnes per year. That is equivalent to a 10% reduction in Britain's annual carbon-dioxide emissions from transport, or roughly equivalent to taking 3.5m cars off the roads. Similarly, America's Environmental Protection Agency estimates that recycling reduced the country's carbon emissions by 49m tonnes in 2005.

Recycling has many other benefits, too. It conserves natural resources... Recycling aluminium, for example, can reduce energy consumption by as much as 95%. Savings for other materials are lower but still substantial: about 70% for plastics, 60% for steel, 40% for paper and 30% for glass.

And newer technology makes it even easier to recycle then ever:

Originally kerbside programmes asked people to put paper, glass and cans into separate bins. But now the trend is toward co-mingled or “single stream” collection... But the switch can make people suspicious: if there is no longer any need to separate different materials, people may conclude that the waste is simply being buried or burned. In fact, the switch towards single-stream collection is being driven by new technologies that can identify and sort the various materials with little or no human intervention. Single-stream collection makes it more convenient for householders to recycle, and means that more materials are diverted from the waste stream.

That makes me feel a lot better about mingling my plastic, glass, and aluminum cans in the same bin...

The article also talks a bit about the take-back laws being enacted in the US and Japan for electronics. These force manufacturers to recycle items that are very expensive to make, but have a surprisingly short shelf life (like computers), and have previously been difficult to recycle.

It also paints a pretty rosy picture of the future of recycling. The main barrier is simply that most products were not made with recycling in mind. In some manufacturing industries, their margins are so low that its not economical to redesign their products to break down better. A carbon tax could kick the market into high gear... although new techniques from Wal-Mart, Toyota and Nike -- who have adopted a zero-waste target -- will also help significantly.

Overall, good news about recycling from the über capitalists at The Economist.

Most Fuel Efficient Car Available...

More news against the hybrid hype... apparently the latest version of the diesel Volkswagen Jetta uses less fossil fuels than a Toyota Prius. That is, if you use biodiesel instead of normal diesel. Even if you use standard diesel, the comparison isn't bad...

I can't say I'm surprised. I never liked hybrids or electric cars. Sure, they claim to use far less gasoline, but the side effects are too significant to ignore. They might even be worse than a Hummer when you do all the math.

To top off the good news, this new diesel version will be available in all 50 states in the US.

I'm hoping that this might help people wake up and realize that neither hybrids nor ethanol are the wave of the future... rather, the future is an engine invented in 1891.

Wind Turbines on Blimps?

Now this is interesting... The Magenn company will soon be selling a highly unusual floating wind turbine. Its kind of a fusion between a watermill and a blimp.

The turbine is a specially shaped cylinder that can be filled with helium, and will rotate with as little as a 2mph breeze. It operates at much slower wind speeds than typical wind turbines... and even if it didn't, since its a balloon you can send it up a few hundred feet to get higher wind speeds.

I really like this idea, because you can place these blimps closer to the city than typical wind turbines. Also, they appear to be easy to set up, so its a great replacement for diesel generators in remote locations, or after a natural disaster.

Of course, there's the little problem with airplanes getting too close to the tether and causing a accident... that would be about as fun as cutting a high-tension power line with a pair of metal scissors. I can imagine the FAA and other government agencies being a bit concerned with levitating power plants. Magenn addresses a few of these on their safety page.

They should begin selling 4 kilowatt units this year. Those should be able to supply three average homes with electricity. To make it viable for full-scale wind farms, they need to have much larger units in the megawatt range. These are on the roadmap, but won't be available until 2011.

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