All posts by Pheezatron

Eating Radiation: A New Form of Energy?

In a bizarre alternative to photosynthesis, some fungi “eat” radiation–with the role of chlorophyll taken by melanin, a chemical also found in human skin.

The uses of this discovery could range from a disposal method for nuclear waste to a food source for long space voyages during which fungi could grow using radiation from outer space, although future astronauts may not find fungi very appetizing. Dadachova suggests that the fungi might be used as a biofuel to be grown in high-altitude regions where radiation is prevalent and nothing else can grow. Does this mean that one day huge fungi farms on the slopes of the Andes or the Himalayas will provide us with fuel for our cars, along with fungi steaks for astronauts heading to Mars?

[MIT Technology Review]

Tesla’s got some competition

Of course, the Tesla isn’t the only high-performance EV out there, nor was it the first (see Venturi Fetish, Wrightspeed X1), but it certainly was the first to capture the attention of the mainstream media.  Undoubtedly, it has changed many people’s perceptions of what an electric car can be.

Lucky for Tesla, the car pictured above, the Lightning GT, will be staying on the other side of the Atlantic.  Made by the Lightning Car Company, and using Altairnano NanoSafe batteries, the 700bhp coupe is now available for pre-order, with the first deliveries arriving in 2008. The coupe will also be available with a range extender (think the Chevy Volt).  The chassis is made of a carbon fiber/aluminum honeycomb composite monocoque, but its actual weight has not yet been disclosed.
The Lightning GT uses four 120kW wheel motors made by PML Flightlink.  These Hi-Pa Drive motors were also used in the 640hp EV Mini Cooper featured on green.mnp a few months back.  Lightning writes on its website that “all of the power is generated at the wheel, the point at which it is required, which eliminates mechanical complexity and power losses experienced in standard sports cars.  These lightweight and ultra powerful motors do not add significant extra unsprung weight and are therefore ideal in that position.”  A few days after the Lightning started making its rounds on the internet, the Director of Public Relations at Tesla addressed such hub-mounted motors on the company’s blog:

Without digressing too much, I’d like to tackle a reoccurring question because it dovetails perfectly with a discussion of driving dynamics. “Would four hub-mounted motors have made for a better Tesla Roadster?” In a word: no. Four hub-mounted motors would work great in an electric off road vehicle or rally car – power to each wheel could be controlled for mud, ice, and gravel along with the hill control feature used in off-roading. In a sports car, the added weight and complexity would have compromised the driving enjoyment that makes a sports car a driver’s delight.

The weight that engineers most worry about is rotating mass. In other words, anything that goes round and round as the car moves. This includes components like the wheels, tires, brake rotors, and even the lug nuts. Besides the gyroscopic forces that a spinning wheel assembly represents as a car turns, this is mass that needs to be spun up to speed for acceleration and slowed back down again for braking. More mass here means relatively slower acceleration and braking.

So who’s right?  We’ll have to wait for each car to reach production.  In all likelihood, each is probably right to some extent – almost every car company out there has a different philosophy in terms of engines (i.e. displacement vs. forced induction; inline 6′s vs V-6′s, and let’s not forget about horizontally-opposed boxer engines either), and engine placement and weight distribution (front-engine rear wheel drive vs. mid-engine rear wheel drive vs. rear-engine, rear wheel drive vs front-engine all-wheel drive…)  The real issue is how the individual manufacturer executes their philosophical belief in the specific model.

The other thing to consider; price.  The Tesla is going to retail for a little shy of $100,000, whereas the Lightning GT will cost almost three times that (£150,000).  We already know Tesla has big plans for EV’s, and is trying to bring them to mass-market, with plans for a dealer network and a sports-sedan.  Perhaps Lightning is set on becoming and remaining a boutique EV manufacturer…

More at the Lightning Car Company

Biodiesel: No War Required

With gas over $3.50 a gallon here in California, many station owners must be relieved to have pumps with credit card readers. Better to cut out all interaction with the sullen customers.

But Jennifer Radtke has just one ancient pump, prices a few pennies above her competition, and lines that occasionally stretch over an hour long in this quiet corner of Berkeley. Yet customers clearly love the place, doubling the business each year and making possible a major expansion this summer.

How? She offers biodiesel, an alternative fuel that soothes so many environmental and political bugaboos it may some day edge out lattes as the Left Coast’s favorite liquid.

“Everything about [biodiesel] is really incredible. It’s nontoxic, nonflammable, it’s made from vegetable oil,” enthuses Ms. Radtke, who jointly owns and runs BioFuel Oasis with five other women. For her, biodiesel is about a feeling of independence more than politics. Oh, and it “smells great.”

For Oasis customers, one of the biggest selling points is that the fuel comes from a potato chip factory in southern California, not the Middle East.

“Pretty much every time I went to buy gas, I thought about what was going on in Iraq, and I was feeling awful,” says Aimee Wells, as she fuels up her VW Gulf, a diesel car she bought last year so she could switch to veggie power. A bumper sticker on it reads, “Biodiesel: no war required.”


Hotel replaces bibles with copies of Gore’s book!

Visitors to the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel and Spa won’t find the Gideon Bible in the nightstand drawer. Instead, on the bureau will be a copy of “An Inconvenient Truth,” former Vice President Al Gore’s book about global warming.

They’ll also find the Gaia equipped with waterless urinals, solar lighting and recycled paper as it marches toward becoming California’s first hotel certified as “green,” or benevolent to the environment. Similar features are found 35 miles south at San Francisco’s Orchard Garden Hotel, which competes for customers with neighboring luxury hotels like the Ritz-Carlton and Fairmont.

“I’m not your traditional Birkenstocks and granola type of guy,” said Stefan Muehle, general manager of the Orchard Garden, who said green measures are reducing energy costs as much as 25 percent a month. “We’re trying to dispel the myth that being green and being luxurious are mutually exclusive.”


A123Systems to Market PHEV Conversion Packs in 2008

Want to make your hybrid a plug-in?  We’ve got some good news:

The PHEV conversion modules will be available in 2008 – here’s the info:

It will be certified to meet all applicable new car test standards and will be installed by trained mechanics in less than 2 hours, without any changes to the underlying electronics, mechanics or materially useable space of the production hybrid other than the installation of the plug in the rear bumper.

The applicable market in the US for standard production hybrids will be approaching 1 million through the course of this year. With almost two dozen hybrid models expected by the end of 2008, there will be 5 million standard hybrids on the road by 2010. At an initial 40 mile module installed price of $10,000 supported with a $3,500 tax credit, the payback period for a fleet owner with $3.00/gallon gas is 2.5 years, against an expected life of 10 or more years. The payback period for the average commuter driving 11,000 miles per year would be 5.5 years. These calculations place no value on the net reduction of approximately 100 tons of carbon dioxide and other emissions over the life of the vehicle and take no account of the cost reductions which could accrue from additional materials research and increasing production volumes.


Power through human waste

The human sewage would be treated in an industrial anearobic digester system and would come out as biogas. The gas can then be used to power electricity generators or provide heat.

Anerobic digestion is currently becoming an increasing popular method for generating energy. Earlier this year, Marks and Spencer’s chief executive Stuart Rose said his company was considering using anaerobic digestion of animal waste to power its Scottish stores.

Gavron added that this was a particularly eco-friendly form of producing energy. She said: “Once you start looking at waste as a resource, you realise that it this method is either a zero or low carbon way to produce energy.”


Arctic Ice Melting Much Faster Than Predicted

How’s this for an “oh sh*t” moment:

Arctic Ocean sea ice is melting faster than even the most advanced climate change models predict, a new study concludes.

The work, published today in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, used the models to retroactively predict sea-ice decline from 1953 to 2006.

Scientists then compared the results to what has actually been recorded by Earth-based and satellite observations during that time frame.

The team found that, on average, 18 climate models used in a 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) underestimated the extent of sea-ice decline by a factor of three.

“We’re about 30 years ahead of what the models show,” said Julienne Stroeve, lead author of the study and a researcher at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder.


Andrew Revkin sounds off on carbon offsets

Are they useful or just the 21st century equivalent of indulgences?

But is the carbon-neutral movement just a gimmick?

On this, environmentalists aren’t neutral, and they don’t agree. Some believe it helps build support, but others argue that these purchases don’t accomplish anything meaningful — other than giving someone a slightly better feeling (or greener reputation) after buying a 6,000-square-foot house or passing the million-mile mark in a frequent-flier program. In fact, to many environmentalists, the carbon-neutral campaign is a sign of the times — easy on the sacrifice and big on the consumerism.

As long as the use of fossil fuels keeps climbing — which is happening relentlessly around the world — the emission of greenhouse gases will keep rising. The average American, by several estimates, generates more than 20 tons of carbon dioxide or related gases a year; the average resident of the planet about 4.5 tons.

At this rate, environmentalists say, buying someone else’s squelched emissions is all but insignificant.

“The worst of the carbon-offset programs resemble the Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences back before the Reformation,” said Denis Hayes, the president of the Bullitt Foundation, an environmental grant-making group. “Instead of reducing their carbon footprints, people take private jets and stretch limos, and then think they can buy an indulgence to forgive their sins.”


Chrysler Announces Hybrid Version of New Aspen Full-Size SUV

Since Americans want to have their cake and eat it too (although why anyone prefers to drive a tank-like behemoth is still beyond me)…

The new Aspen full-size SUV will join the Dodge Durango as Chrysler’s first volume production hybrids next year. Both vehicles will use a 5.7-liter HEMI engine coupled with the advanced two-mode hybrid technology being co-developed by GM, DaimlerChrysler and BMW.

The HEMI engine will continue to feature Chrysler Group’s Multi-displacement System (MDS), which allows the engine to alternate between four-cylinder mode when less power is needed and V-8 mode when more power is in demand.

The new 5.7-liter HEMI Hybrid is expected to deliver an overall fuel economy improvement of more than 25%, including an improvement of nearly 40% in the city. The current 2007 Aspen (2WD) carries an EPA rating of 15 mpg city, 20 mpg highway, 17 mpg combined.

Sounds about as fuel efficient as the Escalade hybrid