Our dependence on big systems--big oil, big coal--steers us away from little ones, such as biofuel made from garbage, that are transforming communities in other countries
By Hillary RosnerPosted 06.02.2011 at 5:33 pm 1 Comment
From the backseat of a beat-up Toyota taxi, Thomas Taha Rassam Culhane points out the passing sights. Fraying sacks of charcoal cut from nearby forests wait beside makeshift shops. Corrugated metal, cardboard and other scrap make up the ramshackle huts. A stream of dirty water, stained red by runoff from a nearby factory, runs down the alley. Garbage is everywhere. The ingredients of life here in Mukuru, one of Nairobi's largest slums, are raw. Yet Culhane leans forward in his seat, excited by the possibilities they present.
The taxi stops at the Mukuru Skills Training Center, an art and vocational school. A guard emerges from a small concrete shack to open the front gate. The Mukuru neighborhood is dirty and chaotic, but inside the compound, tidy bits of improvisation are everywhere: An art studio opens onto a small garden filled with herbs and saplings. Three composting toilets turn waste into fertilizer. And outside a bare-bones kitchen, a 500-gallon tank full of old beans and banana peels is slowly generating cooking gas.
On the ground, solar power has its limitations. Solar cells are not especially efficient. It rains. The sun disappears at night. A space-based solar panel can generate five times the energy of a similar panel on Earth by circumventing both weather and hours lost to darkness. A 2007 study by the National Space Society estimates that a half-mile-wide band of photovoltaics in geosynchronous orbit with Earth could generate the energy equivalent of all the oil remaining on the planet over the course of one year. Though costly, launching working solar satellites is possible today. It's transmitting the captured energy to Earth that presents a challenge—one that scientists are just starting to work on.
Like a long-distance romance, quantum entanglement is a fragile interaction; one moment, two particles can be sharing that special bond in which they are essentially one and the same, even when separated by vast distances. Then, just like that, the link can be broken. So the fact that Chinese researchers have set a new record by entangling eight photons at the same time--and then manipulating and observing them--is nothing short of amazing.
Burning garbage to make energy--on its face, anyhow--seems like a win-win proposition, but the chemical arithmetic has never really added up to a winning proposition. Nonetheless, a major energy supplier and a big time trash hauler are both finding value in Montreal-based Enerkem.
With the majority of kinks worked out of the vehicle's design (we ended up adding a light but functional fairing, or shell-shaped windshield, and a sun awning), it was time to address the actual logistics of a cross-country road trip.
By Pierce HooverPosted 05.31.2011 at 9:36 am 1 Comment
Just weeks away from the start of the tour, we found ourselves with a working chassis, but without a body-like structure. Assembling and tuning the electric drive system had taken longer than we expected, but now we had to turn our attention to the problem of what this car would even look like.
In Rio de Janeiro, when a massive storm comes in off the Atlantic, like one did a couple of years ago, hundreds of lives and thousands of homes can be lost in a single afternoon. But in a new state-of-the art command center, a kind of municipal war room dedicated to making the entire city more efficient, supercomputers are monitoring the weather via high-powered weather models custom engineered by IBM. Deep Thunder, as the weather-modeling project is known, keeps city leaders and regional agencies abreast of what the skies have in store, square kilometer by square kilometer, both in real time and 48 hours into the future.
By Pierce HooverPosted 05.19.2011 at 10:55 am 7 Comments
We expected efficiency to be the key challenge as we constructed our cross-country, ultralight electric vehicle. After all, we'd decided the car would use no more electricity than a continuously burning 100-watt light bulb. But durability turned out to be equally important. This car wouldn't be like the high-efficiency concept EVs that are confined to indoor tracks at universities and research facilities--this would be taking me and my son over mountains. Lots of mountains.
“DNA is the future of computing,” Jian-Jun Shu tells PhysOrg. And why not? Silicon is slow by comparison, computes in a binary system, creates waste heat, and is not particularly easy on the environment. DNA-based computing can perform better than silicon in several respects, Shu says, and he and a few of his students at Nanyang Technical University in Singapore have set out to prove it.
By Sarah ParsonsPosted 05.13.2011 at 11:44 am 0 Comments
Hydrogen fuel cells have exploded onto the market as convenient chargers for your handheld devices. Plugged in via USB ports, the cells don't have to rely on wind or sun to stave off irritating "battery low!" messages.