Energy Inventions Media ArticlesExcerpts of Key Energy Inventions Media Articles in Major Media
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The [Panasonic World Solar] Challenge is the world's premier long-distance race for solar-powered vehicles, with competitors traveling 3000 kms [1,800 miles] along the Stuart Highway from Darwin in the far north of Australia to Adelaide in the south in cars powered solely by sunlight. In the process they ... send out a strong environmental message, pushing forward the boundaries of green technology and promoting the benefits of solar power as an alternative energy source. "It's a great adventure," the race director Chris Selwood told CNN, "One that allows the bright young people of the globe to come up with creative solutions to the problem of sustainable transport, while at the same time drawing attention to the importance of lightening the environmental footprint of our personal transport needs." First run in 1987, the race was the brainchild of Danish adventurer and environmental campaigner Hans Thostrup, who in 1982 designed and built "Quiet Achiever," the world's first ever solar-powered car. The inaugural competition featured 23 teams, with the winning vehicle -- the General Motors-sponsored Sunraycer -- completing the distance at an average speed of 67 kilometers per hour (42 miles per hour). The average speed has shot up to 103 kph (64 mph) ... while the competition has expanded to incorporate several different classes of vehicle: the Challenge and Adventure Classes for exclusively solar cars, and the Greenfleet Technology Class for other types of environmentally friendly, low-emission vehicles.
Note: Cars running on nothing but solar power averaging more than 60 mph over 1,800 miles? Why isn't this front page news? For lots more from reliable, verifiable sources on promising new energy and auto designs, click here.
Since Robert Goddard launched a 10-foot rocket from a New England farm more than 80 years ago, the basic principles of space travel haven't changed much. Still required: a violent combustion of fuel and oxygen to propel the vehicle. Unless, maybe, you have a laser and a couple of mirrors. Young K. Bae, a maverick one-man rocket research institution in Tustin, believes he has hit on a propulsion technology that could revolutionize space travel, finally overcoming the limits of chemical rockets, which are slow and dangerous and need vast amounts of fuel. The 51-year-old physicist calls it the photonic laser thruster. "This overcomes the physical barriers of current rocket technology," he says, pointing to a tiny laser encased in glass. Hurling ships into space with light beams has been the stuff of science fiction novels for decades, but Bae says he has proved that it really is just science. He says a laser beam bouncing off two mirrors facing each other was able to exert force on one of the mirrors, albeit ever so slight. The discovery came in December, but Bae waited months to reveal the experiment to verify that the measuring devices were accurate and that the results could be repeated. Franklin B. Mead, a rocket propulsion expert at the Air Force Research Laboratory, calls it "pretty incredible." The photonic laser thruster can in theory be made much more powerful -- strong enough to propel a spacecraft to near light speed. "If it proves out it would be revolutionary," says Carl Ehrlich, a retired aerospace engineer who has worked on the space shuttle and other rocket programs. Within a year or two, [Bae] will attempt to have the laser device lift an object the size and weight of a compact disc. Ehrlich will be watching. "We're still using the same technology developed by Goddard. We need a breakthrough," he says.
It sounds too good to be true - not to mention the fact that it violates almost every known law of physics. But British scientists claim they have invented a revolutionary device that seems to 'create' energy from virtually nothing. Their so-called thermal energy cell could soon be fitted into ordinary homes, halving domestic heating bills and making a major contribution towards cutting carbon emissions. Even the makers of the device are at a loss to explain exactly how it works - but sceptical independent scientists carried out their own tests and discovered that the 12in x 2in tube really does produce far more heat energy than the electrical energy put in. The device seems to break the fundamental physical law that energy cannot be created from nothing - but researchers believe it taps into a previously unrecognised source of energy, stored at a sub-atomic level within the hydrogen atoms in water. The system - developed by scientists at a firm called Ecowatts [a holding of Gardner Watts] - involves passing an electrical current through a mixture of water, potassium carbonate [potash] and a secret liquid catalyst, based on chrome. This creates a reaction that releases an incredible amount of energy compared to that put in. If the reaction takes place in a unit surrounded by water, the liquid heats up, which could form the basis for a household heating system. If the technology can be developed on a domestic scale, it means consumers will need much less energy for heating and hot water - creating smaller bills and fewer greenhouse gases. The device has taken ten years of painstaking work by a small team at Ecowatts' ... laboratory, and bosses predict a household version of their device will be ready to go on sale within the next 18 months.
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An Erie cancer researcher has found a way to burn salt water, a novel invention that is being touted by one chemist as the "most remarkable" water science discovery in a century. John Kanzius happened upon the discovery accidentally when he tried to desalinate seawater with a radio-frequency generator he developed to treat cancer. He discovered that as long as the salt water was exposed to the radio frequencies it would burn. The discovery has scientists excited by the prospect of using salt water, the most abundant resource on earth, as a fuel. Rustum Roy, a Penn State University chemist, has held demonstrations at his State College lab to confirm his own observations. The radio frequencies act to weaken the bonds between the elements that make up salt water, releasing the hydrogen, Roy said. Once ignited, the hydrogen will burn as long as it is exposed to the frequencies, he said. The discovery is "the most remarkable in water science in 100 years," Roy said. "This is the most abundant element in the world. It is everywhere," Roy said. "Seeing it burn gives me the chills." Roy will meet this week with officials from the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense to try to obtain research funding. The scientists want to find out whether the energy output from the burning hydrogen - which reached a heat of more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit - would be enough to power a car or other heavy machinery. "We will get our ideas together and check this out and see where it leads," Roy said. "The potential is huge."
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Millions of inventions pass quietly through the U.S. patent office each year. Patent No. 7,033,406 did, too, until energy insiders spotted six words in the filing that sounded like a death knell for the internal combustion engine. An Austin-based startup called EEStor promised "technologies for replacement of electrochemical batteries," meaning a motorist could plug in a car for five minutes and drive 500 miles roundtrip between Dallas and Houston without gasoline. By contrast, some plug-in hybrids on the horizon would require motorists to charge their cars in a wall outlet overnight and promise only 50 miles of gasoline-free commute. And the popular hybrids on the road today still depend heavily on fossil fuels. "It's a paradigm shift," said Ian Clifford, chief executive of Toronto-based ZENN Motor Co., which has licensed EEStor's invention. "The Achilles' heel to the electric car industry has been energy storage. By all rights, this would make internal combustion engines unnecessary." Clifford's company bought rights to EEStor's technology in August 2005 and expects EEStor to start shipping the battery replacement later this year for use in ZENN Motor's short-range, low-speed vehicles. The technology could also help invigorate the renewable-energy sector by providing efficient, lightning-fast storage for solar power, or, on a small scale, a flash-charge for cell phones and laptops. EEStor's secret ingredient is a material sandwiched between thousands of wafer-thin metal sheets, like a series of foil-and-paper gum wrappers stacked on top of each other. Charged particles stick to the metal sheets and move quickly across EEStor's proprietary material. The result is an ultracapacitor, a battery-like device that stores and releases energy quickly.
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On a recent run from Boston to Cape Cod, I test drove the 2008 Honda Accord, the latest version of this family favorite. The new Accord boasts an environmental first: a six-cylinder gasoline engine that's cleaner than many hybrid systems. There's only one catch: You can't actually buy this ultra-green Accord, or the four-cylinder version that also produces near-zero pollution. That is, unless you live in California, New York or six other northeast states that follow California's tougher pollution rules. Only there can you buy this Accord, or the roughly two dozen other models that meet so-called Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle standards, PZEV for short. Not only can't you buy one, but the government says it's currently illegal for automakers to sell these green cars outside of the special states. Under terms of the Clean Air Act — in the kind of delicious irony only our government can pull off — anyone (dealer, consumer, automaker) involved in an out-of-bounds PZEV sale could be subject to civil fines of up to $27,500. Volvo sent its dealers a memo alerting them to this fact, noting that its greenest S40 and V50 models were only for the special states. So, just how green is a PZEV machine? Well, if you just cut your lawn with a gas mower, congratulations, you just put out more pollution in one hour than these cars do in 2,000 miles of driving. Grill a single juicy burger, and you've cooked up the same hydrocarbon emissions as a three-hour drive in a Ford Focus PZEV. As the California Air Resources Board has noted, the tailpipe emissions of these cars can be cleaner than the outside air in smoggy cities. PZEV models are already available from Toyota, Ford, Honda, GM, Subaru, Volvo and VW. But chances are, you've never heard of them.
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Gerald Rowley keeps his dreams in his garage. There ... he stores an aging Mazda 626 sedan [specially outfitted with a] one-gallon steel box in the trunk connected to fuel lines leading to a gasoline vaporizing device under the hood. The steel box holds one gallon of regular unleaded gasoline. The device beneath the hood is called the VFS, Vaporizing Fuel System. I came here to drive Rowley's VFS-equipped car. For years, I had spurned the invitations of homespun inventors worldwide to travel to distant points to witness first-hand machines that could deliver 100 miles per gallon or 200 miles per gallon. The claims sounded too incredible to believe -- ridiculous, in fact. If such devices really worked, really did what their inventors said they did, why would they still be sitting on shelves in anonymous workshops -- ignored by the driving public and all of the vehicle manufacturers who serve them? What automobile manufacturer in its right mind, especially with rising concerns about future oil availability and with gasoline prices escalating worldwide, would not jump at the opportunity to acquire a device that delivered 100 miles per gallon? Rowley's patented device is nothing new. It's just the latest iteration of an idea already developed by others -- the notion that you could get more miles per gallon out of a traditional gasoline engine if you pre-heated the fuel to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit, thus turning it into a vapor before it enters the combustion chamber. Vaporized fuel, when properly mixed with air, burns more efficiently, saves fuel and emits fewer tailpipe pollutants than traditional fuel-air mixtures in which gasoline is sprayed into a combustion chamber in tiny droplets and then mixed with air before burning. All car companies know this.
Three pinstriped London investors stand outside an electric car factory in the green fields of the Norwegian countryside, waiting their turns to test-drive a stylish two-seater called the Think City. But first, Think CEO Jan-Olaf Willums takes the wheel. [He] turns the ignition, and the stub-nosed coupe silently rolls toward an open stretch of pavement. Suddenly he punches the pedal, and the car takes off like a shot, the AC motor instantaneously transferring power to the wheels. The only sound is the squealing of tires as Willums throws the little car into a tight turn and barrels back toward his startled guests. Did someone kill the electric car? You wouldn't know it on this bright May morning in Scandinavia, where the idea of a mass-produced battery-powered vehicle is being resurrected and actual cars are scheduled to begin rolling off the production line by year's end. Shuttling between Oslo and California, Willums has raised $78 million from Silicon Valley and European investors captivated by [his] vision of a carbon-neutral urban car. Willums's pitch is this: He's not just selling an electric car; he's upending a century-old automotive paradigm, aiming to change the way cars are made, sold, owned, and driven. Taking a cue from Dell, the company will sell cars online, built to order. It will forgo showrooms and seed the market through car-sharing services like Zipcar. Every car will be Internet-and Wi-Fi-enabled, becoming, according to Willums, a rolling computer that can communicate wirelessly with its driver, other Think owners, and the power grid. "The timing is right. We are on a path now toward electric cars, and there is no going back." says Ed Kjaer, an electric vehicle veteran who runs the EV program for Southern California Edison.
Note: To read about the mysterious disappearing Toyota Eco Spirit, a proven car design capable of achieving 100 mpg, click here.
Richard Branson is always reaching for something, whether it's setting records in stratospheric balloon flights or racing across the Atlantic — pursuits that have nearly killed him, more than once. But Branson has never done things the conventional way. He is usually striving for something just beyond his grasp — and, win or lose, he always comes up smiling. But his latest venture may be his most audacious. On July 18 — his and Nelson Mandela's shared birthday — they announced the formation of a Council of Elders, a group of seasoned world leaders who literally will try to solve the world's problems. "You only live once," he said. "You might as well throw yourself into life and enjoy it." These days, at age 57, Branson's preoccupations seem to have more to do with saving the world than conquering it. Being in the airline and train business, Branson says he has helped contribute to environmental degradation. But now he hopes to help repair the world. "For a while, I hoped the skeptics were right. But I read a lot, and met a lot of scientists, and realized the world had a real problem," Branson said. He is offering a $25 million prize for anyone who comes up with an invention that can rid the atmosphere of carbon gases, and he has pledged to spend all the profits from his airlines — that's $3 billion or so — to develop earth-friendly alternative fuels. "What we're hoping to do is actually come up with an alternative fuel that will shake the very foundations of the oil companies and shake the foundations of the coal companies — because if we don’t shake their foundations, the world could potentially be doomed. I certainly don't feel chosen, but I feel extremely grateful," he said. "I feel I'm in a position where I can make a difference, and I'm not going to waste that position I find myself in."
Algae seems a strange contender for the mantle of World’s Next Great Fuel, but the green goop has several qualities in its favor. Algae, made up of simple aquatic organisms that capture light energy through photosynthesis, produces vegetable oil. Vegetable oil, in turn, can be transformed into biodiesel, which can be used to power just about any diesel engine. Algae has some important advantages over other oil-producing crops, like canola and soybeans. It can be grown in almost any enclosed space, it multiplies like gangbusters, and it requires very few inputs to flourish—mainly just sunlight, water and carbon dioxide. “Because algae has a high surface-area-to-volume ratio, it can absorb nutrients very quickly,” [Jim] Sears says. “Its small size is what makes it mighty.” The proof is in the numbers. About 140 billion gallons of biodiesel would be needed every year to replace all petroleum-based transportation fuel in the U.S. It would take nearly three billion acres of fertile land to produce that amount with soybeans, and more than one billion acres to produce it with canola. Unfortunately, there are only 434 million acres of cropland in the entire country, and we probably want to reserve some of that to grow food. But because of its ability to propagate almost virally in a small space, algae could do the job in just 95 million acres of land. What’s more, it doesn’t need fertile soil to thrive. It grows in ponds, bags or tanks that can be just as easily set up in the desert—or next to a carbon-dioxide-spewing power plant—as in the country’s breadbasket. Sears claims that these efficiencies will allow Solix Biofuels, the company he founded, to create algae-based biodiesel that costs about the same as gasoline.
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Power cables and even batteries might become a thing of the past using a new technique that can transmit power wirelessly. Scientists lit a 60-watt light bulb from a power source 7 feet (2 meters) away with their new technique, with no physical connection between the source and the appliance. The researchers have dubbed their concept "WiTricity," as in "wireless electricity." MIT physicist Marin Soljacic began thinking years ago about how to transmit power wirelessly so his cell phone could recharge without ever being plugged in. Scientists have pursued wireless power transmission for years — notably, eccentric genius Nikola Tesla, who devoted much energy toward it roughly a century ago. Soljacic and his colleagues devised WiTricity based off the notion of resonance. One well-known example of resonance can be seen when an opera singer hits the right note to cause a champagne glass to resonate and shatter. Two objects resonating at the same frequency tend to exchange energy efficiently, while interacting weakly with objects not resonating at the same frequency. Instead of sound, the MIT physicists focused on magnetic fields. Most common materials interact only very weakly with magnetic fields, so little power would get wasted on unintended targets. In their latest work, the scientists designed two copper coils roughly 20 inches (50 centimeters) in diameter that were specially designed to resonate together. One was attached to the power source, the other to a light bulb. The practical demonstration of their earlier theoretical work managed to power the light bulb even when obstacles blocked direct line of sight between the source and device.
India’s largest automaker is set to start producing the world’s first commercial air-powered vehicle. The Air Car, developed by ex-Formula One engineer Guy Nčgre for Luxembourg-based MDI, uses compressed air, as opposed to the gas-and-oxygen explosions of internal-combustion models, to push its engine’s pistons. Some 6000 zero-emissions Air Cars are scheduled to hit Indian streets in August of 2008. Barring any last-minute design changes on the way to production, the Air Car should be surprisingly practical. The $12,700 CityCAT, one of a handful of planned Air Car models, can hit 68 mph and has a range of 125 miles. It will take only a few minutes for the CityCAT to refuel at gas stations equipped with custom air compressor units; MDI says it should cost around $2 to fill the car’s carbon-fiber tanks with 340 liters of air at 4350 psi. Drivers also will be able to plug into the electrical grid and use the car’s built-in compressor to refill the tanks in about 4 hours. Of course, the Air Car will likely never hit American shores, especially considering its all-glue construction. But that doesn’t mean the major automakers can write it off as a bizarre Indian experiment — MDI has signed deals to bring its design to 12 more countries, including Germany, Israel and South Africa.
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A Florida man may have accidentally invented a machine that could solve the gasoline and energy crisis plaguing the U.S.. [John] Kanzius, 63, invented a machine that emits radio waves in an attempt to kill cancerous cells while leaving normal cells intact. While testing his machine, he noticed that his invention had other unexpected abilities. Filling a test tube with salt water from a canal in his back yard, Kanzius placed the tube and a paper towel in the machine and turned it on. Suddenly, the paper towel ignited. Kanzius performed the experiment without the paper towel and got the same result -- the saltwater was actually burning. [He] said he showed the experiment to a handful of scientists across the country who claim they are baffled at watching salt water ignite. Kanzius said the flame created from his machine reaches a temperature of around 3,000 [°F]. He said a chemist told him that the immense heat created from the machine breaks down the hydrogen-oxygen bond in the water, igniting the hydrogen. "You could take plain salt water out of the sea, put it in containers and produce a violent flame that could heat generators that make electricity, or provide other forms of energy," Kanzius said. He said engineers are currently experimenting with him in Erie, Pa. in an attempt to harness the energy. They've built an engine that, when placed on top of the flame, chugged along for two minutes. Kanzius admits all the excitement surrounding a new possible energy source was a stroke of luck. Someone who witnessed his work on the cancer front asked him if perhaps the machine could be used for desalinization. "This was an experiment to see if I could heat salt water, and instead of heat, I got fire," Kanzius said.
Note: Why aren't millions of dollars being channeled to explore this exciting field further? To watch a video clip of this exciting machine igniting sea water, click here.
A Purdue University engineer and National Medal of Technology winner says he's ready and able to start a revolution in clean energy. Professor Jerry Woodall and students have invented a way to use an aluminum alloy to extract hydrogen from water — a process that he thinks could replace gasoline as well as its pollutants and emissions tied to global warming. But Woodall says there's one big hitch: "Egos" at the U.S. Department of Energy, a key funding source for energy research, "are holding up the revolution. The hydrogen is generated on demand, so you only produce as much as you need when you need it," he said in a statement released by Purdue this week. So instead of having to fill up at a station, hydrogen would be made inside vehicles in tanks about the same size as today's gasoline tanks. An internal reaction in those tanks would create hydrogen from water and 350 pounds worth of special pellets. The hydrogen would then power an internal combustion engine or a fuel cell stack. "It's a simple matter to convert ordinary internal combustion engines to run on hydrogen," Woodall said. "All you have to do is replace the gasoline fuel injector with a hydrogen injector." "The egos of program managers at DOE are holding up the revolution," he told MSNBC.com. "Remember that Einstein was a patent examiner and had no funding for his 1905 miracle year," Woodall added. "He did it on his own time. If he had been a professor at a university in the U.S. today and put in a proposal to develop the theory of special relativity it would have been summarily rejected."
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Retired TV station owner and broadcast engineer, John Kanzius, wasn't looking for an answer to the energy crisis. He was looking for a cure for cancer. Four years ago, inspiration struck in the middle of the night. Kanzius decided to try using radio waves to kill the cancer cells. His wife Marianne heard the noise and found her husband inventing a radio frequency generator with her pie pans. "I got up immediately, and thought he had lost it." Here are the basics of John's idea: Radio-waves will heat certain metals. Tiny bits of certain metal are injected into a cancer patient. Those nano-particals are attracted to the abnormalities of the cancer cells and ignore the healthy cells. The patient is then exposed to radio waves and only the bad cells heat up and die. But John also came across yet another extrordinary breakthrough. His machine could actually make saltwater burn. John Kanzius discovered that his radio frequency generator could release the oxygen and hydrogen from saltwater and create an incredibly intense flame. "If that was in a car cylinder you could see the amount of fire that would be in the cylinder." The APV Company Laboratory in Akron has checked out John's ... invention. They were amazed. "That could be a steam engine, a steam turbine. That could be a car engine if you wanted it to be." Imagine the possibilities. Saltwater as the ultimate clean fuel. A happy byproduct of one man searching for the cure for cancer.
Note: Though this exciting breakthrough was reported in dozens of local media, not one major news outlet found it worthy of mention. To verify this yourself, click here.
Many respected engineers have been trying for years to bring a compressed air car to market, believing strongly that compressed air can power a viable "zero pollution" car. Now the first commercial compressed air car is on the verge of production and beginning to attract a lot of attention, and with a recently signed partnership with Tata, India's largest automotive manufacturer, the prospects of very cost-effective mass production are now a distinct possibility. The MiniC.A.T is a simple, light urban car. How does it work? 90m3 of compressed air is stored in fibre tanks. The expansion of this air pushes the pistons and creates movement. It is incredibly cost-efficient to run – according to the designers, it costs less than one Euro per 100Km (about a tenth that of a petrol car). Its mileage is about double that of the most advanced electric car (200 to 300 km or 10 hours of driving), a factor which makes a perfect choice in cities where the 80% of motorists drive at less than 60Km. The car has a top speed of 68 mph. Refilling the car will ... take place at adapted petrol stations to administer compressed air. In two or three minutes, and at a cost of approximately [US$2] the car will be ready to go another 200-300 kilometres. As a viable alternative, the car carries a small compressor which can ... refill the tank in 3-4 hours. At the moment, four models have been made: a car, a taxi (5 passengers), a Pick-Up truck and a van. The final selling price will be approximately [US$11,000]. "Moteur Development International" (MDI) ... has researched and developed the Air Car over 10 years.
Note: Why aren't U.S. automakers interested in this breakthrough technology? For abundance of reliable information on the exciting new developments in auto design for super-efficient mileage, click here.
We couldn't pass up mention of the winner of last week's Eco-marathon Americas, a fuel-economy challenge sponsored by Shell Oil Co. A team from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo won the $10,000 grand prize by achieving the equivalent of 1,902.7 miles per gallon on regular gasoline in a student-built vehicle. Granted, the students didn't win in someone's mom's Dodge minivan. Their "car" is a one-occupant streamliner built of carbon fiber composite. At a measly 98 pounds, it weighed less than the driver. And that was 98 pounds including the car's 50-cubic-centimeter Honda engine. "The main reason we do this is because it's a way to encourage students to focus on technical innovation for potential future careers," said David Sexton, president of Shell Oil Products. But there is a practical side to the competition, said Cal Poly team manager Tom Heckel, a junior mechanical engineering major. "Any publicity we can get makes people aware that the 20 mpg or so they're averaging in their cars can be improved on — a lot." The event, held April 14 at the California Speedway in Fontana, was the first time that Shell had brought its 25-year-old Eco-marathon competition to the U.S. The event drew 20 university, college and high school teams from around the U.S. and Canada. Rules called for each vehicle to complete seven 1.45-mile laps around the speedway's inner track, averaging at least 15 mph. Fuel consumption was measured after each attempt and adjusted for ambient temperature and other factors in a complex formula that ends up giving an extrapolation of miles per gallon.
Note: Why would the president of Shell Oil Products state the main reason for this competition is about careers and not finding ways to improve gas mileage? The world record is over 10,000 mpg. How is it that the average car gets only 22 mpg when the Ford Model T got 25 mpg almost 100 years ago? For more, click here.
Off the western coast of Scotland, on the Isle of Islay, science teacher Ray Husthwaite turns on the light in his classroom. The electricity comes from a power cable that runs to the mainland. But it also comes from the ocean. A few miles from the school, wave action compresses and decompresses air in a chamber. The moving air powers a turbine, which generates electricity. "It is pleasant ... to sit beside the gray, concrete structure and listen to the rising and falling of the waves, driving air through the turbines like the breath of a great sea monster," Husthwaite said. "It seems insane to me to be investing in nuclear power stations and gas turbines when there are endless, free energy resources in the rivers, oceans and the wind." Ocean power gradually is joining the ranks of wind and solar power as a source of renewable energy. Islay's wave-power converter, the Limpet 500, has been operating since 2000. In Hawaii, the Navy has been churning up electrons with the help of a floating buoy. And in Portugal, engineers are installing snakelike tubes designed to convert the sea's motion into electricity. Some designs, like the Limpet, use waves to push air through a column. Others convert the sea's up-and-down motion into mechanical energy. One wave-power company executive told a congressional committee last year that several hundred square miles off the California coast could supply the electrical needs of all of the homes in the state.
Note: To learn about an abundance of other new energy technologies which could replace oil, click here.
It's a two-hour ferry ride to the Danish island of Samso. To visit Samso is to see the future. Samso is an area about 40 square miles long with a permanent population of about 4,000 — all of them living a green dream. Take farmer Erik Andersen. His tractor runs on oil from rape seed, which he grows. His hot water and power come from his solar panels or wind turbines. There's not a fossil fuel in sight. "It's a very good feeling because the island is a renewable energy island," Anderson says. Ten years ago, Andersen and the people of Samso accepted a challenge from Denmark's government: Could they run their farms; could they power their businesses; could they lead their lives in an entirely energy self-sufficient and carbon-neutral way? Now they have the answer. They can. "Because it's a good idea for the environment," Andersen explains. To harness the wind, of which they have plenty, they built wind turbines. To provide heat, they burn locally grown straw in central plants that produce super hot water and pump it through underground pipes into peoples' homes. It's not only more efficient than running individual furnaces, it's carbon neutral. The net greenhouse gas emissions from these plants? Zero. It's a system that just recycles itself, says Jens Peter Nielson with the Samso Energy Authority. Even after a freezing cold night, the days short and cloudy, the solar-heated hot water is still hot. The Samso scheme has become so successful that the island has installed a string of turbines offshore to make surplus power to sell to the mainland.
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Toyota Prius owners tend to be a proud lot since they drive the fuel-efficient hybrid gas-electric car that's ... one of the hottest-selling vehicles in America. A few, however, felt that good was not good enough. They've made "improvements" even though the modifications voided parts of their warranties. Why? Five words: one hundred miles per gallon. "We took the hybrid car to its logical conclusion," [Felix] Kramer says, by adding more batteries and the ability to recharge by plugging into a regular electrical socket at night. Compared with the Prius' fuel efficiency of 50 mpg, plug-in hybrids use half as much gasoline by running more on cleaner, cheaper, domestic electricity. These trendsetters monkeyed with the car ... to make a point: If they could make a plug-in hybrid, the major car companies could, too. Kramer ... and a cadre of volunteers formed the California Cars Initiative (online at calcars.org). They added inexpensive lead-acid batteries ... giving the car over 100 mpg in local driving and 50 to 80 mpg on the highway. The cost of conversion is about $5,000 for a do-it-yourselfer. Several small companies like EnergyCS ... started doing small numbers of conversions for fleets and government agencies using longer-lasting, more energy-dense lithium-ion batteries. Kramer hired EnergyCS to convert his Prius and reported on a typical day of driving. Compared with driving his Prius before the conversion, he ... spewed out two-thirds less greenhouse gases at a total cost of $1.76 for electricity and gasoline, instead of the $3.17 it would have required on gasoline alone. People want plug-in hybrids but can't get them. Dealers don't sell them yet, and the few conversion services cater to fleets.
Note: For a video and educational package to guide those who want to build a 100 mpg car, see www.eaa-phev.org. For why the car companies with their massive budgets haven't developed cars like this, click here.
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