Paul Rowe writes: The Buckminster Fuller Institute has just announced the winner of their third annual Buckminster Fuller Challenge, and this year’s award goes to Allan Savory for Operation Hope and the Africa Center for Holistic Management. The $100,000 prize will benefit the organization, which has created a whole systems approach to solving one of the world’s most pressing problems: reversing the desertification of ecosystems. Savory developed the Holistic Management concept as a whole systems approach to range management that involves increasing the amount of livestock on a range, expanding biodiversity, improving production, and providing financial security for landowners.
separsons writes: Jon Leary, a student at the University of Sheffield, recently came up with an innovative device for Guatemalan farmers: a bike-powered water pump. The off-the-grid, easily assembled technology relies on a bike and a scrapped electrical pump. The bike is plugged into the pump, which is converted to a friction drive. The bike's back tire rubs against the motor, pulling the water up and spraying it out. The tech is especially useful for farmers who reside on inclined land, a common occurrence in Guatemala. The bike-powered pump, or bicibomba movil, can spray 40 liters per minute (the equivalent of about three showers' worth of water) or five liters per minute at 26 meters. The technology is yet another example of the growing trend of creating low-cost, off-the-grid technologies for the developing world.
separsons writes: Researchers are altering foods at the nanoscale level, changing their tiny molecular structures to enhance certain properties. For example, one group of scientists found a way to hide water within individual droplets of oil, making low-fat mayonnaise taste like the real thing. The process can make spices spicier, potato chips healthier, and make diet food taste just like full-calorie snacks. Nanotech can even help combat global malnutrition. But the process is certainly controversial, and food manufacturers are being tight-lipped about exactly what nanofoods they're working on. So can nanotech create a healthier world, or is it just frightening Franken-food?
separsons writes: Residents of Leh, a remote village in the Indian trans-Himalayas, rely predominately on melting snow and glaciers to water crops. But due to warming temperatures, villagers haven't seen glaciers in the past 15 years, and snowpack continues to retreat. Chewong Norphel, a retired civil engineer came up with an innovative solution: remodel the landscape to create "artificial glaciers." By building stone walls in slopes above the village, Norphel diverted run-off from melting snow and ice that otherwise would have flowed away from the village. A series of embankments slowed the icy water's flow long enough so it froze, forming an artificial glacier. Any water that escaped from that glacier ran into a storage resevoir, which froze and acted like a second glacier. All in all, Norphel's system of 10 artificial glaciers helped 10,000 villagers. The region's harvests increased three-fold, and villagers even grow enough wheat to sell the surplus.
separsons writes: Researchers at Duke University recently used DNA to craft tiny chips used in computers and electronic circuits. By mixing DNA snippets with other molecules and exposing them to light, researchers created self-assembling, DNA-based logic circuits. Once perfected the tech could serve as an endlessly abundant, cheap alternative to silicon semiconductors. Chris Dwyer, lead researcher on the project, says that one grad student using DNA to make self-assembling circuits could produce more logic circuits in one day than the global silicon chip industry can create in an entire month!
separsons writes: Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory recently unveiled a three-inch-long bio-detector than can scan for 3,000 different types of viruses and bacteria in just 24 hours. The device, dubbed the Lawrence Livermore Microbial Detection Array (LLMDA), boasts significant advantages over traditional bio-detectors, which can only identify a maximum of 50 pathogens. The three-inch-long glass slide is packed with 388,000 probes that can detect more than 2,000 viruses and 900 bacteria. The device may have huge implications in identifying agents released during biological and chemical attacks. Plus, in more everyday uses, LLMDA can ensure food, drug and vaccine safety and help diagnose medical problems. Scientists' next version of LLMDA is even more impressive: A new bio-detector will be lined with 2.1 million probes that can scan for 5,700 viruses and thousands of bacteria as well as fungi and protozoa.
separsons writes: Telekom Austria, a telecommunications company, aims to convert obsolete public phone booths into electric vehicle recharging stations. The company unveiled its first station yesterday in Vienna and hopes to create 29 more stations by the end of the year. The stations may not be super popular now, but they should be soon: Austria's motor vehicle association says the country will likely have 405,000 electric vehicles on the road by the year 2020.
separsons writes: Researchers at the University of Geneva are using laser beams to solve drought. The team, led by Jerome Kasparian, wants to use infrared laser beams to make rain clouds. He first tested the process in a lab setting, shooting a laser beam packed with 220 millijoules of power into a freezing cold, water-saturated chamber. To put things into perspective, 220 millijoules is the equal to the intensity of 1,000 power plants! Kasparian then tested the process in Berlin, Germany, sending laser beams 60 meters into the air. While it didn't rain, weather LIDAR confirmed that the density and size of water droplets rose after the air was exposed to the laser. While the process has plenty of critics, scientists are now working on optimizing the laser's wavelength, focus and pulse duration to better produce rain drops.
separsons writes: Researchers at Wake Forest's Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials created a low-cost solar power system geared towards developing nations. By coating fiber-based solar cells with dye from purple pokeberries, a common weed, scientists created a cheap yet highly efficient solar system. Wake Forest researchers and their accompanying company, FiberCell Inc., are the first company to file a patent for fiber-based solar. Plastic sheets are stamped with plastic fibers, creating millions of tiny "cans" that can trap light until it is absorbed. The fibers create a huge surface area, meaning sunlight can be collected at any angle from the time the sun rises until it sets. Coating the system with pokeberry dye creates even greater absorption. Researchers say the system can produce twice as much power as traditional flat-cell technology.
separsons writes: On May 18th, Japan's Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will launch Ikaros, a fuel-free spacecraft that relies completely on solar power. The spacecraft's 46-foot-wide sails are thinner than a human hair and lined with thin-film solar panels. After a rocket brings the craft to space, mission controllers on the ground will steer Ikaros by adjusting the sails' angles, ensuring optimal radiation is hitting the solar cells. If the mission proves successful, the $16-million-dollar spacecraft will be the first solar sail-powered craft to enter deep space.
separsons writes: The Indonesian government wants to convert the heat generated by volcanoes into clean, renewable electricity. The country hopes to get 4,000 megawatts of power from the geothermal energy source by 2014. If anyone were to develop geothermal energy from volcanoes, it's Indonesia: The archipelago's 17,000 islands hold hundreds of volcanoes. Indonesia represents about 40 percent of the world's geothermal energy potential, but still lags behind countries like the US and the Philippines because of the technology's high, upfront costs.
separsons writes: Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute are developing the Sensory Wristwatch, a watch that can detect medical problems before they occur. The device uses lab-on-a-chip technology to combine several biomarker sensors that provide continuous biofeedback to wearers. It can detect symptoms of dehydration before athletes feel weak and alert pacemaker wearers when they are entering an electromagnetic field. Eventually, scientists hope to customize the watch to individual wearers based on the medical maladies they are prone to. That way, the device can detect problems before they become emergencies.
separsons writes: William Taylor, a farmer in Northern Ireland, recently developed the Livestock Power Mill, a treadmill for cows. Taylor uses the device to generate clean, renewable power for his farm. Cows are locked into a pen on top of a non-powered, inclined belt. The cows' walking turns the belt, which spins a gearbox to drive a generator. One cow can produce about two kilowatts of electricity, enough energy to power four milking machines. It may seem like a kooky idea, but Taylor could be onto something: According to his calculations, if the world's 1.3 billion cattle used treadmills for eight hours a day, they could provide six percent of the world's power!
ByronScott writes: Scientists at Stanford have just discovered the greenest source of energy yet — harvesting electricity directly from plants! They’ve successfully generated energy from photosynthetic processes in algae by tapping straight into currents of electrons generated at the cellular level. We know that cars can run on bio-fuel made from algae, but imagine if our power grid could run on pond water in its natural state. No refinement is necessary – all you need is a pool of water, a bunch of the green stuff and a high-tech gold electrode. Best of all, the only by-products are protons and oxygen!
separsons writes: DARPA recently revealed plans for its Transformer TX program, a project to design a flying car for the military. The design indicates that scientists will use the best elements from electric vehicles, planes and Optimus Prime to create a rugged-yet-easily navigable car. By implementing a hybrid-electric engine, designers hope the car will be able to fly for 250 miles before needing to rely on gas. The flying car can cruise to altitudes of 10,000 feet, and can fit four, fully equipped troops or one stretcher and a medic. The flying vehicle will also perform unmanned operations. The government is allocating $43 million to the project, and the Pentagon hopes to have an airborne prototype by 2015.