July 28, 2008

The Greening of Google

Melanie Pahlmann reporting

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The Google guys are making good on promises to invest millions of dollars in renewable energy. The computer giant just announced that their philanthropic arm, Google.org, will invest $20 million in the next year on renewable energy research.

Their goal is to become a massive force behind the creation of a greener grid, one that will effectively – and quickly – replace the use of coal, which is cheap, plentiful, and the favorite energy source for many states.

Over at Google.org you will see details of the two clean energy programs they're investing in. One they playfully call Renewable Energy "less than" Coal, whose simple aim is develop a 100% renewable energy electricity generation facility that produces 1 gigawatt of energy at a cost below the same amount of electricity produced from coal. In case you're wondering, 1 gigawatt could power a city the size of San Francisco.

For this project, their renewables of choice are solar thermal, wind, and geothermal. Google co-founder Larry Page is particularly fond of solar thermal, and spearheaded the 1.6 megawatt solar installation at their corporate headquarters in Mountain View, CA. (which, despite their certainly altruistic intentions, will earn back its investment in just over 7 years). It is impressive to note that energy produced from their little 1.6 megawatt solar plant has enabled them to reduce their energy consumption from the local grid by 30%.

In the first half of 2008, Google.org gave over $85 million in grants and investments to a variety of research groups and clean energy development companies. $20 million of this has gone directly to the RE less than C project. The remaining is going to projects like their RechargeIT plug-in car development program, Predict and Prevent program, Inform and Empower to Improve Public Services program, and the Fuel the Growth of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises.

Learn more about their Herculean efforts at Google.org.


July 7, 2008

Driving on Air

Melanie Pahlmann reporting

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India's largest automaker has just unveiled a zero-emission air-powered car, affectionately called the CityCAT. This impressive car is powered entirely from compressed air, and can reach speeds of 68 mph. One tank of air will yield 125 miles of driving and cost only about $2. The price tag is starts at $7000, and the first models will be rolling off production lines late this summer.

The air car will get about 120 mpg on the highway and, oddly, even more in the city, due to its piston design. Filling the tank will be relatively simple (a problem for hydrogen cars). Any air compressor will do, and alternatively, an on-board compressor can be plugged in to an electric outlet. Because it's a non-combustion engine, owners will change the oil (1 litre of vegetable oil) every 30,000 miles.

The CityCAT air car is the brain child of Guy Nègre, who has engineered Formula One racing cars. The Indian automaker Tata Motors, known for its innovative and earth-friendly vehicles, has partnered with Nègre to mass produce the CityCAT. Nègre has signed deals to bring the car to 12 other countries, including Germany, South Africa, Spain, France and Israel.

Will we see the car anytime soon in America? Very probably not, says auto industry insiders. Even if the automotive and oil lobbyists approved the idea, the air car's small, lightweight fiberglass body (which is literally glued together) would not fare well on American streets.

But the U.S. may be ready for one of Nègre's future zero-emission car designs, which he is already furiously pursuing.

Learn more about Guy Nègre.
Visit the Air Car web site.