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In Australia, Gold Really Does Grow on Trees!

Friday, October 25th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt
of course, no tree looks like this!

of course, no tree looks like this!

According to the New York Post:

You won’t believe it when you read this – scientists have found gold growing on gum trees near Wudinnaon the Eyre Peninsula in Australia.

A team of CSIRO scientists discovered eucalyptus trees near the country town draw up tiny gold “nuggets” from the earth via their root system and then deposit the valuable metal on their leaves, bark and branches.

While scientists have found gold on trees before, it was never actually known how it got there.

CSIRO geochemist Dr. Mel Lintern, lead author of the multi-million dollar project, said the discovery could save mining and gold exploration companies “a lot of money”.

“If they’re able to sample the trees (for gold) in place of drilling, then they’re going to save some money,” he said.

“The other aspect about that of course is sampling the vegetation is more environmentally benign that digging big holes or drilling.”

While the latter comment is undoubtedly true, one can’t help but hope that the powers that be don’t become so fixated on this “environmentally sound” way of mining, that they stop doing the old, hard way altogether.  Gold is needed for many applications, and we have the example of the energy industry seeking after the mirage of “green energy” at the cost of industry and human comfort (and lives of the elderly.)

But the idea of gold on trees is, of course, fascinating. When I was a kid in Portugal, the rumor was one could go to Brazil, sit under the “gold tree” and wait for the gold to fall in one’s lap. (I think this was metaphorical, but as a kid I saw it literally.)

Apparently they were wrong.  For the real gold, you’d have to go to Australia.


Photo courtesy Shutterstock, © diez artwork

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Who ‘Drive’ the Electric Car Market?

Thursday, September 26th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

(Click the Picture to view Larger)

Everybody loves charts.  Here’s a very interesting one published by The Wall Street Journal, highlighting the use of electric and hybrid cars in the United States. The data for these charts was collected through the “EV Project,” which was sponsored by the Department of Energy.

Here are some of my take-aways from this handy chart:

Points that will make EV/hybrid manufacturers happy:

-65% of  Nissan Leafs (EV), replaced a previous vehicle

The obvious goal of EV/hybrid manufacturers is to entice consumers to put their gas-powered car out to pasture and replace it with an electric car.  65% of Nissan Leaf owners did just this.  Only 28% bought an EV as an additional vehicle (probably to supplement a gas-powered car), and a meager 7% bought an EV to replace an older car, but actually kept both vehicles.  Yes, this is a small number (we’re only looking at Nissan Leaf owners), but to Nissan, this probably deserves a pat on the back.

-The number of EVs and hybrids sold has spiked since 2010.

Since 2010, the numbers of EV/hybrids sold has increased drastically. The EV sales numbers for year 2013 are only through July.  According to the Electric Drive Transportation Association, the numbers for 2013 are expected to double those from 2011.  True, the number of EV/hybrids sold  in 2013 will probably be lower than those sold in 2012, but for manufacturers, it’s still an impressive number compared to 2011.

Points that will give EV/hybrid manufacturers pause:

-The majority of EV/hybrid owners are middle-aged and older

Remember when I said the baby boomers were the dark horse of the auto and tech markets?  Well, it seems they are also holding the strings in the electric car market.  EV/hybrid manufacturers are trying desperately to get all Americans into these cars.  Unfortunately, they are still too expensive for the younger, less wealthy Americans.

-Almost 4 out of 5 EV/hybrid owners had incomes of $100,000+

I guess this isn’t a huge surprise, since electric cars are usually pricey. The price tag of EVs and hybrids is an ongoing struggle for manufacturers hoping to extend its consumer market. Again, it is going to be difficult for manufacturers to cement EV/hybrid buying-loyalty in younger Americans if they cannot afford the cars…

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Another Electric Vehicle (But It’s Not for the Masses)

Saturday, September 14th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

A new EV for the super-car stable

Four months ago, I wrote a piece about the reemergence of electric car maker Detroit Electric. In that short piece, I mentioned that the electric car market is “super-saturated” with expensive, super cars.

While the American dream supports Detroit Electric’s pursuit of happiness (and success), I am not 100% sold on what D.E.’s niche will be…  what will make them stand out compared to its competition? The start-up EVs tend to be super-cars on a veggie diet… or electric sports cars.  Tesla has its sporty Model S and now we have, essentially, an electric Lotus Elise in the Detroit Electric SP.01. Keep in mind, buyers also have another luxury option in the electric BMW ActiveE.

The hybrid super-car competitor for Tesla and Detroit Electric, Fisker, is currently exploring bankruptcy and Tesla just made a profit (after 10 years). Do we really need another electric sports car?  It sounds like something isn’t working… and it think it’s the price-tag.

BMW revealed its newest, brightest EV at the Frankfurt auto show last week.  The new EV on the block?  ANOTHER EV super-car.  All I can do is shake my head.

Some stats on this new BMW:

Name: BMW i8 Plug-in

Tops speed in electric-motor mode: 75 mph

Mileage (Electric): 22 miles

Battery: 5 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack

Mileage (Gas): 94 mpg

Price tag: $135,925

What else could you buy for this money? According to The Detroit Bureau, almost three Chevrolet Volts…

Bottom line: The new BMW is really cool. It has some amazing horsepower (362hp!) and is luxurious inside and out, but it’s just way too expensive. The creme de la creme of the population has a fleet of EVs to choose from — how about the middle class?!

Heavy-hitter Tesla has heard the complaints and is attempting to bring down its prices so that more consumers can purchase their vehicles. Good plan. I have said this so many times that I am starting to annoy myself: If EVs are actually going to be the car of the future, there need to more affordable options for consumers. Please.  No more super-cars (unless they are under $40k).

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Shop Where the Amish Shop From the Comfort of Your Couch

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013 - by Paula Bolyard


Are you a prepper? An environmentalist interested in sustainable living? A homesteader? A missionary living on a remote island without electricity? A cave dweller? Chronically nostalgic? Amish? (Get off the internet this instant, Caleb Yoder!) Then Lehman’s Hardware is the place for you! The store, tucked into the tiny community of Kidron in Holmes County, Ohio, serves the area’s Amish community, helping them preserve their way of life by carrying a wide range of non-electric and other low-tech products. Jay Lehman, who founded the store in 1955 said, ”I was concerned that some day the Amish would not be able to maintain their simple ways of life because these products would no longer be available.”

It began as a small family hardware store and has grown into the largest store of its kind. Non-Amish customers now outnumber the Amish who shop at their 45,000-square-foot retail store. The 1973 oil crisis significantly boosted the number of visitors to Lehman’s. As domestic supplies of oil dwindled, people wanted low-tech products to help them cope with the shortages. According to Jay Lehman, “The oil embargo put us on the map.” Events like Y2K, the 9/11 attacks, and the blackout of 2003 all increased sales at Lehman’s.

No visit to Ohio’s Amish country is complete without a trip to Lehman’s. On your drive through Holmes County, home to the largest Amish community in the world, you’ll pass Amish buggies on the road (along with the ubiquitous horse droppings) and you may see barefooted Amish boys and girls in their straw hats and bonnets walking or biking alongside the road on their way home from school. Crisp black, white, and blue laundry flapping in the breeze on a clothes line is a telltale sign of an Amish farm.

Once at Lehman’s, you’ll see horses with buggies tied to hitching posts, juxtaposed with the cars of tourists and local “English” (the Amish name for non-Amish).  Inside the store you’ll encounter a maze of four buildings that have been attached over the years to make one store that seems to go on forever. Lehman’s received a major makeover in 2011 after a flood dumped 30 tons of mud into the store, which is decorated from floor to ceiling with museum-quality antiques and vintage memorabilia. Right inside the main entrance there is a Soda Pop Shop with 300 varieties of vintage and handcrafted soda. Across from the soda is a section of throwback candy that will bring back memories of childhood trips to the penny candy store. From there, you can wander the aisles, checking out non-electric appliances and composting toilets, wood stoves, kitchen gadgets, locally-made pottery, and vintage toys. You could easily spend a half day inside and still not see all the store has to offer.

An estimated half million tourists visit the store every year. But if you’re not able to travel to Holmes County in person, you can still enjoy Lehman’s through their print catalog or website. It’s surprising, really, that a store catering to the Amish and their simple way of life would even have a website, let alone a social media presence, but approximately 50% of Lehman’s revenues come from online sales. Their Facebook page has nearly 30,000 “likes.”

The store’s website boasts, “If you think it isn’t made anymore, check with Lehman’s before you give up.” Check out the site and see what they mean.

Click through to the next pages to see some of the more unusual items Lehman’s sells.

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Toyota Prius, the Homo Habilus of Hybrids, is Getting a Makeover!

Thursday, September 5th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

A Honda and a Toyota…but who could tell?

We can blame the successful Toyota Prius for the iconic egg-shape that has taken over the electric/hybrid vehicle category. Most manufacturers have sought to duplicate the success of the Prius by adopting its technology—as well as mimicking its exterior design. So, what did the consumers end up with?  Cars like the Ford C-Max, Ford Focus Electric, Honda Insight Hybrid, and the Nissan Leaf hatchback compact—or a dozen EV jelly beans on wheels that are starting to look like car clones.

Well, Toyota might be serving up a new exterior for the Prius in its quest to freshen its image!

Although the Prius was a smash hit, Toyota lost its reign over the car industry a few years ago. A few too many recalls and boring vehicle line-ups cost the mass-market brand some customers. In an attempt to regain their crown, and curb some of Ford and Tesla’s success with EVs, Toyota is hoping to revamp its line and woo buyers. Toyota announced last week that they plan to shed their “frump” and are adjusting their design trajectory so that adjectives for future vehicles include “sporty” and “fun to drive.” Toyota is currently the top-seller of hybrid vehicles, and many of these design changes will primarily impact their hybrid and EV line up. Mr. Toyota wants to “inject energy into designs and driving characteristics in order to appeal to younger buyers.”

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More Loan Disasters Like Fisker and Solyndra Could Be On the Way

Thursday, August 29th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner


The word on the street is that the Obama administration is ready to reignite the Department of Energy loan program for alternative vehicles.  I think I’ve harped on Fisker Automotive, Vehicle Production Group and the battery-failure twins Solyndra and A123 Systems enough for you all to remember that each one of these flops received large loans from DOE… and failed to pay them back. The controversial loan program was taken offline by  then department head Steven Chu two years ago. Well, it’s back.

Chu’s successor, Ernest Moniz, is hoping that the department can jump-start the loan program again — and the department is hoping to gain support by pointing to companies that did succeed. Although many of the DOE’s success stories were overshadowed by the nightmare of Fisker Automotive and defaulting battery companies, not all loan recipients were total flops (at least there’s some good in this story?). In fact, a few are chugging right along. Case in point: Tesla Motors. Other loan recipients: Ford Motor Company and Nissan — both for their battery-based vehicles.

I’m all for research, new technology, and reducing the amount of times I need to fill up my car, but I worry that the push for the return of this program might lead to Fisker Automotive 2.0…

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Pimp My Hybrid?

Thursday, August 8th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

A Tricked-out Honda Insight

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting story last week:

Today, more people are choosing gas-saving, practical cars; the hybrid Toyota Motor Corp.’s 7203.TO -1.09% Prius was the best-selling car in California last year. But that doesn’t stop drivers like Mr. Redmond from trying to put a little panache into being prudent, turning eco-friendly cars into lowriders, race cars and mini-monster trucks.

They are a far cry from more traditional souped-up rides. A Smart car is nine feet shorter than some classic Chevy Impalas and has five fewer cylinders. But even mockery from old-school hot-rod drivers hasn’t fazed this new generation.

Many Prius “pimpers” have followed the lead of comedian Tommy Chong. He turned his hybrid into a black lowrider, with its body lowered to the ground, and added red and gray detailing and tinted windows in 2006. Mr. Chong, 75, who came to fame as half of the Cheech & Chong comedy duo, installed hydraulics to lift the car up and down, blacked out the taillights, and added a loud exhaust.

I don’t think it’s a secret that I am wary of “green” cars. It’s not because I don’t believe in their function, but because the barrage of green-energy initiative failures has left a bad taste in my mouth. But, that being said, I admit that, even as a “green vehicle skeptic,” I enjoyed this article. It proved me wrong regarding some aspects of car culture — and I’m okay with that.

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Dude, Where’s My Flying Car?

Friday, July 19th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

Hell, I’ll even settle for a hoverboard.

Here’s my elevator pitch for a modern follow-up to Back to the Future. Since this is likely the only place it will ever be expressed, I am willing to waive any shot at a story consultant credit.

The year is 2015, our 2015, the one we tick toward now, unremarkable and mundane. We don’t watch holographic movies. We don’t eat rehydrated food. And we certainly don’t commute in flying cars. Of course, most of us wouldn’t expect to be doing any of that. But one among us does, one who years ago glimpsed a future very different from our present. For that man, Martin Seamus McFly, the world is wrong. Ever since a tragedy which first triggered his suspicion that the future was not unfolding as it should, McFly has become increasingly compelled to find out where and when history went off the rails.

You can imagine where the tale might go from there. Suffice it to say the disparity between how 2015 was imagined in Back to the Future Part II and how it has manifest in real life would be the catalyst for brining the band back together.

The nearly thirty year interval between the release of Back to the Future and today has unfolded very differently from how writers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale imagined it. As it turns out, the world does not yet run on garbage-fueled fusion and fashion still refuses to accept the wearing of two ties or the turning of pockets inside-out. Perhaps we can live without those innovations. But I want my flying car.

Why do our projections of the future prove so grossly inaccurate? Some imagined developments manifest more quickly than expected. Star Trek’s communicator portended the cell phone, as its pads and touchscreens portended tablets. Yet, it also imagined we’d still be using “computer tapes” in the 23rd century. Other imagined developments remained imagined. We’re still some time away from anything approximating warp drive or transporter technology. What enables us to achieve some but not all of our imagined progress?

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Fortune and Fame, Bankruptcy and Pain

Thursday, July 18th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

The Delaware Fisker Plant. To take a line from Gimli in “Lord of the Rings,” “You could find more cheer in a graveyard.”

The automotive business is a wild ride; some companies are riding high while others continue to get knocked down.

On the downward spiral:

It’s been awhile since we talked about Fisker.  Unfortunately, they’re not up to much…

The electric car company continues to sink in the quicksand of unpaid loans and has become a permanent fixture at the Delaware taxpayer-funded buffet. It still has yet to pay off its $170 million federal loan from the Department of Energy, and Governor Jack Markell, the Delaware governor who enticed Fisker to move to DE, is now starting to feel the heat.

The car manufacturer moved to Delaware after the promise of a $21.5 million package of state taxpayer loans and grants. Currently, the Newport-area Fisker plant sits boarded up — all of its employees were laid off in the spring of last year. To make matters sound even worse, the state of Delaware continues to write checks for the plant’s utility bills. It sounds like the energy assistance program created for low-income Americans has been extended to money-sucking government projects…

My Opinion: No more taxpayer-funded loans to electric car companies unless their credit is better than “junk.”  There are too many risky, start-up companies for such a small market—hence the domino effect of bankruptcy in the alternative energy sector (Fisker, Solyndra, A123 Systems, etc.). Even after the federal analysts gave Fisker’s loan a “junk” credit rating, Delaware still assigned them a $20 million loan package. No more taxpayer dollars to unworthy, risky ventures.

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The 90-Second Tesla Battery Swap: Misleading and Far From ‘Magic’

Thursday, June 27th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

Not so fast, Tesla.

In an attempt to woo potential customers, Tesla is pulling out the stops. Earlier this month they released plans to beef up their supercharger network. Last week, Tesla unveiled its newest gimmick to get people into its electric cars: 90 second battery swaps.

Tesla is attempting to outmaneuver gas-powered cars and their fuel fill-ups via the release of a video pitting the new “battery swap” against a “gasoline fill up.” This video shows a Tesla employee filling up a car at the gas pump — while an automated machine swaps two batteries out of two different Tesla Model S’s in the same amount of time.

Problem #1, what some of these subsequent reports on the “battery swap” miracle won’t tell you or, what people don’t realize,  is that the car used for the “gasoline” part of the race is an Audi A8 — which has an unusually large gas tank of 23.8 gallons. That’s the same fuel-tank capacity as the Hummer H3. Yeah, not really a fair fight.

Most gas tanks for a mid-size sedan are around 15-17 gallons. (The Toyota Camry is on the high end with a 17 gallon capacity tank.)

Problem #2, the cost to swap the battery will be around $50. This price looks awfully nice compared to the $99.83 price tag to fill up the tank-like Audi A8. They also did this race at a Los Angeles gas station… Oh, and the Audi takes Premium gasoline — further inflating the cost difference in this comparison.

An Exxon station two blocks from the D.C. Capitol (2nd St NE and Mass Ave) is currently selling premium gas for $4.59/gal. In a Toyota Camry with a 17 gallon gas tank, a COMPLETE fill up with Premium would be $78.03. Also, Camrys don’t take Premium like the Audi A8 — they’re fine with regular.

Let’s try a gas station in my hometown for giggles. To fill up a Camry with Premium gasoline would cost $65.79. If the driver were to use regular, like they should, the price would be $60.69.

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2 More Roadblocks For Electric Vehicles

Saturday, June 22nd, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

..or is it?

As if Electric Vehicles didn’t have it tough already; they’re expensive, require specific infrastructure (that, in some places, is still nonexistent), and buyers are scarce. It seems the month of June has dealt the EV industry a few more unlucky blows. I bet the majority of the public won’t be very surprised…

Setback #1: A new home for Detroit Electric.

Remember Detroit Electric? No, maybe not. Their time in the spotlight was brief.

Detroit Electric made headlines a few months ago when they rose again from their dusty, Detroit grave. Headlines turned into raised eyebrows, mine included, when they released their new super car which was essentially a repackaged, electric Lotus Elise. Been there, done that.

I’m not one to hope for something, or someone, to fail, but I said it before, and I’ll say it again, Detroit Electric’s product and target market are going to be a tough sell. In fact, I don’t think more than 200 of these cars will even hit the market… if any are produced at all. Newest rumors out of Michigan unfortunately support this theory.

Auto Week is reporting that Detroit Electric hasn’t even settled on a place to PRODUCE their new super car, the SP:01 EV Roadster.  To make matters worse, production is (was?) scheduled to start in less than two months. Hiring for the plant has also been delayed.  Reports state that the car maker will hire around 200 employees for its office and new plant… whenever they pick it out.

Prediction: I just cannot help but read these reports and think, “yep, called that.” After years of setbacks, I’m honestly not sure if Detroit Electric’s car will even get off the ground. The combination of expensive super car that nobody can afford + an old design + massive delays = T-R-O-U-B-L-E.  I’m predicting Fisker part deux.

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Humanity’s Destiny? Howard Bloom: ‘Garden The Solar System, Green the Galaxy’

Monday, June 17th, 2013 - by Dave Swindle

“This is David. He’s the most right-wing person I know.”

–  Howard Bloom introducing me to others before his talk, immediately blowing my cover. #DangIt #FacePalm

I didn’t know what to expect a few weeks ago when my friend Howard Bloom — author of science books The Lucifer Principle, Genius of the Beast, Global Brain, The God Problem, and the new e-book The Mohammed Code — invited me to hear him present his new proposal for space colonization to a small group. Howard has been one of my major intellectual influences for years. All of his books are included in my counterculture conservative reading list and I’ve focused on studying his most recent two on Saturdays for the “Radical Reading Regimen” I’ve started developing to try to organize my research. I already knew what to expect from Howard, both in content and delivery. He had sent me the visual outline he was to present many months ago. And I knew his infectious, enthusiastic delivery style. The big mystery that perplexed me: who exactly might I encounter at this gathering? (Hopefully not anyone in the counterculture community I had already offended — and I could think of a few in Howard’s circle…)

I knew the spectrum of Bloom enthusiasts. Over the past few decades since retiring from a wildly successful career in the music PR business to transition to full-time science author and public intellectual, Bloom had attracted a number of different followings as varying demographics connected with the VERY WIDE range of postions he articulated. Initially Howard attracted varieties of countercultural, secularist, and futurist audiences from his first two books. Many people first connected with Howard’s work as I did a decade ago when Richard Metzger’s Disinformation Company was at its peak and showcased him in books and a legendary TV show. He still has that legion of fans and acquaintances — who make themselves known on his Facebook page. I’m the rare one among this fan base who after graduating from college in 2006 as a secular progressive drifted toward political conservatism by 2009 and *gasp* the dreaded social conservatism and Bible-based religion by 2011. By this time Howard had released a third book, The Genius of the Beast, that I connected with, as it provided a new, innovative defense of my newfound radical capitalist creed.

As I got to know Howard personally after reviewing Beast, I found other views which synched with my unapologetic Tea Party conservatism. Howard was raised by secular Zionists and had spent decades studying Islam, arriving at an analysis in The Mohammed Code comparable to Robert Spencer’s in indicting the faith of Mohammed as an inherently violent, totalitarian, desert death cult.

But I was going to keep my mouth shut about all my nonsense. Three years now living out in Los Angeles as a full-time, professional conservative new media editor I’ve learned very well how to downplay my profession or to spin it in ways that sound harmless so as not to draw attention to myself at social gatherings. When I’m at a dinner party with my wife’s art colleagues and grad school friends, it doesn’t do me (or her) any favors to get detailed about how I spend my days editing ex-Marxists, former Soviet spymasters, and both dissident Muslim mystics and polemical ex-Muslim anti-jihad activists. And I’ve been calling the president an evil, antisemitic criminal who needs to be impeached and go to jail since before the election…

But there Howard went and did it as we stood talking with a retired music executive, a documentary filmmaker, and a music video director: “Most right-wing person I know!” I think Howard “outed” me for two reasons, first to signal that I could be myself and second to demonstrate the point that he then made explicitly to the others there, that his ideas had a broad appeal and could be appreciated by people across the political and religious spectrums.

Or he was probably just not thinking, just being off-the-top-of-his-head-himself, following his first rule of science: the Truth at any price, even the price of your life.

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Even with Expansion, Tesla Supercharger Stations Still Lacking

Saturday, June 8th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

Charging Stations Today

In early April 2013, I wrote an article on why the electric car was not ready for prime-time use in the United States.  My reasons revolved around a large price-tag, questionable reliability, low-range batteries that require long periods to recharge, and lack of infrastructure in the U.S. to charge the cars.  Tesla, the beauty queen of EVs, and its lack of charging stations were the inspiration behind many of my problems with electric vehicles:

“[However] since stations are sparsely located in the Midwest, Dakotas, and Rockies (among other places), finding a place for your car to get its lightening juice may start to resemble a game of “Where’s Waldo?”

It seems Tesla realized that if it wanted real domination, it needed to expand its charging stations—and put pencil to paper to sketch out a possible solution.  Although a start, Tesla has a long way to go in order to both compete with gasoline and woo new buyers.

Note: Get ready to read lots of maps! Don’t worry, it’s good for you.

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If Successful, Hydrogen Could Stir Up a ‘Green’ Arms Race

Thursday, June 6th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner


Battery, Battery, Battery. Hybrid, Hybrid, Hybrid. Hydrogen.

Well, that’s a word we haven’t heard in a while! Of course, hydrogen has always been around, but the alternative to the “usual suspects” of the alternative energy clique (electric and hybrid-electric cars) has been modest with its time in the spotlight. That’s about to change. Aston Martin showed us that hydrogen could run on the infamous Nurburgring. Now new whispers hint that mass-market hydrogen cars could be hitting the road in the near future. Their entrance is going to stir up some healthy competition in the alternative energy sector. Good.

Hydrogen power has a big advantage over battery-powered cars: the storage tanks can be refilled very quickly. This would take care of the waiting game problem that currently plagues electric cars at charging stations. However, despite this benefit, hydrogen power still faces a major roadblock: in-car storage for the fuel cells is still an unanswered question. It was this problem of “storage” that pushed the alternative energy industry towards batteries in the first place. It seems we have come full circle — due to limits on battery range and their high cost, more and more people are giving hydrogen a second chance — and a bigger chunk of the R&D budget.

It’s been a long process, but BMW has created a 7-Series that burns hydrogen in a modified combustion engine. This allows the driver to switch the car to gasoline when the car runs out of hydrogen in its storage tanks. Essentially, BMW created a gasoline-hydrogen hybrid.

Audi is looking to go the electric-hydrogen route. They are prepping an A7 to run off of an electric motor that is powered by a fuel-cell system. The A7’s “exhaust gas” would be 100% water vapor.

The German government already seems to be on board with BMW and Audi’s hydrogen plans — they have already approved a plan to set up a national network of hydrogen “refill” stations (you can also recharge your battery). In short, Germany is banking on hydrogen’s success.

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Is Fisker About to Join Solyndra and A123 Systems in the Green Failure Graveyard?

Saturday, May 25th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

Was Hurricane Sandy’s infamous destruction of the Fisker Karmas an omen?

Thanks to Justin Bieber’s platinum Fisker Karma, which has been the frequent recipient of traffic tickets and an unfortunate party of a few auto accidents, electric car maker Fisker has been a popular name in the headlines in the past few months. Although it wasn’t the best PR to have the “Biebs” and his friends crash the Karma throughout the U.S., Fisker might be wishing it were Bieber splashing its name in the headlines again this week. The story this time is that the end may be near for Fisker; which means, yet another “alternative energy initiative” might go belly up.

The faster Fisker is sold, the better.

Wall Street Journal reports that Fisker is holding out against bankruptcy, hoping they can locate a private buyer to salvage its name. One of those paying court to Fisker is Wanxiang Group — the same company that bailed out A123 Systems. That name should sound familiar — it is usually paired with the words “Solyndra” and “bankruptcy.” It seems Wanxiang wants to swoop in once again and snap up the carcass that used to house A123′s batteries: Fisker.

The other company paying tribute? VL Automotive. But, instead of thinking “green,” VL is thinking “black” — as in the black rubber mark that will be left on the pavement after their new Fisker-bodied sports-car peels away.  VL unveiled a prototype last January that had a Corvette engine in a Fisker body… that would definitely rev some gear-heads. It is called the VL Destino. We will see if it’s Fisker’s destiny to live…

The next few days are going to be like the last lap of the Daytona 500… who will pull ahead and win? Will someone actually BUY Fisker, will DOE take possession, or will Fisker decide to roll over and die?

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The Gospel from Planet X: Why Aliens Ignite the Imagination

Thursday, May 16th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

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Editor’s Note:

Check out Walter’s previous articles in this ongoing series Thursday mornings exploring video games, cultural villains, and American values at PJ Lifestyle. From May 2: “Beating Back the Nazi “Sickness,” and last week: “What Zombies Teach Us About Human Nature.” And also see Walter’s A Reason For Faith series, reprinted last week here. In these four articles Walter begins to formalize his task of synthesizing the Judeo-Christian tradition with Ayn Rand’s Objectivism and Tea Party activism.    -  DMS

In one of the most vivid dreams I can recall, I witnessed the landing of a plainly alien spaceship. It came lucidly, dancing on the edge of wakefulness, informed by enough of my rousing consciousness that it felt particularly real. I remember the feeling that my feet were glued to the ground, that I couldn’t move if I wanted to, not on account of some external force, but due to an overwhelming sense of awe and anticipation. The one thought dominating my mind: everything is about to change.

Though it was only a dream, I retain the memory as vividly as though it were of an actual experience and believe I will respond similarly if ever confronted by a true interplanetary delegation. Something about that kind of moment, when the veil lifts upon an existential mystery, produces an irresistible thrill. Perhaps that tops the list of reasons why our popular culture remains ever fascinated by the prospect of extraterrestrial life.

Aliens have become such a prolific device in our entertainment that we sometimes take them for granted. Like a modern deus ex machina, aliens can be relied upon to suspend disbelief in an otherwise inconceivable scenario. (How does Superman fly? Simple, he’s an alien!) Extraterrestrials rank alongside Nazis, zombies, and generic terrorists as the most common villains found in video games. Unlike those others, however, aliens may also be allies. Nothing inherent to extraterrestrial life demands it be villainous. Beings from other worlds often act as mirrors for examining the human condition, when not merely lurking among shadow and neon strobe.

It’s probably no coincidence that the advent of ufology, which is an actual word in the dictionary meaning the study of unidentified flying objects, coincides with the initial proliferation of aviation and the early years of the space age. We began to look up into the sky right about the time we realized there was nothing left to find over the horizon. In times past, when the known world was still defined by the flickering edge of torchlight, we imagined unspeakable monsters much closer to home. Spirits, ghosts, goblins, ghouls, fairies, vampires — all were the alien invaders and abductors of their time. As we have come to dismiss them as infeasible and childish, our imagination turns to the stars, where the realm of possibility remains seemingly infinite.

Certainly, we can see how aliens have stepped in to fill the role of menacing ghoul. Ridley Scott’s original Alien was essentially a horror film, a science-fiction creature feature. While the execution was masterful, the formula proved well-established and has been revisited ever since.

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Détroit Électrique Not ‘Magnifique’

Thursday, May 16th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

Government loans, grants from the Department of Energy, and private parties, pooling money in hopes of creating the next “Apple” of autos have flooded the “green vehicle” market with a motley crew of “earth-saving” cars. There was Fisker. There is Tesla — as well as an array of “EV” models added to mass-market brand portfolios… everyone and their cousin is jumping on the wagon to create an electric car. In the midst of this scramble, a historical EV maker has been revived.

It’s almost been two months since the new and improved Detroit Electric was relaunched to the world. Albert Lam, former Group CEO of Lotus Engineering Group and Executive Director of Lotus Cars in England, is the mastermind behind this historic company’s revival. The original “Detroit Electric” (also Anderson Carriage Company) produced electric cars from 1907-1939 but eventually went bankrupt due to the stock market crash of 1929 and its inability to keep up with the battery’s main competitor: the combustion engine.

While the American dream supports Detroit Electric’s pursuit of happiness (and success), I am not 100% sold on what D.E.’s niche will be…  what will make them stand out compared to its competition? The start-up EVs tend to be super-cars on a veggie diet… or electric sports cars.  Tesla has its sporty Model S and now we have, essentially, an electric Lotus Elise in the Detroit Electric SP.01. Keep in mind, buyers also have another luxury option in the electric BMW ActiveE.

The hybrid super-car competitor for Tesla and Detroit Electric, Fisker, is currently exploring bankruptcy and Tesla just made a profit (after 10 years). Do we really need another electric sports car?  It sounds like something isn’t working… and it think it’s the price-tag.

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Tesla: Miss America of Autos

Thursday, May 9th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

“She’s a show stopper…she’s a jaw dropper…she’s burning hot like fire!  She’s my Miss America!”  

Tesla is on fire right now! (And I mean that in a good way).  If cars had a Miss America pageant,  Miss America Electric Vehicle 2013 would definitely be the Tesla Model S.  She’s got the personality and the looks. Also, Tesla, the ten-year long shot, made a profit—this is better than the underdog winning the Miss America pageant!  Consumer Reports recently gave the Model S a glowing review: “[the Tesla Model S] performed better, or just as well overall, as any other vehicle—of any kind—ever tested by Consumer Reports.”  She also received a score of 99/100.  Wow.  She must have nailed that dance routine.  Electric vehicles (EVs) have had some trouble getting out of the gate the past few years—so this review bodes well for the start-up and gives some hope to the EV cause.

The Tesla Model S is still very expensive and does require some more infrastructure planning in order to make it a serious “every-day American driver,” but the sedan is starting to look like the “It girl”–oops, I mean car–of green transportation.  So what is different about the Tesla that is making it eclipse other EVs?  How did Tesla clinch such a great review and why is she taking the auto world by storm?  I’m not an engineer, thus I will not regale you on its potentially superior features that blow its competitors out of the park, but I would like to talk about Tesla’s design.

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6 Green Lies Threatening to Starve You

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012 - by Walter Hudson

Ain’t prosperity grand? We have so much to eat in this country that we toss nearly half of it in the trash. At least that’s the finding of a recent study conducted by a prominent environmental organization. From the Los Angeles Times:

Americans are throwing out nearly every other bite of food, wasting up to 40% of the country’s supply each year – a mass of uneaten provisions worth $165 billion, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

An average family of four squanders $2,275 in food each year, or 20 pounds per person per month, according to the nonprofit and nonpartisan environmental advocacy group.

Among the study’s prescriptions is a call for government “to set a target for food-waste reduction” as the European Parliament has. After resolving to reduce food waste, the body stated:

The most important problem in the future will be to tackle increased demand for food, as it will outstrip supply. We can no longer afford to stand idly by while perfectly edible food is being wasted. This is an ethical but also an economic and social problem, with huge implications for the environment.

The obvious alternative to any government “standing idly by” is its taking action. Whenever government takes action, it applies force. That is the NRDC’s ultimate prescription, to force Americans to reduce food waste. This is ironic since government action already plays a substantial role in the amount of food produced and consumed. The Cato Institute’s Chris Edwards explains:

Farm subsidies damage the economy. In most industries, market prices balance supply and demand and encourage efficient production. But Congress short–circuits market mechanisms in agriculture. Farm programs cause overproduction, the overuse of marginal farmland, land price inflation and excess borrowing by farm businesses.

Force is not a morally permissible or practically effective means of guiding productive behavior. Our rejection of slavery is an acknowledgment of that truth. Yet the notion that government ought to act forcefully to prevent pollution and reduce waste remains popular. Why?

The case built by green movement organizations like the NRDC relies on a tightly wound knot of lies. These falsehoods appear in the NRDC’s mission “to safeguard the Earth, its people, its plants and animals and the natural systems on which all life depends,” as well as its “priority issues”:

    • Curbing global warming
    • Creating the clean energy future
    • Reviving the world’s oceans
    • Defending endangered wildlife and wild places
    • Protecting our health by preventing pollution
    • Ensuring safe and sufficient water
    • and; Fostering sustainable communities

Underlying this mission and these goals are six green lies which threaten to starve you and your family…

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Fisker Karma Joins Chevy Volt With Potential Battery Temperature Problems

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011 - by Ronnie Schreiber

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Video: A123 Systems

Originally published at Cars In Depth

Just as the flurry of news about the potential fire risk in the Chevy Volt’s battery pack was dying down, Bloomberg reports that the battery manufacturer for another high profile electric vehicle, the Fisker Karma luxury extended range hybrid, has revealed what it called a “potential safety issue” in the cooling system of the batteries that it makes for the car, currently assembled in Finland using a $529 million loan from the U.S. Dept. of Energy.

A123 Systems, a leading producer of Lithium-Ion batteries that supplies Daimler and General Motors in addition to Fisker, said that hose clamps connecting parts of the Karma battery pack’s internal cooling system were not aligned properly, creating a the potential for leakage of the coolant, which might cause overheating and also possibly short circuit the batteries, causing a fire.

Because current Li-Ion batteries are flammable, battery temperature control and cooling is a critical process. Concerns over EV fire safety were raised when a crash-tested Volt later caught fire in a NHTSA facility. Short circuits caused by leaking battery coolant is suspected to be the cause. While GM uses a different battery supplier, LG Chem, for the Volt, A123 will be the battery vendor for the EV version of the Chevy Spark subcompact, to go on sale in 2013.

The news was made public in a letter from company CEO David Vieau published on A123′s investor-relations website. Since production of the Karma started only recently, less than 50 cars are said to be affected by the problem. Vieau said that a “confirmed repair” for the potential leak has been developed and that A123 has already started to fix the defective batteries. The cost to A123, Vieau said, will be “minimal” and the company’s relationship with Fisker “remains strong”. Last week the Anaheim based luxury hybrid car company announced that it has shipped 225 Karmas to Fisker dealers, with another 1,200 in the pipeline. Currently put together by Valmet in Finland, Fisker says that production of the Karma will eventually be moved to a former GM assembly plant in Wilmington, Delaware.

For more on cars and car culture, please visit Cars In Depth.

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Subsidies on Domestic Ethanol & Tariffs on Imported Ethanol End

Monday, December 26th, 2011 - by Ronnie Schreiber

Originally published at Cars In Depth

Lost in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, Congress has quietly ended subsidies on ethanol fuel as well as ending a special import tariff on Brazilian ethanol. The ethanol subsidy paid fuel blenders 45 cents per gallon to make E10, gasoline blended with 10% ethanol. The tariff added 54 cents to the cost of importing a gallon of ethanol from Brazil. The ethanol subsidy currently costs US taxpayers about $6 billion per year. Over the past 30 years, the program has cost $45 billion. By taking no action on the subsidy before adjourning for the end of the year, Congress effectively killed the program.

Though ethanol interests, like corn growers and affiliated industries, have considerable political power, a wide variety of critics, cutting across political lines, had coalesced around the issue, encouraging Congress to let the subsidy end. The food processing and livestock industries joined with environmentalists to oppose the subsidy. The policy was encouraging diversion of corn from feedlots and food processors to ethanol production, raising the cost of foodstuffs. Environmentalists, some of whom used to endorse ethanol as a biofuel, now say that it’s “dirty” because its production is carbon intense.

Ethanol trade groups have said that the industry would survive the loss of the subsidy, now that the US ethanol production industry has become established. The industry is still protected by congressional mandates that call for 15 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2015 and 36 billion gallons by 2022.

The ethanol issue involves a number of powerful players, corn growers and affiliated industries on one side and food interests, automakers and engine builders on the other. Then there’s the EPA to consider. The EPA has approved the use of E15, an 85/15 gasoline/ethanol blend, for use in post 2001 cars. Manufacturers say that without modifications, E15 will damage engines. In February, in a bipartisan move the House voted 285-136 to block the EPA from moving ahead with E15 regulations.

While ending the subsidy would seemingly discourage ethanol’s use, the end of the 54 cents per gallon tariff on imported Brazilian ethanol might do more to encourage that use than the subsidies did. Brazil is one place where it makes sense to use ethanol as a fuel because of Brazil’s huge sugar industry. The ratio of energy needed to produce it vs the energy obtained in the fuel for ethanol made from corn is barely greater than one, 1.3:1, compared to 2:1 for using sugar beets and 8:1 for sugar cane, the feedstock for Brazil’s ethanol. It costs half as much to make Brazilian cane ethanol as it does to make American corn ethanol. According to one academic study transportation costs to US ports eliminate that competitive advantage, but if that was a certainty, Brazilian sugar cane producers wouldn’t have threatened to start a trade war if the tariff wasn’t ended.

For more on cars and car culture, please visit Cars In Depth.

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News in a Nanosecond

Friday, December 2nd, 2011 - by Howard Lovy

The day’s nanotech news in nanosized bites:

Electric-Car Batteries a No-Go, But Don’t Blame the Nano: A123 Systems, which makes lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, is laying off 125 people at two Detroit-area plants. The company received some pretty decent tax incentives to get the plants online. But, it turns out, electric-car manufacturer Fisker Automotive ran into some production troubles and left a whole bunch of A123 Systems batteries with nowhere to go. What does this have to do with nanotech? As I wrote in a previous Crain’s Detroit Business article, it’s the “nano inside” that gives A123′s li-ion batteries their charge.

Hi-Ho Nanosilver! The EPA has given a conditional four-year go-ahead for nanosilver-based products. Nanotech critics are frightened because they fear it might build up in water and soil despite a lack of evidence that any such buildup is harmful. It’s just kinda a feeling that environmental activists have that it may cause problems. But silver has been used for centuries to fight germs. The only difference now is that nano prefix. More in the New Haven Independent

Capturing Quantum Craziness: An Aussie lab searches for the dividing line between the larger world we know and the Bizzaro world down below. “It’s all about trying to understand where quantum mechanics collapses into classical physics.” More in Cosmos magazine

Happy Birthday, Nature Nanotechnology: The publication turned 5 this year, which means it’s ready for kindergarten. In celebration, they’re giving away treats — five nanotech articles to share with the class for free. Enjoy

NanoPower: Is there anything carbon nanotubes cannot do? Light those little things on fire and the “combustion wave” can become a power source for things like “smart dust,” tiny defibrillators or cancer fighters. More on IEEE Spectrum

Making Nanotubes Biocompatible: Questions over biocompatibility have prevented carbon nanotubes from reaching their potential as drug delivery vehicles or scaffolds for tissue engineering. Now, researchers at Stanford University have figured out a way to make carbon nanotubes safer to use inside the body. Details on Nanotechweb.org

NanoSchooling: New York state prepares its educators to teach the nanotech revolution. Your News Now reports

Eric Drexler is Back: The controversial father of advanced nanotechnology is working on a new project: “exploratory engineering.” It’s a hybrid between physics, engineering and the unpredictable nature of human behavior. Sounds like Drexler is out of the wilderness and leading a new charge. Story and video courtesy of IEEE Spectrum’s Dexter Johnson

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“Thermal Events” (i.e. Fires) In Chevy Volt Crash Testing Spur NHTSA Formal Investigation

Saturday, November 26th, 2011 - by Ronnie Schreiber

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Following a fire in a Chevy Volt battery pack that had been damaged in a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash test, NHTSA recently performed additional impact tests on Volt battery packs to simulate that incident. Two of the three batteries that were tested experienced what the agency calls “thermal events”, including fire. As a result, NHTSA has now opened a formal investigation into potential risks from “intrusion damage” in Volt batteries. It should be pointed out that the tests involved a very specific sequences of events. The original crash test was a 20 mph side pole impact test, followed by a post impact rollover. Chevy Volts have a sophisticated battery conditioning and temperature management system that involves liquid cooling. In the crash test the Volt battery case was penetrated and a battery coolant line was cut. Three weeks later, while the wrecked Volt was sitting in a storage lot, its battery caught fire, burning the Volt and nearby vehicles. GM now says that their own procedure in the event of a serious collision is to drain the battery’s electrical charge. That information was not shared with NHTSA and the burned Volt’s battery had not been discharged.

Continue reading the complete post here.

When he’s not busy doing custom machine embroidery at Autothreads Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth and contributes to The Truth About Cars and Left Lane News


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Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto and Why Sometimes Pop is Just Pop

Saturday, November 26th, 2011 - by Jonathan Sanders
Mylo Xyloto

Coldplay's Mylo Xyloto may be 2011's most misunderstood pop gem.

Expectations can be a beast in the world of music criticism. Bands can blow up overnight thanks to blog reviews, even when they don’t have an album to promote – the live shows are that good. Then, when the album drops and it isn’t as magnificent as people expected, the band is dropped like a hot potato, while sites like Pitchfork leap to the next flavor of the week they can’t help hyping to death.

The dreaded sophomore slump isn’t so much named for a significant drop in quality or artistic vision, but rather for the frequent sales drop-off when fans don’t like a band’s second album as much as the one they worshiped maybe a year prior. Worse is the fate doled out to bands who initially sound like another popular act; they initially get a benefit from that comparison, only to have fans turn on them when their music either doesn’t follow closely enough in the footsteps of the iconic act, or conversely fails by following too closely with the original.

Such has been the fate of Coldplay, a band which clearly can’t win for losing.

If you were to spend too much time reading what the majority of the criticsphere has to say about Mylo Xyloto, the latest Coldplay album, you’d have to wonder if this one collection of songs happened to be the worst thing to happen to music since Kevin Federline’s rap abortion. “It’s a bit uplifting, but ultimately insipid,” was the write-up they received in the UK’s Observer, while the Guardian referred to the album as “standard issue Coldplay” in the perjorative, as though a band’s fifth album sounding like anything recorded prior to its release is somehow a brutal disservice to all appropriately cultured music fans.

It’s almost been a competition to see who can damn the album with the faintest praise. You see, what’s worse than a sophomore slump is the brutal crash to earth which comes when a band previously christened as a “hipster alternative to pop” decides to continue recording pop music long after the hipsters have decided to throw said band to the dogs.

I, for one, was never a particularly huge fan of Coldplay. “Yellow,” off their debut Parachutes, bored me to tears with its repetition and was doomed by radio overplay. And A Rush of Blood to the Head, the band’s sophomore effort, featured solid songs but frequently seemed to this critic as though the band was trying too hard to come up with songs to match what radio wanted from a follow-up to Parachutes. That, and the band was fighting to avoid becoming overly pretentious. While many have always lumped them in with the 90s brit-pop of Oasis and the rousing stadium rock of U2, with others clamoring for Chris Martin to follow in Thom Yorke’s avant-garde footsteps, the band was merely at the time trying to find its own voice and follow its own path.

Over the last eight or nine years, however, the band has grown on me. They’ve proven to be willing to push the envelope and try experiments with style, while sticking primarily to the world of pop music. While Radiohead saw a chance to go mainstream with the uber-success of OK Computer and then turned 180 degrees in the opposite direction, choosing to avoid pop at all costs, Coldplay wants to be the pop band everyone likes, with hooks that stick in your head and won’t leave, like tiny musical viruses. They finally found songs that led in that direction on Viva La Vida, which had a title signaling pretension even as the music was more mainstream than ever: I dare you to keep the tribal hook that is “Lost!” out of your head once it sneaks in.

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NEXT: Why Mylo Xyloto is far from the abomination critics have made it seem.

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