Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Green Ambition

On my jaunt out to San Diego last week, I picked up a copy of Seed Magazine, which takes stylistic cues from Wired and other culture magazines, and applies them to the world of science, producing a sort of hipster-Scientific American, I guess. I've read the magazine a few times, and have generally found it to be decent. In the June 2007 issue, I was specifically drawn to the cover story, "The China Experiment," promising a detailed look into technology initiatives native to China focused on improving the environment. While the article contained a couple of interesting facts (15 of the top 20 cities on the World Bank's assessment of "most polluted cities" are in China), a number of quoted platitudes ("It's historic," says Kishan Khoday, head of the UNDP's energy and environment program in China. "It's going to take efforts on all angles of the issue to get it done"), by and far the most interesting parts were the anecdotes of specific initiatives that have been undertaken to green China, sometimes in unique ways. For example:
"For the Olympics, a designated weather modifciation office will reduce air and ground pollution before the Games by shooting rockets filled with silver iodide into the sky to make rain. Beijing's Science and Technology Department has been experimenting with hormone therapy and cross-breeding to produce flowers that can withstand a Beiging August. "I'm sure that during those three weeks it will be crystal-clear in Beijing," energy analyst [Jim] Brock says. "They're playing with all sorts of things."
A weather machine? It's the sheer audacity of the project that is both terrifying and encouraging. Perhaps when they focus their energy on climate change or clean energy production. On a less sinister note, the article also mentions the growth of market for locally-implemented solar power solutions - where in villages and small cities with inconsistent grids, local entrepreneurs have seized a market opportunity to create stores like the "Solar Supermarket" dealing in solar generators, heaters, and cookers that provide cleaner energy to poorer populations.

On a separate note, CNN.com carried a story today about Google.org announcing an initiative to develop plug-in hybrid electric vehicles that would far out-pace current standards for mgp. While it seems doubtful that even $10 million is sufficient to make a dent in the problem, Google's commitment to innovation in new problem spaces continues to impress. More over, the dual focus on technology innovation and thinking about new ways of addressing the market are also very encouraging:
Google said Tuesday it is getting in on the development of electric vehicles, awarding $1 million in grants and inviting applicants to bid for another $10 million in funding to develop plug-in hybrid electric vehicles capable of getting 70 to 100 miles per gallon.

The project, called the RechargeIT initiative and run from Google's philanthropic arm, Google.org, aims to further the development of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles - cars or trucks that have both a gasoline engine and advanced batteries that recharge by plugging into the nation's electric grid.

"Since most Americans drive less than 35 miles per day, you easily could drive mostly on electricity with the gas tank as a safety net," Dan Reicher, director of Climate and Energy Initiatives for Google.org, wrote on the organization's Web site. "In preliminary results from our test fleet, on average the plug-in hybrid gas mileage was 30-plus mpg higher than that of the regular hybrids."

The project also aims to develop vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology, allowing cars to sell their stored power back to the nation's electricity grid during times of peak demand.

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